Published 14th October 2016

There are many different approaches to learning and teaching methods utilised in the classroom, but the majority of them still focus on the teacher as the centre of attention. The teacher leads the students and feeds them language information, until they can produce structures on their own. In other words, the teacher tells the learner what to learn and how to learn it and the learner must absorb the information and produce it on demand.

What this ignores is the ideas of autonomy and responsibility. In these methods, the learner does not need to do much, when you think about it. It is the teacher who is doing all the work when instead it should be the other way around. The learner needs to put energy, effort and thought into learning for learning to occur, but this is not possible if the teacher is constantly giving the answers to the learners.

Guided discovery is a way to put the focus back on the learner and take that control away from the teacher. The teacher is there as a guide to show the learners where they should look or which direction they should go in their thinking, but it is up to the learner to realise what is being learnt.

Confused? Let’s look at an example.

Say you’re teaching the present perfect. You can give a text to your students which incorporates the present perfect. You can draw attention to the information given in the text, commenting on the meaning of the text without explicitly referring to the grammatical structure being used. By using appropriate questions, you lead your students to an understanding of form, function and meaning of the target language.

What are those appropriate questions?

Questions like

Why do we use this tense?

What does it look like?

Does it mean the same as ______?

What does it tell us about _______?

By giving your students the opportunity to figure out for themselves information you could’ve easily given them, you introduce an extra level of challenge for your students. By putting some thought into the process, your students will find the language more sensible and more memorable.

Guided discovery is another way for teachers to take a step back and let their students learn for themselves, taking the attention away from the teacher and focussing instead on the learner. This provides a way for students to build on the foundation of knowledge they already have, which teachers can never be aware of. Instead of teachers dictating what should be learnt, the learners can decide for themselves what the next step in their learning process should be, in this way ensuring that it is the correct next step.

It can be difficult for teachers to relinquish control like this and the parts of your lesson which focus on grammar can take longer than usual, but give it a try, ask a few questions and have faith that your learners can accomplish what is necessary without your explicit help.