Number one for English language teachers

General: are parrots back in fashion?

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

Current methodology seems to pay far less attention to memorising and remembering activities than more traditional teaching approaches. So, here are a few practical ideas for being creatively unfashionable.


The old term “learn something parrot-fashion” suggests learning without understanding. But is there any place for learning by heart with understanding? Current methodology seems to pay far less attention to memorising and remembering activities than more traditional teaching approaches. So, here are a few practical ideas for being creatively unfashionable (or, maybe, one step ahead of the next new trend)!

Learning by heart

Choose a short well-written, language-rich, natural English paragraph from your text book and ask your students to learn it for homework. Yes, every word in order! The next day, check if they can tell each other (and you) the text correctly. Make it all a puzzle, a challenge and a humorous activity. Enjoy the mistakes. For the next homework, set the same passage – this time can they learn it without a single error? Or vary the texts and challenge level to take account of different skills and abilities among your students.


But … what’s the point?

Students will accumulate a stock of ready-made phrases and examples of good grammatical construction. Eventually, they will be able to retrieve pieces of this language and use them in other contexts. Students will start learning grammar by reflecting on known examples rather than trying to apply rules - one key to achieving both fluency and accuracy.
Variations

  • Sometimes, don’t give a printed text, but read the text aloud – including stress and intonation. Repeat it with students enough times for them to learn it.

  • Try poems, limericks, jokes, advertisements or dramatic dialogues – and perform them.

  • Design jigsaw learning tasks by giving different students different, but connected texts (possibly about a discussion topic, or containing a puzzle) to learn for homework. Next day, ask them to recite to each other as a prelude to discussing and agreeing.

Kim’s game

Place 20 – 30 objects (e.g. recently studied vocabulary items) on a tray (use pictures if the real items are not available or the right size). Alternatively, make a poster picture containing the objects. Ask everyone to look at this for 2 minutes and try to remember everything. Cover up the tray (or picture) and give students 4 minutes to write a list of everything they can recall. Who gets most?

Next-Day Drills

Do a short drill one day, with traditional cues and responses. In the next lesson, get students to work in pairs or threes to see if they can write down the whole sequence of sentences and cues. Get them to “teach” their version of the drill with other groups (or with the whole class). Do people agree that they got it 100% correct?
Word sequences

Say one recently studied word. Get students to repeat it. Say the same word followed by another (unconnected) word. Students repeat the sequence. Continue adding word after word to the sequence, until its quite long! Which student can remember the longest list? Play the game with the whole class, with single students in the whole class, in pairs or in small groups.

 

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