1. Using real contexts to learn language structures

Providing your pupils with opportunities to use specific language structures over and over again, in order that they absorb them, needs to be enjoyable.

There is a theory that people learn language through imitation and repetition. In the past, many language courses made extensive use of drilling (repeating exercises). It is now thought that activities that involve pupils in ‘real’ communication are more helpful than meaningless drilling. However, drills can still be very useful if pupils can attach real meaning to the sentences. It also helps if they are set to music.

Try the ideas in Case Study 1 and Activity 1 to test these theories.

Case Study 1: A language drill about a newspaper story

Mr Gasana teaches English to Grade 4 in Butare, Rwanda. A murder had taken place in their city, at 8 o’clock, two nights before. He showed his pupils a newspaper report of the murder. He talked with his pupils (in the home language) about how detectives question people when they are trying to find a criminal. Then he put up a question and answer pattern on the board, in English:

Q: What were you doing at eight o’clock on Tuesday night, Kigeri?

A: I was watching television.

He asked a few pupils the question, making sure they gave their own answer in the right form. Then he put pupils into groups of six. Each pupil was to ask the question to the other five group members, who would provide their own answers. Mr Gasana encouraged the pupils to correct one another, and walked around, listening to and monitoring the groups.

He asked each pupil to write a ‘detective’s report’ about their group. Each of the six sentences was to be in the following form:

Muteteli was playing with her brother at 8 p.m.

Erisa was dishing out food at 8 p.m.

Resource 1: Alternative lesson structures gives the patterns Mr Gasana used with his older pupils in Grade 5.

Activity 1: Drilling about prices

Find or make a sale advertisement or a price list of local vegetables, showing price reductions (see Resource 2: Sale advertisement for examples). Before the lesson, make a big copy of the advertisement or price list on the board, or prepare one advertisement or price list per group in your class.

Write the following question and answer sequences on the board.

Q: How much is that .... ?

A. It was .... before, but now it’s only ....

Q: How much are those .... ?

A: They were .... before, but now they’re only ....

During the lesson, point to a few of the items, asking the appropriate question, and ask a few pupils to answer. Then put them in groups, to question and answer one another in the same format.

Let each group make up and perform a song, with verses in the form:

That .... was .... before, but now it’s only ....

What did your pupils learn from these activities? How do you know?

Will you use this kind of exercise again? Why, or why not?

Section 2: Ways towards fluency and accuracy

2. Being a word detective