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Adult English Lessons / Standard Classes

How to Teach Secondary Objectives in a Standard Class

Do you find that you always have extra time at the end of your class? Do you feel like your textbook or lessons are missing certain skills practice?Use secondary objectives to make your students and lessons more well rounded.


In this article going to take a look at some different methods that you can use to teach various secondary key points to your students. The secondary key points that we will look at are mostly for “standard” classes but they can really be used in any different type of class. Because the “standard” classes are so broad there are quite a number of different secondary key points that you can use. Let’s take a look.


Secondary Objective Methods

  • Vocab Builder
  • Listening Exercise
  • Pronunciation
  • Telephone Practice
  • Role Playing Activity
  • Conversation Strategies
  • Writing activity
  • Short conversation
  • Reading Activity
  • Culture Focus


Vocab builder

Vocab builders are simply activities that focus on teaching students new words. Most textbooks that you find will have various vocabulary building activities that you can use in your classes. Vocabulary builders are almost always related in theme to the sample conversations they will use in that lesson. So for example, if the sample conversation has two people at a restaurant ordering food then the vocab builder will most likely teach the students words related to food, drink or restaurants. These vocab builders can be used in a number of different ways. You can use a vocabulary builder as a warm-up to your lesson. They can be used as a quick activity when you have some extra time in your lesson. They can also be used in tandem with different role-playing activities. The students can do a vocabulary builder and learn the vocabulary and then in the role-playing activity they will have to use the words that they just used.

After doing a vocabulary builder should have the students use the words that they studied. A simple way to do this would be for the teacher to ask questions where you the teacher know that the students must use the vocabulary to answer the questions. Whatever method you choose the “vocalization” of the new words is absolutely essential to them remembering these new words. Students need to be exposed to these different words as much as possible in order for them to remember the words and be able to use the words in a conversation. Rote memorization might work for a test but it is really not an efficient way to learn new words


Listening exercises

Listening exercises are obviously activities that you can do to improve your student’s listening ability. Most textbooks today come with CDs that you can use in your class for this purpose. Even if you don’t have a CD you can always use your own voice.  These listening exercises can be used in a different number of ways. You can use listening exercises as a warm-up that can help introduce the theme of the lesson. It can also be used as an extension of the sample conversation that you read in class. Or you can use it as a standalone activity.

How often you use these listening exercises depend on the makeup of your classes. You have to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the individual students in your class and decide how much time to put into specific listening practice. Don’t forget that many students are able to improve their listening skills simply from partaking in conversations with other students and their teachers.  Some students already have great listening skills and they need to focus more on conversation skills. On the other hand there are many students who have not had a lot of opportunities to practice their listening skills and need to focus on improving them.

Whenever you do decide to use a listening exercise there are a couple of things that you should remember. First, many teachers make the mistake of assuming that a listening exercise will be short. They think it will be over in 5 to 10 minutes. 5 to 10 minutes is optimal for a listening exercise but if you do not prepare or if you’re students are not used to doing these exercises you can certainly expect to use a lot more time than you anticipate. So when you are planning your lesson out try to give yourself a little more time to do the listening exercise. Whenever you do a listening exercise it is very important to give your students access to a transcript of everything that was said in the recording. Without this transcript it is very difficult for the students to review later on by themselves. Having this transcript is very important. In fact, I refuse to use a textbook that does not have the transcript in the back. Also if the students have the transcript and the listening exercises are little too difficult they can read along with the transcript while listening to make it a little easier. Also if there are any vocabulary words that they’re not familiar with in the recording later on they can look at the transcript and use their dictionaries to look up those words. Be careful when you purchase a textbook because many publishers sell answers and transcripts separately.



Practicing pronunciation can be a little difficult for the students and the teacher. On one hand many students worry about how good their pronunciation is. On the other hand doing specific pronunciation exercises have limited value. Except for a few special cases most students can best improve their pronunciation by simply talking. Shadowing, especially with TV shows and movies, can also help students improve their pronunciation. If you do find yourself in the situation where your student’s pronunciation is so bad that they cannot be understood here are some methods that you can use in your class.

Basically there are two types of pronunciation practice. One type focuses on overall pronunciation and intonation. The other type focuses on specific sounds that the students may be having difficulty with. In the case where your student has to give a speech it might be best to focus on general pronunciation and intonation.  Here shadowing can work wonders. You can shadow in the class with the student. Basically “shadowing” is where the students listens to the teacher, a recording, a TV show and then they try to repeat what they heard in the same way.  You can also make a recording of the student’s speech in your own voice and give that to the student. Then when they go home they can use a recording to continue their shadowing practice.

There are some students that have difficulty pronouncing certain sounds because in their own native language the sounds do not exist or are simply not used very often. A good example would be Japanese students. There is no “V” sound in the Japanese language. This means that many Japanese have difficulty pronouncing the V. In this situation it can be helpful to teach the students the correct placement of the tongue and lips and how to produce that sound. Then have the students shadow specific words or sentences that have that sound in them. In all honesty you don’t want to do this for more than 5 to 10 minutes. But once you do teach the student how to correctly pronounce the sounds later on in other classes you can encourage them reproduce the correct pronunciation. This will take time and it will not happen over a few weeks. But if you’re diligent you can significantly improve your student’s pronunciation within a couple months to a year.


Review role playing activity

We talked about using role-playing activities to help teach primary objectives and they can also be used as secondary objectives as well. More often than not when used as a secondary objective these role-playing activities are best used as review. When you want to review a past lesson you can quickly write on the board the various key points and sentences. Then handout a few role-playing cards and described the situation to the students. It’s best to keep this short, 5 to 10 minutes. If you do choose to use role-playing activities for review it’s best to do this regularly. If not then they can take more than 10 minutes simply to explain to the students how they are to do the activity.


Reading activity

Reading activities are basically short articles that students have to read and then answer various reading comprehension questions about that article. These can be used to increase the students reading ability, expose the student to new vocabulary words and reinforce previously learned grammar.

One important thing in regards to reading activities is that the students don’t necessarily have to understand 100% of the article. Most often they’re not going to understand everything. And that’s okay. If you were to explain every single point and every single vocabulary word in the article it would take up the entire class. We want them to pick up 7 to 10 new vocabulary words, practice some of the reading and test some of their comprehension skills. We can do that in 10 to 20 minutes. Make sure that the reading activity doesn’t take up too much of your class’ time.

This is how I usually go about starting a reading activity in my classes. I do a very short explanation of what the article is about. Then I will separate the class into groups of two. I will tell each team to take turns reading paragraphs from the article. After each paragraph they can stop and talk to each other about the meaning of the paragraph. I tell them to write down any vocabulary words or difficult sentences that they don’t understand. Once they are finished with the entire article they are to talk to each other and try to figure out the meanings of any of the vocabulary words or sentences that they didn’t know. Then I will ask the students some reading comprehension questions. Last, I will tell each team to have a discussion about the topic of the reading activity among themselves. While they do this I will go around the class and help the students in any way I can.


Culture focus

Culture focus exercises are activities that introduce students to different cultures and habits. If you have a class where there are many students from different countries then this can be a great way for students to talk about themselves and learn about others as well. If you have a class where all the students are from the same country then this gives you an opportunity to teach them different ways of doing things and different ways of thinking about things. In the end this helps students’ communication skills. It broadens their minds a little bit and some may feel a little more comfortable when meeting different types of people. In essence these culture focus activities are reading activities or conversation topics that are simply about different cultures and the customs. One activity might be about the custom of tipping in North America. Another might be about receiving in presenting gifts to friends in Japan. Another might be about the different ways people greet each other.

If the culture focus is a reading activity then you can follow the same method that you will use with any other reading activity. Break the class off into groups. Have them read the article. Have them try to understand any difficult words or sentences. And then have them talk about what they read.


Telephone Practice

Practicing speaking on the telephone is a skill that many teachers forget to include in their lessons. But when you think about it this is a skill that students need to have. They are very likely at some point to call a friend or conduct business over the phone using English. It is also much more difficult to have a conversation over the phone than it is face to face. Because of this we should practice with our students. Certainly you not going to be doing a telephone practice activity every class but once a month or once every two months would be sufficient.

Telephone practice generally involves basic activities that the student would need to know in order to use a telephone. For example, how to answer the phone, how to call and ask to speak to someone, how to leave a message, how to take a message, how to double check a message. Also a lot of telephone practice is simply getting students used to speaking over the phone in English. Without being able to see the other person you’re talking to it can be much more difficult to have a conversation. Getting used to this is a skill that needs to be practiced.

Telephone activities will start with you explaining any key sentences or questions on the board. After that you’re going to do some different role-playing activities. In my lessons I like to do a dry run. This means that the students can do the role-playing activity and pretend to be on the phone but actually there sitting in front each other and can still read each other’s faces and gestures. Once we finish the dry run I like to have my students use their cell phones and do the role-playing activity. Usually all have one student go into another room and call their partner then they’ll have to go over the role-playing activity just like they did before. It’s surprisingly much more difficult.


Conversation Strategies

Conversation strategies are less about teaching English and more about teaching communication skills. Basically it teaches students how to have a conversation. Beginner and intermediate students often have problems starting or extending conversations. They might be able to answer any questions that are asked of them but it’s difficult for them to hold the conversation for any length. With conversation strategy exercises students learn how to ask related questions, how to give related information and basically just how to continue conversations. When I teach communication strategies I will choose one specific communication tactic and write it and an example on the board. For example, let’s say for my class I want to teach the students how to ask related follow-up questions.  Then I will have the students play a game or activity in which they have to ask related follow-up questions. This is less about what English to use and more about how to have a natural well flowing conversation.


Writing activity

Writing activities can be rare in many classes because most of the students are interested in learning conversational English. Because of this many English students have very limited writing skills. It can benefit students to learn how to write an email, letter or a basic essay. It’s a good idea to try and explain how you want the students to do a writing activity during class and then have the students do the actual activity as homework at home. This will save you from wasting valuable class time.


Short conversation

Short conversations are basically miniature versions of free discussion class. For many beginners or intermediate a  Free Discussion class might be intimidating or simply too difficult. Short conversations give the students an opportunity to use what they learned in previous classes in a real conversation but in a more structured way. In other words, this is free discussion class with training wheels. You can choose a topic, go over that topic in front of everyone, right down some key vocabulary words and sentences and then write some questions that the students can ask each other on the board. Then separate the class into groups and tell them to try in talk about the topic. The key to short conversations are simply to get the students talking is much as possible. We want the students to start to feel comfortable having conversations in English.

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Randy League owns an English School in Japan and has been teaching English for 20 years. In his free time he trains MMA , plays video games and studies Japanese.

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