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Reviewing and scaffolding language with one-to-one learners

November 21, 2011

Here’s a simple activity for looking at and deepening understanding of a chunk of language. It works particularly well with one-to-one classes because it needs a fair amount of teacher input. You could use it to examine emerging language, or to review something from a previous lesson.

Take a chunk that you want to explore in more depth and write it out in it’s base form the centre of a blank piece of paper.

For example: from the sentence ‘I thought he would take it personally’ you might end up with ‘take it personally’ on your paper.

Teacher and student(s) take it in turns to add a word each to the chunk. It could be to extend it (‘he took it very personally’) or in the form of substitutions (‘take it badly’).

It’s important to talk about the language that comes up and talk about what isn’t possible just as much as what is. Stretch the learners to think of different contexts and applications for the language, scaffolding all the way. What you end up with is a rich exploration of language that can be recorded in lexical notebooks and used for homework – eg ‘write 10 possible sentences from the exercise’.

A great homework task would be to make a language plant.

Here’s how my above example ended up in the lesson:



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  1. Brilliant stuff, Oli. Great final product, great collaborative activity to get there. I always get a real buzz when process and product come together like this. I can imagine all the contexts and examples you could have come up with. The point you make about exploring what isn’t possible is spot on. You have to find the limits of anything.

  2. No need for mentions, glad you found the idea useful. The dogme approach of working with student-produced language alludes to this type of activity, reformulating, rephrasing etc.

  3. dingtonia permalink

    What more could a student ask for? I have always said that teaching this way is so simple – not easy, but simple. Pen paper student teacher language. It has just occurred to me – do you think that teachers who cannot/don’t want to teach like this actually are afraid of the language itself and cover it up in wickedy wicked colour photocpies and “fun” acitvities – to take the students’ minds off the actual thing that they are supposed to be learning because the teacher isn’t really sure what it is? And thanks for stopping by my blog. 🙂

    • Yes, Candy, I certainly do. In no other subject is a set of dice so important as EFL!

    • Thanks for your comment Candy. I’ve been thinking about your question and it’s really stumped me! I suppose it’s possible and it’d be wrong to deny that there is a ‘fear factor’ in there somewhere. To each his own, I guess…!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Reviewing and scaffolding language with one-to-one learners « ELT BITES
  2. Dogme Cookbook « An Experiment with Dogme

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