As part of the Professional Development webinar series, Craig Thaine, co-author of Cambridge English Empower, explored manageable learning and the methodology and productive use of language. Key topics included how to avoid overloading learners with information, maintaining the appropriate difficulty level across multiple classes, and pre-empting any problems which learners might face while continuing to motivate learners towards a sense of progress and achievement.
Craig began by explaining the delicate balance of creating manageable learning, which takes the frustration out of language learning for students. The first main point focused on vocabulary learning and the importance of assessing and evaluating how learners are progressing, whilst being sensitive to their current level of ability, with questions such as: how much vocabulary should be introduced to students and when?
According to Craig, this depends on whether the meaning of the new words is easy to convey or more complex. Words gathered around the theme of crime were discussed with participants to ascertain whether teachers would teach these words at B1 (pre intermediate level). This gained a mixed response, as results showed that there is a broad range of levels across vocabulary based on this subject. Craig also referred to the Cambridge English Profile, which is a free and useful resource that helps teachers check which level of vocabulary is suitable for their learners.
The next part of the webinar centered around how to clarify phrasal verbs in different contexts, looking at how descriptive pictures are important for providing clear messaging to learners of English at different levels. Considering examples such as ‘put off her dinner’ and ‘carried on driving’, Craig asked participants to consider the pictures and actions in relation to meaning and student involvement by asking, how clear is the meaning? This reiterated the message about how important it is to consider the pictures used in workbooks, as these can be interpreted in different and literal ways-very clear explanations need to accompany the pictures to avoid confusion for students.
Craig continued by focusing on the use of binary and concept questions to contextualise the meaning for students, highlighting that an obvious example could often work best to cover all aspects of meaning. Keeping this process simple for students by focusing on one meaning at a time ensures that this is clear before moving on. Craig’s advice was to avoid asking questions that require a dictionary definition such as ‘what does this mean?’ and continue with binary questions to engage learners as fully as possible.
Towards the end of the webinar, Craig encouraged participants to think about what comes before and after vocabulary and which feature form should be highlighted in sentence examples and the importance of using questions to get students involved, while also helpful for eliciting and checking language. To end the webinar, Craig emphasised the importance of constantly evaluating learners as beneficial for both the student and the teacher, to monitor learner needs and progress, an approach covered in Learning Orientated Assessment from Cambridge English Empower.