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Learning strategies (2)

This is the second blog in the mini-series about learning strategies. This was material that we could not fit into The Language Teacher Toolkit.

Using learning strategies 

Working with strategies is firstly about making explicit the processes students are already using to help them learn and, secondly, exposing them to a greater range of strategies in order to widen their repertoire and make their learning even more effective.

There is general agreement in the literature that instruction about strategies should be explicit and that we should not just assume students will pick them up. However, it is debatable whether strategies should be taught separately or integrated into normal language learning activities. Pachler et al (2014) take the latter view and we would agree. Whichever route you take, it is always worth reminding students to use strategies. It may serve little purpose to tell students once and assume they will always remember what to do.

So we are talking here about integrating strategies into the whole ‘assessment for learning’ framework (formative assessment): helping students as often as possible to find the best way of working for themselves to make the maximum progress. To make things clearer for you, we present in summary form below a list of strategies under the headings meta-cognitive strategies, using what you know, using the imagination, using organisational skills and using resources (from the site of NCLRC – National Capital Language Resource Center –

Meta-cognitive strategies 

Organising and planning: Plan the task or content sequence; set goals; plan how to accomplish the task.
Manage your own learning: determine how you learn best; arrange conditions that help you learn; seek opportunities for practice; focus your attention on the task.
Monitor: while working on a task, check your progress on the task; check your comprehension as you use the language; are you understanding?; check your production as you use the language; are you making sense?
Evaluate: after completing a task, assess how well you have accomplished the learning task; assess how well you have applied the strategies; decide how effective the strategies were in helping you accomplish the task.

Using what you know 

Use background knowledge: think about and use what you already know to help you do the task; make associations.
Make inferences and predictions: use context and what you know to figure out meaning; read and listen between the lines; anticipate information to come; make logical guesses about what will happen.
Personalise: relate new concepts to your own life, that is, to your experiences, knowledge, beliefs and feelings.
Transfer/use cognates: apply your linguistic knowledge of other languages (including your native language) to L2; recognize cognates. Substitute/paraphrase: think of a similar word or descriptive phrase for words you do not know in L2.

Using the imagination 

Use imagery: use or create an image to understand and/or represent information. Use real objects: manipulate real objects as you use the target language.
Use role-play: act out and/or imagine yourself in different roles in L2.

Using organisational skills 

Find/apply patterns: apply a rule; make a rule; sound out and apply letter/sound rules.
Group/classify: relate or categorize words or ideas according to attributes.
Use graphic organizers/take notes: use or create visual representations (such as Venn diagrams, time lines, and charts) of important relationships between concepts; write down important words and ideas.
Summarise: create a mental, oral, or written summary of information.
Use selective attention: focus on specific information, structures, key words, phrases or ideas.

Using resources

Access information sources: use the dictionary, the internet, and other reference materials; seek out and use sources of information; follow a mode; ask questions. Cooperate: work with others, including the teacher, to complete tasks, build confidence, and give and receive feedback. Talk yourself through it: use your inner resources; reduce your anxiety by reminding yourself of your progress, the resources you have available and your goals.

Next time we shall look at how to teach strategies and, in particular, specific strategies for teaching listening and reading.


National Capital Language Resource Center

Pachler, N, Evans, M., Redondo, A. and Fisher, L. (2014). Learning to Teach Foreign Languages in the Secondary School. London: Routledge.

Smith, S.P and Conti, G. (2016) The Language Teacher Toolkit. Createspace Publishing Platform.


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