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How to make progress with Advanced students




Students shaking hands with their teacherIf advanced-level students think they’re not making much progress, or they’re struggling with motivation, it’s time to try some new ideas. Rachel Appleby, co-author of the Business one:one series, shares hers with us.

This article was originally published in Dialogue Magazine.

“Basically, they can operate quite well in English, perhaps with a few mistakes. And their vocabulary’s OK, though they sometimes avoid complex grammar.  They don’t seem very motivated, because they don’t easily see their progress, yet I’m sure their English could be much better.”

Sound familiar? It’s certainly pretty common at the start of any of my advanced courses. But a few simple tricks to determine what they need and what you want them to do, and you’ll be teaching advanced learners successfully before you can say ‘advanced Business English’.

My advanced students often simply state that they want more sophisticated English, but what do they mean by that? Well, I believe they want to communicate  in a more appropriate style, and sound  like a native speaker. They also want access to a wider range of expressions, and of course, they need to ‘lose’ some of their ingrained mistakes.

So how can we do this? Well, ?rst and foremost, they need exposure to lots of listening and reading materials – texts which are carefully selected and exploited in advanced-level course books, as well as a wide range of authentic material. Encourage them to be active readers and listeners, by suggesting they highlight or note down phrases they’d like to add to their repertoire.

Set a challenge

With one of my current groups of advanced learners, we were practising phrases for meetings, but they weren’t really using them. So the next week, I produced a tick-box form of phrases (see below) and put students into groups of three – two students to have the meeting, one student to listen and tick boxes. The students swapped roles so there were three meetings altogether. I told them that at the end we’d be counting up the ticks. Well, now the challenge was on, the results vastly improved, and their satisfaction by the end was greatly enhanced – as was mine!

None of these phrases are dif?cult, but encouraging the students more ‘forcefully’ to use them resulted in much more effective communication, and at the same time they were both engaged and challenged. You can also exploit key words. These are everyday words, but used in contexts which change their meaning. Again, this pushes students to use language they know in more sophisticated ways.

Try peer correction

Match the underlined words with their meanings below.
1. I have to say that I was expecting something a bit more professional.
2. What does this logo say about our company?
3. He should be promoted after this project finishes – it goes without saying.
4. You can say that again!
a. communicate an idea
b. introduce a strong opinion
c. someone has made a good point; you agree
d. it’s obvious
Source: Business Result Advanced, Unit 7

Another thing I do a lot of is to encourage peer correction, ensuring of course there is a collaborative atmosphere. Before handing in written work, students swap papers, and look through each other’s, underlining and discussing any queries they have. This way, some mistakes can be corrected early on.

I also put together a list of ‘Top 10’ common mistakes, based on recent work (written or spoken). I disguise the mistake, to hide whose it is. Students then work in pairs to ‘spot the mistake’. I often base such correction slots on confusing words (e.g. practically / in practice, shortly / briefly) or dependent prepositions.

Finally, don’t ‘correct’ written work, but only indicate the types of mistakes (e.g. T = tense, prep = preposition). I allow students time to look through their work in class, and ask questions. Remedial work of this sort can be one of the most valuable learning stages of the whole lesson.

Know their interests

Last but not least, advanced students need to be motivated: finding out their interests early on helps you focus on what they like discussing. It’s amazing what weird, wonderful skills and hobbies some business students have – and what better place to exploit these than in the Business English classroom!

So, work with topics of intrinsic interest to your students, try to choose tasks which challenge them, and encourage them to work together to help and develop each other’s skills. You should soon be working with highly motivated students who are making visible progress.

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  1. It is great that Ts should take into consideration SS needs, everything will be OK .In fact SS will be MOTIVATED …..Motivation +Language Learning =Excellent Result =)))))

  2. What can be done with advance students who speak very fast with lots of mistakes. I am teaching in Brazil. One of the problems is, since Portuguese is a Latin language, it has many similarities with English. Hence, my students start sentences in a wrong way or use words which can communicate the idea, and not necessarily a wrong vocab, but doesn´t sound quite right.

    Thank you in advance for all the suggestions.

    • Dear Ruchi,

      Thanks for your comment! I understand your problem – it sounds very familiar!

      There are various things you can do (I’m addressing this issue on Sat 14 November at the BESIG online conference https://www.iatefl.org/events/117 , – and will post on my blog page too – https://rachelappleby.edublogs.org )
      You could try recording your students, and then transcribing part of it – a part with mistakes in which you could correct, or – better – reformulate. I also like to use a concordancing programme, e.g. lextutor.ca/conc/eng to see examples in context (you type in a key word). ‘Noticing’ language is also important – encouraging your students to ‘read with a pencil’ – i.e. underlining phrases they understand, and ‘like’ – but would not actually use themselves, – and then working on activating those.

      Let me know how you get on – hope this helps a bit!

      Rachel ( & apologies for this late reply!)

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