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Jim Scrivener Teaching Tips

Jim Scrivener is well known in the field of teaching English and has written, for example, a widely selling handbook called Learning Teaching  now in its third edition. There is a collection of his teaching tips at this site:

Here are a few from the site which made great sense to me as a modern language teacher-trainer.

Managing time 

"If an activity does start late or looks like overrunning, don’t wait until the end and then suddenly cut it short. Decide early on how to alter the activity so that it still achieves what you want it to do. It’s often better to speed up an earlier part rather than to abruptly stop things when the bell rings."

"Remember that lesson time follows the laws of relativity! It is entirely flexible and seems different to different people. When you start an activity you can state how long students have to do it e.g. “You have ten minutes.” But just because you said a time limit – it doesn't mean that you have to measure and keep it exactly! If you are running short of time simply announce “one minute left” even if students have had much less time than you previously announced! (No-one is likely to notice!)"

(My note: it's a good trick to give students very specific time limits such as 9 minutes rather than 10. This may create a greater sense of urgency.)

"Although we are often trained to finish things off neatly within lesson time – maybe don’t worry about pausing tasks right in the middle (even mid speaking activity!) and picking them up again tomorrow or next time. This gives you a way of neatly linking lessons, as you can continue things from precisely where you left off – and students can take some time to re-tune themselves to where they were."

Extension activities

"If you have studied a reading text to death, but still have some minutes left, ask students to put away the text and then tell them you will read it aloud – but with ten differences. They should listen carefully and spot what has changed. With weaker classes, just change key facts (e.g. names, actions etc). Stronger classes can notice exact words and expressions changed (e.g. idioms, phrasal verbs). Let students compare ideas and agree – then let them revisit the text to check."

"When you are reaching the end of a listening activity, pick one suitable sentence (10+ words, spoken quickly, if possible) and ask students to listen and write down every word they hear completely correctly. Play that small section of the recording a few times – then let students compare and agree with each other. Check together at the end."

(My note: aural gap-fill is a great way to add five minutes if you need it. Similar to the above, get students to hide a text they have worked on, you read aolud the same text leaving gaps for students to fill in orally. They could provide missing words or whole chunks. You can match the level of this task to the class, providing more or fewer gaps, or more or less easily memorable words and chunks.)

Learning by heart

"Choose a short well-written, language-rich, natural (English) paragraph from your text book and ask your students to learn it for homework. Yes, every word in order! The next day, check if they can tell each other (and you) the text correctly. Make it all a puzzle, a challenge and a humorous activity. Enjoy the mistakes. For the next homework, set the same passage – this time can they learn it without a single error? Or vary the texts and challenge level to take account of different skills and abilities among your students."

(My note: learning passages by rote is not greatly in fashion and many had a bad experience when controlled assessments were part of GCSE, but memorising longer chunks may have its uses, beyond being useful preparation for oral and written exams. As Scrivener puts it: "Students will accumulate a stock of ready-made phrases and examples of good grammatical construction. Eventually, they will be able to retrieve pieces of this language and use them in other contexts. Students will start learning grammar by reflecting on known examples rather than trying to apply rules - one key to achieving both fluency and accuracy.")

 Next-Day Drills

"Do a short drill one day, with traditional cues and responses. In the next lesson, get students to work in pairs or threes to see if they can write down the whole sequence of sentences and cues. Get them to “teach” their version of the drill with other groups (or with the whole class). Do people agree that they got it 100% correct"

(My note: drilling is coming back into fashion in some quarters - it never went out of fashion for me! For lots of ways to use drills usefully see this blog.)


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