Language Production Activities in the TEFL/ESL Classroom – Moving Beyond Gap Fills

Somewhere between scholarly studies of how people learn and the frontline experience of teaching, the issue of how TEFL/ESL learners actually acquire and keep language is confronted in activity design. Language practice activities come in many forms, and their design should take into account learning aims, the most important being language production. What is language production practice? Any student learning any language requires time and concentration to practise language after it has been acquired through a teacher’s presentation or through the discovery approach.

Yet, considering many course book and handout activities formats, not all employ language production. A considerable amount feature gapfills that require students to modify a stem verb or guess a missing verb. This cannot be considered as language production as such TEFL/ESL practice requires fuller expressions, even sentences to be constructed around context.

There are two types of productive practice of English in terms of skills; written practice and speaking practice. Common sense in TEFL/ESL learning methodology dictates that written practice should come first. Learners need time and separation from others to digest new language, without the pressures of interaction. Logically, when some sense of grammatical rules is made individually, learners should progress to communication.

The productive element of practice is what’s crucial to English learning. Learners have to, through intuitive activity design by teachers or course book writers, hardwire the use of grammatical structures and fixed vocabulary expressions. Context is everything in this process. Grammatical structures, arguably, should be practised in context according to three principles. Students need to be able to use structures comfortably (understanding), fit within existing structures (relation), and relate to other context beyond the confines of the existing activity (extrapolation). Each of these three factors is equally significant.

The first principle of understanding is mostly concerned with levels and grading in a TEFL/ESL context. For example, students with only limited experience in English (say for example two months), are likely to be able to understand the past simple, though will most likely struggle grasping the differences with the present perfect simple. Understanding, though, is a slippery concept, and there is nothing worse than a teacher asking ‘do you understand’?

So how can students improve their understanding through language production activities? Arguably, ESL worksheets that involve repetitive, contextual sentence writing through some guidance are of greater benefit than gapfill activities where students must insert a missing verb form. This is for two reasons; first, gapfill activities focus more on grammatical form rather than meaning (as verbs are often given in such activities). Second, such practices are mostly receptive. All information is given, requiring only students to change words, rather than come up with phrases and sentences themselves.

Our next point relates to the second aspect of language production activities; they must allow students to relate them to other structures they know. Grammar cannot be seen in isolation, and language production activities must use context for students to make the link between new structures and familiar ones. Take for example, the present perfect simple at elementary level. This structure fits commonly in with superlative adjective forms (e.g. what’s the best restaurant you have been to?) and the past simple (e.g. follow-up questions to “have you ever been to…”) TEFL/ESL activities should integrate such forms and ensure students are made to use them when practising new forms.

The final point, extrapolation, relates to the continuation of understanding and use of freshly-learnt grammatical forms through language production activities. Language forms such as the present perfect simple re-occur at several levels (all between elementary and upper-intermediate in fact). Thus, it is crucial for teachers to integrate activities that promote learner revision of prominent forms. How can this be achieved through language production activities? In short, students need to make language, helped along with the context of heavy grammar recycling and re-use of fixed expressions. TEFL/ESL tasks involving pictures or dominoes with minimal context do not achieve this. On the other hand, speaking tasks that involve students rephrasing expressions with other fixed expressions (for example ‘have a friendly relationship’ rephrased to ‘get on with)’ are exceedingly useful.

In conclusion, students learning English need to ‘make’ language through contextual guides such as pre-known grammar, familiar vocabulary that students can relate to, and exemplification. This can be done through language production activities in the form of writing and speaking. Writing activities where students model grammatical structures with their own personalised information, and speaking activities where students practise the essentials of new grammar in pairs and groups are particularly helpful. The way forward in TEFL/ESL is for course books and teachers to acknowledge this and continue to aid students in their quest for improvement through productive practice.

How to Find Ideas for Digital Products That Sell

It’s easy to assume that any subject will sell. And to an extent that’s true – you just have to look at the variety of topics covered by Amazon. But obviously there’s a difference between selling something on a regular basis and selling it once in a blue moon.

I’m guessing that you’d rather be selling the digital products you create on a daily or even hourly basis.

To do that, you need to do some basic research.

If you’re feeling keen and don’t mind a computer showing you a single figure that’s really just the midpoint of a range of numbers then the Google Keyword Planner can be somewhere to start.

I used to use it in its previous incarnation (the Keyword Tool) but I find that it only gives a “finger in the air” approximation of the likely volume of searches. And even then, you need to be very close to the top of the page to get even a fraction of the figures shown most of the time.

Instead, I prefer to work backwards.

The best way to find ideas for digital products that are likely to sell is to find out what people are looking for and are prepared to spend money to find the solution.

At its heart, the search process really is that simple.

Use the suggestions that come up as you type as a good guideline. They’re based on real world searches and are as close to real time as you’re likely to find.

If a majority of the suggestions include the word “free” then it’s probably worth rethinking your chosen market.

Because that indicates that, more often than not, people are looking for a cheap solution to their problem.

On the other hand, if there’s an urgency in what they’re searching for then you’re more likely to make a sale.

For instance, you could find a possible natural, fast acting cure for your toothache if you were prepared to hunt it down for long enough. But all the time you were searching, your tooth is reminding you that it’s aching. So you’d probably be happy to pay for a solution to the problem.

In internet marketing terms, that kind of search is called a buying keyword phrase.

If you want to quickly come up with ideas for digital products such as PDFs and short video series then it’s well worth creating them for buyer phrases.

One of the best places to do this is to perform your search in the Yahoo! Answers site.

Real people are asking for real solutions to pressing – and not so pressing – problems.

Spend half an hour searching that site and you should have more than enough ideas for products that would sell nicely as short reports or longer digital products.

Another excellent source of ideas for digital products with a likelihood of selling is to look around forums in your niche.

If a problem crops up so regularly that you can almost hear the regular forum contributors sighing, there’s a need for information on it.

And some people within that target audience will be prepared to pay you for that information.

The other thing to do is a test run.

It doesn’t take long to create a short PDF or video answering a problem and then a quick promotion with a signature link in a forum or a few posts on your blog will soon show you whether people are prepared to part with money to solve that problem.

You could always start with a short report on a squeeze page and build up the bigger product. You’ll soon have an idea whether or not it’s worth pursuing that route or not.

What Is Productive Activity?

When we think of activity usually as a sporting activity, where people participate in more physically energetic sports as fun and to test our competitive ability; such as in playing tennis, ice and field hockey and football.

However, the term ‘activity’ can also mean anything that uses physical movement of our limbs to create muscular action, plus using coordination and strength to move our muscles and skeletal joints around with an element of skill.

This can be for are other sporting activities such as curling, recreational activities such as bowls, hobby activities such as needlecraft, work activities such as woodwork and so on. They are all under the umbrella of productive activities, because there is a purpose of creating something for the goal during the activity.

Playing any type of games is productive, because the aim is to win the game, which also provides competitiveness, socialization and brain stimulation for testing our mental acuity, through concentration and skill, more than muscular strength and fitness.

Sporting activities need practise for obtaining greater strength and skill, with the aim to become better than the opponent for winning the ultimate prize that brings prestige and honor.

The focus on daily productive activities is different in because they are a repetitious activity performed daily so that little physical or cognitive effort is put into them as repeat them each day.

It means our physical and cognitive actions have little concentrated effort, because we do them without even thinking about how we perform them.

We call these tasks daily living activities, or functional performance activities; which are completed for enabling personal autonomy and independence in daily living.

Maintaining our functional independence in daily living is the most important aspect of personal control that we have, because if we are not able to be independent; then we lose the ability to control of our own personal life. If we ever become very sick, we may end up in hospital, because we are unable to take care of ourselves.

Hospitals remove our personal control, in order to take care of our medical problems. Hospitals, like all institutions are organized on tight schedules; with meals at a specific times, visitors at other times and doctor’s visits always in the morning.

They provide very little personal control to the ‘consumer, or the patient; until you are able to return home and only then is control reinstated. It means you can return to living a full and active life as you choose, through independence and autonomy.

If you are not able to achieve this ability, it means that your health will be poor and you are unable to take care of yourself. It may mean that you need to be looked after by other people and which means institutional care in either a hospital or nursing home.

All types of productive activity are used to help you live an independent and autonomous life. This is your ultimate goal in daily living, because without this ability; you will not be in control of the choices you make in living your own life.

Enabling productively, safe activity cannot be over-emphasized, because if we ever become so seriously physically impaired with functional limitations; which can happen if we gain too much weight. Our physical health will suffer and we lose our ability to maintain our personal independence in our daily functional activities. Losing any of these tasks is the first step to losing control of our daily life.

Our goal as human beings is to remain productively active in everything we do, so that we remain independent, participatory and functional, in order to be a holistically, self-fulfilled person.

One Tool to Level Out the Peaks and Valleys in Your Marketing, Selling & Production Activities

Peaks and valleys happen in all businesses for a variety of reasons from down economic times to going crazy times. There are numerous ways to overcome this part of doing business. What I have recently discovered is the best way is the use of a marketing calendar.

Now to effectively use this strategy does require for you to know your peaks and valleys specific to revenue and productivity (think sales). In some cases, increase sales may follow productivity by anywhere from 30 days to 2 years depending upon your products or services. The goal here is to keep your people busy with productive work that generates sales while reducing errors and complaints.

First, create an excel file with the following labels for these columns in row one:

  • A – Date
  • B – Action
  • C – January
  • D – February
  • E – March
  • F – April
  • G – May
  • H – June
  • I – July
  • J – August
  • K – September
  • L – October
  • M – November
  • N – December

Next leave rows two through 6 blank for daily activities such as posting on Tweeter or Facebook, changing Linked In Profile, blogging or article marketing.

Beginning with row seven label it with the number 1 and then continue to row 37 ending with the number 31 for the days of the month.

Now start plugging in all of your current marketing activities. This might include:

  • Monthly Ezine
  • Speaking Engagements
  • Direct Mail Pieces
  • Press releases
  • Networking events

Each worksheet within the excel file then becomes a year.

The next step is even more time consuming. Start plotting in your revenue highs and lows along with your productivity based upon historical experience. What should happen is you will see where there are gaps between your marketing actions and your increase sales. Sales Training Coaching Tip: Use a different color to indicate sales lows and highs along with production lows and highs.

A marketing calendar is a stop gap measure that recognizes your potential customers and existing customers having short memories. As a small business owner, entrepreneur, independent sales professional such as a realtor, insurance agent or financial advisor, you need to create top of mind awareness or TOMA. To do this requires touching them 33 times a year according to marketing research. What I suggest is 3 touches per month between email, direct mail, phone calls and personal meetings.

By having a calendar that clearly shows your actions in a very clear and concise manner helps you to keep your arms around marketing. Of course you must also continue to track the results of your marketing that being your revenue and productivity to truly realize the value of this instrumental tool.