Aligning lead-ins and “lead-outs”

My last post dealt with a tendency I have been noticing in my classroom observations regarding lead-ins being either used to pre-teach language that should actually be discovered by students or turned into loose conversation activities with no clear pedagogical purpose beyond “just talk”. I also commented that this long time spent on the lead-in resulted in teachers’ having to rush through their lessons, preventing them from dedicating more time to the actual communicative production as a result of the lesson of the day.

This month, I’d like to elaborate on this idea of the “lead-out” and how it can be closely aligned with the lead-in so as to clearly show students what they gained from the lesson of the day. To this end, I’m going to use a lesson I’ve observed recently, with the permission of the teacher.

The outcome of the lesson was for students to be able to use a set of adjectives and adverbs to describe animals. For a lead-in, the teacher had students tell each other if they had pets and which animals they thought made good pets and why. He then showed a video with many animals for students to decide which ones they would like to have as pets and which ones they wouldn’t and also explain why.  The teacher allocated twenty minutes to this lead-in, but students’ production was rather limited because they didn’t have the necessary vocabulary to expand their ideas, resulting in a sort of dragged discussion with some pairs. Students then worked in pairs again to match adjectives with definitions on slips of paper and opened their books to complete a chart with animals and the adjectives they could use to describe them. Next, students listened to a text describing animals and filled in the blanks with the adverbs of the same adjectives they had previously used. After going over the answers, the teacher led students to infer the rule for forming regular adverbs and when they should be used. A fill-in-the-blanks exercise followed. There was no time for a free production activity in which students would be led to use the adjectives and adverbs just learned in an authentic-like task.

In my post-observation discussion with the teacher, he himself recognized that his lead-in had taken an unnecessary amount of time. The good thing was that the lead-in did not purport to pre-teach adjectives and adverbs and it was effective in motivating students for the topic and personalizing it. However, it could have ended as soon as the discussion began to wane or, even better, when the students were still interacting enthusiastically. Why? Because their brains would be ready for learning!

Then we came up with the idea of a lead-out based on the lead-in: the teacher would show the same lead-in video again and now, equipped with knowledge of new adjectives and adverbs, the students would redo the same task – “Let’s talk again about which of these animals would be good pets and focus more on the why, using the adjectives and adverbs we have just studied.” An option would be to add animals to the list, for a greater challenge and to avoid so much repetition. A whole-class reflection would follow, in which the teacher would raise students’ awareness of how their ability to perform the task had changed as a result of what they had learned that day. In other words, students would clearly see learning taking place, that they were now able to do something they weren’t able before.

Lead-outs closely aligned with the lead-in of the lesson allow the teacher and the students to immediately assess if the lesson objectives were reached, by comparing what students were able to do in the lead-in, that is, in the beginning stage of the lesson, and what they can do now. This results in more accountability, for the learning gains are very clear to the students (though it is a fact that there are many other peripheral or incidental learning gains, too). Within this framework, the lead-in should be very short, just to serve its purposes, as stated in last month’s post, and the lead-out should be longer, for students would have the necessary lexical, syntactic, and functional tools to perform the task more effectively and, thus, for a more extended period of time, promoting language acquisition. This lead-out should ideally be the last task of the lesson, so students can go home with this sense of accomplishment. With the tech tools now available, students can even record their production in the lead-in and in the lead-out, so they can  perceive their gains even more clearly!

Isabela Villas Boas

Isabela Villas Boas holds a Master's Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from Arizona State University and a Ph.D. in Education from Universidade de Brasília. She has been at Casa Thomas Jefferson for 33 years, where she is currently the Corporate Academic Manager . Her main academic interests are second language writing, teacher development, ELT methodology, and assessment. She also supervises MA dissertations for the University of Birmingham. She has recently published the book “Teaching EFL Writing - A Practical Approach for Skills-Integrated Contexts.

6 Comments
  • Bruno Albuquerque
    Posted at 21:57h, 09 maio Responder

    Students love to know that they are learning! I sometimes plan classes in this format though I have been using a different name I read in a book for that class format: patch-work class. It works essencially the same way. I give students a task which I know they are not prepared to complete 100%. Then we go through all that scaffolding so students can discover the topic being taught and then go back to the first task or try a slightly different task just like you mentioned in your post. It is amazing to see how happy students get when they realize that the last 50 minutes changed them somehow. And we, teachers, feel like brain-shaping artists!

    • Isabela Villas Boas
      Isabela Villas Boas
      Posted at 16:12h, 12 maio Responder

      Dear Bruno,
      That’s exactly the point. I’ve also seen this technique referred to as “the garden path”. Whatever we call it, it is indeed a good way for students to really see what they have learned. Thank you for your feedback!
      Best,
      Isabela

  • Eduardo Santos
    Posted at 23:00h, 12 maio Responder

    Dear Isabela,

    I hope a great number of teachers read this post. Lessons with lead-ins or warmers which consolidate language from a previous lesson is also very common and sometimes useful. However, I do agree that teachers tend to go over time with lead-ins even if it’s not going to be “useful” for language practice in that current lesson. The power of lead-ins and lead-outs to create a sense of progress right there, right now is huge. By doing so, learners leave the classroom with a more concrete feeling of accomplishment and a sense of achievement in that specific lesson.

    Thank you for this interesting post!

    Eduardo Santos

    • Isabela Villas Boas
      Isabela Villas Boas
      Posted at 18:51h, 13 maio Responder

      Dear Eduardo,
      How nice to receive such positive feedback from you. I totally agree that lead-ins and warmers can also review content from the previous class and then link it to the current class. I wanted to emphasize the fact that, as you mentioned, teachers tend to go over time and without a purpose. Thank you for taking your time to comment on my post.
      Best,
      Isabela

  • Guilherme Bomfim Pacheco
    Posted at 21:06h, 15 maio Responder

    It’s always good to see a lesson with a beginning, middle and end – and a good lead-in and lead-out are essential tools to help with the flow of the lesson as a whole and particularly its “middle”. This is a crucial lesson to classroom teachers, Isabela. Thanks for that!

    • Isabela Villas Boas
      Isabela Villas Boas
      Posted at 18:35h, 18 maio Responder

      Thanks for reading it and for your feedback, Guilherme. You touched upon a critical issue, which is to keep the flow of the lesson. I hope I’ve helped teachers see this somehow. Take care.

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