Is it really useful?

by Zhenya

The title of this post comes from the Twitter hashtag #IsItReallyUseful? 

First of all, I think this is a very useful question to ask yourself: ‘Is it [what I am doing, or am used to doing] really useful?’ In class and outside. Another version of this question (to me, at least) would be: ‘Why am I doing it?’ This question can relate to various aspects of our job as teachers: language we choose to teach, choice of tasks, classroom routines techniques, habits, activities, etc.

One of the ideas mentioned on Twitter that made me think was repeating after teacher: ‘Does it help students learn? Does it feel ‘natural’? Can it be helpful outside the classroom? Is it important at all?’ The newly qualified teachers I used to work with at school, or on a training course often refer to such a task as ‘boring’, ‘unnecessary’ or even ‘childish’ and ‘patronizing’. Through our conversations, they admitted that these answers came from the teacher’s point of view.

I started to reflect on my (non-English) language learning experience, and the first thing that came to mind was learning how to say ‘thank you’ in Korean. Note: it was not a formal classroom experience, and my Korean is limited to several words/expressions that can’t be even called ‘tourist language level’. I remember how many times I had to repeat the word 감사합니다 (kamsahamnida) to be able to produce it in real life (to a taxi driver, at a restaurant, at the market, etc.) Yes, it took repeating it to myself tens of times (and also asking for (non-) native speakers’ help, and repeating more, and more) It is also true, by the way, about my learning how to say thank you in Burmese, Thai, Turkish, Polish and Arabic. Now, a conclusion I can make is that repetition helps a lot me as a language learner. Yes, that was my personal language learner perspective. It has been a while since I attended a formal language course as a student, but my assumption is that tasks where I am asked to repeat (after teacher, other students, a recording, etc.) might be very helpful for my confidence in using the language outside the class.


I also came across this post by Rachael Roberts on her blog about task repetition: as the title suggests, repeating a (speaking) task might have impact on students’ accuracy, repertoire of language used, and fluency.

The most recent (related) example comes from a teacher training course I ran this summer: for the very last lesson with the Practice Teaching students the participants worked in ‘stations’ where the groups of 3-4 teachers did one and the same 20-minute review activity with a group of 3-4 students. After the timer went off, the new students joined a ‘station’ and the activity was repeated.

During the feedback session following that lesson, several teachers pointed out that repeating the same task with the students was getting easier (for them as teachers) every next time: it was clearer how to give directions to the task, what examples to give, where to stop a recording/clip, etc. One teacher also mentioned that perhaps the same is true for beginner adult learners: the more chances they have to repeat/rehearse a task with peers (in small groups or pairs especially) the more confidence, fluency, etc. they will gain from the lesson.

So my personal theory for now is this: even if something seems to be not very useful or helpful, and especially if something seems to be very useful or helpful, this idea deserves to be reflected on/discussed/experimented on, etc. Well, this sounds almost obvious — isn’t it what we call CPD in our job?

Further reading:

A post by Kevin Stein, who actually started tweeting about it. One quote I would especially like to remember offers a great question at the end.

With a little bit of thought, I could probably turn a lot of the directions I give to students into something more useful, and by useful I mean the directions themselves could be a source of language input. I’ve spent a fair number of hours (smashing my head against a wall) wondering why students sometimes don’t bother to listen to activity directions. Perhaps some of that time could have been better spent asking myself, ‘is what you’re saying really worth listening to?’

A post by Marc Jones on his blog focuses on the language we teachers use when communicating with students in class.

My post on ptec blog addresses activities where students need to make a sentence.

Hana Ticha’s post on her blog is about… asking to open a book on a specific page (creatively)

Finally, the beginning of Roger Hunt’s article** The Iron, The Which and The Wardrobe I really like starts like this:

When was the last time you went up to a friend, an acquaintance, or someone you hardly knew and said: ‘Excuse me, what time do you get up? What time do you brush your teeth? Have you got a wardrobe? Where is your wardrobe? My wardrobe is next to the window!’

I am wondering if it is only a course book to be ‘blamed’ for setting such tasks in class… I think I will keep asking myself this question when preparing for lessons or training sessions: ‘Is it really useful?’

Thank you for reading! 🙂

** the article can be found in this issue of IH Journal, on pages 26-27