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Traffic lights for tailored teaching

I’m a big fan of any sort of graphic organiser (as you’ll see here). So when I hit upon a new way to use traffic lights in class last week, I thought: ‘I know, I’ll write a blog post about it!’ Here it is, along with two other ways to use traffic lights in the classroom.

1. Traffic lights answers

I was teaching a new pre-intermediate IELTS class of fairly mixed ability. We did IELTS reading and listening tasks for the first time. When I went to elicit answers, I stopped for a moment and realised: I don’t really know how they feel about the difficulty of the task.

I could elicit answers and go into why it’s the right answer, referring back to the text or listening… but if they found it quite easy, I’d just be patronising them, right? And do they all feel the same about it?

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Traffic lights answers in action. (Exercise from Introduction to IELTS, Macmillan)

Procedure. So after the task, I asked them to rate the questions by difficulty: red for ‘couldn’t answer’, amber for ‘answered but not sure it’s right’, green for ‘answered and sure it’s right’. I quickly elicited this from them, highlighting the questions on the IWB according to their rating. They had a chuckle about this and it felt very ‘humanistic’.

After that I could simply elicit the green answers with no further explanation, but spend more time looking at the red and amber questions with them.

Result. Better use of time, less TTT, greater understanding of learners, more tailored, getting feedback about tasks.

2. Traffic lights vocabulary

The whole experience reminded me of another favourite activity of mine for presenting  new lexis.

Procedure. You’ve got a list of vocabulary  – let’s say 12 adjectives to describe personality. As in the situation above, you don’t want to launch into presenting the meaning of each  and every one, as they probably know some of them already. So – yep, you’ve guessed it – you use traffic lights! Learners work individually to colour the words as follows: red = don’t know, amber = might know, green = know.

They are likely to know different words to each other so they can compare lists afterwards and see if their partner can teach them any unknown words. If there are any they are still unclear about, they’ll be eager for you to clarify the meaning of any of their red or amber words.If you listened in well during their peer teach bit, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what needs clarification and who you can elicit the meaning from, too.

Result. Peer teaching, focus on individual needs, giving learners more autonomy and responsibility in their learning, assessing prior knowledge.

3. Traffic lights feedback

This one is a classic.

Procedure. It’s a good idea to ‘tune in’ (Scrivener, Learning Teaching, p74) to your learners and make sure that you’re giving them what they want. Give them an opportunity to feedback to you on lessons and the course… it needn’t be a big formal survey and it shouldn’t just be at the end of the course. It should be an ongoing thing.

So here’s a great way to get that feedback. Give each learner a red, amber and green Post-It. They should write something they want to start doing in class on the green one, something they’d like to continue doing in class on the amber one, and something they’d like to stop doing in class on the red one.

Result. New stationary order for Post-Its! And opportunity for feedback on your teaching and negotiating teaching/learning with learners.

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Here’s what a bunch of teenage learners said… not particularly revealing, this time, but they sure didn’t like the background music I played in class, so that went!


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