Part 1: Background
a) There was a reasonably wide range of ability in this intermediate level group, although the majority of students were able to form coherent sentences. Some students were more confident in answering questions aloud, while some needed to use their dictionaries regularly during lessons, and were less assured with speaking in front of the class. The age ranged anywhere between mid-20’s and late 50’s. The most common interests of the group were listening to music and watching TV. Three students listed some kind of sport (such as football or swimming) as their main hobbies, while two students put reading as their main interest. Other hobbies included cooking, going to the theatre and travelling.
Most students have been learning English for somewhere between 1 year and 2 years. The most inexperienced student said she’d only been learning for 2 months, whereas the most experienced had been learning for nearly 3 years. There was a very wide range of cultural backgrounds. About half the students were from somewhere in Asia such as Iraq, South Korea and Afghanistan. There were also many students from Europe, and some from South America and Africa. While their reasons for learning English varied from student to student, the most common reasons included wanting to further their careers and being able to interact with other people more comfortably.
In the questionnaire handed to the students, the most commonly preferred activity was speaking, either in groups or pairs. This was probably inherent to the fact that the vast majority of students wanted to achieve a general increase in their conversational ability in English. No students listed writing as a preferred activity, and upon further conversation with students it seems that reading and writing are seen as a means of achieving better speaking and listening. With regards to learning styles, it seems that visual learning activities initiated the best response, with things like photos and pictures inducing the most class participation. However, there were also some students who preferred either listening or kinesthetic activities.
b) The group’s communicative ability was generally OK, and almost all the students had the ability to get their point across. However, there were often mistakes in spoken sentences, the most common of which being the omission of auxiliary verbs and the confusion of tenses. With respect to dealing with not understanding, some of the more confident students would ask the teacher about certain words or concepts, whilst others had a tendency to look up words in their dictionary or ask their neighbour.
c) Arsen has quite strong receptive skills. This was clear from the outset, as he was able to respond to most concept checking questions well. On a listening exercise on the subject of family relations, he was able to distinguish that a character had previously lived upstairs, but now he lives with his aunt and uncle. This was a question that many other students tripped up on due to not understanding the context of the past tense. In addition, Arsen handled a reading exercise well. Upon being given time to read a body of text concerning how English people spend their time at work, he was able to correctly answer questions on how much of this is actually spent working, so this indicates good general comprehension.
Conversely, Avtar has relatively poor listening skills. He often confuses words and misunderstands instructions, which as a result leads to sometimes trying to carry out tasks in an incorrect way. This was evident in one exercise where the teacher asked him where the past participle was in the sentence. This induced a flurry of (incorrect) responses including ‘window’ and ‘steam train.’
His reading is also quite poor; one example of this was during a comprehension task where students had a list of statements and they had to simply tick which ones were true for them, but he instead began by underlining various words in the statements. Avtar would therefore benefit from being asked plenty of concept and instruction checking questions to clarify his understanding, and this might make his frequent contributions to the lesson more relevant.
Part 2: Strengths and Weaknesses
He met her while he was working in a bar. (Grammar)
The majority of British people read a newspaper regularly. (Vocabulary) He used to live in Australia. (Pronunciation)
1) The student (Avtar) said “Do you read a good book at the moment?” (Grammar) This is incorrect because he used the present simple form instead of the continuous form, so it should be “are you reading a good book at the moment?” This mistake was probably made because the student assumed that since he was referring to the present tense, the verb was of the present simple form. However, this is incorrect as in this context, the act of reading is a continuous action.
2) The student (Agneska) wrote that “At least twice a week is different to two times a week or more” (Vocab)
This is incorrect because these phrases are actually identical in meaning. The misunderstanding here has come from not realizing that “at least” in this context means “a minimum of”.
3) The student (Marwha) said “The average men does….”
Marwha meant to say “the average man” but pronounced, “man” with a /e/ sound rather than a /æ/ sound.
Part 3: Helping the learner
1. For Avtar, the problem lies in identifying which tense and verb form to use. For this reason, I would suggest that he completes a ‘missing words’ type task, where he must choose the correct form of a verb in the context of a short body of text. The exercise could also have the base infinitive form of the required verb next to the empty space so that students are clear which verb to apply. This type of exercise could really benefit Avtar, especially since he sometimes confuses instructions, and in this task the process is very clear. (See next page for example of task.)
2. Agneska has been confused due to the fact that there are so many ways to compare things in English. She needs practice using comparatives, so I have designed a short task (see back page) where she must match up phrases that mean the same in English. This task might be particularly suitable for Agneska due to the fact that she said she was learning English to further her career and make her more employable, and having a range of comparatives and being able to use them correctly is common practice in any kind of office job.
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