Saturday, January 28, 2017

Including Assessment Results in Teaching

As an English teacher, you will be most frequently measuring your students’ progress by giving such different kinds of assessments as homework, assignments, quizzes and tests on a regular basis. Likewise, you will be involved in marking those assessment tasks. Whether you mark your students’ work subjectively (depending on your overall impression of the work as in assessing a composition or a role-play) or objectively (where there is usually one correct answer as in gap-fills and MCQs), you will notice common errors students have made. It is best to include those errors in upcoming teaching sessions and use them as an opportunity for learning. After all, the purpose of assessment is not to check what students can’t do, but to check what progress they have made and what they still need to work on.

Keep a record of the most frequent errors that occurred in the previous form of assessment. You might collect grammar, vocabulary, structure mistakes from discrete-point tests (testing individual language points such as word or sentence transformation task) and/or integrative tests (ie one question such as a role-play testing a number of items or skills). These common errors should be included in remedial sessions after tests. Here are some activities you can perform after each assessment.

1. Paper skirt: Minh Mai (2015) outlines a creative, competitive activity involving sentence correction. Prepare a piece of paper with sentences containing mistakes that the students have made. Put one sentence on each line and space them so that the paper can be cut into strips which remain joined at the top, to form a skirt. Put the students in small groups and give each group a ‘skirt’. The students take turns to tear a strip away, correct the sentence and present it to the teacher. Monitor and be around the groups for confirmation. The team that finishes first wins.

2. Hand a blank copy of the test to each pair of students. Alternatively, display the test questions on the smart board or project them onto the board or wall. Have the students discuss each task in pairs. Elicit/give the answers the questions and explain any confusion and difficulties for the students to avoid in the future.

3. If the common mistakes are just a few, an economical technique to apply is to write the mistakes on the board in example sentences or as they have been occurred in the test and ask the students to work in pairs to correct them. Elicit the correct form and use of each target item. It is better to include some correct sentences, so the students are challenged to find the wrong ones among all the sentences and correct them. Don’t forget to praise them for the correct language use as well.

4. In terms of writing exams, you could choose one composition that includes some common mistakes that you want to pinpoint to the students. Give a copy of that composition with the name removed in order not to offend the person who has made the mistakes. Alternatively, you could display that piece of writing on the screen. Allocate a time limit (depending on the length of the writing) to students to read the text and find any vocabulary mistakes, grammar errors, misuse of linkers, incorrect punctuation, etc. 

Have students compare their findings and comment on the text in pairs before soliciting open-class feedback. Remember to focus on the good use of language in the text. It is better to start with praising the correct use of grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, before shedding light on the misuse of language. 

You would also choose to comment on task completion and form. Ask the students such questions as: “Do all the supporting sentences relate to the controlling idea?” Which sentences should we omit from the paragraph and why?” At the end, give a score to the composition and discuss your decision with students according to some writing criteria. That would help them understand how assessment is being conducted. 

5. As for speaking exams, you could record your students’ production and select one audio anonymously and play it back later for students so as to find any misuse of language or any communication breakdowns. Hold an open-class discussion about the speaking test by playing and pausing the listening track; praise any good use of the language and highlight common mistakes; have students correct the errors. Discuss your score with the students and finish the activity by giving advice for upcoming speaking exams.  

These errors provide an insight into the students’ linguistic difficulties, and they should be taking into consideration when you prepare forthcoming classes. Conducting assessment tasks and then throwing them away would not help students to avoid repeating the same mistakes. By dedicating a session for common errors made in tests in our teaching schedule, students will have the chance to learn from their and others’ mistakes and try to improve their test results.

Do you include students’ errors in your teaching? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions to be added to the list above?

Mai, T., M. (2015). One more time. English teaching professional. (101) 22-23.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Global Problems

Global problems such as poverty, corruption, and racism are constantly on the rise. We always hear about them among others in every kind of media and it seems as there are no practical solutions to those human dilemmas in the near future. Thus, I considered preparing an integrated skills lesson about three common world problems for my intermediate and upper-intermediate classes. 

I didn't follow the conventional procedure of a reading lesson plan, where students read a text for the first time to get the general idea of the topic (skimming). Then they scan (read more thoroughly) it to find specific information. 

I have designed a "reverse reading" lesson as it is called by Prentis (2014). In this lesson, I started with an engaging lead-in followed by general speaking questions about the topic before reading the text. The reading text is divided into three paragraphs. Students are put in threes; each one reads a paragraph and reports to the group. I integrated speaking with reading skills in this lesson to make it more communicative and learner-centered. Finally, students conduct some vocabulary work before they reflect on the reading and discuss three more questions in groups. 

Feel free to use the lesson and let me know how it goes. Click here to download the lesson plan. 


Prentis, N. (2014) Reverse reading conversation lessons. Modern English teacher (23), 3, 68-69.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Great Wall of China

I have noticed recently that my students are interested in talking and reading about tourist attractions and historical sites. For this reason, I have chosen an authentic article about the Great Wall of China. As the text is authentic, it gives the students more confidence for learning English and encourages them to read about other sites and other topics of interest. The language and length of the article are appropriate for intermediate level. The text is interesting and engaging; it provides students with facts about the Great Wall of China. I have designed achievable tasks to enable them to practice their reading skills before the lesson ends with a follow-up speaking activity about the most popular tourist attraction students have visited. 

Feel free to download and use the lesson plan with your classes. Click here to get the lesson. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Grammar-Translation Method

“It has been said that the Grammar-Translation Method teaches students about the target language, but not how to use it” (Larsen-Freeman, 2008).

The Grammar-translation Method was popular in the 18th century towards the first half of the 20th century as the main method for teaching classical languages such as Roman and Latin and later for teaching other foreign languages. However, many techniques of this method are still widely practiced around the world until our day. The main aim of this method is to enable students to translate literary texts from the target language into their mother tongue and vice versa. For this reason, learners are taught the grammar explicitly and given lists of bilingual vocabulary items to memorize. The teacher focuses mainly on teaching reading and writing skills and gives little emphasis on listening and speaking. The language of instruction is the students’ native language as communication in the target language isn’t the goal of this method.

The teacher is the authority and source of all information in class; meanwhile, students are being told what to do and have little to contribute. The most dominant tasks are reading and translating texts word for word into the students’ first language followed by answering comprehension questions. The most prominent interaction pattern is teacher-students. Neither pair nor group work is encouraged. Students often work individually on controlled practice activities such as gap-fills, matching, sentence completion, and translation. As accuracy is given great importance, errors are perceived negatively; the teacher makes sure that the learners’ answers are accurate and correct all the time.

Why is the Grammar-Translation Method still popular today?

Since the advent of the communicative approach in the 1970s, several published textbooks attempted to place more emphasis on listening, speaking, and pronunciation. Communication in the target language is the aim of many English-learning coursebooks which include communicative exercises that advocated pair and group work. Nevertheless, many teachers still practice the Grammar-Translation Method even the coursebook they are using encourages communicative language teaching and learning. 

I have observed many colleagues teach different levels where they translated reading, listening, grammar, and vocabulary exercises word for word. Their main concern was that if students didn’t understand every word, they would not be able to learn English. Similarly, many students, especially adults taught previously in this way, feel insecure if they don’t get every word translated. I observed many of those students study mainly English grammar and vocabulary for years but not being able to communicate well. They are usually weak on using the target language in real-life language use. What a pity!

Understanding how the language works doesn’t guarantee successful use of it out of class. I believe that students must use the language to learn it. Learning how to communicate in English is like any skill that you need to practice over and over to master it. You don’t need to know how the car functions to be able to drive. All you need to know is how to drive and that happens by practice.

When can teachers use the Grammar-Translation Method?

The grammar-Translation Method could be used when the target language is spoken out of class, where learners have the chance to practice it in the target community. I don’t mind learning and being taught Turkish this way as long as I live in Turkey where I need Turkish everywhere for shopping, banking, transportation, and so on. Another reason for using this method is teaching for an upcoming exam. The students’ level is below the contents and grammar of the syllabus and they are going to be assessed soon. The teacher has no time but to help students prepare for the exam by explaining the grammar explicitly and translating the important exercises that might be similar to the ones on the exam. The third reason for using this method is when students desire to learn Latin or Roman!

How not to use the Grammar-Translation Method?

Read more about the other language teaching approaches and apply the techniques that best suit your students. Avoid using the students’ L1 as much as you can and negotiate the importance of using the target language more in class. Encourage pair and group work more; reduce your teacher talking time in favor for more student talking time. Aim for accuracy and fluency and tolerate students’ errors unless they cause communication breakdowns. Facilitate more free production activities which resemble real-life language use and support peer-correction. Give your students some of your authority by asking them to provide the correct answers on the white board and involving them in preparing certain activities. Let them decide what homework tasks to do and to what extent you should correct them when they participate.  

My experience with the Grammar-Translation Method

I took German classes at university for three semesters and scored 98, 100, and 99 on three exams, which indicated the fact that I worked hard to obtain those scores; yet I don’t remember being able to communicate or even perform basic tasks in the target language. The main reason was the method the teacher used in class. He translated every word in the syllabus. Little emphasis was given to speaking and listening exercises and very little or no emphasis on pronunciation. For those gloomy reasons, I make sure to place more emphasis on communication skills in my general English courses. On the other hand, in English for Specific or Academic Purposes courses, emphasis is placed on students’ needs and demands.

I am not against using the students’ mother tongue in teaching English. We can’t ignore the advantages of sharing one language with our students. There are times when translating a word, chunk, or grammar point could save time for more practice later in the class. However, overusing the mother tongue deprives students of maximum exposure to the target language and doesn’t motivate them to use it themselves.

For those who are still not convinced that the Grammar-translation Method is outdated, inefficient method, consider the following quotation:

The Grammar-Translation Method is still widely practiced, it has no advocates. It is a method for which there is no theory. There is no literature that offers a rationale or justification for it or that attempts to relate it to issues in linguistics, psychology, or educational theory” (Richards & Rodgers, 1999).

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2008). Techniques and principles in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J., C. & Rodgers, T., S. (1999).  Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.