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Learning strategies (4)

This is the fourth in the mini-series about learning strategies. This was material which didn't find its way into The Language Teacher Toolkit. So far we have looked at the rationale behind learning startegies, how they may be categorised and how they may be used to support the teaching of listening and reading. This blog looks at speaking and writing. As always, if any of this seems obvious to you, remember that it might not be to the less experienced teacher.

Strategies for speaking 

The ACTFL (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages), in their 2012 guidelines, choose to divide the skill of speaking into two categories: presentational speaking (giving talks) and interpersonal speaking (conversation). This distinction is not referred to explicitly in the UK context.

Presentational speaking

Students can make use of some of the strategies mentioned in the previous blogs, such as planning and organising, monitoring their work as they go along, checking their work with others, redrafting and refining. They can use information sources to help, such as dictionaries, word lists, grammar summaries and model presentations to act as templates, record their work using mobile devices or a computer or use ‘text-to-speech’ programmes to hear any written material read aloud.

They can also make sure they thoroughly rehearse any presentations with partners, adults or the teacher. Students will also need reminding about other non-linguistic elements of a good presentation, e.g. eye contact, clear delivery and tone of voice. As a teacher, you need to ‘model aloud’ all these strategies with your class to ensure they are all exploiting them; you cannot assume students will use them of their own accord. Recall that we have advocated the use of incorporating the use of strategies within the teaching sequence, not doing separate lessons on them. 'Thinking aloud' or 'modelling aloud' for students is a useful approach. "This is what I would do to get the best result."

Interpersonal speaking 

The site nclrc.org has a good number of strategies students can use to help with conversational speaking and which you can model for them. These include:

  Using substitute words or paraphrases when students get stuck, e.g. instead of turkey, say the bird you eat at Christmas.
Working together to keep the conversation going. You can suggest: “When you try to think of a word, let your partner suggest vocabulary you can use. If your partner has trouble, help by offering what you know how to say. Helping each other learn will make the process more fun.”
 Think of L1 words which may be cognates and take a guess at the L2 word.
Accessing sources of information, such as verb or word lists posted around the classroom.
Using hesitation words to fill gaps when students get stuck. Give students examples and demonstrate them.

Strategies for writing 

When students are drafting pieces of writing, whether it be sentences, paragraphs, compositions, translations or essay there are a number of strategies you can help to develop.

  Students should be taught to check their work in a systematic way, looking for particular error types, especially the relationship between subject pronouns and verbs, adjectival agreements, verb tenses and inflections, gender and word order.
 The use of suitable information sources should be encouraged and advice given, as we have previously pointed out, on dictionary use; specific exercises are advised.
Structuring of longer form written work needs to be taught, with good models presented.
 Students need guidance on matching their work to the demands of rubrics and mark schemes.
 It may seem like stating the obvious, but students need to be encouraged to go slowly when doing most written tasks, not take too many risks and check if in doubt; many students rush their work and make errors and omit content as a result. An exception may be when doing a written task to a time limit, such as writing using social media messaging. In this case quick reactions need to be developed.
 One vital strategy for weaker students especially is to encourage students to ‘use what they know’ and not translate willy-nilly from L1. Students need to know that they have to make compromises by simplifying what they want to write down. Again, you can model this for them. For example, if a student wants to write: “Last night we really enjoyed ourselves bowling. I got three strikes in a row”, you might recommend they write: “Last night I went bowling with my friends. It was fun and I played well.” If they do not have the means to render their preferred version clearly, they are better off writing something simpler. Although accuracy is not the most important element of communication, students like to get things right and see success. Simplifying is an important skill to develop in language learning.

In the final blog we shall look at revision and make some concluding remarks.

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