Designing digital content for business English training requires a clear understanding of the language acquisition process. This article will look at the pedagogical stages suitable for digital language training and the appropriate types of activities for each stage. The approach outlined here is a robust digital methodology based on the Present – Practice – Produce method.
Stage 1: Warm-Up
The warm-up stage is an important first step in preparing learners for future language learning. This learning moment serves to engage learners, build their motivation, and get them into the right mindset for learning. The main goal is to refresh the student’s previous knowledge of the topics, create context and set expectations.
In a digital learning format, the warm-up can be achieved through activities such as:
Quizzes: start with short, fun multiple-choice quizzes that test learners’ knowledge of key vocabulary, grammar, and cultural concepts related to the language they are learning. This will get learners in the right mindset for language learning and help them identify areas where they need more practice. It is possible to provide feedback, where a user’s answers are compared with the answers from all other users, creating an element of social learning.
Introductory video: use a video that sets the scene for the language learning experience. This could include information about the learning goals, target language, culture, or the context in which the language is used.
A static web page: In this static page, pictures can be combined with text. You can use:
- a contextualized photo, one which best describes the topic of the lesson.
- a word cloud to get learners thinking about the language they will be learning.
- a quote to make a topic more relatable to more advanced learners.
- a list of learning goals, in the form of competencies, which can help students to set their expectations.
An image-matching activity is a fun and interactive way to get beginner learners thinking about the language they are learning. In this activity, learners match images with vocabulary words, helping them to build their vocabulary and remember new words more easily. It is a pre-teach strategy to improve comprehension in later learning stages.
Stage 2: Presentation
The presentation phase is the first step in language acquisition and is crucial for learners to gain a basic understanding of the language structure and vocabulary. In a digital mode if delivery, the presentation phase can be achieved by using a combination of text, images, videos, and audio to introduce the new target language.
It’s important to make the presentation phase interactive and engaging to keep learners’ attention and make the material memorable. Long videos, complex explanations, metalanguage, and simultaneous use of text and audio should be avoided.
Videos: Use short, engaging videos to introduce new vocabulary, grammar, and functional language structures. These videos should be well-produced and engaging for learners. Make sure a two-channel approach is used, combining audio with images, but avoiding simultaneous listening and reading.
Audio: Use audio recordings to reinforce the pronunciation of new vocabulary and grammar structures. It is best to use authentic dialogues and real-world business situations. These recordings can be used in combination with images or text and are often followed by multiple-choice or true/false questions to check comprehension.
Text: Reading texts that contain the target language in context, followed by multiple choice or true/false questions. These texts can be recycled later in the Guided Practice phase. This can create a strong sense of continuity in the learning process.
Interactive Images: Use interactive images to bring new vocabulary to life. For example, learners can click on images to hear the pronunciation of new vocabulary, or they can click on elements within an image to learn more vocabulary or language structures.
Text Explanations: Provide clear, concise text explanations for new vocabulary, grammar, and language structures. These explanations should be written in a way that is easy to understand, with examples and exercises to reinforce understanding.
Practice Exercises: Include practice exercises like multiple-choice questions or true/false statements after each presentation element to reinforce what has been learned. These exercises should be designed to test the learners understanding of the presentation. The system can provide immediate feedback and tips on how to successfully complete the tasks.
Rules: You can present a rule, which is more traditional top-down deductive approach. This can also be presented as a grammar rule gap-fill, which is a more bottom-up inductive approach. A variant is a complete a chart gap-fill, which asks the students to complete the chart gap-fill with missing information.
Vocabulary: word to picture (match vocabulary to a visual), word to definition (match vocabulary to a definition), jumbled letters (reorder the letters to make a word), opposites(order the words into opposites), odd word out (find a word that does not fit in the group), word forms (write the correct form of the word), ranking (put items into the order of importance)
Stage 3: Guided Practice
In the guided practice phase, learners put the new language into action. This is the phase where learners start to develop a deeper understanding of the language and systematize their knowledge through highly scaffolded activities, which provide all the components that are needed.
This phase is very well supported in digital content, through interactive activities, such as filling in the blanks, multiple-choice questions, and categorizing exercises. In these activities, learners can receive immediate feedback on their performance, which helps them identify and correct their mistakes. The most common types which are supported by most authoring tools are:
- multiple choice
- tick the correct sentence/picture
- gap fill (dropdown)
- gap fill (drag and drop)
- gap fill (written text)
- matching activities (sentence halves, questions and answers etc.)
- image matching
- build a sentence (reorganize words or chunks)
- reordering sentences/paragraphs
- categorization (vocabulary, phrases etc.)
Stage 4: Independent Practice
The independent practice phase is where learners apply what they have learned on their own, without the direct support of the teacher. This is an important step for learners to develop their confidence in using the language and to reinforce what they have learned. This phase can also work very well in the classroom, as students begin to experiment in a control was.
Independent application is much more difficult to achieve in a digital module, but it can be achieved through activities such as: creating sentences from prompts, sentence transformation, writing what you hear, etc. These activities should involve less scaffolding and leave more production to the learner. This is the model of tapering scaffolding, which slowly reduces and allows the learner to gain confidence. The most common types of exercises are:
- create sentences from prompts
- create a dialogue from prompts
- rewrite sentences (using different words/phrases or grammar)
- spot the mistakes in sentences and correct them
- spot the extra word and mark it
- students are asked to take part in a spoken dialogue.
- spoken multiple choice
- gapped text
In digital modules, feedback can be a problem, as sometimes more than one answer is possible. It is important that the content writer enters all the different possible answer and provides tips for incorrect answers. The learner should get the feeling that they are getting the assistance needed to complete the tasks.
Stage 5: Language Production
The final stage of language acquisition is language production, where learners are able to use the language to communicate their own thoughts and ideas effectively. This is the ultimate goal of any language course, and it is essential to assess learners’ ability to produce language through various speaking and writing tasks.
This is probably one of the most difficult parts of language learning to reproduce in a digital format. Production activities should provide learners with opportunities to use the language in a communicative context and provide them with a platform to showcase their language skills. This is best achieved in a classroom setting, which can utilize a variety of methodologies to facilitate the development of language production. The digital format is much more limited in scope, functioning best in the Presentation and Practice stages. Having said that, language production can be achieved in the digital format through a limited number of exercise types. For example:
- Students are asked to write a text using language explored in earlier phases of the lesson. A variant is when learners are given question prompts and have to record an answer. Feedback can be given in different forms:
- AI text correction
- delayed feedback from a trainer
- a model answer
- Peer correction: ask learners to write a text and give feedback on two other learner texts.
- create a social platform where learners can chat together or create blog entries.
Stage 6: Feedback
In digital learning, feedback is continuous. A final results page is often automatically generated by digital learning systems. It is a point where structural gamification can often be useful. Students can earn badges, unlock access to new levels, and play fun games. The main goal is to create a high level of positive reinforcement to motivate and engage learners.
How can I create digital content for my English course?
If have your own WordPress website or Moodle installation, you will be able to use a suite of open-source tools known as H5P (https://h5p.org). If you want to create a range of digital exercises, including written and recorded production tasks with delayed trainer feedback, the company Zengengo (https://www.zengengo.com) offers a very reasonable monthly subscription. The advantage of Zengengo is your learners won’t have to log in, as modules can be accessed through web links.
In conclusion, designing a digital module for a Business English language course requires a thorough understanding of the language acquisition process and different learning steps. It also depends on the ability to create engaging and interactive activities that support all of the different phases of language acquisition. Incorporating presentation, guided practice, independent practice, and language production into your digital module design, will create an effective and efficient learning experience for your learners.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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