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Classroom routines for awareness raising and learner

Luiz Otávio Barros
1. Needs Analysis

Below you’ll find an alternative needs analysis instrument that you might want to adapt
and then try out with one or two of your groups this term. It is probably best to use it in the
second week of the course rather than on the first day.

Sample letter:

Dear ___ (advanced 1) student,

Whenever I start a new group, I always like to get to know who my new students are, what they need, their questions, concerns,
expectations and so on and so forth. That way, I can plan a course with their profile in mind at all times. Over the last few years, I’ve
tried to do it in a number of ways (informal chats, questionnaires etc) but one method proved particularly successful: open letters. Let
me explain why.

When people are free to express their ideas, they tend to say what’s really important for them on a personal level. These are some of
the things students have told me in recent letters:

“I am extremely shy, so please don’t ask me to speak in front of the group if you can”.
“I love it when teachers correct me. That’s when I feel I learn the most”.
“I just love dogs. I’d really like us to read and then talk about dogs and pets in general”.
“I think I speak reasonably well, but my writing is terrible. I would really like you to show me how I can improve”.
“I’m going through a rough time at home right now, so if ever I switch off in class, it’s nothing personal, I swear.”
“I think reading in class is really a waste of time.”
“Why do I feel I’m not making progress anymore? Is it normal?”
“X and I used to go out together, but we’re not on speaking terms anymore. Please don’t ask me to work in pairs with him.”
“I only understand what the people on the tape say when the teacher plays it more than twice. Do you think you could do it as often
as you can?”

You see, these are all extremely important things I might have never got to know if the students hadn’t included them in their letters!

So, write a letter to me saying whatever you want to say. Try not to write less than 150 words. Oh, remember we’ve never met, so in
the first paragraph it’d be a good idea to include some factual information: who you are/what you do for a living/how long you’ve
studied English and so on.

Thanks a lot

You might want students to write their letters in class, otherwise it may be two or three
weeks before students actually hand them in.

2. Tapping into students’ perception

The aim of this activity is twofold: 1-to address any mismatches between students’
perception of what they’re learning and teachers’ perception of what they’re teaching;
2- to raise students’ awareness of the difference between classroom work that is merely
enjoyable and classroom work that is also useful in terms of learning.

©Luiz Otávio Barros. All rights reserved.

Copy the grid below onto an OHT and fill in the first column with recent classroom work.
Then conduct the discussion either S-T or SS-SS + reporting.

I found this activity ... (tick one box and give your reasons)
What do you think Enjoyable Useful but not Enjoyable but Neither
ACTIVITY the aim of the and useful. really not really enjoyable nor
activity was ? enjoyable. useful. useful.

3. Lexis: awareness raising

The grid below will be particularly useful to 1- give students an overview of the amount of
lexis they’ve been exposed to in class up to any given point in the course and 2- raise
students’ awareness of what’s involved in learning vocabulary.

Copy the grid below onto an OHT and fill in the first column with lexis you want to highlight.
How exactly you’ll want to go about it will depend on your group, but one possibility is to
ask students to fill in the first 3 columns individually and then do the last ones in small

Please bear in mind that:

1- Lexis is not the same as words. Research has shown that the brain tends to store and
retrieve larger chunks of language (collocations, polywords, lexical phrases etc.) more
easily than single words, and too much emphasis on the latter may be detrimental to
students’ mental lexicon in the long run.
2- This grid is ideal for lexis that arose naturally out of discussions, etc. and that for some
reason may not have been systematically recorded or recycled.

Lexical item Do you Would you Have you Where did How useful
[word/collocation/lexical phrase] know what be able to ever used it you first is it for you
it means ? use it in a when meet it ? personally
sentence writing or ? Rate it 1
right now ? speaking ? to 5.

©Luiz Otávio Barros. All rights reserved.

4. Lexis: being selective

You can do this 10-minute awareness-raising activity after any listening or reading text that
contains a good mix of both useful, high frequency lexical items and less common ones.
The example below is based on a listening from Focus on Advanced English, unit 11, but
the same transparency can obviously be used with any other book. Luiz Otávio Barros.

Example OHT:

If (and I say if) you want to use a text or listening for vocabulary learning, it’s important to decide which words / chunks
are worth learning and which are not. As a rule, try to concentrate on those words / chunks you will be able to use
actively in a variety of real life situations.

Awareness exercise: Look at these lexical chunks from the radio show and rate them    according to the
descriptions below:

 I can’t think of any situation in which I would ever have to use this lexical chunk. Trying to learn it would probably
be a waste of time.
 This lexical chunk is moderately useful.
 I can think of a number of situations in which I might have to use this word / lexical chunk. Knowing this word /
lexical chunk would help me express myself more precisely in English, so it’d be a good idea to make a conscious effort
to learn it.

Line 13 – puddles of light

Line 23 – things to fall back on
Line 28 – go through the whole lot
Line 44 – look closely at
Line 50 – low-lying branches
Line 57 – acquaintances
Line 61 – pick up the phone
Line 74 – get on with (someone) particularly well
Line 87 – would I be fair in saying
Line 111- it’s more likely that
Line 114- misshapen
Line 115- I just couldn’t make up my mind whether to…
Line 126- keep in your emotion
Line 162- we’re almost out of time

5. Examples rather than definitions

The aim of the activity below is to train students to make the most of what a good
monolingual dictionary has to offer in terms of lexical information. In the example below,
the teacher selected a few lexical chunks from a listening passage in Focus on Advanced
English, unit 11, and devised a few tasks to encourage students to concentrate on
examples and collocations rather than definitions. Luiz Otávio Barros. Needless to say, this
sort of learner training activity can be used across a very wide range of texts, as long as
you feel there are lexical items worth learning for active use, that is.

Sample OHT opposite.

©Luiz Otávio Barros. All rights reserved.

Put other people at their ease

 Besides put, which other verb can be used?

Clear your plate

 Besides plate, what else can people clear? Read the dictionary examples and write a few common collocations in the bubble.

CLEAR (verb)

Feel duty bound to do something

 Besides feel, which other verb(s) can be used?

There’s a bit of a cultural clash

 A cultural clash is a clash of cultures. Which other words collocate with clash?

A clash of…

 Is it correct to say, for example, there were clashes between PTistas and PMDBistas?

There’s an overlap between … and ...

 Overlap can be both a noun and a verb and it has both literal and figurative meanings. Write down one example of each:

Noun – literal
Noun – figurative
Verb – literal
Verb – figurative

The television is blaring

 What else can blare? Write four common collocations.


Give the telephone priority over a personal conversation.

 What’s wrong with these sentences?

My principal priority is to find somewhere to live.

Banks normally give priority for large businesses when deciding on loans.
Official business requirements obviously have priority above personal requests.
When you have 20 tasks for the day it’s not always easy to priorise them.

©Luiz Otávio Barros. All rights reserved.

6. Looking back (I)

Though this activity may at first glance look like some sort of memory test, its ultimate aim is
to encourage students to notice what language speakers use to convey any given idea. It
is premised on the (plausible) assumption that left to their own devices learners will process
language for meaning before they process it for form and if we want to encourage the
latter some sort of pedagogic intervention is called for. Luiz Otávio Barros.

It is likely that when you try it for the first and second time, you’ll get little more than empty
gazes and perhaps even a slight sense of frustration. But if you don’t lose heart and insist
on this sort of noticing routine, you may be in for a very pleasant surprise.

Sample OHT

Looking back on the past, say, X classes / weeks, can you recall:

1. An interesting word or multi-word chunk that the teacher used as she spoke that for some reason caught
your attention?
2. An interesting word or multi-word chunk that your colleagues used in class that for some reason caught
your attention?
3. An interesting word or multi-word chunk from a listening or reading passage that for some reason caught
your attention?
4. An instance in which you came across a word/multi-word chunk learned in class outside the classroom
(e.g., cinema,TV, in a book, magazine etc)? Luiz Otávio Barros.

7. Looking back (II)

This is similar to number 6, except that here students are encouraged to think about their

Sample OHT

Looking back on the past, say, X classes / weeks, can you recall:

1. An instance in which you were trying to express an idea in English and the teacher/your peers helped you
do it with more precision and/ or sophistication?
2. An instance in which the teacher corrected a grammar/pronunciation mistake you tend to make very often?
3. An instance in which the teacher corrected a grammar/pronunciation mistake you didn’t know was a
mistake at all?
4. An instance in which you self-corrected a grammar/pronunciation mistake you tend to make very often?
5. An instance in which you made a conscious effort to use a new word/multi-word chunk as you were
speaking and/or writing?

©Luiz Otávio Barros. All rights reserved.

8. Yesterday I go… vs. Had he not go…

For this activity, you’ll need samples of students’ language on an OHT.

Sample OHT

Decide which of the following sentences contain:

1. A successful example of the writer trying to use more advanced English.

2. An less successful example of the writer trying to use more advanced English, but still praiseworthy.
3. A serious mistake at advanced level, possibly due to lack of care or concentration.
4. A mistake that can potentially alter the meaning of the sentence or make the writer incomprehensible.
5. A less serious mistake, not really an issue at advanced level.

 We are likely to be something that our parents expect us to be.

 There are some serious evangelists, but cheaters outnumbers them.

 I’m think that give up is not the answer.

 The solution has proved to be efficient to the attainment of the aims proposed.

 I can’t say that’s not truth.

 We really hoped a hole would open up on floor and swallow us.

 Guests are kindly invited to refrain from park cars in front of the main entrance.

 All in all, this addiction brings bad consequences to your healthy.

©Luiz Otávio Barros. All rights reserved.