Learning Strategies for English Learners: Metacognitive & Metalinguistic

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

There are many strategies you can apply when you teach English learners. This lesson gives you an overview of strategies that focus both on the metacognitive and metalinguistic aspects of language learning.

What is Explicit Instruction?

When Anne begins a lesson with her English learners, she specifically tells students about the learning objective. Anne then presents the topic for the class and an overview of the activities. Then, she gets students' focus by telling them she will ask questions as she goes. This example illustrates what explicit instruction is about. Explicit instruction is a method that involves students' awareness of the lesson plan a teacher has and it includes interaction with the students. This is important to know because, traditionally, many believe that explicit instruction is simply when the teacher lectures students. However, interaction with students is particularly important in language learning. Let's look at how you can apply this to English learning classes.

Learning Strategies for English Learners

To develop the language skills your English learners need, you can apply strategies that have to do with the metacognitive and metalinguistic aspects of language learning. The key is to explicitly encourage students to apply these strategies.

Metacognitive Awareness

Anne is aware of the fact that her English learners do not know how to learn a language. This is precisely what metacognitive awareness is about. It is the process in which a student learns how to learn specific aspects that are necessary for knowledge. When it comes to language learning, metacognitive awareness is about knowing how to study the language in order to learn it. It makes sense then that some refer to metacognitive awareness as when you 'think about thinking' or 'learn about learning'.

When it comes to English learners, here are some strategies you can apply to develop metacognitive awareness.

Model and Practice

Anne is teaching the present continuous to her students. She shows a picture of a family celebrating Christmas. After Anne explains what the present continuous is about, she uses the picture to say a couple of examples:

  • ''The little boy is laughing.''
  • ''The mother is bringing the turkey to the table.''

Then, Anne asks students about other people in the pictures. However, it is not Anne who asks all the time. She gets students to ask other students the question ''What is the father doing?'' or ''What is the sister doing?''

This example shows a basic model-practice process that a teacher can use to first introduce a language piece to students. Afterward, students should continue to practice with other visuals. The key is to explicitly encourage students to continue with repetition and let them know that language sticks through repetition.

Word Learning

Anne is teaching vocabulary to her students and she tells the class that to learn the new vocabulary, it helps to do a 'say then write' exercise. So, she does this exercise with her students. She introduces a word, like the word 'bottle,' to her students. Everyone repeats the word after her a couple of times. Then, individual students pronounce the word. Finally, all students write down the word 'bottle.'

This is a sample of a word learning task that explicitly involves students on how to approach vocabulary learning. You can even reinforce by giving your students the task to think of a topic of their interest (such as maybe soccer or fashion) and then find eight words that relate to the topic. Your students can do the exercise to say and then write each word.

Applied Grammar

Your English learners certainly have a few grammar rules they learn about. However, the key to success is to apply the grammar in a context. For instance, Anne shows her students a list of sentences in the present tense. A few sentences have mistakes like ''She run in the park'' or ''I not drink soda''. Anne asks students to remember the grammar they learned and say what is wrong with those sentences. This activity explicitly gets students applying the knowledge they have in the English language. You can also remind your students to always check their own work before submitting to catch mistakes.

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