How to Make the Most from Controlled Practice?

Controlled practice is a stage in a lesson where learners practise a new language in a limited form. It can be compared to free practice, which involves learners producing language using the target content freely. Controlled practice activities give the chance to get experience on the new language point by mastering its form.

In this article, we will present a couple of controlled practice activity types and suggest ways on how they can be exposed further.

1. Get students to make up their own examples

After covering the target language point, ask the students to come up with their own examples or create their worksheets. This allows students to reflect back on the target language,create a homework assignment and review their peers’ work during the next lesson which will allow them to reinforce the acquired material.

For example,

➡ James… (to go) …to the cinema yesterday. (James went to the cinema yesterday)

As a second stage the students take the verb go and use it in the past form making a true sentence about themselves.

2. Treasure Hunt

Put ss in pairs and set this up as a race. Ss have a gapfill with answers plus distractors stuck on the walls or in the corridor. They have to quickly find the answers and complete the gapfill.

3. Board Races

This works well with all grammatical items (conditionals, reported speech,tenses etc). The teacher reveals a statement on a projector. Ss in 2 teams race to rewrite it in the target language. When they finish, they shout stop and the other groups judge whether it’s correct or not. In case of the right answer the group gets a point.

4. Multiple Choice

Multiple Choice controlled activities are used both for vocabulary and grammar items. Students are required to choose from three or four options in order to properly complete a sentence. They can do the activity in pairs, then the teacher provides them with the right answers and they calculate their points.

As a second stage, students need to reformulate the sentence in a way so that in each reformulated version they can use one of the given options from multiple choice activity. In this example, the right answer is b.

Yesterday I ______ three cups of coffee.

  1. have drunk
  2. drank
  3. drink
  4. will drink

The reformulated sentences can be “I have drunk three cups of coffee since morning”, “Every day I drink three cups of coffee”, “Tomorrow I will drink three cups of coffee, I am going to have a hard day.

5. Correct/Incorrect

Although Correct/Incorrect activities tend to lend themselves better to grammar, they can also be used for vocabulary lessons.  Students must read a sentence and decide if it is written correctly or not. In order to expose the exercise the students can be asked to explain why the sentence is correct or incorrect.

My dad play football very well. (Incorrect: My dad plays football very well)

I have been to the swimming pool many times. (Correct)

6. Finish the sentence

As a controlled activity Finish the Sentence questions would be on the more challenging end.  These activities will require students to write more than one word, typically an entire phrase or clause.  These work really with grammar activities.

I would have helped you if …

Before I started the yoga classes…

As a second stage students can compare their answers in pairs and look for similarities.

7. Write a sentence under the picture

There may be controlled practice activities where students are asked to write a sentence under a picture using the target language. As a further step, the learners make up a story having at hand the picture.

Throughout my teaching experience I have tried all these activities when I needed to expose the controlled practice activities.In all cases they worked great. Firstly, students didn’t look at these types of activities as a boring task. Secondly, they got a better insight on the target material when being exposed to it more.

Which of the suggested ways will you implement next time you practice a controlled task activity?

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