Concept check: The underused tool in a teacher’s arsenal.

There are many misconceptions of how to teach someone English. It is often thought that just being a native speaker is enough of a “skill” to be qualified to teach English. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Concept Checks

There are thousands of things a good teacher will do within a lesson to  give the students the best opportunity to learn. One of the best things as an ESL teacher is being able to concept check. Concept checks are underutilized by most teachers who teach English as a second language. Most ESL teachers don’t speak the same language as their students which is a good thing! Student learning isn’t as effective when the teacher uses the students’ language as the students get lazy and use their own language when talking to and asking the teacher questions. So, this begs the question , if you don’t speak the same language as the students, how do you know they understand and are able to follow the lesson?
This is where a concept check comes in, or many concept checks as the case maybe. A concept check is when you have the students show you they understand. Notice I said show you, not tell you. What happens when you ask your average student if they understand? For the most part, they’ll nod their head and say yes. Then as soon as you turn your back they will ask their friend, “What was he talking about? I don’t get it!”.

Students show you they understandConcept check

Knowing how to be an ESL teacher requires many different skills and how to concept check is one of the most important ones. So, how do you concept check? Well, there is no “one” way. Remember, it’s having your students SHOW you they understand. Now every lesson is going to have a different concept. Maybe you are teaching a specific tense, or maybe prepositions of movement, or perhaps just vocabulary. Whatever it is, you have to get the students to show you they understand.

Example Concept Check

Here’s an example. Let’s say you are teaching prepositions of movement. You are just at the end of your presentation and before you go on to having the students practise the vocabulary with the dialogue you’ve chosen. You want to make sure they have understood all the prepositions. You could say. “Do you all understand?”, but this wouldn’t be a concept check and you will be wasting an opportunity for you, the teacher, to know for sure whether the students have got it.
 One concept check you could do in this particular situation is to get a couple of props. maybe a small ball and a cup and bring a student or two up to the front and ask them to show you, “around”. Now if they understand they will move the ball in a circular motion around the cup. Boom,They understand! Repeat it with the other student and a different preposition and then bring some more students up and repeat as needed. Bringing students up in pairs makes them feel more comfortable and doesn’t make anyone feel intimidated.
If you were teaching a basic tense like Past Simple a concept check could be as simple as saying, “Yesterday I eat a sandwich. Is that right or wrong?” You could even give students small lollipop type signs with a check on one side and a cross on the other. You could really see whether the class as a whole has understood from a concept check like that. It’ll also let you see the stronger versus the weaker students which will help you pair students for activities and games later in the lesson.
Now, you shouldn’t continue the lesson until at least 50+% of the class has got it. You don’t need to concept check everyone, but you should have a good idea of the percentage of the class that has understood.

Share your Concept Checks

So, there you have it- how to concept check. Each specific lesson will have its own unique type of concept check. Why not share one of your own in the comments below.
Happy “teejing”.
April 7, 2015

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