Active Study Notebooks

The two main challenges of learning English are building a systematized and coherent understanding of the English grammatical system, and building a large enough lexical store to enable you to say what you want (and need) to say or write.

Once a leaner knows two grammatical verb forms then they need to understand how these forms form part of the whole system. Higher level learners have a large number of grammatical verbs forms to fit together into their representational of the grammatical system; ‘If I want to say this, I need to use this form.‘ and so on. Similarly with other elements of the grammatical system, the learner needs to construct their own grammar of English. And this can only be done through practice and engagement with the language. It is not enough to study grammar; it has to be sued.

Similarly, with lexis, the learner assembles their own lexis of the language and this needs to be operationalised, that is, used. Only language which can be recalled and used in meaningful utterances is ‘known‘ language.

So, it not enough to meet or notice a word, or grammatical form. It has to be stored in the memory, and then recalled, again and again, until it is part of the practiced and fluent spoken and written repertoire of the learner.

The learner should have two weapons in their armoury to help them achieve this understanding.

The first is simply blank cards of some kind.

Blank Cards

These can be used for words, written on one side, with an example sentence and other information on the other. These should then be revised and recycled on a spaced-revision schedule: revised immediately after a lesson, then 24 hours later, then 72 hours later, then a week later, and so on, with the space between recall challenge gradually being lengthened if recall is successful. If it is not, then the cycle starts again.

The second weapon is a notebook of some kind. The best is an organised, active study notebook where the learners collect the language they need, and then they use the notebook when they have to do a task, like write about a particular topic, for example.

This Notebook has a self-assessment page, in line with the Common European Framework of Reference, where the learners shade in what they can currently do in the language. At the end of the course, they revisit the page and (hopefully) shade in some more.

The Language Guide covers word classes, the noun phrase, time phrases, verb phrases, the key verbs: do, get, give, go, have, put, take and turn, modal verbs, conditionals (seven of them), sentence analysis, idioms, binomials and metaphors. In the Guide there are pages for learners to collect their own examples. The leaner uses these pages to collect illustrative examples, ‘good’ examples of the language to remind them of how it works. They use these pages to illustrate the language guide with their own examples.

There is advice on how to exploit texts to identify new language, and key word pages to collect collocations and phrases associated with words the learners identify as important for them. There are also topic vocabulary pages to collect language around different topics of interest. Again, the learners are collecting useful language, which they add to over time, and then use as a reference work for learning tasks. They are, in effect, building their own guidebook to the language.

The Skills section looks at the language of presentations, meetings, reports, letters, telephoning and questions, again with space for learners to add their own examples of useful language.

Finally, there is a list of irregular verbs.

At the end of each lesson, or unit of work, the learners should be asked to go through and identify useful illustrative grammatical examples and add them to the Notebook, and to select words, idioms, metaphors, binomials, phrases and collocations and add these to the Notebook pages for each. When they revisit a topic they should add more words, and use the Notebook to help them prepare presentations, write essays and so on.