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Controlled practice

The first stage of controlled practice is repetition and this can be either choral or individual. When we use choral repetition, we get all the students to say the new word or phrase together.

For choral repetition to be effective, it is important to start the chorus clearly (so that everyone gets going at once) and to help the students with the rhythm by 'conducting' the chorus, using arms and hands to show where stress occurs, etc. Choral repetition can be invigorating, and it gives all the students a chance to speak together rather than being (possibly) shown up individually.

Sometimes teachers divide the class in half (when working with a two-person dialogue, for example) and give each of the dialogue roles to one or other half. The conversation is then spoken in semi-chorus, with the two halves each taking their turn to speak.

When we think students have been given sufficient repetition time in chorus (or if we don't see the need for choral repetition), we may ask for individual repetition. We do this by nominating students and asking them to give us the sentence, e.g.

teacher: OK. Sam?

student 1 (Sam): They're watching television.

teacher: Good. Kim?

student 2 (Kim): They're watching television.

teacher: Good.


It is worth remembering not to nominate students in an obvious order (e.g. by going from one end of a row to the other) since this will make the activity predictable and, as a result, will not keep students 'on their toes'.

A form of individual practice which some teachers and students find useful occurs when teachers tell their students that they can say the word or phrase quietly to them­selves, murmuring it a few times as they get used to saying it. It may sound strange to hear everyone speaking the phrase quietly to themselves at the same time, but it gives them all a chance for individual repetition, a chance once again to see how it feels to say the new language.

If we feel that students have done enough repetition of the phrase or phrases (or if we don't think such repetition is necessary), we might organise a quick cue-response session to encourage controlled practice of the new language. Suppose, for example, that we have taught a group of beginner students a series of vocabulary items such as 'nurse', 'fireman', 'doctor', 'teacher', 'policeman', etc, and that we have pictures of these people on cards. We can use these cards as a cue, which we hope will then elicit the appropriate response, e.g.

teacher (holds up picture of a policeman): Sam?

student 1 (Sam): Policeman.

teacher: Good, (holds up picture of a nurse) Kim?

Student2(Kim): Nurse.
teacher: Good.

Cues can also be verbal (e.g. 'Question ... Flight 36' to get the response 'What time does Flight 36 leave?') or non-verbal (e.g. the teacher shrugs their shoulders to elicit 'I don't know').

Cue-response drills are an efficient way of getting the students to say the new language in a way that can be invigorating and challenging. If we think students need more controlled practice of this type, we can put them in pairs and ask them to continue saying the new words and phrases to each other. Perhaps they can take turns miming one of the professions or showing/drawing pictures of policemen, nurses, etc so that they are, in effect, conducting cue-response drills of their own.

Freer practice

Sometimes we may decide that students do not need very much controlled practice of the new language. This is often the case at higher levels where not only will they probably have understood our explanations of meaning and language construction, but they may be slightly familiar with the language anyway. In such situations we might just say something like 'OK, can anyone tell me what would have happened if they'd overslept this morning?' to provoke examples of the third conditional (see page 74). As students use personalised sentences in this way, we can point out any mistakes they might be making and encourage correct pronunciation.

If, when we try to bypass controlled practice in this way, we find that students are having more problems than we thought, we might have to return to our explanations of meaning and construction and then organise controlled practice after all. But hopefully this will not happen, and our students will be able to try using the language in this more relaxed and less formal setting.

Freer practice - especially where personalisation is concerned (see page 53) - is a kind of transition stage between language study and activation. It is still concerned with the correct construction of language and so it is part of study; it is also concerned with language use and so it is moving towards activation.


The decision about whether or not students need explanation or controlled practice will depend, as we have suggested, on whether we think they are already familiar with the new language or not. It would, after all, be inappropriate to force students to concentrate on studying language they were already perfectly capable of using. Our decision about how to proceed should, therefore, be based on what the students know already, and we will need to adapt our plan immediately if we find that the majority of them are more aware of the 'new' language than we thought they were.


40.'Good teaching includes testing'. Discuss, making reference to aims and backwash.

Date: 2015-12-17; view: 1149

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