Two Activities for Fostering Autonomous Learning
Successful language learning entails learner motivation, cooperation and empathy. Naturally, this approach places emphasis on learner development. There are a number of stages in the learner development process. The uppermost stages include raising language awareness (how learners can contribute to their own learning), changing learning strategies (self-monitoring, responding to peers, etc.), and, finally, assuming responsibility for their own learning. The last stage implies transferring some traditional teacher's roles to learners which allows them to become more independent (Kavaliauskiene, 2002).
This paper describes two activities that can encourage learners' development towards autonomy by motivating and involving students in class activities, producing classroom materials and using them in class.
Checking and Correcting Homework
- LEVEL: post-elementary & above
- OBJECTIVES: peer-/self-assessment, developing autonomy, learner cooperation & interaction, recycling vocabulary
- TARGET LANGUAGE : vocabulary / grammar review
- MATERIALS: homework (done individually outside class)
- PROCEDURE: whole class interaction or in small groups
- TIME LIMIT: about 10 minutes
This activity transfers a common teacher's role to learners, encourages their cooperation, interaction, assessment and recycling earlier covered material. It can be used as a warm-up activity at the beginning or as a revision task at the end of the class.
Ask one of the students to start the activity by appointing a speaker who will provide an answer to the first question. If the answer is correct, this student asks somebody else to answer the next question, and so on. If the answer is wrong, the teacher's role is taken by any student who provides the right answer.
The activity works even better if you divide class into teams (3 to 5 students on a team), let students choose the names for their teams (lions, tigers, snails, etc.) and set up the implementation procedure in the same way as described above with one exception - nobody 'plays' teacher's role. Teams do all the checking in turns. Students have more fun this way.
In this activity, all students have opportunity to speak out and argue their points. The teacher is nearly redundant: his/her role is to monitor students' performance. The teacher's interference might be necessary in case of tricky questions, i.e. if learners are unable to come up with a right answer.
It is advisable, however, instead of prompting the right answer to give learners some tips that might help them produce the correct answer. Usually someone in class does.
At lower levels, students might lack self-confidence to use English. If learners feel like using their first language, do not discourage them. Let students become familiar with activity and feel comfortable and secure.
This activity can be used for peer-checking of progress tests administered by teachers. Having administered a few versions (to avoid cheating) of progress tests, ask students to exchange their worksheets, correct their peer's work and allow them to grade it. Learners enjoy playing teachers!
Next, let students discuss their performance by working in pairs or small groups. The teacher's role is to monitor pairs' work and give advice if necessary.
Avoid 'denouncing' students for making mistakes. The damage to a student's reputation might be irreparable. Individual counseling is preferable.
- LEVEL: elementary & above
- OBJECTIVES: peer-assessment, self-assessment, producing materials, reflection on usage, interaction, recycling grammar/vocabulary
- TARGET LANGUAGE: vocabulary, grammar, word-building, matching words& definitions
- MATERIALS: handouts, worksheets, transparencies from
- web-based, authentic or textbook materials
- PROCEDURE: work in pairs / small groups / whole class discussion
- TIME LIMIT: flexible
The choice of materials that students can use for producing tests for their peers depends on their level. Higher level students are apt to create a variety of exercises (word-building, gap-filling, language in use, matching words and definitions) and use authentic materials. Lower level students prefer to produce grammar exercises similar to ones in their textbooks.
For students, making their own tests is an extremely motivating activity, which also has an element of self-study and self-assessment. Learners are bound to reflect on the items they have chosen for testing
In class, learners hand out worksheets to their peers, set a time limit and provide assistance if needed. The outcome is discussed either between groups or in the whole class.
The teacher's role is to monitor learners' activities in pairs or small groups unobtrusively. Intervention is unnecessary unless learners need assistance.
It is advisable to check and correct mistakes on the learners' worksheets before they are handed out to their peers.
Tests might be presented on transparencies and implemented as a whole class activity (provided an overhead projector is available in the classroom).