Repetition Variety Combination Integration
When designing a lesson plan there are a number of considerations that influence what shape it will take. One important factor that rarely leaves my side is the set of RVCI elements. They give me a clearer and greater perspective of where I am going in each area (grammatical structures, lexus, pronunciation, student confidence, skillswork, even classroom management) and with that in mind, I am better armed on how to approach those areas.
A very basic principle but frequently forgotten or shelved when there is pressure to progress on to newer items on the agenda / school curriculum. People need time to assimilate even simple information. Granted there are those that seem wondrously able to soak it all in and apply it almost immediately but even they need time and have their occasional off days. Being intimately familiar with something, particularly if it includes action, greatly increases the speed and accuracy of its execution. Look at factory work, sports, playing cards, learning how to act in a new set of situations. The more experience we have, the better we are at it, generally speaking. Therefore it is a very good idea to provide the opportunity for further practice beyond the initial class or two when the language was first presented.
Two ideas here:
1) Repetition doesn’t have to be boring. What is being encouraged to be practiced can be presented in a number of ways: games, quizzes, competitions, drillwork, reminders, asking individuals, Teacher / Student role-plays, and including those items in other activities (ex: vocabulary in conversations). A variety of ways to present the same material helps to maintain the students’ interest and motivational level.
2) Different contexts and approaches add immeasurably to the students’ understanding and versatility. It is not uncommon at all to see individual students good at one particular application (like completing exercises well in their workbook) yet struggle greatly in another application (using the target language in speaking, or even in a slightly modified version of previous exercises). Having the students deal with the language in different ways and situations obliges them to tap into other subskills and through those experiences, the range of application and familiarity is amplified.
Complex and semi-complex components of the language can be broken down, groups of elements looked at separately, and later put together to create a greater feel and understanding of its appropriate use. For example, one day, or one part of the lesson plan could be to focus on question-making concerning the identity of the subject of the sentence.
Ex: Who kissed Bob? (no auxiliaries)
Another day, or in another part of the lesson plan, questions can be created when the subject is known.
Ex: Who did Jane kiss? (auxiliaries used)
What did Jane do?
This is not limited to solely putting together concepts of grammar. For example, if one is using a particular expression or set of structures to emphasize something, it is also highly relevant to combine the words with the corresponding pronunciation to communicate why you are highlighting it.
When the students are armed with the right tools and are familiar with when and how to use them, they can put together those pieces of information with greater confidence and accuracy. The idea of COMBINATION is to look at those elements of a particular area of the language that need attention, help the students gain a greater understanding of them, and later unite those elements so students can practice them with greater fluidity.
Ex: asking and responding to questions in the simple past (using both subject-based & non subject-based questions)
Ex: now that they know the grammar behind using negative adverbial inversion (Not once did she offer to drive), they have to use those structures with the appropriate intonation in a speaking activity).
Language is a devilishly changing and elusive creature. Parts of it can be conveniently labelled and studied but when seen in action in real-life situations, it can be overwhelming. It is important that the language is at least sometimes taken out of its sheltered explorations and placed into a more moving and complex circumstance.
Some sources of authentic usage could be obtained by watching an excerpt from a movie or TV series, or looking at an article from a magazine or a piece from a novel. While there may not always be clear explanations to accompany the usage of the language, at least not sufficiently so to provide clearcut guidelines for a student’s use, it can be discovered that learning can be done simultaneously in different ways. Some examples that are within the students’ current level of understanding could be examined within the context of less comprehensible utterances or structures. The latter group could be part of a series of presentations which could be addressed at a later time when the student has more indirect experience with them or even merely to reinforce the idea that not everything needs to be fully understood to extract the essential information and to be able to deal with it.
In some ways, the language is identifiable and familiar. It very often resembles that which the student is studying, at least parts of it. Then there are the exceptions, some of them conventionally acceptable (like irregular verbs or colloquial expressions specific to certain dialects) and others less so (native speakers make mistakes or drunks spew out gibberish, some of it meaningful if you can catch it). There is enough for the student to draw from to gain a reasonable understanding, even if it requires some work at times. Discovering or knowing that meaning is sometimes embedded in or next to more murky waters is part of the language experience and at times the best way to cope with it might be to simply accept what can be done or ascertained at the moment.
I believe it to be good practice to encourage the students to use and practice what they have learned beyond the initial activities presented by the teacher at one particular time in the course. Even though they learned the hypothetical conditionals two weeks ago and the current focus is on reported speech, each student should find their way to creating an opportunity in the ensuing conversations to incorporate one or two of those conditionals. A mixed conditional is sufficiently complex grammatically for most students to stumble in its use and conceptually it takes a bit of maneuvering to knowingly apply it appropriately. But to use it spontaneously and correctly requires a fair amount of previous practice and familiarity. Deliberately using new or less clear structures out of the class or in classroom activities where they are not part of the current exercise can add to their familiarity and perhaps make the students’ doubts more clear and specific.
Many of the more troublesome aspects of the language can be eventually overcome when frequently integrated into other activities where they are not the primary focus. The students can build up their working knowledge in the RVC activities, but in the INTEGRATION phase, allow or gently insist that the students to use the language, to let them explore and witness it being used, even incorrectly at times. The teacher can still provide help and guidelines, but needn’t step in to correct everything. If the foundations built in the RVC stages are fairly solid, the fine-tuning in the INTEGRATION phase could be better appreciated and often simply communicated.
To sum it up, when I am focusing on a particular area and am contemplating how to approach it in the next class, I ask myself
R ● how familiar they are with it and what I can do to increase that familiarity. If we have already done some work in the area, what difficulties did they have and what do they need to be better able to understand and use it?
V ● I consider a variety of ways to approach this, partly depending on what approaches they may be open to and what might be most effective and/or interesting for them.
C ● If I have already broken it down into different parts and the students are ready to put them together, I think of an activity which directly encourages them to use the target language in a way that those combinations I am looking for arise. Giving them clear instructions to work on those combinations help (“I want you to show that emphasis in your intonation when you use those structures.”) as you cannot expect most students to explore those combinations on their own.
I ● While working on other areas of the language in future classes I encourage the students to incorporate and apply what they’ve learned from past situations.
An essential and underlying assumption behind RVCI and in Integrated Learning in general is that there will be a number and variety of activities dealing with the target language in a number of classes and in a progressive manner.
AN EXAMPLE OR TWO IN THE LESSON PLANS
See how the teaching idea can be used in a classroom activity
Students can incorporate the pronunciation of the letters in a number of ways that are or simulate real situations.