Teaching Tip: Analysing Learning Needs by Tier-Ranking

Talking of rankings, I’m delighted to announce that Englishin3d is now in the top half of Feedspot’s list of the 70 best TEFL blogs, alongside some of the ‘big beasts’ of the online TEFL world! It’s well worth checking out the complete list – I’ve bookmarked a pile of other sites that have up-to-date and useful stuff for teachers.

Here’s an idea for both teachers and students to try at the start of a course, to help assess the needs, priorities and goals for the course.

The top picture is a simple tier ranking, based on a framework computer gamers use to compare the powers of characters in the game. I’ve used only three tiers, to keep it easy for me as a teacher, when I come to plan the course, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t add more.

I then prepare ten statements about the course, ask the class first to read them, and then to:

  • think individually about how they’d rank each of the statements.
  • discuss the statements as a class and agree on a shared ranking. I ask one of the class to record these in a document while screen-sharing.

I take a screenshot or photo of the finished ranking, for my own records. The ‘scribe’ can also email the other students a copy.

Here’s a list of statements I used last week, geared for an in-company class at C1 level:

  • a. I need help with functional writing e.g. emails, contracts.
  • b. I could do with some training in making and answering phone calls.
  • c. It would be useful to do some role-plays e.g. presentations and meetings.
  • d. I’d like to spend class time on debates and discussions about issues that matter in society, e.g. the cost of living, security, health…
  • e. I’m hoping that we spend most of our class time on business vocabulary.
  • f. I only want speaking.
  • g. I worry about my grammar.
  • h. Fluency is more important for me than accuracy.
  • i. I want to be corrected every time I make a mistake.
  • j. I would prefer the teacher to choose topics and language for us to do in class.

The class produced the shared ranking below, with added colour-coding. It’s a little rough-and-ready (and the edits are confusing in places), but it serves as a reminder of the discussion, and it’s enough to provide a guide to which aspects they decided were most important.

But how about for other levels and contexts?

How about if we create a longer and more comprehensive list of statements, and then select ten or maybe fifteen to use with each new class or one-to-one student?

That’s what I’ve done below. I’m still developing this idea, so might add to these later on. Feel free to suggest more in the comments. Also, if you’re using the tier ranking idea after seeing it here, please do leave some feedback on how it goes!

A final note, before launching into the full list: take care to exempt any non-negotiables from discussion. For instance, if your class are paying a discounted rate for conversation-only lessons, then make sure not to include anything that suggests they can select a fully worked-out grammar syllabus.

Skills and Overall Content

  1. I only want speaking.
  2. I’d like the course to balance the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing).
  3. I worry about my grammar.
  4. I don’t want to learn any grammar rules at all, even if I make mistakes.
  5. I struggle to find the right words when I speak.
  6. Learning to write formal texts is important to me.
  7. I’d like to spend class time on debates and discussions about issues that matter in society (e.g. the cost of living, security, health…).
  8. I like to learn idioms.
  9. I’d be up for doing some course planning myself. I could regularly bring an article or video to the lesson as a way of starting a discussion.
  10. I don’t mind anything. I would prefer the teacher to choose topics and language for us to do in class.

Content for Business Courses

  1. I’m hoping that we spend most of our class time on business vocabulary.
  2. I need help with spoken communication skills (e.g. negotiations, making calls).
  3. I need help with functional writing (e.g. emails, contracts…).
  4. It would be good to include general English themes, so that I can make small talk and get to know colleagues/ clients/ suppliers.
  5. I’d benefit from learning more about etiquette and culture in different countries.

Content for Exam-Preparation Courses

  1. I would like the teacher to choose which areas we work on.
  2. I know already which parts of the exam I’d like to focus on in class.
  3. I feel like I need to improve my language level before I can be ready for the exam.
  4. I just want to focus on practising the types of exercise I need for this exam.
  5. I’ve got plenty of time outside class to do exercises and improve my level. What I need in class is feedback on my mistakes and strategies to help me maximise my grade.

Delivery Methods

  1. I want to be corrected every time I make a mistake.
  2. Fluency is more important to me than accuracy.
  3. Ideally, I’d rather have time to think and make notes before being asked to speak.
  4. I’m okay with ‘rote learning’ of vocabulary (like learning a list of 10-20 words).
  5. I’d rather do a role-play (acting out a meeting/ phone call etc.) than do a worksheet.
  6. Conversations that happen spontaneously in class are really good.
  7. I don’t want homework.
  8. I’m absolutely willing to read a text or watch a video to prepare for the next lesson.
  9. It’s vital that the course content follows the information I’ve provided in this tier-ranking exercise.
  10. If I did this tier-ranking again in six weeks’ time, I’d be likely to give different answers.

Main photo: englishin3d.net. Teachers are invited to make a copy of the photo and the thirty statements for use with a class of learners of English; all other rights are reserved by englishin3d. Feel free to share this content via a web-link, but do not repost or republish any part of it.

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