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What is Practice?

Does practice make perfect?

Providing learners with practice activities is an essential step to help them use language confidently. In this video, we give definitions, examples and practical tips to help you design effective practice activities for your lessons.

Staging the different practice activities in a coherent way may help learners develop their confidence when using a new language item. In order to provide your students with a logical practice sequence, you need to reflect upon your lesson aims and the level of challenge of each stage. The tips below describe the difference between controlled, less-controlled and freer practice to help you decide on the most appropriate practice activities to your learners.

Controlled practice:

Controlled practice activities are those in which students are asked to use the language in a restricted way. In controlled practice, learners use the language that has just been presented and there is little room for personalisation. The main aim of controlled practice is to help learners automatise the form of target language, and this can be done orally or in the written form. Some examples of controlled practice are:

  • Gap-fill activities focussing on form

  • Romeo and Juliet ___________ (write) by Shakespeare.

  • Multiple choice activities

  • Adam has been working / is working a lot lately.

  • Categorising words into groups

  • Regular x irregular verbs

  • Drilling (repetition drills, substitution drills, choral and individual drills)

  • Asking students to repeat the target language focussing on word and sentence stress, connected speech or individual sounds

  • Matching exercises

  • Finding the correct collocation (e.g make a difference, do business)

  • Sentence transformation

  • "I'll call you later", she said --> She said she would call you later.

  • Gapped texts

  • Students complete a gapped text and choose the options from a box

Less-controlled practice:

Less-controlled practice gives students more room to personalise the language they are using and communicate their own ideas. Less-controlled activities are designed to allow students to use language with a certain degree of flexibility, but still require them to use the target language that has been presented. Some examples of less-controlled practice activities are:

  • Using prompts and ask students to complete with their own ideas:

  • I've never visited ...... / I've never eaten........ / I've never watched.....

  • Asking students to write a text using the target language

  • Students write a short anecdote using a range of connectors and linkers

  • Find someone who

  • Students ask each other questions based on prompts and ask follow-up questions (e.g. Find someone who has already been to Greece)

Freer practice:

In freer practice, learners are given the chance to use the target language and their existing language knowledge more flexibly. Freer practice activities many times contain an information gap, which requires students to exchange information in a meaningful way. The main focus of freer practice is fluency - that means that correction on the spot should be done sensibly and delayed feedback is favoured. Some examples of freer practice activities are:

  • Role plays

  • Giving students a menu and asking them to order food at a bar / restaurant

  • Group discussions / Debates

  • Students are asked to analyse the pros and cons of living abroad

  • Students discuss solutions to a problem and write a summary of the solution (you can use a platform such as Padlet to organise students' contributions)

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Andreia Zakime is an Academic Coordinator at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo, a CELTA tutor and one of the co-founders of What is ELT?

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