advancing student English comprehension

Education Evolutions

Advancing Student English Comprehension: Peer Learning

Lana Learn instructors at Unit 871 in Hanoi are advancing student English comprehension by introducing supplementary learning activities.

The Lana Learn team in Vietnam just completed the first semester of its Air Force-funded English training program. The program uses the American Language Course (ALC) curriculum set forth by the Defense Language Institute English Language Center (DLIELC). This program prepares Vietnamese military officials for potential follow-on training in the U.S. in order to advance US-Vietnam partnership and strategic goals in the coming years. Our goal is to give our students the best educational experience possible. The instructors at Unit 871 use a variety of techniques with the main program goal being advancing student English comprehension.

The ALC curriculum material focuses on grammar, vocabulary and functions which will be immediately applicable in a daily working context.  Although the ALC program has its own interactive portions like speaking activities and dialogue creation exercises, the instructors often implement their own supplementary learning activities. One exercise that has been particularly helpful for the students is peer learning. Peer learning helps students solidify their knowledge by teaching each other and leads to better learning and retention.

Peer Learning Strategy: Peer Review

One simple peer learning strategy that can be used in any exercise is peer review.  After a grammar or vocabulary exercise, I’ll ask the students to compare their answers with each other and try to decide which answer is correct.  This can often help a people see common errors that they may not have noticed alone.  Afterwards, I can nominate different pairs to give the answer to the entire class.  If the answer is still not correct, I can check with another few students by asking, “What do you think?” or, “Why do you disagree?”

Additionally, I will often give a simple scenario to groups of 2-3 students and ask them to make up a conversation using the target language of the lesson.

“You are at a garage.  One person is the mechanic, the other is the driver.  The driver needs to ask about the problem, and the mechanic needs to describe the problem. Make sure to include a time frame and a price in your dialogs.”   

The groups will have some time to prepare and practice together. Then, they will practice with one other group as an audience. Finally, they performan the dialogue in front of the class. Sometimes the conversations are quite simple, but other times students can be quite creative and have a good sense of humor. Often the observing students will correct mistakes they hear. 

Peer Learning Strategy: Presentations

Cedric uses peer learning quite extensively. “I try to mix and match students according to their strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “This gives them a sense of security that if one can’t understand, it’s likely the other can.” 

He likes to give his students a lot of time for presentations and dialog practice. In every class if possible. On a few occasions, he had the other classes come and watch some very informative presentations put on by his students. One time, a student described the ranks and insignia of all the branches in the U.S. and Vietnamese militaries. Often these activities are the students’ ideas. Cedric feels that these student-led activities bring out a sense of ownership in the students for their learning. If a student has an idea, he or she must do the research and present it to the class. 

These are just a few examples, among many others, which we as instructors in Hanoi try to put into practice. Having students work together in speaking practice, review, flashcard work, presentations, or writing allows them to test and evaluate each other. It also gives them the opportunity to put what they learn into practice. One of the best ways of advancing student English comprehension is giving students the opportunity to explain concepts to their peers.  

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