Presenting new language part 2: Drilling and checking new language
Once someone identifies the concept of what you are teaching and gives the word or phrase you are looking for, it is time to do some pronunciation work. Pronunciation is best dealt with before you display the written word to the learners. This is because if students fix on the spelling of a word, there is a lot of scope for pronunciation problems. Silent letters, differently pronounced vowel sounds and word stress can all cause issues when students look at the written form of a word too early. Hold ff on your display of the items you are teaching until you have drilled the form thoroughly.
An effective drill begins with a natural, connected teacher model, produced clearly for the class to repeat. Once everyone has repeated the word once, call on individuals to speak out the word and check for any errors or inconsistencies in their pronunciation. Teachers often assume that because all students have said the word together, they must have said it correctly, but it is difficult to hear individual forms behind the wall of voices, so individual drilling and error correction is definitely worthwhile.
Displaying and checking form.
The final stage of effective presentation of new language is to display the form to the screen or whiteboard, and focus on the structure of the word, phrase or example sentence (for grammar presentations). When, and only when, you are happy that your learners are pronouncing the item correctly, should you show them the written form.
A word or phrase in a vocabulary lesson can simply be written up and checked by asking ‘how do we pronounce this letter?’, ‘which syllable sounds stronger?’ or ‘can we hear this part of the word?’. However, a more complex grammatical structure should be presented in a marker sentence. A marker sentence puts the grammar you are teaching into context, and helps students to focus on its use together with other language.
Once you have a clear display of the language you are teaching, check students’ understanding by asking simple Concept Checking Questions (CCQs) about key aspects of its meaning. These simple, binary or yes / no questions quickly check understanding in areas such as time (‘is this happening now, or in the past?’), ordering (‘which happened first - this action or this action?’), or other aspects of meaning (‘is this a positive word or a negative word?’ / ‘is this something we want to happen?’).
Taking the time to present meaning, pronunciation and form in that order, and with careful attention to each, may take a little longer at the beginning of the lesson, but the depth of understanding and use that students will be enabled to produce will save a lot of time, repetition and correction later on. A strong foundation during presentation stages can free up time later in the lesson for more focused student work with the language that you teach.
Tom Garside is Director of Teacher Training for Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with a specific focus on online language education.