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Aim-oriented teaching: Planning ahead for success

Our classes are often more successful when we’ve planned them with learning objectives in mind. In this post, Hugh Dellar explains how the idea of aim-oriented teaching and backwards planning can help you map out the language that will be most useful for your students so they can reach their goals faster.

He also shares some practical ideas for putting it into practice as well as his top teaching tips.

Defining appropriate aims

Aim-oriented teaching has become better known over recent years. It involves starting your lesson planning by defining what you want your students to be better able to do at the end of the class.

Much of the original impetus behind this came from the Common European Framework (CEFR), which sets out lists of can-do statements for different levels of linguistic competence. These statements are connected to what the CEFR defines as the broad aims of all language teaching:

  • To help students deal with the business of everyday life

  • To help them exchange thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions

  • To broaden their understanding of different cultures and ways of living/thinking.

The Global Scale of English (GSE) expands on the CEFR. It provides teachers with more learning objectives and numbers each to show where each sits exactly on a granular, numbered scale.

Key ideas that emerge

By focusing on what students will be better able to do at the end of a lesson, we start to see a new set of priorities emerging. The most obvious is that communicative goals should be the primary driver of our lessons. This means that grammatical and lexical input should be thought of as secondary and subordinate.

Secondly, there needs to be a consistent emphasis on fixed expressions, on patterns, and on routines. Interestingly for a profession that can sometimes be guilty of prioritising the novel and unusual, there’s also a keen focus on general topics and the familiar and on developing range by going deeper into what students can already do within such areas.

Backward planning

If we are to teach towards communicative outcomes, then perhaps the best approach to adopt when planning classes is backward planning or backward design. First introduced into curriculum design in 1998 by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins in their book Understanding by Design, this involves designing material by first identifying desired results and then designing activities that will make these results happen. In other words, once you know the destination you’re headed towards, it’s far easier to construct a straight route!

This was very much the approach we employed when writing Roadmap. We’d start a double-page lesson by selecting a relevant goal that we wanted students to work towards. Next, we’d think of the actual conversations we’d expect students to learn how to have.

Having narrowed this down, we’d choose realistic models, analyse the model texts for language and then write exercises that lay out relevant new grammar and vocabulary that helps students achieve their goals. This often means helping them to notice chunks, patterns, collocations, and so on. From here, we then build back up towards the final task.

Putting it all into practice

Let’s consider how all this can work in the classroom. In Unit 4A of the B1+ level for example, there’s a lesson designed to help students have better conversations about accidents and mistakes.

The lesson begins by asking students to discuss the accidents and mistakes that could happen in different situations shown in some photographs. They then read and respond to four short posts about accidents and mistakes taken from a discussion forum. Out of this emerges some work on narrative tenses, practiced in the context of similar stories. In the same way, the vocabulary is also practiced and presented in a similar context, and includes items such as mix up the dates, knock over a bottle and cause a lot of damage.

There’s a practice activity that encourages further use of the past simple and continuous. Students then try to put the separate elements they’ve studied in detail together as they discuss experiences of their own and respond to the stories of others.

Tips for teaching

Obviously, using classroom material such as Roadmap, which has been written with backward design in mind, makes implementing these ideas easier. In addition, here are my six top teaching tips:

  1. Always have a clear sense of what you want learners to get better at within any given class.

  2. Ensure your can-do statement is neither too broad nor too specific.

  3. Use existing frames of reference such as the GSE to help you decide whether your goals are appropriate to the level you’re teaching. (GSE teacher mapping booklets help you see where exactly each learning objective covered in Roadmap is on the scale).

  4. Define the new language – both grammar and vocabulary – that will be most useful to your classes as they work towards their goals.

  5. Think about the feedback you’ll provide at each stage of the lesson and how it will help students see their goals more clearly.

  6. Repeat your final tasks in a future class and revise some of the language covered in previous lessons.

Good luck and enjoy your teaching.

You can also sign up to his next online training session: Starting a new course with Roadmap on Thursday 12th September. Hugh will be examining ways we can approach new classes, share with you some first-day activities and will also look at how you can ensure your students get the most out of Roadmap.

Get your students to their learning destination with Roadmap

Roadmap is a new, eight-level general English course for adult learners.

The rich content and flexible organization allows teachers to personalize their lessons to give students the specific language training they need to progress. Engaging and clearly-organized with an extensive range of support materials, Roadmap makes lessons easy to prepare and fun to teach.

No other course is so focused on helping learners achieve the goals for each lesson.

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