Focusing on Language in the Classroom

It is very interesting when observing trainee teachers on a CELTA course, how many feel the need to “teach” in the old-fashioned sense of the word.  Many trainees believe that if they haven’t stood at the front of the classroom talking at the students for a good chunk of the lesson that they haven’t actually taught anything.

In my opinion, teachers of EFL (though I am sure teachers of other subjects would benefit too) need to stop thinking that they have to teach but rather that they have to help students learn.  After all, if you have discovered something for yourself, you are more likely to remember it.  So how do we enable learning?  Let’s take a grammar focused lesson as an example:

Situation:  I have noticed that my learners keep using the past simple when they should be using the present perfect.

How could I focus on the difference?

If I wanted to teach the students, I might write an example sentence for each structure on the whiteboard and then tell the students what the difference is.  If I wanted to make this a little more student-centred, I might elicit from the learners the difference in meaning.


But what if I wanted to help the students learn it for themselves?  There are a variety of ways in which learners can be sent on a self-discovery mission,  either through a reading text, listening tasks or by way of a dictogloss.

Through reading or listening tasks, first the learners would be given some comprehension questions to check that they have understood the content , then they would be given some more leading questions, helping them to focus on the meaning of the grammar.  Once the students have understood the meaning, it would be necessary to focus their attention on the form (eg have + past participle for the present perfect, or verb-ed for a regular past simple etc.).  Finally, a bit of pronunciation practice highlighting the phonologocial features (phonology) of the target language.

My favourite method though would be by way of a dictogloss. 

  1. The teacher reads out a text, containing the target language, at normal speed and students are given a gist listening question.  Now the students are familiar with the overall content of the text.
  2. The teacher reads the text out again, still at normal speed, and students are encouraged to make notes of key information.
  3. Students are put into small groups (three is optimal), and asked to reconstruct the text. The teacher should monitor and listen in carefully to find out where the students are struggling and prepare him/herself for the next stage.
  4. The first group’s reconstructed text is analysed and corrected in plenary.  This is the chance for the traditional teacher to feel like he/she is doing some proper work!  The teacher should use this opportunity to focus on the meaning and form of the target language by asking CCQs (concept checking questions) and highlighting the structure of the langauge.
  5. Depending on how many groups you have, you can either encourage the groups to check their texts and amend any language errors now that they have a better understanding of the meaning and form or you could analyse another groups’ text in plenary.
  6. Once the students have understood when to use past simple and when to use present perfect, the teacher should provide the students with some controlled practice and then freer practice.

By using the above method to focus students’ attention on the target language, the teacher has enabled the students to discover the language for themselves and will have helped each other to understand it.  The teacher has facilitated learning. 

Which lesson would you prefer when learning a language – the one where the teacher talks at you for an hour or the one in which you have been actively involved throughout?  I know which one I would choose…….


For further Information: British Council – Dictogloss, The Bell Foundation – Dictogloss


Author: Emma Jones

A CELTA Tutor based in Munich and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

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