Thursday, December 17, 2009

Checking for Comprehension Using Total Physical Response (TPR)

We all know what most learners will say if we ask, “Do you understand?” Here are some alternative ways to check for comprehension.

--Ask a learner to show you the action or the object that you name.

--Ask learners to actively listen to a story that you tell, draw, or act out. Then ask them specific questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”. Each student must respond by holding up a color card, one color for “no”, a different color for “”yes”.

--Learners brainstorm a list of clothing items while you record them on the board. Working from the list, ask people to stand if they are wearing a particular item. Or use family relationships and ask students to raise their hands if they are sisters, brothers, husbands, etc.

--Act out commands as you speak them. Students copy the actions. The visual component assures comprehension and the body language reinforces memory. With beginners, use TPR to teach classroom commands, like “please sit down” or “open your books”. For more advanced learners, in work readiness classes, for example, demonstrate the use of a piece of equipment, naming each step as you perform the action. Eventually, give the commands without demonstrating. Student response will be a clear sign of comprehension! Now ask students to take turns giving and following the commands.

How do you check and see if your students understand? Share your ideas in a comment.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Best Practice: Minimizing Teacher Talk and Maximizing Comprehension

Minimizing teacher talk means not only limiting the number of words you use, but also thinking about which words you use. Here are some speaking tips to aid in communicating with your learners:

*Use gestures, mime and facial expressions to help clarify meaning.
*Use picture dictionaries, realia and visuals whenever possible.
*Slow down, but don’t talk down to your students.
*Enunciate, so learners are able to distinguish where one word ends and the next one begins.
*Use fewer reductions, especially with beginning level learners. Examples of reductions are: didja (did you), arentcha (aren’t you), gonna, wanna, etc.
*Avoid idioms. Have you ever realized how many idioms in American English come from sports?!
*Avoid slang. Monitor your choice of words. Is this something I’d say to my grandmother? If so, then it’s probably acceptable.
*Use simple words whenever possible, for example, “give me your papers” instead of “hand in your papers”. Multi-word verbs are more difficult for beginners to understand.
*Be prepared to repeat and rephrase what you just said. Use synonyms and/or define new words.

The above points come from a series of online presentations, designed to help native speakers of English communicate better with international students. To listen to them all, go to:
1. click Cybertower
2. click Go underneath Study Rooms
3. scroll down and click on Watch Your Language: Improving Communication with Non-Native Speakers
4. click on a video title on the left and enjoy (the video may not work, but the audio is clear and easy to follow).

Do you struggle with minimizing teacher talk? At what point in the lesson is it the most difficult to reduce your teacher talk time? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Borrowing Letters

Purpose: This activity provides practice in spelling clarification and requesting to borrow something.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Materials: a set of 5 word cards for each team of 3-4 people (each team should have different words, but the vocabulary should be familiar); one set of alphabet cards that contains all the letters used in the words given to the students (if each group has a word with “i” in it, then you need multiple “i”s in your set of cards).

Prep: see above


1. Divide the class into teams of no more than 3-4 people. Send each team to a separate area of the classroom.

2. Give one word card to each team.

3. The goal is for each team to collect the letters it needs in order to spell the word on its card.

4. Shuffle the alphabet cards and deal 5 alphabet cards to each group. Place the remainder of the cards face down in a pile in the center of the room.

5. Teams check to see if they have any of the letters they need for their first word. They put those aside and decide which letters they still need.

6. Then, one team sends a runner to one of the other teams. This student asks to borrow a letter that the team needs by asking, “Can I please borrow an ‘a’?”

7. The other team responds, “Sure. Here you are.” Or, “Sorry, we need our a’s” or “We don’t have any a’s.”

8. If the runner doesn’t get the card he/she needs, she picks a new card from the pile in the middle of the room and takes it back to the team.

9. Then it’s the next team’s turn.

10. When a team completes a word, it sends a runner to the teacher to get another word from the set of word cards. The first team to complete its word list wins.


More advanced students can use forms like, “Would you mind lending me…” or “Could I borrow…”
Ask students to clarify their request by asking, “May I please borrow an a as in apple?”