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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds I like to ask for learner explanations at the beginning of the lesson or when I’m introducing something to make sure that we’re on the right page. I like to ask for learner explanations during a lesson or the introduction of a topic or concept just to check comprehension and as an assessment at the end of a lesson. My strategy to help them is to give them the vocabulary, sometimes even to give them whole sentences for example. And I require them to describe or analyse a map or something like that. Then I also hand them out some sentences so that they actually can use them and this shows that the quality of the result is higher.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds I like to use a variety of techniques. Asking questions is a very good one, but I also think that we need to have some novelty - some routines on the one hand, and some novelty on the other hand. So sometimes it may just be a prompt, a visual prompt. Sometimes it may be the beginning of a sentence. Sometimes it may be just a picture or something more creative. When I want learners to explain themselves, they’ve got to then produce some language. And I think it’s great to do collaborative tasks, so they become experts. They could be geologists - each expert in one type of rock. And they then regroup and explain to the other groups how the rock is made.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 seconds So you’re giving them the opportunity to do the explaining? Yes. After I’ve modelled it, then they would choose a different rock to explain how the process has happened. And I like to differentiate by having the support for question starters or sentence starters available so that those learners who are less sure and less confident can actually go and get this support. Whereas the more able can just communicate or understand without the support. Because some learners, obviously, take much longer. Why would you give them that opportunity to explain rather than you explaining? To keep them motivated and not switched off. Because most learners when they’re learning subjects, especially science, are usually quite keen. They want to produce.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds So this doesn’t last too long or else what happens is they’ll speak L1. But I time them and say, OK, you’ve got three minutes to prepare and two minutes to explain to another group about your rock. It’s a nice way of engaging them in lesson content as well. Yes. I think especially when you put them in the role of, say a geologist rather than just a general scientist. But I think also for clarifying ideas, if we don’t give them the support to ask a question - what does that mean? what does extrusive rock mean? - they’re not going to ask it. They might think it, but again, it’s all this language support to be able to define, describe, explain.

Skip to 3 minutes and 24 seconds It’s one way to involve them in the process in the first place to keep them on task. But it also gives me a lot of information about how well they are understanding what they’re doing, and how many misconceptions can crop up, and how to solve the problem before it becomes more complicated.

Asking learners for explanations

Helen, Kay and Paul talked about helping learners to understand subject-specific information in English by asking learners to give explanations. You’re going to watch our teachers talking about how they do this.

For example, What words can we use to explain the data shown in the two distance-time graphs?

While you watch, try to answer these three questions.

  • When do the teachers ask learners for explanations?
  • How do they help learners to give explanations?
  • Why do the teachers ask for learner explanations?
  • You can check the answers in the downloads section.

    Do you think it’s a good idea to ask learners for explanations in English? Why or why not? Tell us your views in the comments sections now.

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