In an EFL classroom, the teacher’s own English is perhaps the single most important source of input, and yet, often the least explored – especially as far as advanced students are concerned. If this idea makes any sense to you, read on.
I take the view that if you want your advanced students to sound more advanced, then you should use more advanced English yourself. In class, we don’t usually pay attention to how we say things nor do we consciously try to use language that the students themselves might be unfamiliar with. At basic and intermediate levels, our English, as it is, is good raw material for acquisition – or i + 1, in the words of Stephen Krashen.
When teaching advanced students, however, I believe we should make a conscious effort to include in our classroom discourse language the students wouldn’t necessarily produce and might even experience difficulty understanding.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: If your advanced students don’t ever squint, frown or show the slightest sign of non-comprehension when you’re talking to them, chances are that they’re not picking up anything linguistically new from your English. Whether and how this input will become intake is another story, of course. (Click here for a discussion of what might actually constitute “advanced English.”)
However, simply providing your advanced students with quality input is not enough. Experience has taught me that we must also help advanced students consciously focus on how we’re saying what we’re saying.
This is not easy. Left to their own devices, advanced students will naturally focus on meaning (what), rather than form (how) – and who wouldn’t? There are ways, however, in which you can foster the kind of attention channeling (noticing) that I’m referring to. Here are a few lesson snippets to show you what I mean:
Use WH-questions illustrating “advanced” lexis with your advanced students:
Teacher: So, Marcos, where do you stand on this?
Use Yes/No questions illustrating “advanced” lexis with your advanced students:
Teacher: Pedro, did it live up to your expectations?
Pedro: I’m not understanding.
Teacher: Was it as good as you expected?
Teacher: So it didn’t live up to your expectations, then?
Pedro: Uh uh.
Use short “noticing bursts” with your advanced students:
Teacher: I’ve just told you about one of my all-time favorite movies. Let me tell you now about the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Pay attention to the expressions I’m about to use to describe it, ok?
Invite your advanced students to remember how you said things:
Teacher: Do you guys remember the adjectives I used to describe my mother-in-law? I used the words three times.
Provide your advanced students with short bursts of input-flooding:
Teacher: …which is why I agree with Carlo that parents need to set the example first. Setting the example involves (…). Setting the example also entails (…).
Helping your advanced students via noticing depends on the teacher’s ability and willingness to keep the focus on meaning (what is said) and form (how it’s said) running parallel throughout the lesson. This, I believe, is also the key to better, more principled error correction as I argued a few posts ago.
Thanks for reading. And good luck with your advanced students.