ROLO: Reformulate Output Lightly but Often (slideshow version)

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In English language teaching, ROLO is a technique for giving feedback at the board following a speaking activity. Instead of just correcting language, ROLO involves guiding students to produce better language for themselves, and it emphasizes developing language as well as just correction.
This is a short slideshow with my ROLO ideas. On this site there is also a longer article posted as a PDF.

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ROLO: Reformulate Output Lightly but Often (slideshow version)

  1. 1. Paul Emmerson ROLO: REFORMULATE OUTPUT LIGHTLY BUT OFTEN
  2. 2.  Reformulate is the key teaching technique in the language feedback part of an Output  Language focus lesson. It means starting with what the students said and then helping them to say it better.  Output means the students’ own words. (The recently coined term ‘emergent language’ has the same meaning).  Lightly refers to moving on quickly to a new item in a feedback slot, rather than the ‘heavy’ present-practice of just one language item over a major part of the lesson.  Often refers to two things: 1) the fact that the teacher should do feedback slots often, and 2) the fact that particular or troublesome language items should be returned to often, as recycling. ROLO: DIAGNOSTIC LANGUAGE FEEDBACK
  3. 3. Let’s begin with twelve practical examples taken from a real -life lesson of mine, and then afterwards reflect. While the students were speaking I made notes on phrases they used: some good language, some language that needed improving, and some phrases that offered a chance to develop their language. At the end I went to the whiteboard and gave feedback.
  4. 4. Let’s begin with twelve practical examples taken from a real -life lesson of mine, and then afterwards reflect. While the students were speaking I made notes on phrases they used: some good language, some language that needed improving, and some phrases that offered a chance to develop their language. At the end I went to the whiteboard and gave feedback. At the top of each of the following slides you will see the words I wrote on the board. Below that is a commentary that describes what I actually did in class after writing up these words.
  5. 5.  I said ‘I am living in Frankfurt’ with a questioning tone in my voice, and one student tentatively offered ‘I have lived’. I didn’t make any comment, but said to the group: ‘Is it a temporary activity in progress right now, or is it looking back at your life up to now?’ They said that it was the second one, and I said ‘yes, good’ and wrote up ‘I have lived’.  Then I pointed to ‘since’. I said: ‘Is it a point in time or a period of time?’. After a short pause several students called out ‘for’ and I wrote up the correct form and moved on. I AM LIVING IN FRANKFURT SINCE T WO YEARS
  6. 6.  I put a large tick on the board before this phrase, and congratulated by name the student who said it. I said that it was an excellent phrase, typical of business English.  I drew a very quick sketch of a ladder and mimed taking a step, just in case there was anyone who didn’t understand. IT’S A STEP ON THE CAREER LADDER
  7. 7.  After five seconds’ silence I said: There is nothing really wrong with this, but there’s a much better, more businessy word for ‘the important things of the product’.  Then I gave another five seconds’ silence. No-one volunteered anything, so I crossed out ‘important things’ and wrote up the first letter ‘f’. Still no-one volunteered so I wrote up ‘fea’. Still no-one volunteered so I wrote up ‘features’ and moved on.  I made a mental note that if time permitted at the end of the feedback slot I might return to the question of features vs benefits (a typical discussion point of interest to marketers). THE SALES PEOPLE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANT THINGS OF THE PRODUCT THAT THE CUSTOMERS WANT
  8. 8.  I put a large tick on the board before this phrase, and congratulated by name the student who said it. I said that it was an excellent phrase for balancing two contrasting arguments.  I then said: ‘Another good phrase for balancing two different arguments is In general … although …’ and I wrote this up.  I asked one student by name to think of an example sentence using the first phrase, with a context of talking about their typical customers. They gave an example.  Then I asked another student for an example using the second phrase. They gave one and I moved on. ON THE ONE HAND ..., BUT ON THE OTHER HAND …
  9. 9.  I said that there was nothing wrong with this phrase, but there was another, more specific verb for ‘empty’ in this context. Several students called out ‘unload’ and I wrote it up.  The student who said the phrase worked in the logistics area, so I asked him what other verbs he uses with ‘containers’. He suggested load/ship/fill/store/transport, all of which I wrote to the left of a vertical line with ‘containers’ on the right of the line.  He then said: ‘Oh yes, send them back empty – because they arrive in Germany full but there aren’t enough products to send back to China.’ I added ‘send back’ to the list and made a mental note to ask him to talk more about this interesting discussion point after the break. WE EMPT Y THE CONTAINERS AT OUR DISTRIBUTION CENTRE
  10. 10.  No-one could suggest anything here, so I said: ‘There is one word missing’.  Still no-one suggested anything so I wrote in ‘as’ before ‘good’ in the phrase. Then underneath, in another colour, I wrote up: (not) as … as …  I asked students to think of sentences comparing their own company with a competitor, using this form. After hearing a few with different adjectives in the middle I moved on. WE CAN’T DO IT GOOD AS THAT EVERY TIME
  11. 11.  After five seconds I pointed to the word ‘hierarchy’ and looked around the room. One student said: ‘hierarchy, it’s wrong’. I said: ‘Yes, it should be hierarchic …?’ and several said ‘hierarchical’. I said: ‘yes, hierarchical, it’s the adjective you need here’ and I wrote it up.  I asked for a sentence with ‘hierarchical’, which a student gave, and I moved on. IT’S A VERY HIERARCHY ORGANIZATION
  12. 12.  The students looked blank, so I wrote this phrase below: We offer/provide a …….. service. I asked them to think of a word for the gap. One said ‘personalized’ which I wrote in, and another said ‘customized’ which I also wrote in. Then below those two I wrote short lines to show letters (______-____) and I asked ‘what is the name of the person who makes a suit by hand?’ No-one suggested anything so I wrote in the first letters t and m. One student called out ‘tailor-made’ and I said ‘good’ and wrote it up.  I then asked the group: ‘which of you offer a tailor-made service?’ and they all said they did. I made a mental note to ask the students to prepare for homework a short presentation on ‘How We Customize Our Services’. Then I moved on. WE MAKE THE SERVICE PERSONAL TO THE CLIENT
  13. 13.  I said: ‘Okay, I’m sure you can improve this’. Underneath I wrote Can you …………………………., please? One student called out ‘Can you say it again, please?’ and I said: ‘Fine, but try that in place of it’ and I filled in the words Can you say that again, please?  I said this was a good phrase if you don’t understand something in a meeting. I asked what other phrases were useful for communication problems in a discussion.  One student called out ‘Can you give me an example?’, which I wrote up.  Another called out ‘Can you be more precise?’. I wrote up Can you be more sp……… ? I looked around, waiting for someone to complete it. No-one could. I said (with one more syllable added): ‘Can you be more spec………? and one student called out ‘specific’. I wrote up the phrase and moved on. TELL IT AGAIN, PLEASE
  14. 14.  I said to the students: ‘What is the meaning of turnover?’. One said ‘money coming in to a company’. I said ‘Yes, and can you think of another word with the same meaning?’. Another student said revenue, which I wrote immediately above turnover.  Then I said: ‘And what is the meaning of budget?’. One student said ‘the money they give you for a project’ and I said ‘Yes, so is that the best word here – does budget go with turnover?’ There was a silence as students looked at the board.  I said: ‘The word you want is the turnover that you aim for’ and I mimed setting a particular level on a vertical scale. One student called out ‘target’ and I said ‘good’, and wrote it up in place of ‘budget’.  Another student then asked ‘What’s the difference between target and objective?’. I said: ‘actually there are four very similar words, aim and objective are perhaps a little more general, and target and goal are more specific – they come with a number.  Then I moved on. THE TURNOVER WAS LESS THAN HALF OF THE BUDGET
  15. 15.  I put a large tick on the board before this phrase, and congratulated by name the student who said it.  I made a mental note to return to the difference between suggest and propose if time allowed, but decided not to focus on it at that point.  Underneath I wrote up May I ………………………? and asked if anyone could think of other phrases beginning with these words that are useful in a meeting. Someone said: ‘May I interrupt?’ and I said: ‘Okay, but probably in this case you’d add a few more words as well’, and I wrote up May I interrupt for a moment?  I then drew an arrow between I and interrupt and asked what common small word could go here to make the phrase even softer. Several called out just and I wrote it in and moved on. MAY I SUGGEST SOMETHING?
  16. 16.  After five seconds’ silence one student said: ‘I think the problem is with good’. I said: ‘Yes, it should be …?’ and one student said ‘well’. I crossed out good and wrote in well.  I asked the group if they knew any other adjectives beginning well-. One student said ‘well-known’ and another said ‘well- paid’ and I wrote them both on the board and moved on. IT’S DIFFICULT TO FIND GOOD -EDUCATED STAFF
  17. 17.  I wrote on the board the words above – in my notes I had written pron (= pronunciation) before each one. For example agenda had been said with a hard g, analysis with the wrong stress, and crisis said as crise.  I didn’t refer to the mispronunciations, but just immediately drilled them. Each time I said the word clearly a couple of times as a model, then indicated with a sweep of my hand (back of hand towards students) that I wanted choral repetition. After a couple of turns of choral repetition I picked out a few individual students to say the word.  If a student mispronounced a word I didn’t say anything but asked another student to say the word and then returned to give the first student another chance. (PRON) AGENDA ANALYZE/ANALYSIS FREIGHT NEUTRAL CRISIS
  18. 18.  Finally, I returned to some of the words and phrases already on the board (including all the functional phrases), and drilled them. In this particular case I returned to: features hierarchy hierarchical Can you say that again, please? Can you be more specific? turnover target May I just interrupt for a moment? agenda analyze analysis freight neutral crisis
  19. 19. ROLO is a way of doing diagnostic language feedback, at the board, following any speaking activity. A ROLO approach to language focus will usually mean this lesson shape: Output in a task → Language focus (non-pre-selected) rather than this: Language focus (pre-selected) → Practice I think most Business English teachers, and all 1:1 teachers, eventually end up doing a lot of ROLO-style language work through force of circumstances. Now let’s reflect …
  20. 20. Reformulate is the key teaching technique in the language feedback slot. It means starting with what the students said, and then helping them to say it better. ‘Better’ means coming closer to achieving the same meanings in English as the students can achieve in their own language. Output means the students’ own words, in speech or writing. Lightly refers to moving on quickly to a new item in a feedback slot. It contrasts with the ‘heavy’ presentation-practice of just one language item over a major part of the lesson. In terms of language acquisition, ‘lightly’ means allowing students to restructure their developing knowledge of English slowly in their own way through the gradual accumulation of insights. Often refers to two things: 1) the fact that the teacher should do feedback slots often – in my view immediately after every speaking activity 2) the fact that particular or troublesome language items should be returned to often, as recycling. R-O-L-O
  21. 21. Reformulation is a sophisticated form of correction. Instead of saying ‘No, it should be … because …’ you use eliciting and guiding to help students to find better language for themselves. In the process, other related words or forms come up in class, and so language development happens at the same time in a natural way. ‘Language development’ means helping students to increase the complexity and richness of their language: to achieve meanings in English closer to those they could achieve in their own language. But I think there is still also a place for some good, old-fashioned error correction and accuracy work, as long as it is done with a light touch. Students won’t thank you – and in-work business students won’t pay you - for helping them to speak pidgin ever more fluently. Reformulation? Correction? Development?
  22. 22. Good question! With no easy answer. If a student looks at you and asks for a word you give it of course. But make sure you just give the word and say nothing more, and then write it down and return to it in the feedback slot later as it may just get spoken and not remembered. The problems start when the teacher begins to explain: this takes the students out of their world of constructing their own meanings in their head and listening to other people, and back into the world of the classroom, language forms and taking notes. If they go backwards and forwards between these two mental worlds of a) meaning and b) form, then it becomes confusing and destroys much of the fluency. Incidentally, it also means that students are deprived of the chance to practise paraphrasing when they don’t know a word. On-the-spot help during the task? or Feedback at the board after the task?
  23. 23. And finally a review of how to ROLO, drawing out the main points from the twelve examples at the beginning …
  24. 24.  While the students are doing a speaking activity, make notes on areas of their language where you can help them improve.  Write down the whole phrase you heard to keep the context.  What to write down? Trust your instinct. Grade according to the students’ level. You don’t have to use everything that is in your notes.  When the task finishes, make sure you leave time for a feedback slot! You don’t want the students to leave the lesson thinking ‘all we did today was talk’. Teacher takes notes during a speaking activity ROLO
  25. 25. General guidelines: Keep the feedback slot fast-paced, covering perhaps 10 – 12 items over 15-20 minutes. Remember this golden rule for boardwork: give enough co-text on the board to provide a context. Look for occasional chances to do mini personalized practice. Remember pronunciation as well as lexis and grammar. Remember to include some examples of good language. Teacher goes to the board and runs a feedback slot ROLO
  26. 26. Procedure at the board: ① Write up the whole phrase, exactly as you heard it. ② Stand back and allow five seconds silence. ③ Use guiding/eliciting/coaching to help students to reformulate their own language. ④ Remember to develop and extend language, using the phrase on the board as a starting point, as well as correct it. ⑤ If guiding and eliciting don’t work, write up the improved language quickly and with no further fuss and then move on. Don’t try to teach a major new grammar area in a feedback slot: unless you are a very experienced teacher you will dig a big hole for yourself. Procedure at the board ROLO
  27. 27. Great! So ROLO is the answer! No it isn’t. Nothing is. Or rather, everything is.
  28. 28. That’s all folks! For many more ideas visit my website …
  29. 29. Take a look at my self- published book Management Lessons Sign up for my newsletter. Find out when I post Slideshows, Articles, Videos.

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