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key concepts in elt

Loop input
Tessa Woodward

The concept of loop input has gradually gained ground in EL Teacher

Training since 1986, when the term was rst coined (see Woodward
1986). Now it is common to hear teacher trainers and educators say that
they use loop input on their courses. However, on closer inspection it
may sometimes be the case that these trainers are using mainstream
experiential training (see Kolb 1984 and Ellis 1986) rather than loop
input. Thus we need to clarify the concept of loop input itself, and detail
the way in which it diers from straightforward experiential training.

Content and process

Taking the term content to represent what a person is trying to learn, and
process to represent how a person is trying to learn it, we can track these
two concepts from learning in everyday life to learning in the teacher
training classroom thus:


Everyday life

Learning to ride a bike

Watching others, trial and

error, support

Language learning

Talking about past


Listening to others,
studying verb tables,
talking about own past
events, mimicry

Teacher training

How to vary dictation


Reading articles, talking to

colleagues, watching
others, trying out new
kinds at a workshop

Experiential learning/ Trying out is a form of experiential learning. For example, the teachers in
the training classroom above, wishing to expand their repertoire of
dictation types, can pretend to be language students and experience, say,
a picture dictation given by the trainer. Provided the experience is
followed by discussion of what has been learnt (about the dictation type
and how it works in the language learning classroom), experiential
learning is regarded as a very useful tool in EL teacher training.

Loop input

Loop input is a specic type of experiential teacher training process that

involves an alignment of the process and content of learning. Returning
to the example of the teachers above, let us imagine that their trainer
ELT Journal Volume 57/3 July 2003 Oxford University Press


wants to explore the idea of messenger dictation. This is a type of

dictation where students are paired up, so that one is a sitting scribe and
one a running messenger who reads a text on a wall, memorizing chunks
of it so that they can run back and dictate it in bits to the scribe.
One other way of doing this would have the teachers in training
pretending to be language students and trying out the activity by pairing
o, running back and forth, and writing. The text itself could be one
taken from a local textbook, or one used to practise a particular tense or
lexical area with language students. This would be a simple version of
experiential learning.
Loop input would also have participants paired o and trying out the
activity, but it would involve use of a text which is itself about the
messenger style dictation. Here is an example of such a text which would
be pinned up on a wall outside the training room:
In this type of dictation, there is a text on the wall outside the
classroom. One student in the pair goes out to read it. The other stays
in the classroom as a scribe. The rst student goes back and forth
between the text and the scribe carrying bits of text in memory and
dictating them to the scribe. The messenger will use dierent
strategies for reading and remembering the text such as running back
quickly for fear of forgetting the text and
The scribes will wait dierently too. Some will be glad to see their
messengers. Others will and will
Once the dictation is complete, the content of the text can be discussed by
messenger and scribe sitting together, and extra notes made.
In loop input, it is even more important than in straightforward
experiential learning to allow for decompression time. Participants have
suspended their roles as teacher trainees and taken on new roles as
dictation giver and receiver; in addition they have experienced a new
activity, and lived the congruence between content (the text of the
dictation) and process (messenger dictation). It is thus vital that these
threads are gently untangled. This could be done in the example above by
allowing time after the experiential dictation phase to discuss:
the steps of the messenger dictation for both messenger and scribe
the types of text that could be used for a messenger dictation used in a
language learning classroom
the advantages, disadvantages, and possible variations of this dictation
type in the language classroom
any other comments.
For simplicitys sake, the example above describes loop input at the level
of an individual training activity. It can, however, also be applied at the
level of a) a complete session, b) a course module, c) a course, or a
teaching philosophy or approach.


Tessa Woodward

For example:
a A complete session on continuous assessment run along loop input
lines could thus have integrated within it a continuous assessment of
the participants understanding of the material presented in the
session, using the methods advocated by the presenter in the session.
This would be followed by a round-up discussion of the assessment
materials, methods, advantages, and disadvantages, from the point of
view of a student as well as a teacher.
b A course module on, say, the Presentation, Practice, Production, or
Three Ps method of introducing new language to foreign language
students could, if run along loop input lines, have three main phases.
The rst is where the methods and materials associated with the Three
Ps are elicited or taught to participants via texts or talks. The second is
where the participants have a chance to try out the methods and
materials in very controlled settings, such as micro- and peer-teaching
practice. The third would be where they are encouraged to transfer
them to situations which would be of use to them in their own
classrooms. Towards the end of the module, if participants had not
noticed already, the congruity between the content and the process of
the module would need to be pointed out by discussion.
c At the level of a whole course, if the organizer wished to explore with
participants the overall idea of a little and often teaching and learning
philosophy, then using loop input would enable the facilitator to
introduce this, or indeed all of the component(s) of the course, using a
little and often scheme of work. This would mean that each session
would not contain long blocks of work, but rather short sections on a
number of topics. Each of these threads of work would contain the
kind of review and extension of material that is implied in this way of
working (see Woodward 2001). Thus, in one session, the criteria for
good and bad threads could be discussed. In another session this work
could be reviewed, and the advantages and disadvantages of thread
planning could be dealt with, and so on.
The advantages of loop input are that it is multi-sensory, in just the same
way as experiential learning, but with the added advantage of involving
self-descriptivity and recursion, both of which can have the eect of
fascinating certain people. Some participants thus learn more deeply as a
result of this reverberation between process and content.
Allowing time for the decompression phase also involves participants in
a detailed and very useful discussion of the steps, materials, content, and
participant experience of the activity from the inside out.

Key concepts in ELT : Loop input


Ellis, R. 1986. Activities and procedures for
teacher training. ELT Journal 40/2: 919.
Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience
as the Source of Learning and Development. New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Woodward, T. 1986. Loop input-a process idea.
The Teacher Trainer 1: 67.
Woodward, T. 1988a. Loop-input: A new strategy
for trainers. System 16/1: 238.
Woodward, T. 1988b. Loop Input. Canterbury:
Woodward, T. 1991. Models and Metaphors in
Language Teacher Training. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.


Tessa Woodward

Woodward, T. 2001. Planning Lessons and Courses.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The author
Tessa Woodward is a lecturer at Hilderstone
College, with a special interest in how adults learn.
She also edits the Teacher Trainer journal for
Pilgrims. Her most recent book is Planning Lessons
and Courses, with Cambridge University Press.