The Art of Nudging
One of the basic ideas behind our approach in the classroom is for the students to develop their skills & language through a process of problem solving & self-discovery which provides depth to the learning & can accelerate the process, at the same time helping the students to become more autonomous. Our job is to guide the learners to make correct decisions. Where reasonable we 'guide' rather than 'give'. So while this guiding is going on we also have to nudge them in the right direction. We all do this in our lessons but perhaps we could do it with a little more consciousness which might enable more skilful nudging to take place.
More & more coursebooks are using noticing tasks as a first step in the language presentation/review stages - students are asked to find examples of language in reading texts & listening scripts that they have already used for reading & listening skills development tasks. So when they are working individually or in pairs you see they are going down the wrong road & you want them to get back on track so you focus them more but do not give the solution. When they are working out the rules you can nudge them in the right direction by providing another example or pointing out an incorrect assumption.
While listening or reading tasks are going on you realise there is a general difficulty with a certain part of the task so point out that there is a problem with this & you play the specific section of the audio again or ask them to read the relevant section again & then get them to return to the task to reassess their answers.
When they are confused about an answer, ask them to say the variations to themselves & see which sounds right. This developing of their intuitive abilities can go along way.
And then there are other ways you can nudge your learners:
- as a form of individual correction when the students are involved in a speaking task. You notice one student is consistently making a mistake that if they were aware of it they could easily correct. You write the error on a paper & slip it to the student who looks at it & realises the mistake & then carries on with the correct version.
- when the learners are involved in a speaking task you see they are finding it difficult to come up with more ideas so you slip them ideas on a piece of paper, on the board or orally, the more discreet the better to not interrupt the flow.
- tutorials are a good opportunity to nudge students in directions from better study habits to specific skills & language development focus.
Clearly the more experienced we are the more we are able to judge how much nudging is necessary & which way is the more effective at that time. There are lots more ways of nudging your students & hopefully this has got you thinking of your own.
I recently did a search on 'nudging' & there is a whole world of nudge out there. For example:
'Nudge theory (or Nudge) is a concept in behavioural science, political theory and economics which argues that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to try to achieve non-forced compliance can influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals, at least as effectively – if not more effectively – than direct instruction, legislation, or enforcement. Nudging is a form of debiasing that attempts to change behavior by changing the way in which choices are presented or elicited.'
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It's always good to come across some material that you think would be really interesting for your students. In the Independent last week they had a series on 'Top 20 misconceptions people believe are true'. Below is the text, together with some lesson ideas.
You do have to be careful when choosing material though. I have seen many a teacher promote an area that they think is a 'good thing'. For example, a teacher enthusiastic about a new political party pushing this onto the students thinking he's doing them a favour, making them more aware, only to find them indifferent. Just because they are indifferent does not mean they are unaware of the issues or importance of the area. Maybe they just do not want to talk about it in class, perhaps it is too personal for some to talk about. So the teacher can come over as being patronising & in danger of losing the respect of the students. So judicious choice of materials is vital.
Here is the text, a fairly neutral piece of material, presented each with a picture. Have a read - how many are new to you?
|1. Most people believe coffee is made from beans, but experts say they are actually made from seeds called a bean.
|2. It is commonly assumed that chameleons change colour to fit in with their surroundings. However, they actually change colour depending on their mood, temperature and their exposure to light.
|3. Mount Everest is often named as the tallest mountain on earth. But while the summit of Mount Everest is higher above sea level than the summit of any other mountain, but Mauna Kea is the tallest when measured from base to summit.
|4. People say you can see the Great Wall of China from space. But Apollo astronauts confirmed that you can't see the Great Wall of China from the Moon. In fact, all you can see from the Moon is the white and blue marble of our home planet.
|5. One human year is equivalent to seven dog years it is thought. Actually it depends on the size and breed of the dog.
|6. It's often said that you lose your body heat fastest through your head. This is a myth, experts say humans would be just as cold if they went without a hat as if they went without trousers.
|7. We were all taught the Earth revolves around the Sun. Technically, what is going on is that the Earth, Sun and all the planets are orbiting around the centre of mass of the solar system.
|8. Different parts of your tongue detect different tastes, right? Wrong. This was scientifically disproved by later research; all taste sensations come from all regions of the tongue, although different parts are more sensitive to certain tastes.
|9. Peanuts are thought to be a type of nut, many think the clue's in the name. But actually peanuts, along with beans and peas, belong to the single plant family, Leguminosae.
|10. Parents often claim giving children sugar makes them hyper. However, this is not the case, most research has concluded that sugar does not cause hyperactivity.
|11. Humans have five senses most people assume. It turns out, there are at least nine senses and most researchers think there are more like twenty-one or so.
|12. Fortune cookies are commonly believed to be a Chinese tradition. They were in fact invented by the Americans.
|13. When eating sushi most think the word means 'raw fish'. But sushi actually translates as sour-tasting.
|14. Vikings are often depicted as wearing horned helmets. Yet there is no evidence to suggest Vikings ever wore horned helmets.
|15. The forbidden fruit mentioned in the Book of Genesis is always thought of as an apple. The bible never mentions the forbidden fruit was an apple though.
|16. Many say Vitamin C is an effective treatment for a cold. But most experts have stated there is little or no evidence that vitamin C can help treatment of a cold.
|17. It will disappoint romantics but penguins don't mate for life. Penguins are mostly monogamous, however there are some species like the Emperor Penguin which is serially monogamous, they mate with one couple for the whole season but the next year they will probably mate with another penguin as the urgent need for breeding will make them avoid waiting for the same couple the following year.
|18. It is a commonly held view that caffeine dehydrates. While caffeinated drinks may have a mild diuretic effect they don't appear to increase the risk of dehydration.
|19. It is often said that in London, you are merely six feet away from a rat. But this is just a rough estimate as rodents are not evenly spread apart.
|20. Is there a dark side of the moon. Apparently not. As the Moon is constantly rotating on its own axis, there is no area of the planetoid which is in permanent darkness.
It's the kind of text that people read to verify that they actually knew about the misconceptions anyway.
So what to do with this material?
1. An introduction, sinking the students into the theme - present the class with one of the points & ask them to discuss the validity of it - what do they think.
2. The 20 points could be distributed a variety of ways.
- give all out as one text
- one point to each student for a big group
- 5 per small group or pairs
The material does lend itself to a jigsaw activity i.e. students have different information & come together to exchange information for some communicative purpose. As with any interesting material you want the students to talk to each other about it, so a jigsaw activity provides just that.
3. The obvious reading task is to read & see if there is anything new for them & any they already knew in the statements. And then they might not agree with some of these!
While in their small groups reading the same points they could be encouraged to follow up on the points by Googling them on their phones/tablets.
Depending on the level/group you may need to pre-teach some items, although as each group would have different points you could either provide a glossary to each group for their own vocab or deal with it as it crops up, moving from group to group.
4. Then the students can choose one or two of the most interesting points from the collection they have been given & they mingle & tell each other, the communicative purpose being to decide which were the most interesting, unusual points.
Before they get up you could review/introduce some functional language to express surprise, disbelief, justifying etc...
Instead of simply telling & listening the students could be asked to find out what their listener knows about the point e.g. how did the Vikings dress? And when the other student says that they had hats with horns they say, 'Well actually.... ' telling them about the misconception.
Feedback then elicits the most interesting for a class discussion.
5. A follow up would be to ask the students to discuss any misconceptions they ever had about anything but realised they had been wrong.
If the reasoning behind some of the points is needed - who said it, what's the evidence? - as mentioned above, a quick Google on the points will yield results.
A couple of links to sites about common misconceptions:
Try the lesson out as it will be interesting for all & provoke lots of speaking practice.
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St George's Day debate
I now avoid doing formal class debates as I have never felt that they have gone as well as they should have. This is probably because there are only one or two students speaking at any one time & it's easy for some students not to say anything at all, & then there is the finding an issue that all might find interesting. I prefer several small groups discussing/debating rather than the open class format.
Debates can have several different formats. It could simply be a statement that the two halves of the class are on opposing sides & they have a free-for-all
discussion about the point. Or a debate could be set up formally as in this description from Wikipedia of a 'Mace debate':
'This style of debate is prominent in Britain at schools level. Two teams of two debate an affirmative motion (e.g. "This house would give
prisoners the right to vote,") which one team will propose and the other will oppose.
Each speaker will make a seven minute speech in
the order; 1st Proposition, 1st Opposition, 2nd Proposition, 2nd Opposition. After the first minute of each speech, members of the
opposing team may request a 'point of information' (POI). If the speaker accepts they are permitted to ask a question. POI's are used
to pull the speaker up on a weak point, or to argue against something the speaker has said. However after 6 minutes, no more POI's
are permitted. After all four have spoken the debate will be opened to the floor, in which members of the audience will put questions
to the teams.
After the floor debate, one speaker from each team (traditionally the first speaker), will speak for 4 minutes. In these
summary speeches it is typical for the speaker to answer the questions posed by the floor, answer any questions the opposition may
have put forward, before summarising his or her own key points.
In the Mace format, emphasis is typically on analytical skills,
entertainment, style and strength of argument. The winning team will typically have excelled in all of these areas.'
This is the kind of debate that I remember from school. It could easily be made more manageable for our classrooms by altering the time limits.
While looking for material on St George's Day, the patron saint of England, celebrated on 23rd April, I came over the website 'Debatewise'
devoted to debates. You can begin your own debate or join in with one already running. The St George's Day debate is titled 'England should
make an effort to celebrate St George's Day'. A large percentage of English people would not know which day their patron saint's celebration is - it is
very much underplayed in England. In each debate on the Debatewise site the main for & against points are given near the top of the page, followed by detailed arguments of these points later
on. Here are the key points for St George's Day:
All the Yes points;
Tradition is important
Myths help us dream – more important now than ever
St George represents renewal and there is no better time than now to celebrate that.
All the No points:
St George wasn't even English
It's Corporations that are pushing St George's Day
(You might relate this attitude to celebrating St George's Day to the students' own patron saints & how they are celebrated in their countries.)
It could be a useful site to use when planning to use a debate in class. Search for related topics that you are looking at & choose one of the debates. You could simply
lift the main points or you could use the texts as readings for each side of the debate, incorporating them into the preparation for the debate. Each student could read one of the detailed
points & then feedback to their group, as they get all of their points together prior to the debate.
Don't forget that the point of the debate is language practice so you could feed in some language beforehand, point them to some language you have covered over the last week or so that they would find useful to use, or simply use it as fluency practice. Whatever approach you take you really do need to provide some feedback at the end on language used, both positive & not so good. So take some notes while they are speaking & use this data in the feedback after.
For more on debates check out Vivian Chu's article 'classroom debates: Shifting the Focus':
For more on making speaking tasks as effective as possible see
the past Tip 'Up Front':
And the the past Tip 'Scribbling Away' for an on-the-spot correction technique:
For some excellent speaking skill resources:
Discussions That Work - P.Ur (CUP)
Conversation - R.Nolasco & L.Arthur (OUP)
Roleplay - G.Porter-Ladousse (OUP)
St George's Day
Here is some material for St George's Day lessons from the past Tip 'Slaying Dragons':
The first is a general description about the day & the second is a reduced version of the George & the Dragon story. Later there are a couple of ideas for younger learner classes & a couple of links to dragon-related websites.
An appropriate way to use this first text
might be to cut up every section & ask students in pairs/small
groups to put it in a logical order. Beforehand briefly
look at how a text has coherence through the cohesive devices
& logical links. Or leave this till after, eliciting
the things that helped them decide on the order, collating
the class ideas on the board & adding in a few of your
own if they are missed out. When completed, the students
could compare ideas & then compare with the original
Then you could move to the content of the
text by asking if there is any information in the text that
they knew about beforehand etc...
George's Day - April 23: History
As with most saints, myth and legend
surrounds St George and of how a Roman soldier came
to be regarded as the essence of England.
He is most famously known as the brave
slayer of the dragon and saviour of the maiden but,
although this story exists in a number of different
medieval texts and art, it has no historical basis.
There is very little information about
the life St George, but it is known that he was not
He is thought to have been an early
Christian martyr from the area of modern day Turkey,
who was executed in Palestine in the third century.
Legends about his valorous deeds as
a soldier-saint began in the 6th century and by the
12th century the famous story about his rescuing a
king's daughter and slaying a dragon had become widespread.
Some experts think the tale is based
on the Greek myth of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from
a sea monster.
St George was popularised in England
by Crusaders, Christian knights returning from religious
wars in the Middle East.
He was supposed to have appeared to
the Knights dressed in white robes decorated with
a red cross during the 11th century siege of Antioch.
He became the official patron saint
of England in 1425 after Henry V's victory at the
Battle of Agincourt.
The Red Cross of St George is England's
national flag and it also forms part of Britain's
However, the English are not the only
people to stake a claim in St George.
In the Middle East, Christians invoke
his powers to help exorcise demons.
In many countries St George is associated
with fertility and his day marks the very beginning
In Lithuania he is revered as
the guardian of animals and in parts of Spain St George's
day is celebrated with feasts and gift giving.
This next short text is an excerpt from
the Catholic Encyclopaedia & could be used as a basis
1. Elicit - know any stories about dragons?
2. Pre-teach vocab & give key words:
dragon, appeased, sheep, failed, children, King's daughter,
sacrifice, George, spear, girdle, town, beheaded.
3. Stds then try to work out a coherent
story - in pairs?
4. Stds mingle telling each other their
stories >> vote on the best.
5. Handout/put on OHP the excerpt - stds
compare to see who had the most similar story.
6. The stds could then use their imagination
to provide different endings for the story - pairs >>
7. Discuss as a class - any similar stories
to George & the Dragon in your country/ies?
Alternatively, you could use the text
as the basis for a 'dictoglosss' activity. See the
Teaching Tip High Speed Dictations.
the town of Silene, in Libya, there was a dragon, who
was appeased by being fed two sheep a day; when these
failed, the townsfolk offered by lot one of their young
people. One day the lot fell on the King's daughter,
who was led out to the sacrifice, dressed in her wedding
gown. George appeared and transfixed the dragon with
his spear and then using the Princess's girdle led the
bemused dragon into the town, where it was beheaded."
Dragons are a fun vehicle for younger
learner lessons so here are a few ideas:
In 'Drama With Children' by Sarah Philips
(OUP) there is a lovely activity about a Dragon Hunt (from
the classic Bear Hunt story). As you tell the story the
youngsters do the actions & repeat sections & lots
of fun is had by all. A bit of space is needed. A very good
younger learner book all round which you
can buy through:
Then there is the Dragon with a cold story.
A boiled down version is that the fearsome Dragon is miserable
because his cold is spoiling his fun - he can't burn down
houses, fight with knights or generally get up to mischief.
So he goes to see a wizard who says he can cure him with
a special potion (frogs legs, maggots - lots of horrible
things) only if he promises to turn over a new leaf &
put his fire-breathing to good use. He is so miserable he
reluctantly agrees & now instead of people running away
from him they smile & greet him, he helps with their
fires, cooking & heating & with his huge weight,
carries lots of things for them. And they live happily ever
The Monster vocabulary idea could be used
with a dragon - the dragon can breath the words out. See Past Tips 44
A couple of dragon website links:
Your online dragon resource for everything you want to know
about dragons: Dragon history, dragon tattoos, dragon art,
pictures of dragons, as well as dragon links to find gifts,
collectables and figurines for the dragon lover in your
Here are a few links for Earth Day on 22nd April:
Earth Day site:
Information about Earth:
Nasa's Earth Observatory:
Quotes about Earth:
And talking of Earth, have you tried Google
Earth? If you have a broadband connection to the internet
& a relatively new computer, you should be fine for running
it. Free & excellent.
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the Past Teaching Tips