Here’s an idea from a training input session entitled ‘The eclectic teacher’. I first used it on a Diploma course and other trainers have commented how useful it (or the idea behind it) has been. Note that the participants will need to have some familiarity with different approaches and methods in ELT history

1 Give the handout below to each person and ask them to tick any of activities 1–30 that they have used in their lessons.

2 They compare and explain their answers in groups.

3 Ask them to match an approach or method to each of the 30 activities. So, for example, 1-5 are things you might ask students to do in a lesson influenced by Grammar-translation.

The full answer key is: 1–5 Grammar translation, 6–10 Audiolingualism, 11–13 Silent way, 14–17 Desuggestopeadia, 18–21 Community language learning, 22–25 Total physical response, 26–28 Communicative approach, 29 Lexical approach, 30 Task based learning. Note that I used Dianne Larsen-Freeman’s excellent Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching as the main reference.

HOW ECLECTIC ARE YOU?

Have you ever asked a student to … Tick
1 translate a literary passage?
2 answer reading comprehension questions?
3 fill in gaps in a passage?
4 memorise a list of new words?
5 write a composition using a set of new words?
6 take turns reading a text aloud?
7 self correct?
8 complete a dictation with you reading the text?
9 memorise a dialogue?
10 listen and repeat?
11 correct another student?
12 take a Cuisenaire rod and imagine it’s something else?
13 give feedback on the day’s lesson?
14 work while you play music in the background?
15 notice pictures on the walls?
16 close their eyes and think about what they’ve just read?
17 move their chair to a more relaxing part of the class?
18 record their conversation?
19 tell you in their own language what they want to say in English?
20 transcribe a recording of what they’ve said?
21 reflect on how they feel about language learning?
22 follow commands, such as stand up, sit down, turn around?
23 give commands such as stand up, sit down, turn around?
24 learn without translation or explanation?
25 only speak in English when they feel ready to?
26 put scrambled sentences in order to make a cohesive text?
27 work with a picture strip story?
28 play a board game?
29 highlight all the verb-noun collocations in a text?
30 listen to a recording of someone completing a task and compare it with the student’s own version?

 

The other day in a conversation with two trainers, I heard two questions. From the first: “Do we still use loop input these days?” and from the second trainer(2) “What is loop input?”

I first learned about ‘Loop Input’ in an excellent training session with Tessa Woodward and she wrote a book called Loop Input (Pilgrims 1988). It’s now out of print though I bought a copy from the woman herself so I guess she has a few left for sale in her garage if you want one. You can also read an article by her here.

Anyway, in answer to the two questions: Yes, most trainers use it a lot though may not know it’s called loop input. And in answer to the second question (What is it?) here’s a brief summary with an activity to illustrate how it works.

When presenting a new teaching technique, it is common for trainers to follow this two-step procedure:

Step 1: The trainer asks the trainees to pretend to be students and then models or demonstrates the technique.

Step 2: The group discusses what was done before trying out the new skill themselves in their teaching practice.

So, in effect, you are doing two things in parallel: (1) Pretending to be language learners and then (2) Learning about teaching.

Loop input on the other hand offers an alternative by combining the two steps so they are less in parallel but work more in combination: as a loop.

Here’s an example of a loop input activity to train teachers to use dictations which Tessa originally outlined in her workshop though this version is in my words (so don’t blame her if it doesn’t work). In it, the trainer dictates a text describing how dictation works. In this way, the trainees experience the process and consider the content at the same time.

A training session on dictation1 Explain that you will read a text aloud and each participant needs a pen and paper to write down as much of it as possible. Read the following text to them: ‘A dictation is simply the teacher (or someone) reading out a piece of written text and asking the students to write down what they hear. The text could be the first few lines of a newspaper article, a verse of a song, even the instructions to another activity. It’s useful since it practises writing and speaking as well as listening. If you include language that you’ve recently taught in a dictation, it is also a good way to evaluate whether students have learnt it.’2 Afterwards, pairs or groups compare their texts afterwards. Read the text again so that everyone has the entire text (more or less). Briefly discuss as a class what the listeners found difficult and what they would imagine students would find difficult about doing a dictation.3 Now read the second part of the text on dictation below, which is about how to read dictations. You can either read this as you would any other dictation or, in order to illustrate the process of reading a dictation, read it differently from the way suggested by the guidelines in the text (i.e. incorrectly). So, for example, read the dictation slowly the first time, very quickly the second time (faster than normal) and finally, very slowly again.

‘As a general rule, the first time you read the text, read it at natural speed. The second time, extend pauses in natural places, such as at full stops and commas. The third time, read it again at natural speed. At the end, hand out a printed version or ask the students to read back what they have to you so that you can write it on the board.’

Afterwards, ask the group what you did wrong each of the three times you read the dictation.

Loop input appears to have the benefit of presenting information quickly and more efficiently than presenting the technique as it would be done with students and then discussing it. However, a loop input activity will also require discussion afterwards and some ‘unpacking’ of the process and content.

I have also observed – on pre-work training courses – situations where trainees have not seen the connection between the loop activity and the type of activity they might use in class. But without doubt, used in conjunction with other techniques, it can be effective.

Once you start using loop input in your training sessions it’s hard to give it up for a while! For example, you can do a session on reading skills but instead of using a reading you’d normally use with students, you use a reading text about how to teach reading and ask trainees to complete the types of tasks (gist questions, comprehension question, orally summarising) that we ask students to do with a reading text.

So I’ve answered ‘What is loop input?” As to the question, “Do we still use it?” Well, I do. Do you?