How to work with advanced students: working on the quality of their language

How to work with advanced students: working on the quality of their language

Well, this is a question of a thousand dollars. We, teachers, have had situations when you have an advanced student who is comfortable with all four skills: listening, speaking, writing, and reading. We keep moving from material to material, but deep in our hearts, we are not satisfied because we cannot measure progress. The key question: “How should I measure the progress of advanced students and show them what milestone they have reached?”. 

It is easy to teach lower-level students from the perspective of tracking the progress and identifying the weaknesses. There is a gap and we fill it with the language. So, what and how to do it with advanced-level students?

Vygotsky in his book ‘Thought and Language’ claims that if it is fully adjusted and does not face challenges, our brain works automatically. We have lazy brains; we cannot deny this fact. Let’s put it in language teaching reality. Our students’ brains do not face challenges, they work, function at a fast pace, answer the questions in listening and reading materials. So, how to add a challenge?

Before we start, let’s look at the criteria of advanced-level language competence. 

An advanced level language learner:

  • Comprehends a wide range of topics and recognizes implicit meaning;
  • Uses the language fluently and in a spontaneous way;
  • Uses the language effectively in a social, academic, and professional environment;
  • Easily produces structured, detailed texts;
  • Mindfully debates about various topics.

As you see I underlined the adverbs. Here is the secret. At the advanced level, the question is not what the person/learner does, but HOW he or she does it.  In other words, we deal with the quality of the language the advanced learner uses. 

And here are what determine this quality:

The cohesive devices, determines, and other emotional or logical linguistic items. 

As teachers, while talking to our students, we instinctively either try to find obvious grammar mistakes which are strong markers or get involved in the communication that delivers logical content, right? We ask them questions, listen to the stories they tell and if the answer is logical and deprived of any grammar mistakes, we are fine. And here it goes. Surely, everything seems to be fine. However, cohesive devices and determiners that link the text, make it stronger and more fluent, may not be articulated or used.  Make sure your advanced students are aware of them and use them as they guarantee the cohesion of their speech. 

Idioms and phrasal verbs

These lexical items determine the quality of the language the speaker uses. I am amazed to see that idioms are taught at intermediate or even lower level in some language books. My experience has shown that language learners, in general, do not use idioms easily or voluntarily unless they are pushed to do so. The point is that idioms have cultural and emotional contexts; it is not easy to use them unless you are part of that language culture. Create scenarios, ask the student to rephrase the idea using idioms or phrasal verbs. Make them use them until it develops and pins into language mentality.

Giving long, structured, and detailed speeches

Challenge your students to give longer from 5 to 10-minute speeches on a topic. While preparing for this kind of speech the learner will have to investigate different points of view on the topic, present them, and state their own opinion. These speeches help the learner to develop long thinking ways and debating skills. While giving such long, detailed speeches the student depersonalizes the language; this depersonalization upgrades the language skills. There are no emotions and feelings; everything is about being reasonable and mindful.

To cut the long story short, make sure an advanced student provides long texts in a written or oral way and adds quality markers to their language production. Quality markers are easy to negotiate, determine and track down.

Speaking activities are, obviously, essential for English language speaking classes. A lot of students join classes particularly to develop their communicative competence, become more fluent, versatile, adaptable, and confident communicators in English. However, designing speaking activities might be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for any teacher. We have prepared a memo with superb ready-made speaking tasks that will make your student talking. Download it here.

Lusine Stepanyan

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