Teaching at Higher Levels
Viewpoint is intended for higher-level learners of English. At this point, students are considered to have crossed the threshold to becoming independent learners, a qualitative change from the idependent learner at the beginner or elementary level.
It is not just a question of learning more language; it is about becoming a different kind of learner. So, what happens when students move from intermediate to advanced levels? What substantive changes mark this shift?
Issues for higher-level learners
Higher-level learners have different needs from those at more basic levels. These include the needs to:
- move beyond general language toward more vocational and academic language.
- improve accuracy and confidence in using grammatical structures by understanding their complexities.
- review and correct common grammatical errors.
- learn new structures that are frequent and useful so students feel they are moving forward and covering new ground.
- learn more about appropriateness of use, such as formal and informal grammatical structures, vocabulary, and expressions, and understand which are suitable for writing and which are not.
- be able to operate fluently and confidently in a wider range of speaking situations, not only in informal conversations with friends but also in more formal settings such as the workplace or at seminars or presentations.
- develop skills for how to approach more formal writing and how to structure texts.
Ideally, students at the threshold of the more advanced levels will already recognize some 4,000 words. Most of the new words encountered in English at this point are fairly uncommon, and students are less likely to encounter them on a regular basis. In Viewpoint, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own vocabulary development through a section in each unit called Vocabulary notebook. This encourages them to write notes and improve their vocabulary learning strategies as part of the general learning process.
The Viewpoint presentations and activities expose students to the grammar used in speaking and also, perhaps crucially for these levels, to the grammar of writing. The grammatical syllabus has been organized by careful corpus analysis of the kinds of texts and contexts that more advanced students will need to work with. It has also been influenced by research in how examiners evaluate and assess students’ writing.
At the upper intermediate level, students are expected to be reasonably fluent in speaking. The CEFR, for example, sees the B2 level learner as being able to “interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.” Viewpoint takes this challenge seriously and, based on real conversation and spoken corpus analysis, offers speaking strategies in every unit that focus on creating a sense of flow or confluence that marks successful spoken interaction.
Using groups and pairs to increase opportunities to speak
For students to improve their spoken English, they must have opportunities to practice speaking. Viewpoint offers many opportunities for students to work in pairs or groups. Make use of these opportunities by having students work with a partner or putting the class into small groups.
- for group work, groups of three to seven students are best.
- if the task will last more than a few minutes, designate one student to help keep other group members on task. This student can also act as timekeeper and encourage group members to change roles when necessary.
- when putting students into pairs, be sure to introduce variety into the class. Don’t have the same students work together all the time. Many activities require students to change roles. Be sure that everyone gets a chance to speak.
- sometimes speaking activities can be demanding or require some preparation and thought. Try to allow some planning time when necessary, especially for in-depth discussions.