Unplugging Day Two

So what does day two look like? Just to recap: on day one, the teachers have observed, listened and reflected; they have observed their tutors giving them feedback on the language they used when getting to know their colleagues, they have experienced being an absolute beginner (perhaps had their first Old English lesson) and they have observed their tutor teach their TP group and listened to their students and what they have to say.

When designing our new course, Anthony and I quickly realised that we need to dedicate more time in ‘input’ to practising. So this is what happens on day two…

The trainees get out their notes on student language from the previous day, compare and pool these in their TP group. Once they have corrected them they then categorise the students’ errors according to whether these are issues relating to meaning, form or pronunciation. To help them do this the tutor works with them on some examples.

Trainees typically end up with something like this:

Meaning Form Pronunciation
My name is difficult for Germans to … how do you say aussprechen?My name is difficult for Germans to pronounce. The name from my grandmother is Hilde.My grandmother’s name is Hilde. It’s a normalname in my country.It’s a normal name …

This is not necessarily a straightforward task and interesting discussions can arise about the distinction between problems of meaning and form – it is often not that clear cut.

The next step is to help trainees prepare to give students feedback on these bits of language. This is where we introduce the whiteboard plan. What we normally do is demonstrate giving feedback at the board using one of the bits of language that we heard in class. We have previously prepared a series of whiteboard plans showing in very small steps how we would get from the error to the correction. On my boardplan I have also noted down things I would say to help get there.

Trainees are given blank A4 paper and coloured pens (if they like) and then choose one bit of language that they would feel confident giving feedback on. We felt it is important that they choose something they feel happy about approaching; this should be as comfortable a first try as possible. Trainees then spend some time preparing how they would go about it.

It is important to remember that on day one trainees have already started to notice the techniques that are open to them such as:

  • using gapped sentences
  • different colours
  • substitution tables
  • underlining / boxing off words or phrases
  • symbols / simple drawings
  • marking stress
  • arrows
  • teacher talk such as ‘look at this’ ‘this is something interesting I heard’ ‘what other word can come here?’ ‘listen … where’s the stress?’ ‘does this mean X or Y?’ ‘can you think of other examples?’ ‘what is the ending on the verb here?’

Preparing a board plan gives students the chance to think about techniques which would be suitable for dealing with the particular issue they have and of course techniques that they would feel comfortable using. They may have noticed Anthony and me using technical tools like phonemic script and, while some may be familiar with it, of course many don’t know it and are scared of it. It is important to reassure trainees that at this stage we just want to give them the opportunity to experiment and experience standing at the board to focus on a bit of language – they should only choose a bit of language which they feel confident dealing with.  These are examples of what they come up with:

This is what a trainee prepared to help them stand up at the board and practise giving language feedback
trainee whiteboard plan
… and here’s another one!

This reflects what will happen in class. In TP 1 all the lessons are speaking lessons and trainees have no control over what language students use (although they may have an idea of what language might be helpful for students). We emphasise that we would like trainees to listen, make notes and then choose perhaps 3 bits of language to give feedback on. They have control over which bits of language to select and so they can feel more confident in helping the students to use them better.

Once the trainees have practised their feedback at the board we invite them to share how they felt, what they thought worked well and which challenges there were. Lots of interesting things come up here:

  • importance of maintaining eye contact
  • legibility/size of board writing
  • how much the teacher needs to talk
  • usefulness of simple questions which have a clear answer
  • smiling and giving praise
  • listening to and responding to students’ contributions
  • …and of course lots more.

We often finish this session by asking the trainees whether they can imagine doing this kind of thing at the end of their lesson tonight / tomorrow. Of course, we know and they know that they won’t realistically have time to do such an elaborate board plan for their delayed feedback but the process of planning it and testing it is a great way to allow trainees to see what is possible and it is a chance to experience in a secure environment what it is like to stand at the board and teach.


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