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Innovative Test-teach-test approach to teaching English

11:41, 03-01-2023
  • A teaching strategy known as test, teach, test (TTT) has students first accomplish an activity or assignment without help and support from the teacher. The teacher then presents the target language based on the issues identified. Next, the students complete a different task to practice the new language.
  • TTT is a helpful strategy because it enables teachers to pinpoint students' language-related needs and provide the appropriate support. It can be especially helpful at intermediate levels and higher, where students may have encountered language before but may be having particular difficulties with it, as well as in mixed-level classes to help determine unique goals for each student.

Any teacher will rightly stress the importance of clear lesson structure for language lessons. And it  is important to work towards your lesson objectives in a systematic way, and to provide time for student talk/speaking, correction, assessment of upgrade, and all the other features of an effective lesson.

Test-Teach-Test (TTT) is one of the most popular methods of structuring your lessons. This kind of lesson is taught in three stages.

1. Test

The main goal of this phase is for the teacher to observe errors that students are making with the target language. 

In the “test” stage, the teacher should set the context by having the students do a test of some kind. It can be an actual test, or it could be a task or activity of some kind that uses the target language.

The teacher will observe carefully and monitor in order to see how students are using the language. Look particularly for any errors or omissions and write them down in preparation for the “teach” phase.

Choose activities or tasks carefully at this point. Some ideas here include: Gap Activity; picture-word matching; guessing game. 

These activities work better for finding out what vocabulary students know about a certain topic. To find out about grammatical knowledge, we can give an explicit test of some kind.

2. Teach

This phase focuses on clarification and accuracy.

You’ve got two options at this stage. If the learners made errors with the language you thought they would, you can go ahead and ‘teach’ the target language to the learners in this stage.

However, if they made some errors that you feel is even more important (i.e. it impedes fluency even more than the language you anticipated teaching), you can focus on that instead.

Either way, this means a focus on form and accuracy. You could:

  • Do delayed error correction with the examples of language from the last stage (elicit the errors, or peer correction).
  • Explicitly tell the learners the target language, form, usage.
  • Give learners examples (on the board, on worksheets,etc.) and ask them to spot the patterns and work out the usage.
  • Run through some drills, individual and choral.
  • Do gap-fills, cloze activities, or other worksheets.
  • Or anything else that you’d normally do!

Don’t forget to concept check to make sure the weaker learners understand.

3. Test

The goal of the second “test” phase is to help students improve their fluency while maintaining accuracy with the target language. 

To round out the lesson, students will do another “test” of some kind. This can be a task or activity that uses the language in a freer way. The focus should be on improving fluency with the language while still maintaining a good degree of accuracy.

Like in the first phase, the teacher should monitor and offer feedback to the students. Hopefully, accuracy and fluency have improved with respect to the language taught during the previous phase.

Some activities to consider using for this are role plays, board games, telling stories, and different presentations. 

The benefits of Test-teach-test

Firstly, TTT lessons provide clear evidence of improvement. The demonstrated language understanding and use from the first Test stage can be compared to that of the final Test stage, and more often than not, improvement is clear, based on the teaching which occurs in the middle of the lesson. 

Secondly, the TTT procedure encourages student-centered, inductive thinking, as students work out the patterns of language based on the examples they see in the first Test stage, and the feedback points they get from their peers at the beginning of the Teach stage.

This is partially due to the fact that the first Test stage presents language in context (though not carefully contextualised by the teacher) and students must deal with the concepts as they appear without relying on ‘correct’ ideas from the teacher.

Thirdly, the TTT structure allows for positive error and self-correction by students, even encouraging errors as a learning tool. Error and self-correction, based on peer feedback, is a powerful tool for learning and helps new language enter the competence of learners deeply. 

In addition, this encourages a reflective learning approach, as the types of error and peer-learning strategies can be evaluated during the learning process.

Also, TTT is good with classes/groups that you don’t know well (or you don’t know how well they know the target language). It’s great to use with learners that lack confidence, as they can see/hear their progress in one lesson. 

Especially if you use the same task for both ‘test’ stages, it’s very obvious to the students that they’ve improved. The word ‘Test’ can be a bit misleading, as you’re not actually testing the students, but observing them use it. 

Prepared by a senior teacher of the English Chair, SUT, Pavlo Prokopenko.

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