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What is guided discovery?

Updated: Nov 23, 2023


What is guided discovery?

As you progress through a CELTA course, you will start to get comfortable with all the things you need to do when you're teaching new grammar or vocabulary to your students. You know that you need to demonstrate the meaning or use of the new language. You need to make sure they know the structure or the form, and you also need to go through the pronunciation. It can feel like a lot and once you've taught a new tense or a set of new vocabulary, you can be exhausted from going through it all at the board and making sure you've nailed every aspect of your target language for your lesson.


There's nothing wrong with presenting new language from the board, especially if we're working on skills of including learners in that process by eliciting frequently and asking plenty of questions to engage students in conversation about meaning and check if they understand. However, if we do get frustrated by the length of time our presentations take, there is an alternative approach to presenting language, called guided discovery.


Guided discovery takes the task of language clarification, takes it off the whiteboard and puts it on paper for students to work out for themselves. Students could work through a series of tasks and come up with the information about meaning, form and/or phonology that they would otherwise hear the teacher 'explain' to them.


A guided discovery task will usually take a contextualised example/examples of the new grammar or vocabulary, probably in the form of a text that students have read and answered questions on. Then the students can do exercises where they, for example, match definitions to words, or complete a rule, or label items in a timeline or a cline. They use the contextualised examples to work out the language features for themselves.


Of course, the context should guide the students, as should the questions themselves. It shouldn't be a random test where students have to pluck language rules and meanings from nowhere. It's guided discovery, not just discovery.


Coursebooks, especially at higher levels, often make use of guided discovery tasks, meaning that they will have students answering concept checking questions on paper, or filling in gaps in rules about language. This can make life easy on the teacher.


Of course, putting everything on paper has the advantage of lowering teacher talking time and can make planning language clarifications a lot easier, but it can also make a lesson feel like a series of exercises if we're not careful and it's important to make sure that practice tasks that follow a guided discovery include plenty of opportunities for students to express themselves so that the pace doesn't slow. Another potential pitfall for a new teacher of using guided discovery in a lesson is that it means that because they don't need to clarify language at the board, they might not take as much time learning it themselves and so they could be less ready for students' questions.


Although guided discovery certainly has some drawbacks, it's an excellent tool that allows us to make our lessons more student-centred and it's definitely a tool that new teachers should add to their arsenal.



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Hi, I am currently studying at the Faculty of Education and I am already starting to work with my students remotely, which is why I really want to help novice teachers like me. I would like to recommend Movavi Screen Recorder, as it is very convenient to use, and you can also use it to show students some information. I hope I've helped someone at least.

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