By Ste Sharpe

09 May 2019 - 14:56

Wooden sign in a rural landscape with mountains in the background
'Without that explanation, learners don’t understand how one activity relates to another, nor the importance of doing them.' Photo ©

Jen Johnsson used under licence and adapted from the original.

Ste Sharpe is a teacher and trainer, with a four-step approach to show English language learners what they are gaining from your lesson. 

We all need a sign 

Imagine a friend has invited you to a party on Saturday evening. They don’t give you an address, but say that you need to drive along a road for an hour and you’ll eventually get there. On the road, there are no signs telling you where to go.

Without signposting in lessons, this is exactly how learners feel. They know that they’re going to ‘practise part two of the IELTS speaking exam’, for example, but they don't know how they’re going to get there.

What is signposting in the English language classroom?

Geoff Petty says in Teaching Today: A Practical Guide (2014) that signposting is ‘linking key learning points to specific learning outcomes or transitions between activities’.

Basically, you give signs to learners about what they doing in the lesson and how this relates to the aim of the lesson.

Many teachers who I have observed tend not to write the lesson aim on the board. They also tend not to explain what the activity is and how this relates to the lesson aim. Without that explanation, learners don’t understand how one activity relates to another, nor the importance of doing them.

Step 1: Write the lesson aim

Here is an example of a ‘lesson menu’ that you can write on the board at the beginning of the lesson, with the lesson aims and content:

Aim: talk about your last holiday

Vocabulary: holiday activities

Grammar: forming past simple verbs

Speaking: talking about your last holiday

Step 2: Explain how each activity relates to the lesson aim

For each activity, make it clear why learners are doing it and how it relates to the lesson aim. For example:

'Listen to two people talk about their holiday. You will learn new vocabulary about holiday activities for the speaking task.'

Step 3: Ask questions related to the lesson aim after each lesson stage

Once learners have completed this stage of the lesson, ask:

  • What activity did you just do? (we listened to some new vocabulary about holiday activities)
  • Can you give an example of what you learnt? (go sightseeing; take a bus tour of a city)
  • Why did we do that activity? (to help learn new vocabulary for the speaking task)

It’s also a good idea to tick off what stages of the lesson learners have completed as they go along. This shows them that they have completed one stage and are moving on to the next.

It’s also handy for latecomers into the lessons, as they can see what the lesson aim is and what stage of the lesson they have arrived at.

Step 4: Reflect on the entire lesson 

Jason Anderson suggests in English Teaching Professional, issue 105, that teachers plan five minutes at the end of the lesson for learners to discuss or write answers to these questions:

  • What skills did you practise in today’s lesson?
  • What new language did you learn? Can you give an example?
  • What grammar point did you learn today? Can you give an example of when it’s used?
  • What did you find easy/difficult in today’s lesson?

You don't need to use all of them. Choose the ones that match your lesson aims.

Teachers, visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities, and find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger.

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