Helping learners get ready for the “real world” – teaching strategies and fostering autonomy

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The wisdom in this Chinese proverb can be easily transferred to the classroom environment. Helping learners to develop strategies that can better enable them to communicate is the best way to prepare them to interact in real-life situations in a foreign language, I believe.

Teachers can help learners become autonomous in numerous ways, and I share some ideas and suggestions I find useful below:

  1. Help learners develop strategies – when teaching listening or reading skills, for example, help learners infer meaning from the context, find cohesive devices to understand sentence relations, and make use of visuals (such as pictures in a written text) and paralinguistic features (such as tone of voice) to better comprehend the message;
  2. When correcting exercises, remember to teach (and not only test) – asking learners to back up their answers with evidence will help them analyse what they have done, give them a chance to process (the message from a text, or a new structure for example) information and, as a bonus, help them develop critical thinking when they need to come up with arguments to justify their choices;
  3. Teach phonemic script – from elementary to advanced levels, from young learners to adults, all learners can benefit from learning to read phonemic script. I don’t mean to say all sounds should be taught at once, but having the phonemic chart on the wall (or open from the Internet in case you have access to the web in your class) and referring to some sounds every lesson should enable learners to read the transcription of words and know how to pronounce them when they look them up in a dictionary;
  4. Help learners to systematise their learning – learners can be exposed to an overwhelming amount of information in (and out of) class, and it is crucial they devise a system to organise what they learn. Whether they use paper and pencil or an electronic device, it is important they find a system that works for them and that can be easily accessed whenever they need that information;
  5. Share your experience – telling learners what worked for your when you were learning English can help them build a bank of strategies and find the one(s) that best work for them. Also, be careful when telling learners not to resort to a technique; maybe what did not work for you may work for them. You may also want to explain to learners why a strategy may or may not work backing your argument up with referring to what seems to have been proven to be effective regarding language acquisition theories.

Hope you find these ideas useful and look forward to learning some others from you!


Catarina Pontes

Catarina Pontes is a senior consultant for Troika. She is an ICELT main course tutor, and Cambridge Assessment English Team Leader . A DELTA holder, and currently doing her MA with NILE, she is also a conference speaker and has published articles on ELT and EFL. She is the co-author of "Getting into Teacher Education - a Handbook", and is currently the coordinator of IATEFL's Pron SIG.

  • Edson
    Posted at 00:21h, 26 abril Responder

    Great article!

    • Catarina Pontes
      Catarina Pontes
      Posted at 11:35h, 26 abril Responder

      Thanks, Edson! 🙂

  • Ludmila
    Posted at 16:27h, 26 abril Responder

    I love teaching the phonemic scripts. Visual sts can easily understand the pronunciation of words when they see the phonemes.
    Very useful tips!

    • Catarina Pontes
      Catarina Pontes
      Posted at 18:37h, 26 abril Responder

      Thanks, Ludmila! Glad to know you’re a fan of using phonemic script, too!

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