Jim Scrivener looks in detail at a question from Module 1 of TKT – Language and background to language learning and teaching.

Try this question

For questions 1–3, match what the student does with the learning strategies listed A–D. Mark the correct letter (A–D) on your answer sheet. There is one extra option which you do not need to use.

Learning strategies

A) Self-monitoring
B) Guessing from context
C) Memorising
D) Organising learning skills

What the student does

1) ‘To learn new words, I always create pictures of them in my mind.’
2) ‘I always keep new vocabulary on cards which I separate into topics.’
3) ‘I pay attention to my own language to make sure it is accurate.’

Question focus

This question tests your understanding of different strategies a learner might use to help them learn better.

What you need to know

Learning strategies are the techniques a student uses to help them learn or use their language more effectively and more efficiently. The student makes a conscious choice to use a specific strategy at a particular time. For example, a student who always tries to speak English whenever they meet someone else who speaks English could be said to be using the learning strategy of making use of every opportunity to get practice.

The question focuses on four learning strategies:

Self-monitoring: The verb monitor means to watch someone or something in order to see if there are any problems or other things that need attention. It is typically used to talk about the way that a teacher watches what the students are doing so that she or he can make sure that they are doing what they have been asked to do, and help them if they are having problems. However, a student can also monitor themselves. This self-monitoring refers to the way that a student might pay careful attention to what they say, taking particular trouble to make sure that what they say is correct and well-expressed. A student who is good at self-monitoring may be better at correcting their own language because they are more aware of what they are getting wrong.

Guessing from context: When a student doesn’t understand the meaning of a word in a story they are reading, they might decide to try and guess by looking at the surrounding language and thinking about its form and its meaning. This strategy is known as guessing from context or deducing meaning from context.

Organising learning aids: Just as teaching aids are things that help a teacher to teach a lesson, learning aids are any things that help a student to learn better. These might include, for example, vocabulary notebooks, mind maps of vocabulary, posters with grammar notes on the wall, diagrams showing time lines, substitution tables to summarise a verb tense, cards with words written on one side and definitions on the other, and so on.

Some of these aids may need some careful organisation in order to be most effective. For example, a vocabulary notebook that is just a random list of words will be considerably less useful than a notebook in which the words have been carefully arranged into groups of items that have the same topics or grammatical features. 

Some students like to keep records of vocabulary with each word on a separate card – sometimes with a translation or definition on the reverse side of the card. They find this helpful because cards are very easy to separate and carry around with them, and the student can test themselves on the tram or bus into work. Even just sorting out the cards into different sets can itself be a useful activity as this forces the learner to think about the words and their meanings. 

Memorising: This is the process by which we put things into our memory. How we do this will vary for different people and for different things that we want to memorise, but will typically involve actions such as reading and re-reading the thing we want to remember or saying something again and again to ourselves. Many people have particular strategies to help them memorise things more efficiently. One popular way involves thinking of an image to associate with the item you want to remember. For example, a learner who wants to remember the word cupboard may try to think of an image of a cupboard they know and say the word cupboard a few times while they think of this image. An extension of this idea would be to find something else to help you recall the word. For example, the student may notice that the first three letters of the word spell cup and try to picture some cups in the cupboard. If they forget the word cupboard, they may be able to find it again by thinking of the picture of a cupboard and then remembering that the cups are a clue to the opening of the word.

So what are the answers?

1C; 2D; 3A.  The option you do not need is B.

What else should I study?

There is no single list of all the learning strategies a student might use, or how best to name them, though many writers agree on similar ones. Check the TKT glossary on the Cambridge English website  for ideas about strategies that might feature in the exams.

Other learning strategies include:

  • using a dictionary to check unknown words;
  • repeating language items aloud to yourself;
  • being open to accepting corrections and learning from them;
  • thinking about the best way to approach studying something new;
  • experimenting in communication by trying to use recently studied language.