Recording students

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Having recently done a lunchtime session on using the language lab, I thought it might be interesting to explore recording students.

Table of contents:


The first thing I found was a list of reasons to use the language lab in Julian Dakin’s The Language Laboratory and Language Learning:

1. Each learner can work all the time

He no longer has to sit idly while other pupils answer questions or show the teacher what they can do. He can work uninterruptedly either at listening to material on his own tape or at trying to improve his speech.

2. Each learner can work at his own pace

He no longer needs to be either held back or out-stripped by the pace of learning of the rest of the class.  He can stop the tape whenever he is in doubt, replay each section as many times as he wishes, and repeat each exercise till he is satisfied with his performance.

3. Each learner can work on his own materials

There is no longer any need for him to listen to the same materials or do all the same exercises as the rest of the class.  He can be given work which matches his own needs and interests.

4. Each learner is responsible for his own performance

He is spared the embarrassment of having other pupils listening to all his mistakes.  Instead he must learn to correct himself when he goes wrong, and to seek advice from the teacher when he is in doubt.

5. Each learner receives individual attention from the teacher

Although I don’t always use published material in the language lab, I believe that these five basic points are really valid and for me the most important is.

Recording students is a great way of making the learner more responsible and aware of their speaking and pronunciation as well their range and accuracy of grammar and lexis and of course it can provide variety by getting students out of the classroom.

Another reason I think it’s useful is to give students an opportunity to focus on spoken accuracy and make it separate from fluency work. I have often had very fluent students who can communicate competently but whose accuracy leaves much to be desired so I think it’s a great way of raising learners’ awareness of their own accuracy.

Finally, recording the task gives learners the possibility of taking their recording away as a record of their performance and competence in English which can be very motivating and satisfying (just like taking away a finished piece of writing but there are visible corrections).

So far I have only used the language lab to record students during class time but I think that recording students can be an exciting (is that too enthusiastic 🙂 ?) way of doing homework. I found two articles in English Teaching Professional which describe two teachers’ experiences of setting recording homework. The first one is Russell Stannard’s sound_instruction and the second is Elvira Carralero’s keep_talking

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Below are a couple of points to bear in mind when using the language lab and recording students:

  • I think we all tend to hate hearing the sound of our own voices and it’s the same with students. Some learners can be quite shy at first but with a little bit of encouragement and making sure they know they have plenty of opportunities to perfect their recording is usually enough to get them recording.
  • As with any activity, there may be students who may ask what the point is and again as with any activity in the classroom, explaining what students will gain from it is crucial.
  • There will always be one student who is happy after the first recording, so it’s a good idea to give them lots of feedback and ways to extend their recording. The published material on the shelf also means you can always give students something extra to do.
  • And finally, technology can fail when you least expect it to and when you least need it to. Always have a back-up plan in case a work station goes down or the whole lab goes down. Also remember that it doesn’t always have to be done in the language lab, the old style tape recorders work really well and students never have any trouble using them. So my advice would be have a stack of blank tapes, steal the tape recorders from other classrooms and send students out for a limited amount of time to do their recordings, they are ingenious at finding a little quiet space and it makes for a fun change.

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Practical Ideas

Here’s the basic format I tend to use when getting students to record themselves individually:

  1. Teacher models anecdote
  2. Language focus
  3. Students prepare own anecdote, teacher feeds in language
  4. Students practise anecdote in pairs, teacher monitors
  5. Teacher gives feedback on language
  6. Students amend anecdotes
  7. Teacher takes students to lab and students record anecdotes individually
  8. Teacher monitors and gives individual feedback to students

but there are ways of varying and extending this.  Here are a couple of ideas you might want to use and John Hughes has a good worksheet you can photocopy as well.

Final Thought

Finally, here are a few interesting websites and articles that have some really interesting ideas about how to use the website.

The British Council Teaching English website has quite a few nice ideas which I think is worth a look:

Also, Jamie Keddie wrote an interesting article about using video recorders in the classroom, not something I have done yet, but something I’d really like to try out: and there’s another article by Michael Brewster about making a video project with students.

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One Comment

  1. Hi Annie,

    This is great and really complements the TD session. Do you fancy videoing my students having a go at this? I’ve got Let’s Talk High in the afternoons so if we could get hold of the camera we could do it today or tomorrow.

    I think Iffy was saying he really wants to investigate using video recorders too, so maybe have a wee chat with him. Perhaps we could link this in with Jo’s work on using dictaphones?

    Ur thoughts?


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