Teacher Training for schools and academies.

The difficulties of eliciting in the English language classroom.

 Problems with eliciting the foreign language
*me is a Spanish personal pronoun.

The situation in the picture shown above happened to me (though that's not me in the picture!). It was many years ago. I had pre-taught some nice classroom language phrases in English to my 9-year-olds and during a quiet drawing/writing activity students would come up and ask: "Can I have a pencil, please?"; "Can I have a rubber, please?" Then suddenly, this little chap came up and asked me for a pencil in Spanish. I reminded him to ask me in English. His seemingly honest reply in Spanish (How do you say me in English?) stumped me. He was genuinely asking me to translate the Spanish pronoun me into English to produce a word-for-word translation of the Spanish, which would have been something like "Me give a pencil?" I was at a loss as to how to get him to say what I wanted!

When eliciting language hits rock bottom.

What to do? There was something terribly frustrating about my inability to elicit a common classroom sentence from a student which would resemble, even just a little, authentic communication. I believe I remember we had something like the following conversation:

Me: Repeat - "Can I have a pencil" (a lot of exaggerated mouth-moving and pointing to his mouth so he got the idea he must repeat).
Him: "Can I have a pencil" (not pronounced quite like that!)
Me: Right. Here's a pencil.
Him: ¿Puedo cogerlo? (can I take it?)
Me: Yes! I just said... Yes, yes, pencil for you. (I put the pencil in his hand and pointed to his chair.)
He goes and sits down with the pencil.

But what was the point of using English at all in this situation? I could have used gorrilla speak and have produced similar results! Clearly, the technique of saying "repeat after me" is a useless one for helping students acquire a new language and yet many times teachers find themselves resorting to this or just giving up altogether.

Oral practice of the foreign language as class activities.

The above is just an anecdote now to tell over a beer with teachers. However, perhaps during nearly every class for teachers following the usual three P's approach (presentation, practice and production), during both practice and production stages the target language can be difficult to elicit even though activities or specific questioning have been planned ahead.

 Problems with eliciting the foreign language
Eliciting the language we want from our students often turns out to be more problematic than we thought.

How teachers control language in the classroom.

Target language from the course such as the class text book is usually introduced through written text for students from about 7 or 9 years old upwards. When teachers practise previously presented language, they will often use the same medium (text) for guiding students in the practice of the target structures: sentence matching, gap-fills, etc. Text presentation is considered useful for foreign language learning as it is a way to visualize L2, which in turn can help deal with the abstraction of the unfamiliar sounds of foreign words. Text becomes the dominant tool for language practice and is used throughout even in controlled oral practice of L2. Most teachers will be familiar with the following style of diagrams to elicit oral practice in the classroom. See below:

I like
I don't like

Real Madrid

Text is an essential tool for L2 practice as it the only one known to teachers that allows students to have a visual reference of the L2. It also “fixes” language on the page or on the board and ensures our students practise the intended target language.

Drawbacks of controlling language via text.

Unfortunately, text is a poor tool for oral practice of L2 for the following reasons:

a) Students passively read text following its phonetic clues. The above "I like / don't like" chart provides little for the students to think about. If the student is not challenged mentally, acquisition will be slow.

b) It is possible to read a foreign language (even aloud) and not comprehend the meaning.

c) Text-based practice exercises which require active cognitive interaction are usually non-holistic; gap-fill exercises, for example. They make students think about language but only focus on very specific language while essential accompanying lexis is overlooked. For example, it would be better if Paco could be challenged to produce in its entirety:

“I don’t like Barcelona”

rather than the lexis/grammar specific:

I don’t ______ Barcelona. (like/likes)

d) Students tend to convert text to oral language with the consequent transfer of L1 phonetics interpreting written words in L2 leading to inaccurate pronunciation (“bread” becomes /breiæd/ for Spanish natives).

Text, then, is better-adapted towards academic tasks such as L2 writing practice but poor for training students in communicative oral speech.

On the other hand, the more we deviate from the text-control tool, the less easy it is to draw students towards practice of the language we require from them or even to get them to speak at all. To sum up, text-based practice in L2 learning is an inefficient tool for improving oral skills yet teachers tend to depend on it extensively due to loss of control of student language output when text is absent.

An alternative tool for eliciting and practice of L2.

Eliciting the foreign language with gesture
Mutual understanding is happiness. Gesture in the classroom.

In the above situation, when the student blurts out something in Spanish, the teacher gestures in silence what the student wants to say in English. As this gesture code has been built up over time in the classroom and always present during the presentation of new language, there is immediate understanding. The student finds the gestures guide him/her to produce the correct utterance in English. There need be no corrections or demands that the student produces the utterance - just a silent reminder and guiding through gestures.

Resolving eliciting the foreign language with gesture
Facilitating utterances in English through gestures.

In practice sessions of oral English, the teacher can not only successfully elicit the answers but also the questions - the student produces the whole conversation! If the student just answers "no" and the teacher wants that full sentence answer, he/she just needs to gesture and the student produces. Furthermore, the student must interpret the gestures, conjugate, construct, which means this is not passive reading but that active cognitive interaction required for foreign language acquisition.

The aims of these training sessions.

These training sessions, then, address the difficulties teachers experience in eliciting language from students and its subsequent practice. The sessions offer a sound but simple alternative tool to guide both controlled and quasi-controlled oral practice so that students focus directly on the target language under study in an holistic way.

This tool comprises standardized gestures which substitute the necessity of text for oral practice. Students are therefore provided with an alternative visual reference which represent L2 lexis and even grammar. The teacher can then easily elicit exactly the language he/she requires and always as spoken L2, which is “uncontaminated” phonetically.

The session, though introductory, will provide some ready-to-go gestures that teachers can use in their next class. Namely, some twenty gestures for the most common verbs in the question and negative forms as well as gestures for the personal pronouns.

Further sessions, may be booked for later dates if the centre wishes to delve deeper.

Origins of the gesture tool and current research.

During 2014 / 2015, I was involved in an official research programme on the use of gesture with Seville University. This was a collaboration programme with CEIP Pedro I, Carmona, where an experimental classes was carried out with students of nine and ten years old. Thorough testing was carried out with control groups with very positive results for the experimental group.

Formalized Gesture classes for teaching French are used in many schools in Canada with enormous progress in the use of student oral French in the classroom.

More information about the origins of GestureWay....

Implications for the centre.

It is important to point out here that using the Gesture tool in the academy classroom means no upheaval to the present curriculum being used. This is not a new methodology – it is simply a tool which can be used in a variety of ways and frees the teacher from relying on written text. Neither are extra materials required. Teachers can take advantage of Gestures to present new language occurring in the students’ current English text book and later elicit it for practice.

If a centre wishes to expand on the training for teachers in the use of Gesture in the future, the only “happy” outcome will be a requirement for extra materials in the classroom (usually graded reader books – not for reading but as materials for gesturing).

To book a training session, please go to our contact page...