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INTERNATIONAL HOUSE CERTIFICATE IN ADVANCED METHODOLOGY Module 4: Production Skills
Pre-reading task: Before you read the notes, consider your answer to these four questions. You may like to make notes, as your answers will be discussed during the session. Once you have answered them, read the notes which follow and compare with your answers. 1. What is the difference between accuracy and fluency work in the classroom? 2. Why is it worth differentiating between them? What are their roles in learning? 3. How do they affect the role of the teacher (with regard to, e.g., monitoring, correction and feedback)? 4. How can we stage production activities so that they succeed? 4.1 What is the difference between accuracy and fluency work in the classroom?

Your definitions may have referred to some of these issues: An accuracy-focused activity... • helps learners develop their control of language systems (e.g. grammar, lexis, phonology); helps build confidence with the nuts and bolts of language; involves close attention from the teacher and explicit correction.

• • • A fluency-focused activity... • • •

gives the learners a chance to use their own linguistic resources for real-time communication; helps develop their confidence and ability with production skills; allows the learners to express their own meanings with minimal intervention from the teacher.

Rather than seeing the two as polar opposites, it is perhaps more useful to see them on a continuum, with purely accuracy focused work (e.g., a drill involving simple repetition) on one end, and purely fluency focused work (e.g., a spontaneous discussion) on the other. Accuracy_________________________________________________________Fluency

 
    ©  International  House  World  Organisation  written by Neil Anderson 1  

                         

 

purposes. when she does speak. and only a few restrictions have been placed on what forms to use where – this should (the teacher hopes) occur as a matter of learner choice as they try to express their meanings precisely. but complementary. self-correcting       ©  International  House  World  Organisation  written by Neil Anderson 2                               . they serve different purposes in helping learners.. we will be focusing primarily on fluency.g. in helping learners develop their English competence. and how we can go about staging production lessons successfully. Learner A is reluctant to speak. as they both serve different. though I suspect many of you from different backgrounds will also identify with this) – endless drills. The situation in English language teaching has been similar – audio-lingual and grammar translation methods valued accuracy work over fluency. What is the effect of this on learning? Let’s consider Learner A – you may have had students like Learner A. and work on production was negligible. Formal accuracy work dominated. she does so haltingly. being able to distinguish as a teacher whether an activity primarily promotes one or the other is an important skill. In this unit. written grammar exercises. talk about your weekend plans using appropriate future forms. 4. the learners are being encouraged to use this language to talk about themselves. But think back to French or German lessons at school (this is certainly true if you are British. But they are often considerably weaker when it comes to fluency work. This may seem somewhat obvious to you as a teacher working under the umbrella of Communicative Language Teaching and using standard coursebook materials such as Cutting Edge and English File. e. On the other hand. They are very good when it comes to written grammar exercises and limited production such as drills. Let’s take a brief look at some of the theory informing this. meaning it can’t be considered a “pure” fluency activity. restrictions on linguistic choice have been placed. Nonetheless. a high percentage of class time spent discussing L2 in L1. It demonstrates that work on accuracy and fluency isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive.   IH  CAM         An example of an activity that falls somewhere in the middle could be a discussion which is designed to practise and make more automatic a particular structure that is being focused on. Clearly.2 Why is it worth differentiating between them? What are their roles in learning? As indicated above. constantly querying whether what they have said is accurate. minimal spontaneous (or even structured) discussions. You will probably recognise this type of “freer practice” activity as one that we commonly use in the classroom. It is now generally recognised that the classroom should be an environment in which learners are engaged in meaningful communication and close attention to language – that is. that there should be both fluency and accuracy work. although this will be considered in much greater depth in later units.

prizes fluency over accuracy – in actual fact. accuracyfocused activity with your students.   IH  CAM         and reformulating. In The Natural Approach. monitoring. consider the last time you administered a controlled.       ©  International  House  World  Organisation  written by Neil Anderson 3                               . Learner A and Learner F are stereotypes. like all stereotypes. impede the message. 4. The SLA (Second Language Acquisition) researcher Stephen Krashen represents one of the more radical positions here. Over the seventies and eighties. If the outcome of learning is to develop the communicative competence of a given learner. sometimes. without the option of feedback on form. because of learning style. He communicates with confidence and is quite good at getting his message across. it is hard to get the gist of what he is saying due to impeding errors. cumulatively. exposure to the target language was key (through. he has no interest in formal instruction. on their own. these don’t. it is fairly clear that they need close work on language. accuracy work – played an absolutely minimal role in language acquisition. and they need plenty of opportunities to express themselves and experiment productively with the language. in terms of input and feedback. grammar exercises or correction.g. a gap-fill where they had to select the correct tense. Learner F. for example. for example. he argued (persuasively but controversially) that focusing on form – in other words. He simply wants to communicate with minimal interference. What is more. the emphasis on accuracy shifted. Linguistic competence would take care of itself without formal instruction.. Rather. correction and feedback)? The chief reason it is important for teachers to be aware of whether an activity focuses on accuracy or fluency is that this affects (or should affect) his or her behaviour in the classroom. She has knowledge of the language but lacks the skill and confidence to employ it effectively in real-time communication. e. The problem is that his production is riddled with errors which he seems unaware of. Before you read on. Most of the time. it puts a strain on the listener or reader. This exaggeration serves a useful purpose – the realisation that focusing too exclusively on accuracy or fluency has a damaging effect on learning. certain errors become ingrained and very hard to eradicate. Such a radical position of course invited plenty of criticism. learner language tends to fossilise – that is. personality or other factors. you may recognise some truth in them but feel they are exaggerated. one of which in particular concerns us here.3 How do they affect the role of the teacher (with regard to. Let’s take a closer look at this. immersion programmes). But. This brings us to Learner F.

Quite the contrary – as we will see. in a position where you can see the learners’ work and guide them through micro-teaching (e. the following represent desirable teacher behaviour: • • The teacher carefully sets up the activity so that the learners know what they have to do. You will. After most learners have completed the activity. • The difference here is that the teacher adopts a much more facilitative role – the emphasis is on carefully setting-up the activity and providing comprehensive feedback afterwards but letting it run without intervening. to communicate in a motivated manner. you will hold a plenary slot.   IH  CAM         Answer these questions: • • • How did you monitor? What was your physical position? How many times did you intervene? Did you correct the learners? When did you correct them? What form did feedback take? Hopefully you were quite hands on. When it comes to helping learners put rules into practice. as part of this. setting up production tasks so that they       ©  International  House  World  Organisation  written by Neil Anderson 4                               . correction. point out errors and encourage the learners to self or peer correct. she conducts feedback on how successfully they completed their goals and offers some delayed correction on common / useful linguistic problems.. the students are free to use all the language at their disposal. The teacher lets the learners get on with it – she monitors carefully but without intervening (unless she has to – e. and what the outcome is. It’s important to be clear about the significance of this role – the teacher is not abdicating responsibility. After the activity is finished. in other words. I would argue that during a production activity. summarising the correct answers and perhaps addressing one or two common problems. tends to be on the spot and certainly explicit. then consider why you monitor or correct in the same manner during a fluency / accuracy activity). recapping and re-clarifying rules). for how long. to make mistakes. Now consider a production activity you recently taught (you will do this in more detail later). to repair instructions). During the activity itself..g. This can manifest itself through close monitoring. the teacher adopts a more instructive and less facilitative role. You probably notice that your behaviour was quite different (if not. and helping them develop their control of language.g. to experiment. She makes notes of some of the students’ ideas and the language they use to express them. Answer the same questions as above. She doesn’t correct errors she hears on the spot. who with.

e. it is more useful to consider a set of variables that you can take into account when planning a production activity. Far from inhibiting fluency. preparation       ©  International  House  World  Organisation  written by Neil Anderson 5                               . You may turn these knobs on or off. There is no fixed. invest themselves in the topic. what they know already about social problems in their country). Let’s define each in turn and look at their implications: Orientation and Preparation This refers to setting the topic for discussion. Rather than being very prescriptive then. For now. For example. 4. Feedback on Content and Feedback on Language. as the specific circumstances require. or set them to low or high.. The learners might also need thinking time regarding their specific arguments – even jotting down notes to support what they will say. their general confidence and competence with speaking and writing. their knowledge of the topic. Here are the main ones: • • • • • Orientation and Preparation. and collaborate by pooling ideas – it readies them for the production itself. It may help you to consider these variables as “knobs” to be played with in accordance with the specific group and activity. monolithic staging for production activities (though it is easy to recommend a very workable and flexible template. Set up of the Activity. you might first brainstorm common problems and possible solutions. If planned properly.4 How can we stage production activities so that they succeed? We will look in more detail at a possible staging for written and spoken production in the session itself. you give learners the opportunity to experiment with English and negotiate meaning with each other in a way that rarely happens in accuracy-focused stages. and generating interest in it. Task Repetition. if you want your group to debate the best way to deal with a particular social problem in their country. it is probably worth reflecting on one key point. How you go about it will depend on various factors such as the level of the class. Required Linguistic Support.   IH  CAM         work is a tricky business which requires careful planning. This allows the learners to activate their topic schema (i. their mood and so on. which we will do in the session). It also refers to any pre-production preparation that the learners need in terms of ideas.

they need a desk. where the goal is to be persuasive and win the argument. e. they need to be able to make eye contact and easily converse with everyone in that group. providing a purpose for the piece of discourse is highly motivating and authenticates the process. • Who they will be communicating with – alone. or What I’m trying to say is. or converse? Note that the physical position of the learners is very important here – if you want them to speak in groups. in pairs. try to agree on the two most important. during their “thinking time” slot. • • Feedback on Content and Feedback on Language       ©  International  House  World  Organisation  written by Neil Anderson 6                               . arguing and negotiating. Similarly. that is. discourse markers such as As far as I’m concerned.. Set up of the Activity The topic has been established. This doesn’t necessarily tip the activity away from fluency towards accuracy as this language has a supporting role – it is there to be used if and when necessary.. The latter requires actual communication – that is speaking and listening to each other. There is an enormous difference between these two instructions – talk to your partner about social problems in your country and talk to your partner about social problems in your country. groups. the learners may be asked to write a letter of complaint about a poor hotel visit. For example.g. This is crucial. as well as improving the accuracy of the language chosen. a debate. The learners have ideas and language. This helps determine the pace of the activity. or a ranking activity. The time limit – giving some sort of indication of how long they have to speak or write. or in front of the whole class? Will they take turns. Before they start. heavy-handedness on the part of the teacher could tip the balance. or could arise based on learner initiative. Required Linguistic Support In order to facilitate the production. Note that some formats for production activities already have a goal built into them – for example. outcome. with written production. The language could be topic-related lexis. The language could be preselected by the teacher. the outcome will be a class decision on who is most likely to get a refund.. If they are writing at length. or purpose of the activity.. The goal. the teacher putting too much emphasis on the language. the learners need to know several things that will help keep them on task. or gambits for helping support their points. the teacher may feel it is useful to focus on certain expressions or lexical items before the production itself. or a comfortable position for writing. where the goal is to agree with your partner on a given order..   IH  CAM         and thinking time have been shown to promote it.. However. based on the effectiveness of their letter. or insisting the learners use the phrases. rather than ideas.

Given that fluency activities focus on ideas more than language. it could take the form of a mini-input slot in which learner output is upgraded. expressions you heard that were impressive and worth drawing to the attention of the whole class. and then ask them to do it again. the role of the teacher while the activity is being carried out is to listen and make notes for feedback. The following could be altered in order to vary the task when it is repeated: • • • • • • Interaction – have the learners regroup / talk to a different partner or write for a different reader. assuming they were slips. Content Feedback means discussing the topic of the production activity itself.       ©  International  House  World  Organisation  written by Neil Anderson 7                               . For example. some powerful arguments for task repetition. often resist the idea of task repetition because they feel learners will be unwilling to do it. It provides closure and makes the students feel validated in their opinions. Content – tweak the content so that the topic is slightly different. offer feedback. Learners also tend to be able to repair their output – self-correct – more when repeating a task. instead of identifying who they agree with the most in the group. Goal – tweak the outcome in some way.   IH  CAM         As discussed earlier. Occasion of repetition – repeat the activity in the next lesson. The two main types of feedback are indicated above. Time – put pressure on learners by reducing the amount of time they have to complete the task second time around. they find the person they disagree with the most. the waiter becomes the customer and vice-versa. who was most persuasive in the debate. This could involve putting them on the board and eliciting corrections. For example. who will get their money back. i. a discussion on plans for the weekend could become a discussion on plans for next summer. There are. however. as well as the complexity and accuracy of the language used. or become bored by it. Teachers. Task Repetition This may seem somewhat unusual – we generally don’t have learners discuss something. Roles – roles can be switched. But there are plenty of variables to play with here. whether you could find something in common with your partner. with reference to the goal or outcome – for example. Task repetition has been shown to improve learners’ organisation of ideas. Language Feedback is straightforward – the teacher selects errors from what he or she has heard and focuses on them. For example. this stage should arguably not be neglected.e. based on research. or the next week. Note that you can also draw attention to successful language use in this stage. in terms of lexis and syntax. etc.. though.

. 1996. in your eyes? If so. Having said that. Task One Based upon the “knobs” discussed in section 4. P.. (especially Martin Bygate’s paper “Effects of Task Repetition”). S. Its benefits are numerous. Pre-Session Tasks Before the session. J. 2005. S. A Cognitive Approach to Language Teaching. and allowing them to become aware of the decisions you make and the subsequent benefits for their learning. Write down the aims of each stage. 2001. 1997. writing.   IH  CAM         Any of these can be tweaked as desired. J. Thornbury.       ©  International  House  World  Organisation  written by Neil Anderson 8                               . Skehan. answer the following questions and have your answers available as they will be referred to... (chapters 17-19 on productive skills. Task Two Think of a production skills activity you recently administered. Willis. 1998. The Natural Approach. can mitigate any potential resistance. design a staging template that would work for most production activities. there are certain conditions that need to be met – and how much emphasis is placed on these depends on the circumstances. why? If not. including micro-stages.. 1983. R. OUP. we can use these conditions to construct a template for staging production activities. In conclusion. and relate some of the ideas outlined here to your own experience. OUP. or both.4 and considering your own experience. For now.. How to Teach Speaking. why not – what could you do to improve it? How could you tweak it? Reading list: Second Language Acquisition. As I have already mentioned. these will be looked at in the session. look at the pre-session tasks. Ellis. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Macmillan Heinemann. Harmer. speaking and writing). Rather. Write down the stages. Krashen. & D. but should be fluency rather than accuracy focused. Note that research doesn’t support the idea that learners become bored or fatigued by task repetition. Was it a success. Pearson Education. and explaining rationale to your learners. it may not be desirable to select a single way of staging a production activity. which aim to bridge these notes and the session itself. Longman. Prentice Hall. Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. It could involve speaking.

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