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5 ways to overcome the Intermediate Plateau
Teaching English for quite a long time, I have seen my students undergo the same stages on their learning path: enthusiastic start, when they are all highly motivated and driven; steady growth in all 4 skills from A0 to B2 levels; and then, very often, coming to the point when suddenly the progress slows down and they seem to be stuck, using the same patterns, the same language forms and the same vocabulary. This situation makes them feel dissatisfied and frustrated, as they do want to move forward. In this article, which I decided to write in a “5-ways -to-do-things” style again, I would like to share my thoughts and ideas on how to solve this problem, and judging from my experience, they really help.
1. Break the routine
It is very much like working out in the gym: if you stick to the same set of physical exercises without changing your workout programme for a long time, the progress stops. Make changes in both the forms of class work and the methods used. Be creative; introduce new games and activities from different ESL/EFL teaching approaches and methods. For example, today I might do a Project Based Learning lesson, but tomorrow it could be something like CLL. Surprise your students with variety and novelty. Try arranging what I call “stress lessons” to get the students out of their comfort zone, for example lessons in unusual or new places, in cafes, or even outside, somewhere in a park.
2. Avoid being tied and bound to your coursebook
Personally, I consider a course book at this level to be mostly a source of great materials and the framework for the syllabus. Always keep in mind who your students are, because for some learners, the exercises from your coursebook unit might be very interesting and a lot of fun, but for others – boring and tiresome. If the latter is the case, step aside, look around, and find something more suitable for them. You may also think of giving some lessons without a coursebook at all, which is really very refreshing and motivating.
3. Make students be creators of lesson content
There are a lot of lexical patterns or syntactic forms that can immensely enrich your students’ speech, but the problem is that a lot of these things simply do not stick in the mind. Learners easily understand them when reading or listening, but these forms do not come up when the students start speaking or writing. I believe that the reason for that is insufficient target use in communicative activities. By “target use”, I mean engaging forms of class work in which the students are asked to find room for these forms in their output, for example “use the following words or phrases in your dialogue or an essay”, and the like. What is important, in my opinion, is high level of students’ creative work by which they can actually “appropriate” the language. So, encourage more group discussions, projects, research tasks, but clearly explain that is essential to use the target vocabulary or forms. This also helps the students to be in the centre of the learning process.
4. More exposure to authentic language
Nowadays, there are so many ways to get yourself exposed to real life, up-to-date English with all modern technology in place: podcasts, YouTube videos, streaming video and video-on-demand platforms, like Netflix or Amazon Prime, or any other one of the same type. You can get ton of useful stuff from the Internet! And, of course, a good old method - reading books in the original, which are available in paperback in many places of the world, or you can buy an electronic version online. Students of B2 level and higher must do a lot extensive listening, watching and reading on a regular basis, choosing things that they are really interested in. Encourage your students to attend various speaking clubs with native speakers, or to find an opportunity to communicate in real life situations online.
5. Teach more vocabulary than grammar
In my humble opinion, reaching B2 level for a learner means to focus more on vocabulary and patterns than on grammar. Of course, it does not exclude grammar practice, but the ratio should be in favour of lexical elements. In this respect, it might be useful to look at the Lexical Approach as the dominant way to organise your teaching process.
To finish this small article, I would like to say that sometimes students and teachers have quite different views on whether they are making progress or not. Make sure that your assessment and students’ self-evaluation are placed on the common ground, for which you need to always keep the learners informed about the things that they have learnt in a lesson, a unit or within a certain period of time. Always write a plan or syllabus before an actual course starts, and keep an eye on how you are moving along.