Preparing to Demand High

This very interesting article is by Andy Gaskins, Assistant Director of Studies at St Giles London Central.

He asks a great question:

Is Demand High only something that you can do spontaneously on the spot in class … or can you prepare for it?

Preparing to Demand High

Is Demand High teaching always a spontaneous response to student production, or can it be, at least partially, prepared in advance? And if it can, what does that preparation look like, and can it be squared with the idea of a ‘doable demand’ – of intervening at the precise moment and with the appropriate nudge to help a learner take the next step?

OK, so what does it look like?

Let’s take a concrete example – preparing students for the CPE exam, practicing Sentence Trasformations. I have a set of examples which I’m going to get my students to have a go at, how can I prepare to Demand High in advance?

Well, here’s the first example. Students need to complete the second sentence using the word sharp so that it means the same as the first.

The cost of building materials has gone up a great deal recently.
There has been _____________________ building materials recently.

The answer of course is a sharp increase in the cost of , but what else might I want to ask my students to push them to expand their linguistic and pragmatic knowledge… to help them take that next step?

I work on ideas in three main areas; that is language, pronunciation and context, although the last one will feed heavily off the first two.

• Alternatives to sharp / rise / cost?
• Could we not say a sharp growth in? (Devil’s advocate)
• Replace sharp with the adverb (sharply)- rephrase
• Replace recently
• Say it in 4 words (Bricks / Stuff cost(s) more now)
• Rephrase to make it more emphatic

Broadly speaking this focuses on possible synonyms, collocation, changing parts of speech and trying out different grammatical structures. Students will be asked to rephrase or replace with alternative words, and then can be asked to reflect on the impact of their change on meaning or style.

• Change pron. to make it more emphatic
• Move the stress, how does this affect meaning?
• Change the intonation, what effect does this have?

The focus here is on encouraging students to vary stress and intonation, helping them to become aware of the way that these two variables can affect communication, and putting the stuff into their ears and mouths. Lots of times.

• Who would say it – how would they feel?
• Say it like a newsreader / an economist / a builder / someone trying to pay for an extension… change pron. / language to suit the different roles.
• Do the last two again with facial expressions / body language

Now we are going deeper into the impact that changes in pronunciation or language might have on communication, and crucially having fun with it… and more practice.

While I’m not suggesting that anyone would have the time to go into this much depth with every part of an activity, I think that sometimes doing some of it can be really helpful. Not only does it give you ideas for potentially challenging tweaks, but it can also help you to choose the most profitable challenges, those that will link up with what comes later, or which address ongoing areas of weakness.

In a post on ‘One to One teaching within a group’, Adrian Underhill said ‘…I can only demand high in an accurate and appropriate way when I can to some extent see the learning moves going on in front of me…’ and went on to suggest that without these contextual cues we are in danger of ‘lobbing (demanding teaching) over the wall and hoping for the best.’ He has a point, but preparation can give you a hand up, suggesting things to look out for, and yes, giving you ammunition, the key then is in how you use it. Make targeted strikes – don’t just lob it in! Or to put it another way, having plentiful material is only a problem if you feel duty bound to use it all. Preparation can give you the time and space to focus on the learning that is taking place when the lesson goes live.


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