Improving listening sub-skills with music


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In the summer, I’d done a few activities with music, one of which was blogged about here: We are the Champions.

One of my current students who had been in that course asked me the other day if I could do another song activity. I thought about it, and what follows here was the outcome of that thought.

Lesson Plan

Avicii – Wake me up

Type:     Listening (Songs) – Speaking – Writing

Level:    B1 upwards


  • Improve listening skills, especially the sub-skill of scanning (listening out for specific information).
  • Improve reading skills (scanning)
  • Practise speaking and writing

Materials:            music file (if using the video, don’t show it as images usually distract), strips of lyrics

Time:     45-60 minutes


1.            Play a few bars of the song:

2.            Ask if they know it. If they don’t, tell them briefly that it was a summer hit (2013):

It is a song by Swedish DJ and music producer Avicii, which features uncredited vocals from American soul singer Aloe Blacc and acoustic guitar from Incubus’ Mike Einziger.

If they know it, ask them what they know about it, what they like/dislike, if they know the words…

3.            Form students in pairs or groups, depending on the size of the class. Make sure they clear their desks as they will need the space.

4.            Explain to them that they will be given the lyrics in strips of paper. The task is to arrange them in the right order. Before they listen, they should lay the strips in front of them in such a way that they will be easy to move. Put them in groups, for example, same lines can be together (as quite a few of them are repeated). While they are doing this, pay attention to what they consider key words. While they are listening to the song, these are the words they’ll be listening out for.

Warn them about breathing or coughing onto their strips of paper!

The song has an instrumental passage – they should take this time to re-scan the remaining strips.

5.            Hand out the strips of lyrics, one set per group.

6.            Play the song.

7.            The song’s quite fast so it’s fairly challenging. However, it’s likely they know the song as it was a summer hit and even though they may not know all the words, chances are that they know some parts. If they scan while they listen instead of trying to listen to every word, there is a good chance of them getting the task done in 2 listens.

8.            After the listening, ask them to read the lyrics and try to interpret them. Discuss, in groups, what they think the song is trying to say. Monitor and offer any assistance required. Finally, if the class is small enough, compare their interpretation.

9.            PACS. Board language (good or otherwise) used during discussion. Explain what is necessary, clear up any doubts.

10.          Maintaining the group format, have them write up their intepretation of the song. Monitor. PACS.

Feeling my way through the darkness Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end But I know where it starts
They tell me I’m too young to understand They say I’m caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don’t open up my eyes Well that’s fine by me
So wake me up when it’s all over When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself And I didn’t know I was lost
So wake me up when it’s all over When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself And I didn’t know I was lost
I tried carrying the weight of the world But I only have two hands
I hope I get the chance to travel the world And I don’t have any plans
I wish that I could stay forever this young Not afraid to close my eyes
Life’s a game made for everyone And love is a prize
So wake me up when it’s all over When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself And I didn’t know I was lost
So wake me up when it’s all over When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself And I didn’t know I was lost
I didn’t know I was lost I didn’t know I was lost
I didn’t know I was lost I didn’t know I was lost

Give credit where credit’s due. Read this: Citing your sources.


No more nomophobia – using smartphones in the class


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Nomophobia /ˌnəʊməˈfəʊbiə/. The “mo” is for mobile and not “more”, in case you’re wondering, hence its pronunciation of /mə/ and not /mɔː/. Back in Nov 2012, it was among the finalists in the Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the year. It didn’t make the shortlist of the UK equivalent. What it means is “anxiety caused by being without one’s mobile phone”.

Interesting, therefore, that it doesn’t appear to be listed in the online Oxford dictionaries the last time I looked. I could have sworn I’d seen it before. Perhaps they’d removed it! Macmillan, on the other hand, goes one further and defines it as “the fear of not having or not being able to use a mobile phone”. They may have got it wrong here as it can be rather confusing. So, are they anxious because they want to use their phones but can’t or are they anxious because they don’t know how to use them?

To add to this mix, in ancient Greek, “nomos” means law, and it would be more logical to say that nomophobia is a fear of the law.

Whatever the case is, nomophobia is likely to stay in use as it is defined in the first paragraph. As recent as 27th August, I saw it in print in The Telegraph, and it even extended the definition to include “the fear of losing signal, running out of battery or losing sight of their phone”.

I used to ridicule such a phobia… until I got myself a smartphone. Then I realised how cool WhatsApp is (although it’s basically just a Messenger on the move); I realised how cool it is to be able to check emails and Facebook updates on the bus; I realised how cool it is to be able to read blogs in the bog; but, most of all, at long last, it’s more possible to engage the students away from school! I have a WhatsApp group for each of my class. In the short time I had my phone, I had more out-of-class conversations with my students than what I had in all the blogs, Wikis, Facebook & Twitter put together! Why is it so hard to engage students, I wonder.

And then what should happen?

I tripped over the cable while the phone was charging and sent it flying from the table onto the floor. The damage took a while to manifest itself, but eventually it did. So, the phone’s being repaired, under warranty (don’t tell them about the “accident”!), and I’m feeling nomophobic. Read on to find out the sort of things I’ve been missing.

While I was giving a two-month summer course, I wanted to work on a tell-the-difference kind of activity. Except that I was looking for a set of at least three images, not two. I couldn’t find any. The only way was to set it up myself, but I wasn’t prepared to do it. It didn’t seem exciting enough.

So, it occurred to me to use a set of three different images. Similar but different. Even better, instead of printing, I sent these images to the students individually via WhatsApp, with the explicit instruction that they didn’t show or speak about these photos to their classmates. The photos I’d chosen all showed a couple with two young kids having a picnic.

The students were formed in groups of 3. Those without an image use one of the other group member’s photo so that in each group, there were at least two different pictures.

Without revealing their images, each student describes theirs while the other two in the group listen and look at their own and try to remember all the similarities and differences there are. I walk around, monitor, help with language and pick out anything interesting for post-activity discussion.

Using mobile phones in the classroom

Using mobile phones in the classroom ©Chiew Pang 2013

When they are done, they write what they can remember in their notebooks, eg “In my picture, the couple has two girls whereas in Jenny’s, they have a boy and a girl.” Again, I walk around, offering suggestions for improvements.

They then look at the images again and make any additions or rectification to their writing.

When the activity is done at group level, I ask someone to describe their picture while the others listen and try to figure out if they have the same one.

The more similarities the photos have with each other, the more fun it will be. It is important to keep a list of who has which image. Label the images 1, 2 and 3. Arrange the groups at planning stage, eg. Group A: Jenny 1, Sara 2, Jon 3. This is crucial because if someone doesn’t turn up for class or they haven’t got their photos, you’re able to regroup very quickly. Also, when you’re selecting students to describe their image in the last part of the activity, you know who has which.

Language: This lesson, besides being useful for preparing students for the speaking part of Cambridge examinations, allows dynamic practice of key forms, depending on the pictures you use. Examples: prepositions (of place, direction), adjectives (clothes, appearance…) modal verbs (speculation, deduction), etc.

Other activities: I’ve used the mobile phones in various other occasions, too.

  • Students bring images of themselves which are at least 10 years old – especially useful for practising “used to”. They can scan them – see my resources page – if they haven’t got a digital copy.
  • They can take pictures of their most treasured possession, a hobby/activity, a favourite place, etc. (Useful for “have got”, adverbs of frequency…)
  • Use the browser for a specific task, eg, planning a trip or a holiday.
  • Allow them to use the dictionary for some tasks. Teach them how to use it.
  • As I mentioned before, make use of WhatsApp! Apart from using it as a notice board, you can send links or post a quiz/exercise. Just don’t do it too often or you will chase them away!
  • Most media players can search lyrics automatically. Once you get to know your students well enough, you could take advantage of what they have on their phones and do activities on the lyrics (see my other posts on music).

If you decide to use any of these ideas with your students, please come back and let us know what went well, what didn’t, what you had to change, etc. I’m sure others would love to hear about your experiences!

Have fun!

We are the champions: using songs in the classroom


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I first wrote about the ideas for using this Queen’s classic more than two years ago in my first blog. You can read about it here. As most ideas are, they may be appropriate for one class, but not for another; so, I decided to revamp it for my current lot of students. Feel free to use my ideas, but some feedback would be appreciated.




Post-lesson reflection

The fact that the students enjoyed the activity was undeniable, but the fact that they found it very difficult is also undeniable. So, with the B1s, I’d give them more help with the pictures – during the feedback of their brainstorming session, I’d casually mention the words associated with the images. Quite possibly, I’d even do this with the B2s. Perhaps, higher levels will be able to cope.

I would also do the lexis activity BEFORE the listening.

These changes were incorporated in the following song activity I did. This I will blog about soon!

Conversation→Blog post→Lesson


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You must have read my recent post on the conversation I had with the father of a prospective student:

To follow up, the prospective student sat in on my colleague’s class – he’s American – and then, came to my class the following day. This group has lessons Mondays to Fridays, 2 hours each time. I take 6, and my colleague 4.

At the end, she confirmed that whe would like to carry on attending the classes, and what’s more, talking of the ironies of life, seeing a poster of a phonemic chart on the wall, she mentioned that she has never been taught the symbols. I told her that if she had the time, I don’t mind staying a while to teach her.

To cut a long story short, there I was teaching pronunciation to someone whose father was rather, ahem, fussy about teachers’ accents! 😉

After I wrote the previously-mentioned post, I thought it a waste to let it sit on the blog and maybe a few dedicated followers of mine would read it, and that will be that. So, I decided to make a lesson out of it!

Needless to say, I won’t be doing it with the class where this girl will be sitting in! Too risqué! 😉

The rudiments of the lesson is set out in the embedded PowerPoint below. Sources are credited in the PowerPoint itself, so download it if you wish to do the lesson with your crowd.

Nesting in the south


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A man came with his daughter…
“We’ve come to check out the setup…”
“How do things function here?” Well…

“Is this the class?” Yes…
“Do you prepare students for the First? My daughter wants to sit for the First this year.” Yes, we do…
“But, you are the teacher?” Yes, I am…
“But, you are not a native speaker…” Well, yes I am…
“You are?”

He looks at me as though I had two heads and three arms…

Well, yes…, thinking to myself, oh-oh, here we go again.

“Where are you from then? London?” Well, yes…, thinking… mister, I am from wherever you want me to be.

“You must understand. I don’t want to send my daughter to a school where they don’t teach with a good accent…” Oh, yea, what do you know about accents? In any case, mister, I can be British but I can never be English… My accent? I don’t speak like the Queen nor do I speak like Michael Caine. I wonder what you’d think of Michael Caine teaching your daughter… I don’t know what accent I have. I’d say a “global accent”. I bet you have no idea what that is!

“It’s like…if you want to learn Spanish, you won’t want to go to The Canaries or Andalucía.” There’s nothing wrong with the way they speak!
“They speak badly!” OMG. My protests were quickly toned down…. The school needs students…

“I mean, if you want your child to learn English, would you send him to the north?” Well, actually, I do love the Scottish, the Liverpudlian accents… And I wonder what my Northern peers will have to say about this. In any case, by this time, I knew it was a lost battle, and my class was also waiting for me to finish the conversation, so I just nodded my head in agreement to whatever he said…

All I can say is, mister, your daughter can sit in on my class and she herself can decide if I’m good enough for her…

Andalusian at a wedding

Andalusian… ©Chiew Pang 2012

I hate exams! And you?


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I hate exams. Both taking and preparing students for them.

I wish there were a better and more accurate way of judging learners. Part of the reason for my being “out of the loop” recently is that I’ve been trying to race against the clock, preparing three groups for the Cambridge PET and FCE. The CAE group simply disintegrated in the end. Each had their own reason for dropping out, and I can only hope that none had done so because of my teaching. You can imagine the thoughts that had gone around my head these past weeks…

Now, why do I hate exams?

For me, they are not really an accurate measure of the level of the candidate. Let’s face it. How many native speakers will pass these exams? So, what does this prove? I’ve even known native EFL teachers to fail local Official School of Languages examinations, which are based on the format of Cambridge’s. Amazing but true.

Ideally, exam questions ought to be like concept questions, right? To check understanding. But, don’t you get the impression that some of the questions are sort of “tricky”? Like they’re meant to “catch you out”?

Some of the listening questions bother on the absurd. Listening, as it is, is a difficult enough skill for the majority of learners; yet, some listening tasks require candidates to not only understand the bulk of what they’re listening to, but also to interpret and analyse it “accurately” enough to answer the question. Not to mention the time factor.

Of course, I don’t let my students know that I feel this way. I keep encouraging them. I try to motivate them. I try to help them improve their skills, but often, I think to myself, how can I help them improve short of just telling them that the only sure way is lots of exposure to the language? Plus lots of practice.

With receptive skills tests, I try to improve their gist-reading skill by, for example, coming up with an alternative title to a text, or summarising a listening extract. I help their guessing-meaning-from-context skill by guided discovery activities. Sometimes, we converse about the topic.

And yet, even after this, they struggle to get their answers to the comprehension questions right.

Take this extract from FCE Practice Tests, Mark Harrison, OUP.

Analysing FCE reading text Analysinf FCE reading text

What’s your answer?

C and D are plainly incorrect. But, between A & B? You read the text, you understand it. But, how do you interpret her father’s thought when he said only rich people can afford to be thrifty? What does he really mean by that?

My personal interpretation is that he considers himself not rich enough to buy in bigger quantities. This, as you can see, is not among the choices of answers. In its absence, I’d opt for B as the lesser of two evils.

The book’s answer is A.

Never mind. I plough on. Onward I march. Pushing and motivating my lot. And hope for the best.

Job Interview Simulation


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It’s been a hard few weeks trying to adjust to the strains of preparing for three different levels (we started a pre-intermediate level class to add to the upper intermediate and lower advanced groups) plus my other 1-2-1s, and as though that weren’t enough, I volunteered to make the Aula10 Facebook page more than just an advertising channel. My vision was to make it a language-related page, a microblog in the real sense, publishing regular feeds on words, idioms, false friends, confusing words, etc, and wherever possible, to support them with quoted examples of recent usage. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link. My target audience is both teachers and students.

Aula10 in Facebook

Not forgetting, too, that I have to spend time running the Wiki Spaces for each group, feeding in work and correcting them. So, all these meant that I’ve had little time to write, and, honestly, weekends are no different to weekdays lately, i.e. no rest for the wicked! Lots of people will think I’m mad. Maybe I am. All these extras aren’t paid work – they’re just labour of passion. 😉

Coming back to the main reason for the post, today was the weekly 4-hour Saturday lesson with the CAE group. One of the students had previously asked me to go over his CV and cover letter. We warmed up by talking about CVs in general and then I asked him to tell the class about this job he’s applying for.

Since he’d personally requested for some interview work, I decided to get the students themselves to do it – him on one side, and the others on the opposite side. And, so began the gruelling interview…

These were some of the questions they asked him:

  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to leave your present job?
  • Where would you like to be in your career five years from now?
  • What can you do for us that other candidates can’t?
  • Can you describe a time when your work was criticised?
  • Describe how you would handle a situation if you were required to finish multiple tasks by the end of the day, and there was no conceivable way that you could finish them.
  • What salary are you expecting?
  • What do you see yourself doing within the first 30 days of this job?
  • Tell me about your proudest achievement.
  • Was there a person in your career who really made a difference?
  • What kind of car do you drive?
  • What’s the last book you read?
  • What magazines do you subscribe to?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • How many times do a clock’s hands overlap in a day?
  • How would you weigh a plane without scales?
  • Why is there fuzz on a tennis ball?

OK, I confess. They took this from the list of 100 questions I printed from Monster.

The session was quite lively, including some heated debate on what are strong or weak answers. There was some talk on eye contact, sitting posture, skype interviews, interviews using web conferencing software, etc. Also, a heated debate arose on whether one should lie or stick to the truth in interviews, and how one should address personal questions.

After the interview, we continued discussing other related matters, such as intelligence (What is intelligence? Can it be measured?) and non-related ones such as horse meat, a topic very much in the news this past week. This led to what is ethically correct or incorrect, how different cultures perceive this differently, and what humans are capable of in desperate circumstances.

All in all, I felt it was a productive session, the emphasis being more on fluency rather than accuracy, although I did do some minor corrections and also introduced some new lexis. Generally, however, the level of language used was quite accurate.

Food for Thought


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Today, I had two new students! The group has been steadily growing; although some have left, because of personal reasons, the class is approaching an ideal size. 🙂

By now, this group is used to my modus operandi whenever we have a new student. They go into interview mode and start to find out a bit more about their new classmate or classmates, in today’s case. Then, I always ask them to report back to me – in this way, they get to practise the third person: What can you tell me about X? What does he do in his spare time? What kind of sports does he practise? Etc.

Every now and then, I like to do a PACS on their Wiki work. Today, there were some issues I considered important, so that was what we did. I beamed up their lesson reflection and we analysed it, sentence by sentence: what was good, what could be improved upon and what was erroneous.

Next, I showed this slide.

Food in the ELT classroom by Chiew Pang

Food images by Chiew Pang. Copyright 2013

I didn’t need to say anything except to designate the pairs. They read and they knew what they had to do:

  • First, three of these dishes were prepared by me. In pairs, discuss which you think they are and why you think so.

They already had some practice on agreeing & disagreeing (Speaking Part 3) so I was hoping they would use enough of the appropriate language chunks such as

  • Well, in my opinion … because …
  • I’m not sure. I think …
  • I don’t really agree …
  • I quite agree.
  • What do you think?
  • Do you agree with me?

There were eight students today, a nice round number. When the pairs had come to a decision, I told them to confer with another pair (so then, there were two groups of four students each) and to come up with an agreement. When they had, I told the two groups to discuss again and to come up with a final decision, which they did.

It wasn’t really important whether they were right or not, but because they were curious to know which dish I had actually prepared, they discussed until they had the right ones.

The next activity was this:

Food in the ELT classroom

Food images by Chiew Pang. Copyright 2013.

Again, they went into an immediate discussion until they came up with a list. Poor English breakfast was unanimously voted the unhealthiest!

Following that, these instructions were beamed to the WB.

  • Work on your own. Write down 5 of your favourite dishes on your notebook.
  • Now, walk around the class, ask your classmate about their favourite dishes, and find the person

whose tastes are most similar to yours and
whose tastes are most different to yours.

Students in group discussion

Students discussing by Chiew Pang. Copyright 2013

The pair with the most similar tastes sat together and were told to attempt a crossword puzzle on cooking verbs. This can be obtained from my other blog. Incidentally, I’d written on other cooking activities about a year ago (I’d forgotten until now!) and can be found here.

After a few minutes, I realised that the “test” was too difficult, so I wrote the verbs on the board in random order. They fared better then. They were told to compare their efforts with the answers on the other side of the handout, and time was up.

The last thing I told them before they left the class was to look at the verbs at home and try to remember them as they would be needed for the next lesson!


This was a great fun class. I love doing food, don’t you? There’s so much that can be done and it’s a popular topic so everyone usually gets really involved. Using my own images to generate conversation worked a treat. They had preconceived ideas of me and it was fun listening to their reasons for choosing the dishes. Like one of the students mentioned in her reflection, time went by so fast that she hadn’t realised how late it was and almost missed her bus home!

The crossword puzzle was a tad too difficult. As another student said, he didn’t even know the answers in his own language! If I did this again, at this level, I’d include the verbs on the crosswords handout along with the clues, albeit jumbled up. Or I could beam a Wordle of them. Now, that’s an idea for the next class…

Testing tenses graphically Part 2


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Almost a month ago, I tested the CAE group on the usage of tenses in graphic form. You can read about it here. It worked very well and the students’ response was positive – they believed that it was useful . So, today, I decided to try it on the FCE group. However, I made some modifications, which I believed made the concepts clearer. The sentences were replaced and I added a few fixed points in time, e.g. 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, on the line. I took the photos before the sentences were displayed, so they only appear on the answer slide.

Again, before we started, I explained what the graphics meant: the dots referred to points in time, the double-headed arrows between two lines represented something in progress during this period, and the arc linking two points meant that they were somehow connected.

Tenses in graphic form by Chiew Pang

Tenses in graphics. Copyright 2013 Chiew Pang

Tenses in graphic form by Chiew Pang

Tenses in graphics. Copyright 2013 Chiew Pang

As to be expected, they had a little more difficulty than the CAE group, but once they got the hang of it, it was plain sailing. I asked them if they found it useful, and their reply was positive.

On a few occasions, I asked them questions to check they understood the concepts:

  • If you rang me at 9am, what time did I start having breakfast? Any time before 9am.
  • Which action happens earlier? My finishing the homework or your coming home? Finishing the homework.
  • If it started to rain at 5am, at what time did I fall asleep? Midnight.
  • If I started to watch the film at 6pm, what time did my mum come home? 8pm.

 After this, we did some controlled practice off the coursebook.

For free practice, I did a circular narrative writing activity while monitoring and correcting on the spot. In a few instances, I stopped the class to go through language issues I considered important enough for everyone.

Recommended reading

Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

Error correction Part 2



Error correction by Chiew Pang

Error correction by Chiew Pang Copyright 2012

I started writing a comment as a reply to Dale’s vlog, which was a result of our comment-chat in my Correction, correction and correction post, but it was, I felt, too long as a comment, and so I decided to blog it instead.

If only we could quantify learning, Dale, life would be so much easier, huh? And a lot more boring, too! As we all know, language learning is a complicated process, which, in turn, makes language teaching complicated. Error correction is merely a small part of this, and yet, in itself, poses so many debates and disagreements. I’m not an expert and I don’t expect anyone to stand up and take notice of what I say, but I have my opinions. As I mentioned in my reply to your comment, the best method is a combination of the two you mentioned plus subtle variations of them.

And, yes, I agree that on-the-spot reinforced by delayed correction works very well. In fact, language teaching is a continuing process of reinforcements, don’t you think?

I’d like to reflect on how I correct; perhaps, in this way, we could come to some conclusion… or pose more questions. 😉

First, what do we correct? Errors (for want of a better term) can occur in or away from class. They can occur in oral or written production. If they happen away from class, correction can only be delayed. The shorter the delay, the better it is, I’m sure most will agree.

If they happen in class, what I do varies depending on whether it is during oral or written production. If it’s written, I address the error on the spot, privately, pencil on paper. However, if it’s a point which I consider beneficial to the whole class, I will board it (not necessarily going from the student to the board immediately, which addressed the naming-and-shaming issue) and first ask the class if it was right or wrong, and, if wrong, how we could make it better.

If it’s oral, I do variations of the two methods. I may board problems (or good sentences because feedback doesn’t always have to be negative) while they’re speaking or jot them down on my pad. Either way, I will elicit responses from the class as a whole at a delayed time, at a time I consider to be appropriate. This could be during production and not necessarily at the end of it, and the delay could be seconds or minutes. No naming and shaming here either.

I may address the issue on the spot if I intuitively feel that it’s right to do so. I’ve mentioned this before, but I consider teaching an art not a science. I think, I’m reflecting aloud here, I am more likely to do on-the-spot corrections when it’s to do with pronunciation or lexis rather than form, unless it’s of a fossilised nature, such as “depend of” or “I’m studying English for to go abroad”. Then again, sometimes I ignore the errors, especially if I felt it would interrupt the flow, especially if I felt the content is worth more than the form.

However I choose to correct, I’d like to think that naming and shaming hardly ever comes into play.

My answers to your questions, Dale…

Product or process? The reason why you were going round in circles is because they’re both, innit? Errors are both a product and a process of language learning at the same time. You make errors because you’re learning and only by making errors, will you learn, as I keep telling my students.

Which scaffolds more? Both and neither. In my opinion, it doesn’t depend on how you correct as much as the type of problem.

Proofs of learning? I think I’ve answered this one at the every beginning. 😉

My question now is this: which is more of an issue? When to correct or how to monitor oral production effectively? How do you detect errors when you have several people talking at the same time? Do you tune in to a group at a time? Do you listen to one group until you hear an error, then move on? Do you attempt to listen to several groups at the same time? Video gamers are able to see up to 5 (maybe more) different objects on the screen moving constantly. Are we supposed to be able to hear 5 (or more) students speaking simultaneously?

What do you readers think?