I’ve just discovered the British Council’s monthly blog topics and, as it’s October 31st and I’m still in time to blog about one of their October topics, here goes:
In the British Council’s new CPD Framework, being able to ‘describe how a lesson is linked to those before and after it’ is one of the elements in planning lessons and courses. Often called ‘timetable fit’, this is covered and expected on most teacher training courses, but it tends to become less thought about in day-to-day teaching. In your planning, how much do you plan for a sequence of lessons and incorporate recycling of previous language or skills into what your learners do?
Firstly, I would say that nowadays and in the short-term, coursebooks do a lot of this work for us. Generally divided into units by topic, each section of the book builds upon itself incorporating new linguistic points and reviewing them through the unit. The teachers’ book often provides a warmer which includes an element of revision from the previous lesson and in Cambridge’s Face to Face series, each double-page spread tends to include a question to review something from the page before.
However, units within a book can frequently be seen as ‘linguistic islands’, with little reference to previous input when we move from one unit to another. This is where it’s important for the teacher to build routines into their lessons which allow the recycling and revision of previous input.
I feel that it can sometimes be more difficult to review language as we work with higher levels where the input becomes much greater and more abstract. For example, with a group of six-year-olds following a more lexis-based syllabus, we can easily review the input by playing games with the accompanying flashcards. Also, grammatical structures with younger learners are more limited so it’s easier to encourage full sentences when working with the lexis.
That said, with older learners and higher levels we can use conversations to review language, for example by having some questions on the board for learners to talk about as they come in, allowing us a moment to monitor and check comprehension and production.
I think it’s the same issue with adult course books – low level courses are great at recycling the language and to some extent building on the themes of previous units, while advanced books treat each unit, and often each spread, as independent, free-standing lessons, with little or no thought to recycling.
I wonder why this is? Perhaps because it’s impossible to know with advanced learners which of the hundreds of lexical items and structures they encounter will be new to them, which they decide to prioritise and learn, so which to pack up from each unit and ferry over to the next unit.
Or, could it be that the lexical sets that advanced learners learn are difficult to define and categorise; so much of what they learn is incidental, e.g. it happens to be in a text. Their experience of each island is complex and unique and therefore difficult or impossible to replicate on the next island.
Alternatively, perhaps there’s an expectation that advanced learners are better at making their own decisions about which words to learn and which topics to concentrate on, so they don’t need help packing their suitcases before setting off to the next island.
I’m not convinced that any of these are true, and wonder if we could all do with more help island hopping, advanced or beginner, adult or child.
Thanks for the comment. I think there’s definitely something about the range of language as we move into higher levels, both as you say in terms of lexical sets and as well the grammatical structures which we introduce learners to – some of which are infrequently used by native speakers but necessary for an exam! I wonder how easily that ties into the possible expectation that learners take more responsibility for their learning – are they more likely to review and use the language which they want to use or the language they need to use (again thinking about passing an exam)?
Coursebooks do leave the responsibility of review from one unit to the next to the teacher and good teachers will be able to help their learners hop between islands throughout the year, at any level.
Great-looking blog, btw!