Learner training with young learners

Learner training is about developing students' awareness of how they learn. It aims to develop students' learning strategies with the intention of making learners more effective and independent.

Lynn Gallacher, British Council, Spain

Learner training can be started with students as young as 5 years old! The article that follows contains learner training activities you could try with your young learner students.

  • Involve the students in planning the course
  • Learner goals
  • Raising students' awareness
  • Thinking about learning
  • Correction and assessment
  • Organising learning
  • Conclusion

Involve the students in planning the course
With older teenage students this can be particularly rewarding. Using a copy of the basic syllabus the class look through the plan of units in the course book. (This can usually be found at the beginning of the book.) Anything on the syllabus and in the book we mark as 'compulsory'. Anything else we mark as 'we'd like to do if we have time' or 'definitely not'. This involves the students in the decision-making process and takes away the feeling of slogging through the book for no particular reason.

Learner goals
At the beginning of each term ask students to make three resolutions about learning English. Try to make them realistic, achievable and specific. For example:

  • I'm going to have a dictionary beside me when I'm writing.
  • I'm going to do homework on time.
  • I'm going to keep vocabulary notebook up to date.

At the end of the term ask the students if they managed to keep their resolutions.

Raising students' awareness
Write the aims of the lesson on the board at the beginning of each class. Example:

  • Animal quiz - to revise names of animals we studied last week.

When introducing the activity as well as explaining what students have to do, explain the reasoning behind it.

Ask students to remind you of what they did in class today and just as important why they think they did it.

Get students to keep a learner diary and at the end of each class give the students five minutes to complete their diary with entries under these titles:

Today I studied
Today I learnt
One thing I said very well in class today
One mistake I made today

Thinking about learning

  • Ask students to think about a time when they did something very well at school (it doesn't have to be in English, it could be winning a race) and ask them to tell the class.
  • Ask questions to try and draw out why they were successful in that activity. As a class try to draw up a list of points, habits, attitudes that lead to success. If you think your students would prefer to write about it ask them to do that.
  • You could create a wall display together called 'Success in learning'.
  • Prepare a set of questions for learners to answer.
    • Do you revise what you have learnt regularly?
    • Do you look over your vocabulary notebook?
    • Do you use a dictionary when you do homework?
    • Do you do your homework when watching television?
    • Do you participate in class?
    • Are you prepared to ask questions if you don't understand?
    • If you don't understand a word do you forget it or try to work out its meaning?
  • Students can then discuss these questions in pairs or as a class.

Correction and assessment
Self-correction: Get students to keep an 'X-FILE' of the mistakes they make in their written work with a corresponding correction. Example:

He don't like ice cream.He doesn't like ice cream.
I go to the playground yesterday.I went to the playground yesterday.

Check this from time to time and point out if they are repeating the same mistakes again and again.

Peer correction: Set students some written work and after they have completed the first draft ask them to work in pairs and see if they can spot any mistakes in their partner's work.

Self-assessment: If your school gives out student reports ask the students to complete a copy of the report beforehand. Typical reports have categories such as progress in listening, reading, writing, speaking, homework and participation in class. Compare their report with the one you have written, any differences can be discussed with the student.

'Can do' statements: These are increasingly being used with primary students. After completing a topic the learners decide whether they can do certain things:

  • Name six animals
  • Count to 10

If the learner can successfully name six animals they might tick the statement or draw a smiley face.

Organising learning
Experiment with various learning strategies: Learners may need to be shown different learning strategies. For example, each term have a different way of recording class vocabulary - a vocabulary bag where students add new words each class, these words are tested over the next few classes and then discarded when they are learnt, a vocabulary wall where new words are attached, or students keep a vocabulary notebook. At the end of the year ask students which way was more successful for them.

Portfolios: These are a great way to help students review what they have done over the term or year, organise and assess their work.

The students choose a certain number of pieces of work they want included in the portfolio and this is the work that is then graded by the teacher.

At home: Show learners resources they could use to extend learning outside the classroom.

  • If your school has a library or study centre you could incorporate a visit as part of the class.
  • Create a classroom library. Ask each student to buy a graded reader of the appropriate level and then the students can swap books throughout the year.

Course book: It's well worth looking at your course book. Many of these now have self-assessment or reflection activities at the end of units.

Many people believe that young learners aren't capable of taking responsibility for their own learning and that all responsibility should rest with the teacher, but by using a few of these ideas we can start the long but important process of developing learner autonomy and ultimately improving the effectiveness of their learning.

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