PINPOINTING STUDENTS´ DIFFICULTIES

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As teachers, sometimes it might be useful to stop and think exactly what kind of guidance, tools and general help our students need to get to that next level in their English studies.   Perhaps a particular student has a gap in his/her learning, such as not knowing or being confident about using the past simple irregular verbs.  Hence, this student may find strategies simply to communicate by using the present tense in a situation where he/she should be using the past simple.  Identifying students´ difficulties and even asking them exactly what their difficulties are can help them tremendously to speak and write more effectively.

Below are some activities you can use to give your students that little extra help they may need to fill possible gaps they have in their language learning.

ACTIVITY 1:  LEARNING IRREGULAR VERBS

Aim: to get students to learn irregular verb patterns and then use them in speech.

Level: A2 onwards

Instructions:  Make a copy of the 24 irregular verbs below for each student.  I did not put the past participle on purpose as we are focusing on the past simple.  Ask your students what each group of verbs have in common.

Answers:    Group 1:  past is pronounced/ɔːt/ (UK).  N.B. the last two verbs are spelt with “a”; Group 2: the infinitive is the same as the past; Group 3: vowel change pattern; Group 4:  d to t:  Group 5:  “ell” to “old”.

Ask the group to repeat the verbs after you and challenge them by asking what the past of some verbs are without looking at the chart.  Ask each student to hang this chart somewhere at home, such as the bathroom, until next lesson.  They should try to memorise the verbs.

In the next lesson, divide your students into pairs.  Give student A, card A and student B, card B.  Get your students to ask each other the questions.  There is just one thing to tell them – their answer should always be “yes” and, if need be, they should invent the answer.  They must use the past simple form in their answers.  Monitor and help your students during the activity.

IRREGULAR VERB PATTERNS

INFINITIVE PAST
BRING BROUGHT
BUY BOUGHT
FIGHT FOUGHT
SEEK SOUGHT
THINK THOUGHT
CATCH CAUGHT
TEACH TAUGHT
INFINITIVE PAST
COST COST
CUT CUT
FIT FIT
HIT HIT
HURT HURT
LET LET
PUT PUT
SHUT SHUT
INFINITIVE PAST
BEGIN BEGAN
DRINK DRANK
SING SANG
SWIM SWAM
INFINITIVE PAST
LEND LENT
SPEND SPENT
SEND SENT
INFINITIVE PAST
SELL SOLD
TELL TOLD
CARD A E.g.  Did you bring your English book to class today? Suggested answer:  Yes, I brought my English book to class today.  Here it is!
1)  Did you cut yourself last Tuesday?
2)  Did you seek any medical help last Tuesday?
3)  Did you spend any time with relatives last month? 4)  Did you send any emails two days ago?
5)  Did you sell any of your furniture last week?
6)  Did you drink any alcohol last weekend?
7)  Did anyone teach anything to you today?
8)  Did you bring anyone in your class a gift today?
CARD B E.g.  Did you bring your English book to class today? Suggested answer:  Yes, I brought my English book to class today.  Here it is!
1)  Did you buy any clothes last weekend?
2)  Did you swim in a river last Thursday?
3)  Did you lend anyone money 3 days ago?
4)  Did you fight with anyone yesterday?
5)  Did you hurt yourself yesterday?
6)  Did you begin anything new this week?
7)  Did anyone let you use their car today?
8)  Did you sing the Brazilian National Anthem last week?  

ACTIVITY 2:  PINPOINTING DIFFICULTIES

Aim: to get students to reflect on their difficulties in speaking and writing

Level: B2 onwards

Instructions: In pairs, ask students to talk about the following topics.

In pairs, talk about the following topics:
1)  Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Parents are the best teachers.  Give examples from your own life.

2)  If you could change two things about your hometown, what would they be?  Give reasons and specific examples. 

3)  Do you agree or disagree with the following statement.  The internet has destroyed communication among friends and family.  Give reasons to support your arguments. 

4)  What are some important qualities of a boss?  Use specific details to explain why these qualities are important.

Now ask each student to choose one of the topics and write a page answering the question.

Straight after you have done the speaking and writing exercises, ask the students to answer the questionnaire below individually.  Collect the compositions and questionnaires at the end.  Tell the students that the answers in the questionnaires are confidential.  The aim of giving the questionnaire is to find out how to help each student.  Try to diagnose what the students´ difficulties are and plan some remedial lessons.

Name: _____________________________________________________  

QUESTIONNAIRE

1.  What kind of difficulties do you have in speaking?  Tick the boxes that apply to you and write anything else you would like to add.

I think that I…
lack specific vocabulary
don´t express what I really want to say in some situations
don´t know which verb tense to use sometimes
get nervous speaking to some people
don´t know how to respond sometimes ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________

1.  What kind of difficulties do you have in writing?  Tick the boxes that apply to you and write anything else you would like to add.

I think that I…
lack specific vocabulary
am not sure how to spell some words in Englisham not sure how to structure some sentences in English
am not confident about writing emails/messages
rely too much on Google translate ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________  
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