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Monitoring simply means observing the students while they complete activites during your lesson. While it is a simple concept, making sure you make the best use of this time is another matter.

What are you Monitoring for?

Imagine that you have a class of 8 students. You have set up an activity where they are to work in pairs.

While you listen to the students performing the task, what are you listening for?

When ready, read the commentary below.

There are a number of things you will want to listen for, including:

  1. (For online lessons) Did all the students make it to their groups?
  2. Are the students doing the task that you set? If not, why?
  3. How far are students through the task? Or, if the task has no defined end, how engaged are they in the task?
  4. Are they using English to complete the task, or their L1?
  5. Are they using the target language?
  6. Are they making any mistakes that you want to correct them on?
  7. Are they doing anything that is worthy of praise?

Why aren't Students doing the Task?

The first goal of monitoring is to check that students are in fact completing the tasks they have been set. There are a number of reasons why students might not be completing the task while you are monitoring them:

  1. They didn’t understand what to do.
  2. They are thinking how to begin.
  3. They don’t like the task and don’t want to do it.

Especially for adult learners, the most common reasons are numbers 1 and 2. Students are generally willing to go along with what their teacher tells them to do.

For each of the reasons above, what action (if any) should the teacher take?

  1. If students don’t understand, the question is whether it is one pair or all/most of the pairs. If it is just one pair, you might just re-instruct those students. If it is clear that many students didn’t get the task, then stopping the activity and explaining again is a better way to go.
  2. Students often need some time to “meet the challenge” that has been set. There is a tendency for teachers to jump in too early sometimes and “help” students out. This can be counter-productive however, as the student’s chain of thought is broken while the teacher re-explains or gives more examples. Try to give students a bit more time before interfering.
  3. This is a tough situation, and unlikely to happen in a CELTA lesson. However, in the real world, you may need to explain why an activity will help students, promise a reward or simply accept that the students might be right.

Monitoring Strategies

The idea of walking around a classroom or moving between breakout rooms is not particularly challenging. What then, you might ask, is effective monitoring?

Look at the tips from experienced teachers below. Which do you do already? Which do you think would improve your monitoring?

(a) The first time I go around the class or through the breakout rooms, I am only focused on whether students are doing the task. When I know they are, then I will go around again and listen for language.

(d) I try to give 30 seconds before I start monitoring so that students can start doing the task. I also give some time when I get to the group before I intervene.

(f) Online, if I have a group of 2 and a group of 3, I go to the smaller group first. If someone doesn’t understand in the bigger group, there are more people who can help. Also, if there are only 2, one might have connection issues so I might need to move someone.

(h) If one pair have finished, I find an extra question or two for them to do while I check how the rest of the class are doing.

(b) In the classroom, I use a clipboard and some paper to take notes while monitoring. Online, I type my notes into a word document.

(c) Online, I turn my camera off when I’m monitoring so that students know I am just listening.

(e) If I only have 2 or 3 students, I set up two chairs for me. One near the students and one a little further away. When I want them to talk together, I go to the other chair and pretend to be busy. Really, I am listening, but I don’t want to be drawn into their conversation.

(g) If one pair doesn’t understand what to do, I explain it to them quickly. If two pairs don’t understand, I stop the activity immediately and explain to everyone again.

(a) This is a simple tip to implement. Make two sweeps of the room or breakout rooms with a different focus each time.

(b) Again, this is a simple tip. It shows to the students (and to an observer) that you are taking notes of what students say. Typing the notes for online is preferable as it makes them easier to work with in feedback.

(c) The danger when monitoring is that students often want to pull the teacher into a discussion either because they are interested in the teacher’s opinion or perhaps because they want a break from speaking. Turning the camera off will help this.

(d) Students need time to “meet the challenge”. In this time they are thinking. Jumping in too early might reset their thinking process and be more disruptive than helpful.

(e) This is called spatial anchoring. Students know when the teacher is participating and when they are not.

(f) Connectivity issues online are common and so pairs may be better to avoid online. However, if you need to have one (e.g. there are 5 students in the class), checking on them first is a sensible approach.

(g) You don’t want to end up micro-teaching to each group. This is not a good use of time, since while you are teaching one group, other groups may be waiting. In a face to face class it is often easier to see who is stuck. In an online class, you might need to give one group a simple instruction to get started, check the other groups are on track, and (if they are) then come back to finish giving the instructions again.

(h) We want to avoid flying with the fastest – basically moving on when the fastest students are finished. Giving fast finishers something else allows the others more time. It could be telling them where they have mistakes so they can try again, an extra question to discuss or challenging them to come up with a question. What is appropriate will depend on the task they were set.

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