The Final Five Minutes

How do you close your lessons? In this article guest writer Chris Cotter suggests some useful activities for the last five minutes of any class.

A lot of experts have written about structuring a lesson, from the initial warm-up stage, through drills and practice, and on to an end activity that allows students to use the target language naturally. There's pace to consider, the type of drills to best make the language automatic, and how an early activity will tie into later portions of the lesson. But not enough attention has been given to ending a class effectively.

Many teachers simply ask: "Does anyone have any questions?" Even more teachers use the time to assign homework, collect assignments, and chat with students while everyone cleans up. But correction, review, and feedback offer a better use of the final five minutes.
  • Correction: In the perfect class, students don't make any mistakes after applying the language. But, of course, a perfect lesson simply doesn't exist. Correction offers a practical way to remind the class as a whole of the language. This is in preference to interrupting a group's flow in a role play, interview, or presentation with on-the-spot correction, which then won't even benefit other groups.

    For example, one of my recent classes covered "going to" to talk about planned events. The end activity consisted of classmates interviewing as many people as possible about their real plans for the weekend. I observed, took notes, and wrote some mistakes on the board during the activity. Here was one that recurred several times: "I'm going to go to shopping." I wrapped up the activity with about five minutes of class time remaining, and asked the class to correct the sentence. I then drilled a few, similar examples orally, as in:

    Me: "I bowl."
    Class: "I'm going to go bowling."
    Me: "He skis."
    Class: "He's going to go skiing."
    Me: "She drinks."
    Class: "She is going to go drinking."

    But correction isn't merely limited to today's target language. I can cover any previously studied words or grammar points, for example. I can also draw the class's attention to words which they know, but perhaps used or pronounced incorrectly. I can even teach a more natural phrase or expression than one which popped up in the final activity.

  • Review: Review focuses specifically on the material studied that day. I may reuse flashcards to choral drill vocabulary, particularly words that were troublesome for students early on. I may reread some questions from an earlier worksheet, in order to call for answers. I may reread answers from a worksheet, and call for appropriate questions. I may even ask for a response from part of the dialogue we studied. In other words, I can go pretty much anywhere as long as it reviews today's material. Whereas correction focuses on mistakes both with the target language and other points, review lets everyone take a final look at today's material. From a teacher's point of view, it's my final chance to make sure as many students as possible leave the class able to understand if not use the language correctly.

    Equally important, though, review serves to boost confidence. If students entered my class completely unable to use the new structure, the review session demonstrates that they have studied, learned, and can now apply it. Because there's usually only one correct response, it's oftentimes easier for students to measure learning via review, than it is through an open-ended speaking activity.

  • Feedback: Whereas correction and review have a place in any lesson, feedback is a little more particular. Class size must be considered, because a group of twelve or more students makes individual feedback impossible. We must also think about how students will handle advice in front of their peers.

    In large classes, a general comment on performance can effectively close the lesson. For example, from my "going to" lesson: "Everyone used today's grammar and vocabulary well--we can use 'going to' for any planned event. Remember to ask follow-up questions, because this makes conversation more interesting! Kenji said, 'I'm going to visit some friends in Kyoto.' Can you think of a good follow-up question?" I only commented on today's lesson, but I could just as easily have added: "Don't forget our long term goal. We want to have a conversation with a partner for five minutes without stopping."

    I make the same general comments in small classes, too. However, I also add a very brief comment for each individual student. During the final activity, in addition to noting mistakes, I write down the strengths and weaknesses of each student. I only focus on one skill (e.g., fluency, grammar, listening, pronunciation, or vocabulary) to offer a positive statement, and one skill to offer a "needs work on" statement. My notes may look something like this: "V+ P- (th-sound)," which translates as good use of vocabulary, but poor pronunciation, especially with "th-." I can then spend fifteen or twenty seconds on each student, offering some personal attention to help them with their studies.

By closing a lesson with correction, review, and feedback, I'm giving the students a means to measure their progress. They measure today's learning with a quick review of the key lesson points. They also gauge their retention with previously studied material when we go over correction. Lastly, in order to fine tune individual needs, feedback allows the teacher to give some positive and negative comments, as well as tips or remedies for each student.

If you’re looking for lesson plans and materials to use with your upper-intermediate and advanced students, don’t miss Chris’ website Heads Up English!


Photo provided under Creative Commons licence by
tata_aka_T via flickr

No comments: