Tag Archives: Checking understanding

Timelines in EFL – some tips

As you might have read in this post, two weeks ago I gave my first ever webinar. It was on different ways of concept checking. While preparing for it, I drew quite a few timelines and realised that I’d almost forgotten how to do this properly. Below is the first timeline that I drew.

Ive been living in Holland black

It’s fairly typical. We’ve all seen similar ones, and probably been guilty of drawing  a few too.

It’s also really boring! While it clarifies the target language, it makes you yawn right away.

So how can we improve it?

Tip #1 – add colours

Ive been living in Holland colours

Tip #2 – add symbols and use them consistently

I was watching football when

The symbols I usually use:

  • box to denote longer actions
  • ‘X’ to denote points in time
  • ‘—–‘ to denote actions that might continue in the future (see picture 1)
  • ‘?’ to denote we’re not sure when exactly an action happened (e.g. I’ve been to Spain 3 times)

Tip #3 – add pictures

I was watching football_pictures

If you’re as bad at drawing as I am, then the pictures will make your students laugh. And when you’re doing grammar, a bit of comic relief is just what the doctor ordered. You can also get the students to draw the pictures for you.

Tip #4 – add arrows

Ill buy pizza for lunch

Arrows are good for showing relationships between different events or points in time. For example, with this use of ‘will’ it is important for students to realise that the decision was made now (in contrast to ‘going to’, which if used for future intentions, suggests that the decision was made in the past).

Let’s practise:

Now it’s time to put it all into practice. Try drawing timelines for these two sentences:

  1. At 8pm on Monday I’ll be playing football .
  2. He realised he’d been drinking since Friday.

You can see my suggested timelines by clicking on the links below:

  1. Suggested answer – future continuous.
  2. Suggested answer – past perfect continuous.

Final suggestions:

  • use real-life examples AND
  • make the sentences meaningful and the language probable
  • OR use examples that might be amusing
  • get the students to draw timelines and put them up in the classroom as posters
  • draw blank timelines and get students to guess which action is which (this is what I would have done for the timeline in photo under Tip 2)
  • ask students for feedback to improve the quality of your timelines

If you have any comments or suggestions, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you whether you found these tips useful, and how you tend to use and draw timelines in the class.

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You might also like:

  1. Do you understand? – 7 ways of concept checking
  2. Checking understanding – practice
  3. Clarifying meaning
  4. Recycling vocabulary

Do you understand? – effective ways of concept checking

This Sunday I’ll have the pleasure to give my first webinar. It is organised by BELTA (the association of English teachers in Belgium) and is going to take place at 4pm. I hope that at least some of you will join the session 🙂

Some of the things that I’m going to cover are:

  1. what is concept checking and when does it come in handy
  2. 7 different ways of concept checking, including (among other things):
  • CCQs – common mistakes and tips on making them better
  • timelines – some advice on how to liven them up
  • translation: its pros and cons
  • do you understand? – when is it OK to ask this, and why are we being told we shouldn’t

The webinar will be very practically oriented, and you will get to practise all 7 ways of concept checking at least once. To give you a taste of what you might expect, I’d like to direct you to two posts I’ve written on the topic:

  1. Do you understand?
  2. Checking understanding – practice

It’s also completely free to attend 🙂 You can find out more about Sunday BELTA webinars (as well as the one I’m giving) here.

Image from: http://www.beltabelgium.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Marek-Sundays-with-BELTA-poster1.png
Image from: http://www.beltabelgium.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Marek-Sundays-with-BELTA-poster1.png


Checking understanding – practice

In a previous post I listed 7 practical ways of checking understanding. Now it’s the time to put these ideas into practice.

Just to quickly remind you what they were:

  1. CCQs.

  2. Timelines.

  3. Clines.

  4. Personalisation.

  5. Extension.

  6. Translation.

  7. Do you understand?

Below is a list of 10 sentences. The underlined phrases represent the target language whose meaning you have already presented (for ideas on presenting and clarifying meaning of target language read this post). However, now you want to check and make sure that the students have actually grasped the meaning.

Use each of the 7 techniques for checking understanding at least one. Justify why you decided to choose this particular technique and not a different one (as described in the previous post, some lend themselves better than others to certain language issues).

I haven’t posted my suggestions, because I’d like to hear from you in the comments section. I don’t want to influence your choices either. I’m also hoping I can learn a lot myself from your ideas and suggestions. Finally, for each example there’s definitely more than one correct answer, so it should be interesting to see how different teachers approach each language point.

If you don’t have time to do all 10, choose the examples that interest you most, or that are the most tricky.

Good luck! Looking forward to your suggestions and comments!

  1. He’s sleeping under the table. vs. He always sleeps under the table.
  1. I have to put up with lazy students.
  1. I used to live in Poland.
  1. He can take off any accent.
  1. I’ve been drinking since midday.
  1. I hope we’ll have finished this exercise by 2pm.
  1. I’m still not used to the traffic here.
  1. That can’t have been him.
  1. He swerved to avoid hitting a pedestrian.
  2. Should you have any doubts, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Do you understand?

In one of my last posts I discussed different techniques which can be used for clarifying meaning of new language. Here I wanted to talk about the next likely stage, that is checking understanding.

I entitled the post “Do you understand?” because it’s perhaps the most natural, yet the least welcome, way to find out whether your students have understood the explanation or not. And if you’ve done CELTA , then you know that it’s THE persona non grata of language teaching. But I’ll come back to this point later and first start with the more “acceptable” techniques for checking understanding:

  1. CCQs: 

    The teacher asks a question or a series of questions which focus on the underlying meaning of the target language, and check if the student has grasped the concept. Keep the responses short so more students can participate, and less demand is put on their production, e.g. I bumped into a friend yesterday. CCQs: a) Did I meet a friend yesterday? (YES) b) Was it planned? (NO) c) Was it an accident? (YES)

  2. Timelines:

    Very useful when dealing with expressions where the tense is the problematic bit (although can be culturally dependant), e.g. I’ve been teaching for 6 years.

  3. Clines: 

    Useful for any language concepts which can be ranked, e.g. frequency adverbs, modal verbs for probability, degrees of reality/imagination, although it can be tricky to decide on the exact degree (e.g. I love, I’m crazy about, I’m keen on)

  4. Personalisation: 

    Standard CCQs can be followed by something more personal, i.e. a question which uses the target language or one which elicits a response with the target language. For example, for the verb to ban you could ask:

    • Should the government ban smoking in public places?
    • Is banning soft drugs a good idea to prevent their use?
  5. Extension: 

    Students finish a prompt given by the teacher; they’ll only be able to finish if correctly if they understand the concept, e.g. CC although:

    • T: Although it was raining…
    • S1: …we went out.
    • S2: …we went for a walk.
  6. Translation: 

    This is normally frowned upon, especially on initial TEFL courses. However, if you speak students’ L1, it can sometimes be useful to translate in order to dispel any doubts. L1/L2 comparisons can also be a useful tool, raising students’ language awareness of similarities and differences between the two languages. It’s also very quick and relatively unambiguous.

  7. Do you understand?

    Well, technically this question is persona non grata and all CELTA candidates have a really hard time avoiding it. Probably because it’s the most natural thing in the world for god’s sake! Of course, it is not to say that it should be our only concept checking technique. Having said that, if we know that our students usually speak up when they don’t know something, asking do you understand?can:

  • tell us when our previous concept checking has failed and we need to re–clarify
  • save us time by avoiding unnecessary CCQs

Do you use any of the techniques more often than others? Are there any you use which I haven’t put on the list? Would love to hear from you in the comments section.

In the next post I’ll present a few activities in which you’ll be able to try out and practise some of the techniques described above, so stay tuned! 🙂

If you’re teaching lexis soon, check out this post on clarifying meaning and this one on recycling vocabulary.

For now, you might find these sources useful: