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Test-teach-test: A framework for CELTA grammar and vocabulary lessons

Updated: Mar 15

Test-teach-test: A framework for CELTA grammar and vocabulary lessons
Can we really start a lesson with a test?

Most grammar or vocabulary lessons on an English teaching course, be it an online CELTA course or a classroom CELTA, will start with some kind of context - maybe a story from the teacher, or a text from a coursebook. However, it is also possible to start a lesson with a diagnostic test. A diagnostic test should diagnose i.e. it should tell the teacher what students already know or don't know about the target language in a lesson.

The idea of the test-teach-test framework is that a teacher will start a lesson by trying to find out which aspects of the target grammar or vocabulary students know and which aspects they need help with. This is the first test and it's followed by the 'teach' phase, during which the teacher focuses on the aspects of the new language that students don't know. You can only know which aspects to focus on in this stage if you've paid attention to how students fared in the first test. Once you've done the 'teach', then you move on to the second test. The purpose of this test is to see whether the teach stage was successful and hopefully, the students will know more in the second test than in the first one.

A test-teach-test lesson can be powerful for a learner. They can see their own progress in a very short time period. It's also very responsive to students' needs. A traditional grammar or vocabulary lesson assumes that all students have the same language needs, but with test-teach-test, you can really focus on students' linguistic needs. A test-teach-test approach can therefore avoid the teacher-centredness, and even the condescension that comes with a straightforward PPP or text-based grammar or vocabulary lesson.

There are reasons not to use test-teach-test as well. It can be difficult at lower levels, where you can expect students to fare very poorly in a diagnostic test, especially with unfamiliar target language. A test-teach-test framework is also difficult for a new teacher. It can be hard to plan a language clarification when you don't which elements of the grammar or vocabulary you'll need to focus on in the lesson. The 'teach' stage of a test-teach-test also poses the problem that a test isn't a very memorable context and a story or text can make for a much better context for conveying meaning.

Test-teach-test is a good tool in a teacher's arsenal. It allows for student-centred teaching and for meeting students' needs very precisely. However, it is not a cure-all and should be used alongside other approaches and not instead of them.

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.


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