How the GSE can help teachers personalize activities

Leonor Corradi
Leonor Corradi
A teacher stood at a students desk helping them - there is also the gse logo to the side of them

Reading time: 4.5 minutes

Teaching is an art form that thrives on adaptation and personalization. When dealing with language instruction, ensuring that each student is engaged and effectively learning is of paramount importance. In my experience as a teacher, I have learned that we should always teach our students rather than the coursebook or the syllabus. I think most teachers would agree with this.

However, it may be challenging to adapt activities to cater to our learners’ needs. What does personalizing an activity mean? How can we make it more accessible to our English learners? One would think that making the answers more obvious can be the way to go. Yet, this does not really help students learn and make progress. That's where the Global Scale of English (GSE) comes in as a valuable tool for personalizing teaching activities.

The essence of personalized learning

Personalizing an activity in language teaching does not simply mean making the responses more obvious. Instead, it's about tailoring the exercise to elevate the student's learning experience and potential for progress. This demands an insightful approach during the preparation phase of any given lesson.

Utilizing the GSE in language teaching

Let’s analyze this listening activity at A2 level for a group of adults:

Audio script example:

Emma: Are you working on the Media project?

Vic: Yes. I may start working on a new project in a couple of weeks, but for now I’m writing the objectives for Media. Why?

Emma: Well, Adam wants to see the photos for the project. He needs them for the ads.

Vic: Oh, they’ll be ready next week. OK?

Emma: Awesome! Thanks. Any plans for the weekend?

Vic: Well, I have to work on Saturday. We’re taking the Media pictures in the morning, but we’re just going to have fun at the beach in the afternoon.

Emma: Nice!

Vic: What about you? What are you doing this weekend?

Emma: I’m going to a concert on Sunday at 3 pm.

Vic: That sounds fun!

Listen and write T (true) or F (false)

1. Vic is working on a new project.

2.  Vic is working on Saturday morning.

3. Emma is going to a concert on Sunday evening.

GSE Descriptors

Upon dissecting this example by the GSE descriptors, we can identify the learning objectives that align with an A2 level:

  • Can identify simple information in a short video, provided that the visual supports this information and the delivery is slow and clear. (GSE 30)

  • Can identify basic factual information in short, simple dialogues or narratives on familiar everyday topics, if spoken slowly and clearly. (GSE 32)

  • Can understand the main information in short, simple dialogues about familiar activities, if spoken slowly and clearly. (GSE 33)

  • Can identify key information (e.g., places, times) from short audio recordings if spoken slowly and clearly. (GSE 33)

We know that learners should be given a global task first for overall listening, which is also one of the communicative objectives in the Global Scale of English:

List of options sat under comprehension: Finding specific information, listening/reading for detail, listening/reading for gist, overall listening/reading comprehension, recognizing a speakers/writers opinion or purpose, understanding main points

We can easily personalize the activity to include overall listening by adding a question before students are asked to solve the exercise:

Are the speakers a couple? or, Are the speaker's family?

The first question gets a No for an answer, whereas the answer to the second one can lead to a discussion. This is a good thing for it can generate a debate in which students have to account for their answers, which they can do after they complete the exercise.

In a similar matter, the GSE indicates that at this level, students can extract key factual information such as prices, times and dates from a recorded phone message (at level 35). For learners who are ready to expand their abilities further, additional questions can be posed to extract specific factual information, as indicated by the GSE for a level slightly above A2:

  • Vic is going to be at the beach in the ____________.

  • Emma is going to a concert on Sunday at ___________.

Through such adaptations, we cater to different proficiency levels within the same group, offering a degree of challenge that is suitable yet stimulating. We can also consider these learning objectives for listening when analyzing the items in a listening activity. Let me describe some possible scenarios.

Addressing challenges and enhancing motivation

What happens when the tasks set before young learners at the same A2 level don't offer the necessary support? The GSE guidelines stipulate that learners should have access to materials and certain assisting elements, like visuals or supplementary information. It's our responsibility as educators to incorporate this support, thereby aligning the exercise with the learners' capabilities.

Occasionally, certain tasks may exceed the current level of the students. For instance, students may be asked to make basic inferences in simple conversations on familiar everyday topics (level 38). A stratagem I employ involves segregating items into 'A' (level-appropriate) and 'B' (slightly more advanced). This provides students with a clear understanding of their expectations and offers an optional challenge.

If they do not get them right, they do not feel frustrated since they know these items are somewhat beyond their level but if they do at least one correctly, this works wonders on their motivation, which has a positive impact on learning. The more motivated students are, the more motivated we teachers will be. The synergy between student motivation and teacher motivation cannot be overstated, amplifying the learning experience for both parties.

Conclusion

The Global Scale of English is an instrumental guide in shaping teaching activities to fit the varied needs of students. By leveraging its comprehensive descriptors and specialized insights, we can personalize our approaches to teaching English, providing a richer and more rewarding educational landscape. As we refine our activities using the GSE, we contribute to a dynamic classroom environment where each student is given the opportunity to flourish in their language learning journey.

About the author

Leonor Corradi is an English teacher based in Argentina. She is a former member of the Foreign Languages Team at the National Ministry of Education in Argentina, in charge of English and coordinator of state plurilingual schools in the City of Buenos Aires. She has extensive experience as a materials designer and coursebook writer and is an academic consultant for different educational institutions such as the British Council and Ministries of Education in Latin America. 

She has run professional development courses for teachers and has presented extensively at national and international conferences. She is the author of the Curriculum for Foreign Languages for the City of Buenos Aires (2001, English) and has been an ELTons Judge since 2014. Leonor has been a member of the Global Scale of English (GSE) Advisory Board since 2014 and is a GSE Ambassador.

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