Developing noticing skills

Developing noticing skills

Noticing skills are essential in the acquisition of a new language. Why? With the help of noticing students can correct their own mistakes, learn new phrases, constructions, collocations, functional language through listening to or reading authentic materials. For example, a student can misuse an article or a preposition, but then see how it is used in the article or book and start using it correctly. Or they can see how words collocate with each other. Thus, it is necessary to develop and apply students’ noticing skills at the lessons.

Noticing Hypothesis

“People learn about things they attend to and do not learn much about things they do not attend to” (Professor Richard Smith, 2001).

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Professor Richard Smith has introduced the idea of Noticing Hypothesis. What he states is that students notice the language they know and they ignore the things they don’t know. In order to make them notice, we need to attract their attention additionally and force students to noticing. How to do it on practice you’ll read further in the article.


Noticing skills are widely applied in Inductive approach to grammar presentation (or, Guided discovery). The students are given some piece of grammar in the context and are asked where, why or how a certain construction is used. For example, when teaching ‘used to’, the following examples can be given:

  • Sam used to wear glasses when she was at school. But now she usually wears contact lens.

The following questions can be asked to prompt students to understand:

  • Did Sam wear glasses at school? Did she do it regularly or for a long time? Does she wear them now?
  • So in what cases do we use ‘used to’?
  • How do we make negative sentences with ‘used to’?
  • What form is the verb after ‘used to’?

This method of grammar presentation encourages students to analyse sentences, it develops noticing skills, makes the student an active participant of the lesson and leads to a better understanding and remembering the topic. To summarize the rules a teacher can send some articles or tables with grammar after the lesson or show it to the student in the following step before the guided practice.


Noticing skills can help a student distinguish between shadings of the meaning of different words and use collocations correctly. While reading texts a student observes the spelling, parts of speech and their position in a sentence, transitive verbs, verbs which are followed by infinitive or gerund, abstract and concrete concepts. etc. While listening a student can hear and learn about word and sentence stress, connected speech, sentence, variety of sounds, intonation, etc. You can read about teaching pronunciation by noticing and shadowing here. Attract students’ attention to these points and the student will definitely make fewer mistakes and learn faster.

For example, if you learn new vocabulary from the context and want to improve students’ noticing skills, highlight new words in the text, ask students to guess the meaning of the words from the context.


Noticing skills help a student understand the mood and the tone of messages. To develop them, ask a student to think about how a person can feel in this or that situation. For example, in Practical English section (New English file, Intermediate) Jenny gets a surprise from Paul. Stop the video and ask students to analyze the emotions of the character’s faces.

Ask students to speculate on how Jenny reacts to news and how news is presented. Elicit phrases that can be used to show their surprise and phrases they use to react to the news. Such type of task can not only help develop emotional intelligence (especially in teens and children) but also help an adult understand native speakers better and use proper phrases in similar situations.

As you see, abovementioned tasks prepare a student for independent and inductive learning, which is essential these days. Hope that some of the ideas you will implement in your next class.

Наталия Мушкарева

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