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Setting context

Importance of setting context when teaching language.
Setting context is really important, isn’t it, when teaching language? Absolutely. Because as in a face-to-face classroom, online classroom, when you’re teaching language, the most important thing is to show students how language is used and what it means. And without a context, that’s really hard to do. So I think there are three ways of setting context, aren’t there? Well, that’s what we’ve decided. So the first way is teaching language in context where you set the context in the classroom. And would you like to give some examples, maybe? Yes, sure. You might want to use pictures. It would be nice to obviously gather some pictures and share your screen with learners. Or put them on the interactive whiteboard, something like that.
You could also use some nice digital tools for maybe creating little funny cartoons that include your learners with funny situations that they’d enjoy. Which maybe then maybe the cartoons could even be using the language. Absolutely. Yeah. You could tell anecdotes. You could include your learners in these anecdotes or stories, make up stories. Avatars. Avatars. Yeah, you could have speaking avatars, which is quite amusing. Or you could have short texts. Yep, sort of guided discovery where the language is embedded in the text, a short few sentences, and you ask them some questions about past answers, which action happened first, and that sort of thing. As in a face-to-face classroom.
But I think what you want to avoid is a lot of text, long readings. So you need to display on the interactive whiteboard, don’t you? So it needs to be quite short so everyone can see it clearly, and not too much information. Exactly. And so the second type of context setting is something that would be a kind of flipped classroom approach, where the context would be set by the students doing a homework task prior to coming to class. Do you want to talk about that? Yes, sure. So this would be the teacher - you - creating a little video where you’re presenting the language in a context, and probably even clarifying the language as well.
So dealing with meaning, form and pronunciation. So that’s, what did we have? We had context in the class, we had context in the flip classroom beforehand. And context, I think we’re going to talk about now where it happens unexpectedly - I think that’s the only way I can describe it - where something comes up or a student comes and presents with something that they want you to teach them. Do you want to say about that? Absolutely. So maybe they’ve received a business email and they don’t understand part of it, there’s some language they’ve never seen before, and they’re asking you about it.
So you want to explain it, and obviously you want to you know - well, I suppose there’s a context there already, but you might want to create other context to help them. So this is where you’re basically thinking on your feet. Yes. And here you’re probably going to do it more orally. You’re not going have created anything in advance. So it’s just coming up with ideas and then using the whiteboard or the shared screen to give other examples in this case.

Teaching language in context is incredibly important, as it helps learners to understand how the language is used and what it means. Online teachers need to consider how they’re going to set context to convey meaning. They need to ensure that the method is appropriate for an online lesson.


Watch Lindsay and Marie Therese talking about setting context in online lessons and answer the questions.

  1. When do teachers typically set context, according to Lindsay and Marie Therese?

  2. Which ways of setting context do Lindsay and Marie Therese mention? Choose from the list below.

A picture A drawing
A cartoon A short text
A film clip A video presentation
An anecdote or story Realia (props)
An avatar The learners

Check your answers

Reflect and share

What ways do you typically use to set context of language items in a face-to-face classroom? Do you think these will be easily transferable to a digital classroom? How might you need to adapt your method(s)? Share your ideas in the comments and reply to at least two comments by other participants.

This article is from the free online

Teaching English Online

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