An EFL teacher recently described to me a challenge he is facing with an advanced student at his school. This adult learner and working professional has enrolled for further language instruction, but the materials currently being used fail to stimulate her. She sees the vocabulary and grammar in the advanced textbook as an unnecessary review. Is she really in need of formal instruction? If so, what should she be taught?
Although an assigned textbook might lack content that is new for a student, the teacher can always supplement instruction with more challenging and engaging materials. At the advanced level, materials are in abundance because authentic texts, videos, and audio podcasts can be used. This also means that materials can easily be selected to match the student’s interests. Does this language learner work in the field of finance? Select an article from The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, or any other source of business news. Perhaps the learner works in the restaurant industry. In that case, a video from Food Network or a food critic’s review might be a good choice. There’s a lot that can be done with texts, videos, and audio podcasts:
- See my earlier suggestions for working with written texts, which include creating gapped texts or scrambling the paragraphs. These activities can be followed by a detailed comprehension check and then lead into free discussion.
- Videos can help target multiple skills. In a single lesson, the content can be discussed, vocabulary can be reviewed, and an oral summary can be given. The same video can become a model for suprasegmentals, such as linking. From the transcript, take key sentences and use my variation of the backwards build-up strategy.
- Podcasts from weather reports to presidential speeches can test listening comprehension, review vocabulary in a fresh context, and serve as a pronunciation or writing model.
Other suggestions for working with a very advanced learner:
- Photographs can serve to stimulate self-expression.
- Famous quotations can prompt discussion and give practice with paraphrasing (for more paraphrasing activites click here).
- Song lyrics can be interpreted and then used for pronunciation practice.
I believe the key is knowing the student’s interests and identifying her needs. You might have the student complete a goals sheet. That process may help you decide which skill(s) to focus on. If the student’s pronunciation is very accurate and her reading and listening comprehension are equally strong, then focus on production both in speaking and writing. She may “know” all the vocabulary presented, but does she use it actively in her own speech? How good is she at organizing her ideas, understanding register, and matching appropriate grammar to specific functions? Below are additional ideas to consider:
- Debates test students ability to think critically in English and promptly form articulate responses.
- Oral presentations on topics relevant to her work would be useful. Give specific guidelines and a model.
- Select a short story or novel to read. The student can retell parts of the story, make predictions, and then write a character description, a book review, or an essay on a main theme. (I love my copy of 75 Short Masterpieces: Stories from the World’s Literature. Ed. Roger Goodman. New York: Bantam Books, 1961.)
- Old tasks with a fresh, creative spin can help an advanced learner find the enthusiasm to take self-expression to a new level. Consider, for example, my activities How to Incite a Revolution and An Insect’s View. I also think almost any student enjoys activities related to film. (See my film-related activities set 1 and set 2.)
Please feel free to aid our colleague by suggesting more ideas for very advanced learners!