“Practice makes perfect” or so we believe but we often forget that learners can’t practise if they don’t understand what is required of them. Demonstration of the activity in hand is key to successful task achievement and learning.
I still fall into the trap of asking learners “Do you understand what you have to do?” only to find out at a later stage that they have, in fact understood something completely different or not at all. As a result, much time is then lost re-explaining the activity in question to individual learners at different times. Don’t make the same mistake – spending time setting up activities will save time later on!
Fair enough, most course materials contain worked examples for the learners to refer to and most teachers will often do an additional example with the learners before letting them work alone or in groups as required. Here perhaps lies the difficulty, a worked example does not show the processes used to achieve the final product neither does simply doing an example with the learners. What is required is a sort of “step-by-step thinking-out-loud” approach to exemplification – learners must be showed the path they have to follow with clear signposts. “Rhetorical questioning” is a useful technique to fall back on here:
“Mmm let’s see – is there a word/phrase that tells me when this action happens? – ah yes when the telephone rang – now let’s look at the action itself - have a bath – when did this start? When did it end? – it’s probably a temporary action so the answer is was having a bath.”
Similarly, for speaking activities like pair and group work to be successful in the classroom, learners will need not only guidance and support in terms of course book prompts but good clear models to watch, observe and copy. With this in mind, best practice dictates that we spend time demonstrating the activity with the learners in public before asking them to parallel it in private.
So remember practice does make perfect but learners won’t be able to practise if they don’t understand what they have to do and how to use the tools they are given. Spend time demonstrating and save time from correcting!