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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 5; Issue 5; September 03

An Old Exercise


upper secondary and adult

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  1. A student gives a short presentation they have prepared, lasting not more than 5-7 minutes.
    During the presentation the other students and the teacher take as detailed notes as they can. The aim of the students' notes will be to really pay attention to their colleague's text. The aim of the teacher's note taking will be to be ready to play the text back to the student but in a linguistically enriched version and minus errors.

  2. The teacher presents the class with her re-formulated, enriched text and audio-records it.

  3. The recording is replayed and the students note down any phrases, collocation or words they want to commit to memory.

This classical procedure is well described by Peter Wilberg in One-to-One, Language Teaching Publications ( LTP), 1987:

Re-formulation is a variety of procedures in which the teacher provides a format for student input and then provides the language that the student lacked in expressing him or herself. The student provides the content, expressed in inadequate form. The teacher re-formulates, that is to say provides the missing forms.

Re-formulation can be done orally, on the board or in writing; during or between lessons. The initial input may take the form of a student draft, presentation, or structured or unstructured conversation. ……

As a tool, re-formulation avoids specific dangers:

  • haphazard and ineffective 'spot' correction.
  • doing work that tests without teaching.
  • teaching which teaches the student his job: teaches him what to say instead of how to say it.
  • teaching language tangential or irrelevant to the individual student's needs.

What Peter does not say here is just how much teacher skill is required to do, especially, an oral re-formulation that is affectively acceptable to the student's conscious and unconscious minds. The re-formulation goes in deep if the student hears their own voice enhanced, rather than distorted. For more on re-formulation or linguistic “doubling”, see Bernard Dufeu's Teaching Myself, OUP, 1994

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