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Teacher's Corner: Teaching Beginners
Teaching beginner level students can be challenging, but in this month’s Teacher’s Corner, you’ll learn strategies for helping these language learners to be successful.

Teaching English to beginner students can seem very challenging. You may wonder where to start and how to make content accessible when students have very limited or no knowledge of the language. However, beginner-level students can advance quite quickly, and therefore they can be very exciting and rewarding to teach.

There are several things to keep in mind when teaching a class for beginners. First, beginners need a classroom environment that gives frequent opportunities to acquire and practice everyday language. A daily routine that uses familiar, repeated language structures and procedures is an excellent way to establish this. Ideas for how to establish such a routine will be discussed in Week 1 of this month’s Teacher’s Corner.

Beginner-level students also need to grow their vocabularies significantly. These students need to be deliberately taught many new words as well as have multiple opportunities to practice these words. During week 2, we will provide an easy-to-use vocabulary chart and accompanying activities to help students review new words over several class periods.

Finally, teachers need to offer ways for beginners to access information and participate in the classroom in meaningful ways. In week 3, we will present different types of questions (or modifications to existing questions) that allow beginners to demonstrate their knowledge at an early stage in their language development. During that week, you will also be presented with several non-traditional ways of letting beginners respond to questions. We’ll discuss how to use language supports such as words banks and sentence frames to help beginner-level students feel ready to communicate in English during week 4.

Beginners learn quickly when they feel comfortable and have the tools needed to take risks with language in the classroom. This month’s Teacher’s Corner will share strategies to help beginners gain vocabulary and language skills needed to succeed. 

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Table of Contents

Week 1 - Routines for Everyday LanguageExpand

All students need multiple opportunities to practice English in the classroom, but providing opportunities to practice is especially important for beginner-level students who need to grow their confidence with the language. Incorporating a few simple, interactive activities into your daily lessons can help your beginner-level students to learn and use essential basic language structures and vocabulary.

Discussing Days and Dates with a daily Calendar Activity

Understanding and communicating information related to dates and days of the week are important basic language skills. A classroom calendar can be used to teach these concepts as well as provide an opportunity for students to interact with the information at the beginning of each school day or class meeting.

Educational supply stores often sell calendars, or you can make one yourself. For information about materials to create your own calendar, see Using a Daily Routine for Language Practice from the September 2016 Teacher’s Corner. Additionally, posters that show the months of the year and days of the week can help students interact with and remember this information. Below are ideas for how to utilize the calendar and accompanying posters.


Items Used


Months of the year

Poster listing months of the year, calendar, song/chant

Teacher or student leader points to the months as students chant the names. (Search YouTube for many songs or chants that can be adapted for any age.)

Days of the week

Poster listing days of the week, calendar, song/chant

Teacher or student leader points to the days as students chant the names.

Discussing the date and days of the week

Calendar, sentence frames:

The date is [month] [day], [year].

Today is [day of the week].

Yesterday was [day of the week].

Tomorrow will be [day of the week].

Teacher or student leader adds the number for the current date to the calendar grid. Teacher or student leader can call on students to complete the sentence frames using the calendar. Then, class can repeat the sentences together to practice the structures.

Discussing important events or holidays

Calendar, sentence frame:

[Event/holiday] will be on [day of the week], [month] [day], [year].

As important events or holidays approach, they can be noted on the calendar, and a sentence frame can be added to tell when the event will occur. The teacher or student leader can include this frame in the daily recitation leading up to the event.

At the beginning of the course, the teacher can lead the routine activities around dates and calendars in order to model the procedures for students. Once the class becomes more comfortable with the routines, a student leader can be designated to lead the daily calendar routine each day. One easy way to choose a student leader is to display a list of students’ names with a moveable clip, such as a paper clip or clothespin, which can be easily moved down the list to designate the daily leader. Having students lead requires some practice, but once they become comfortable, learners will feel more confident using English to discuss the concepts they are learning.

Practicing greetings, goodbyes, and basic questions and responses with a Daily Mingle

A daily mingle activity is a great way to let beginners practice using greetings, closings, and basic vocabulary. Once students understand the basic procedure for the mingle, you can easily adapt the content to what you want learners to practice. Depending on your students, you may have them practice the same greeting or concept for one or two weeks at a time. Then, you can add more content or change the content to newer material.

Time: About 10 minutes at the beginning or end of class (including teacher modeling and the mingle itself)

Goals: To provide students interactive practice with greetings, closings, basic vocabulary, and questions/answers. To give students a chance to practice speaking and listening.

Materials: Sentence frames or a list of vocabulary words (these can be displayed on the board), music (optional)

Preparation: Decide what greetings, vocabulary, and questions and responses you would like students to practice. If helpful, you can create a calendar with the language structures you would like students to practice. It is recommended that the mingle also be used to practice vocabulary that students are learning. For example, if teaching the names of fruits and vegetables, you can create a question such as “What are your three favorite vegetables or fruits?” and students can use the new vocabulary to respond.


  1. Begin by explaining to students that the purpose of the daily mingle is to practice ways to say hello and goodbye and to ask and answer questions in English. Tell students that you will write the targeted language structures on the board and model what to say before each mingle.
  2. For demonstration purposes, write the following on the board:
    • Greetings: Hello and Hi
    • Question and response: How are you? –I am fine.
  3. Explain that you will play music and students should walk around until the music stops. When it stops, they should find a partner to practice the greetings with. Choose a student to model the greetings and question and response with you.
  4. Once students understand how to interact with a partner, ask two additional students to come up and join you. Play (or mimic) music to show how students should move around and find a new partner each time the music stops.
  5. Allow time for any questions from your students. Then, practice the procedure with the whole class by having everyone get out of their seats and move around. Play music and stop it periodically so that students can mingle with several different classmates to practice the language structures. Provide guidance or corrections as needed.
  6. Once students are familiar with the procedures for the daily mingle, you can change the content based on what you would like the class to practice. You can also use a mingle as a closing activity to give students a chance to review specific information from a lesson or to practice saying goodbye, etc. Below are some ideas for content to practice during the daily mingle.


Example Vocabulary

Example Questions

Example Responses


Hello, hi, hey, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, etc.

How are you?

How are things?

How’s it going?

I am fine/I am doing well.

Things are good/okay.

It’s going well/fine.


Goodbye, bye, see you later, take care, talk to you soon, see you on [day], etc.



Talking about oneself

Birthdays, ages, nationalities, languages, other personal attributes, etc.

When is your birthday?

How old are you?

Where are you from?

What language(s) do you speak?

My birthday is _____.

I am ___ years old.

I am from ______.

I speak ______.

Talking about your family

Family members such as mom/mother, dad/father, brothers, sisters, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc.

How many people are in your family?

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

How old is your _____?

What is your ______’s name?

My family has _____ people.

I have ___ brothers and ___ sisters.

My _____ is ___ years old.

My _____’s name is _____.

Likes/dislikes or favorites

Foods, colors, animals, sports, activities, movies, TV shows, music, etc.

Do you like ______?

Do you like to ______?

What/Who is your favorite ______?

Yes, I like ______.

No, I do not like _____.

Yes, I like to ____. No, I do not like to ____.

My favorite ______ is ______.

Using structured daily activities such as the two presented here can help beginner-level students feel successful using English. Because the activities are familiar and highly predictable, they help beginners relax and be more willing to take risks with the language to practice what they are learning. Additionally, as learners progress over time, you can make these activities more complex to help support their growing English skills.

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Week 2 - Vocabulary Building StrategiesExpand

Vocabulary development is an important part of teaching English to beginners. Students not only need to learn new words, but they also need multiple opportunities to interact with the new vocabulary in order to recall and use the words independently.

This week’s Teacher’s Corner will focus on creating a vocabulary chart that can be used to teach new words as well as to review them with beginner-level students. It is suggested that the chart be completed over one or two class sessions, depending on how many words you include and the length of your class sessions. Each of the review activities can be used as a warm-up in a subsequent class. The review activities can also be repeated to provide students with multiple chances to practice the new words.

Creating a vocabulary chart

Time: 20-30 minutes to discuss and add new vocabulary to the chart

Goals: To help students learn new vocabulary words and definitions. To create a vocabulary tool to practice new words multiple times.

Materials: One chart for each student (photocopied or copied into student notebooks); pencils; a list of words and definitions; visuals or examples for words (such as photos, objects, diagrams, videos, illustrations, or actions), if available.

Preparation: Choose 5-10 vocabulary words you would like to teach students. The words can be related to a topic you are about to teach, or can come from a text that students will read. It is recommended that you introduce the vocabulary words and complete the chart with students before they encounter the vocabulary in a lesson or text. Prepare definitions for each of the words, being careful to write the definitions in a way that beginners will understand.


  1. Begin by providing students with copies of the chart, or by writing it on the board for students to copy into their notebooks.
  2. Explain to students that the chart will be used to write down information for vocabulary they will encounter in an upcoming lesson or text. You can write the topic or the title of the text at the top of the chart to help students connect the vocabulary to the lesson or text. For beginner students, it is recommended that you write everything on the board as students are expected to write it in the chart.
  3. Start by writing the first vocabulary word in the WORD column and by saying the word clearly. Have students repeat the word several times. If desired, you can also note the part of speech.
  4. Next, tell students what the word means, preferably by using a simple definition. Write the student-friendly definition in the MEANING column of the chart.
  5. It is also helpful for beginners to have a visual to explain the word or concept (see “Materials,” above, for examples). If an object, photo, or illustration is available to show students, use it to help explain the definition of the word. For very low-level beginners, you can replicate the visual as a simple sketch in the PICTURE column of the chart. For beginners with a bit more experience or language ability, you may ask them to create their own quick sketch or visual, either at this point in the class or at a later time as part of a reinforcement activity.
  6. If your students are very low-level beginners, provide a simple sentence using the new vocabulary word. Write the sentence in the EXAMPLE SENTENCE column of the chart. If your students are more proficient, you can ask them to think of example sentences and then choose one to include in the chart. (The NEW SENTENCE column of the chart should be left blank at this point.)

Review activities using the vocabulary chart

Time: 5-10 minutes for each practice activity

Goals: To provide students with multiple opportunities to review and interact with new vocabulary words and their meanings.

Note: Each of these activities should be thoroughly explained and modeled the first few times students try them. Eventually, students will remember the procedures for each one and should be able to complete the activities on their own.

Activity one: Partner Quiz

Materials: Students’ individual vocabulary charts


  1. Assign partners, or allow students to choose partners.
  2. Explain that the two partners will quiz each other using the vocabulary charts they created. One student will read the meaning of a word from the chart and the other student will try to identify the vocabulary word being defined. For this part of the activity, the student who is trying to guess the words should cover all the columns on his or her chart except the WORD column.
    1. For students who are very low-level beginners, this activity can also be teacher-led. You can provide a definition and students can work in their pairs, using their charts, to identify the associated vocabulary word.
  3. Partners should switch roles after one student has finished quizzing the other.

Activity Two: fill in the missing word

Materials: Example sentences used in the vocabulary chart, pencils, vocabulary words listed on the board


  1. Tell students that they must put away their vocabulary charts for this review activity. List all of the vocabulary words on the board. Have students write the numbers 1-10 (depending on the number of words) on a paper or on a page in their notebooks.
  2. Explain that you are going to write sentences (from the EXAMPLE SENTENCE column) that are missing one of the vocabulary words on the board. Students must determine which word belongs in the blank for each sentence and then write the word (or sentence) next to the number on their paper.
  3. This activity can be completed individually, in pairs, or in small groups. Additionally, a worksheet of sentences with blanks for the missing words and a word bank can be prepared ahead of time and given to students rather than writing on the board.
  4. As a further modification for very low beginners, provide only one sentence at a time. Rather than using the whole list of words as a word bank, give students 1-3 options to choose from for each sentence.

Activity three: vocabulary mix and match

Materials: Index cards or pieces of paper cut into approximately 3-inch x 3-inch squares (you will need four cards per vocabulary word), pencils, vocabulary charts

Note: This activity will use four cards per word, one card for each of the following: the word itself, the meaning, a sentence with the word missing, and an image (such as a sketch, a photo, an illustration). See the example below. The cards will be mixed up and randomly distributed to students, who will have to mingle and match all four cards to form a complete group or set. Consider the size of your class and how many words your students are learning in order to determine how many cards you should make. If needed, you can repeat words by making extra sets, or combine the word and image onto a single card (so that students will only match three cards total), etc.


  1. Cards for the activity can be prepared ahead of time, or you can have students make them in class using their vocabulary charts. If you decide to have students create the cards, assign one word to a group of four students. Explain that they should make one card for each of the components above using the exact information from their vocabulary chart. Have students put away their vocabulary charts when they finish creating the cards.
  2. Gather all of the cards and mix them up well.
  3. Tell students that the goal of the activity is to form a set of four correct cards (word, definition, sentence, and image) for each word.
  4. Before you distribute the cards, tell students you will place a card on their desk face down and that they shouldn’t turn it over until you give the signal to begin. Pass out one card to every student.
  5. Give a signal (such as clapping, blowing a whistle, or starting music) and allow students ample time to mingle and find their matches. You should also move around the room to assist any students who may need help or have questions.
  6. When students have all found their matches, each group can share what is on their cards and the rest of the class can check for accuracy. If there are any mismatches, the student(s) with the mismatched card(s) can step aside until the group with the correct matching set comes up and shares their word.
  7. If desired, once students become more comfortable with this activity, you can make the game competitive by offering an incentive or prize for the group who correctly assembles their set of cards first.

Activity four: Partner/small group sentence writing

Materials: Students’ individual vocabulary charts, paper or notebooks, pencils or pens

Note: This activity should be completed after students have already had a chance to interact with the vocabulary words in multiple ways through the other activities. If you have very low-level students, or if you have ten words in your chart, you can split this activity over two class meetings, and use a third meeting for students to share.


  1. Have students take out their vocabulary charts. Review the sentences in the EXAMPLE SENTENCE column. Explain that during this activity students will work together to write a new sentence for each of the vocabulary words.
  2. Assign each student one or two partners to work with (or allow students to choose partners)
  3. Students and their partners should complete the NEW SENTENCE column of the vocabulary chart. If needed, the sentence can be similar to the example sentence already on the chart, or you can provide a model sentence starter for each of the words on the board.
  4. When students finish writing new sentences, have them find new partners and share the new sentences they have written for each of the words.

Creating and using this vocabulary chart multiple times during a unit of study can help beginners retain vocabulary. The practice activities also allow learners to interact with the words in familiar ways, which increases their ability to use the words independently.



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Week 3 - Scaffolding Part One: Questions and ResponsesExpand

Because of their limited vocabulary and language skills, beginner-level students may have trouble showing their understanding and responding to questions when compared to more advanced peers. Teachers should provide scaffolds for learning questions: starting with very basic language structures and then building up to more complex structures. Scaffolding helps beginners to show what they are learning from an early stage, even if the students are still acquiring the language that they need to express ideas on their own.

This week in the Teacher’s Corner, we will discuss how to scaffold questions to help beginning learners become more comfortable with responding to questions. We will also explore several simple response strategies for beginners that help to engage students and to check their understanding.

Creating or Adapting Beginner-friendly Questions

A teacher who asks an open-ended question to a class of beginner students will likely be met with blank stares, confusion, or silence (See examples of open-ended questions below.). Learners at this level usually do not have the language skills they need to comprehend an open-ended question, much less respond to it. Even if students understand what is being asked, they may be shy to speak or worried about making errors. To avoid this situation, we can ask or adapt questions in several different ways to make them more accessible to our beginners.

Yes/No Questions: Posing questions to which students can simply respond “yes” or “no” allows students to express opinions or show what they have learned without having to depend on vocabulary or language forms they may not have. For instance, compare the following questions:

Open-Ended Response

Yes/No Response

What characteristics tell you that an animal is a mammal?

Is this animal (in the picture) a mammal?

How do you know a shape is a rectangle?

Does a rectangle have four sides?

What is the weather like today?

Is the weather sunny today?

What foods do you like to eat?

Do you like to eat eggs? Rice? Fish?

As shown in the table above, yes/no questions can be used to review content or for students to share information about themselves.

Either/Or Questions: Posing an either/or question allows beginner-level students to choose the correct answer from only two options. Consider the table below, which shows how the same open-ended questions can be posed in the either-or format:

Open-Ended Response

Either/Or Response

What characteristics tell you that an animal is a mammal?

  • Is this animal (pictured) a mammal or a reptile?
  • Which one is a mammal: a fish or a horse?

How do you know a shape is a rectangle?

  • Is this shape (pictured) a rectangle or a square?
  • Which shape has four sides of equal length: a rectangle or a square?

What is the weather like today?

  • Is the weather today sunny or cloudy?

What foods do you like to eat?

  • Do you like to eat chicken or fish?
  • Do you eat eggs for breakfast or dinner?

Limiting Answer Choices: Often students take tests or complete work with multiple-choice questions. For beginners, the standard multiple-choice question with four answer choices can be overwhelming or confusing. To make these questions more accessible, we can limit the number of options. To do this, we can simply cross out two of the incorrect options, or create activities with only two options for each question. As beginners become more proficient, we can add in a third choice and eventually work up to four.  

Increasing Wait Time

After asking a question, some teachers can become uncomfortable if students do not respond quickly. However, students who are just starting to learn a language need more time to think about what they are hearing and to articulate a response. For this reason, teachers who have beginner-level students are encouraged to give students more time to think about and answer questions. 

Pose, Then Pause: A good strategy with beginner-level students is to include some “think time” after asking a question. This works especially well for questions that require a more open-ended response that requires students to produce more language. For instance, a teacher might say “What will you do after school today?” and then indicate to students that they have time to think about their response. The amount of “think time” may vary based on learners’ ages and proficiency, but 10-30 seconds is usually sufficient. Here are some other options: use a timer; give students a verbal cue by saying something like “Think about this. Then I will ask you to answer”; or give students a visual cue (such as a signal or gesture) to indicate “think time.” Once students have had time to think about their responses, they can raise their hands to respond.  For more information on decreasing teacher talk time, check out this American English webinar: Teacher Talk: Presentation Skills for Teachers.

Calling on Students: Even when beginner students are ready to respond, they may still need additional time to answer. Beginners may start to answer but struggle to produce the needed language, or they may make an error during their responses. As teachers, we are often quick to respond and to assist our students in these situations. However, if our goal is to help learners develop their English, it may actually be better if we wait to let the student work to form a response on his or her own. If the student continues to have difficulty after 5-10 seconds, we can then provide guidance or ask a clarifying question to help.

Non-traditional Student Responses

In addition to asking questions that are easier to respond to, teachers can also let beginner students communicate responses in non-verbal ways. Even though it is important to give beginners frequent chances to practice producing language in the English classroom, mixing in some non-verbal activities can have positive effects. The following non-verbal strategies can be used with any of the question formats described above. These strategies can take away some of the pressure that beginners often feel when speaking English, and successful communication, even if non-verbal, can motivate students.

Hand Signals: Students can respond to yes/no questions by using a hand signal such as the “thumbs up” for yes or “thumbs down” for no. Hand signals can also be used to show agreement or disagreement with a statement, or to indicate whether something is true or false.

If asking students to make a choice between multiple options, designate a number for each option. Then students can indicate their answer choice by holding up one, two, or three fingers, etc. As mentioned in the earlier discussion about multiple-choice questions, do not give beginners too many choices at first.

Stand Up/Sit Down: When responding to questions with two answer options, students can stand or sit to indicate their response. Similar to hand signals, this strategy can be used for yes/no questions, true/false questions, agree/disagree statements, or either/or questions.

Move to the Answer: This strategy also uses the full body to respond. Designate different areas of the classroom for different responses. For example, divide the classroom in half and designate sides as yes/no, true/false, agree/disagree, etc. To respond to the question, students move to the side that indicates their response. This strategy can also be used for reviewing content that lends itself to two different categories or topics.

As students become more proficient, the corners of the room can be used, and thus the number of responses can be increased. For example, if using multiple-choice questions, label the corners A, B, C, and D. This technique can also be used to help students “sort” information into up to four different categories.

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Week 4: Scaffolding Part Two: Supporting Language ProductionExpand

Sometimes the only opportunity our students have to use the language they are learning is when they are in the language classroom. Therefore, it is important to provide many interactive practice activities during class time. However, beginner-level students often require structured practice to help them build their language confidence. With this need in mind, this week’s Teacher’s Corner will present scaffolding techniques that are useful for giving beginner-level students the structured practice they need to produce English in meaningful ways.

Sentence Starters and Frames

Sentence starters and frames provide structure for producing oral and written language. The structures can be very simple (with one or two words missing) or more open-ended. In the chart below are some examples of sentence starters and frames and the types of responses learners may give.



Sentence Starter/Frame

Example Learner Response

Breakfast foods

Today I had ______ for breakfast.

Today I had eggs and toast for breakfast.

After-school activities

After school, I like to ______.

After school, I like to play with my friends.

Personal characteristics

My name is ______.

I am ___ years old.

I have ______ hair and ______ eyes.

My name is Sarah.

I am 14 years old.

I have brown hair and green eyes.

Ordering a meal

I would like the ______, with ______ to drink, please.

I would like the soup, with water to drink, please.


Starters and frames can be used when posing questions for learners to answer. You can write the frame on the board and model a response before asking students to form their own responses. When using frames for writing, as students become more proficient, you can include additional sentence frames to help students add more details.

Word Banks and Word Walls

Word banks and word walls are excellent tools to use in conjunction with sentence frames because they help students to connect vocabulary with language structures.  As you teach a specific topic and related sentence starters and frames, create a word list, or a “word bank,” on the board or a poster. Include illustrations or pictures if possible. As students are asked to produce language using the sentence frames, they can refer to the word bank to help them recall the necessary vocabulary. Below are examples of word banks for the topics of the sentence frames discussed above.



Sentence Starter/Frame

Example Word Bank

Breakfast foods

Today I had ______ for breakfast.

Eggs, toast, rice, cereal, fruit, coffee, milk, juice

After school activities

After school, I like to ______.

Play, sleep, eat, read, watch TV, do homework

Personal characteristics

My name is ______.

I am ___ years old.

I have ______ hair and ______ eyes.

Number and color words

Ordering a meal

I would like the ______, with ______ to drink, please.

Restaurant foods: soup, hamburger, stew, pizza, sandwich, pie, rice

Drinks: water, soda, juice, coffee, milk, tea

After a topic or lesson is completed, vocabulary can be displayed on posters on a “Word Wall,” organized by topic. Alternatively, each vocabulary word can be written on an individual card (or strip of paper) and then placed on the wall. (These vocabulary cards can be organized alphabetically, by topic, or by another method). Students can also use a notebook as a personal vocabulary journal and record the words by topic to use later during writing or speaking tasks.

Think-Pair-Share Activities

Think-pair-share may be a familiar classroom strategy, but it is especially useful with beginners. This strategy can also be used in conjunction with the other scaffolds discussed in the Teacher’s Corner for this week and last week.

Basic Think-Pair-Share:

  1. Think: The teacher poses a question and instructs students to think about their ideas or responses. (A timer can be set if desired, or students can just be asked to think quietly for a minute.)
  2. Pair: The teacher pairs students (this can be done through pre-arranged assigned seats or randomly) and gives pairs a set amount of time to discuss their ideas or responses.
  3. Share: Students stop talking and return their attention to the teacher and whole class. One at a time, pairs are given a chance to briefly share with the whole class what they discussed.

This strategy is excellent to use with beginners for several reasons. First, the built-in “think time” helps beginning students gather their thoughts and ideas before they have to articulate them. Second, the “pair” portion allows beginners to process ideas and check their understanding with a peer before the final “share” with the group. The sharing portion also allows multiple students to be responsible for the information or idea being presented, which takes some of the pressure off of beginners.

The basic procedure for think-pair-share can also be adapted to include writing or to increase the number of students interacting in the group. Two variations are discussed below.


This modification adds a writing step to the basic procedure. During the “pair” portion, students can work together to write out their response. Sentence frames and word banks can be helpful during this step if students need extra support. The teacher can move around to make sure students understand the task or to assist as needed. Writing out responses also allows for students to learn with and from their peers. Then, pairs can share their written response with the class.

Think-Pair-Share with Another Pair:

For this variation, follow the basic think-pair-share procedure, but instead of sharing with the whole class, student pairs will share with another pair. When pairs are ready to share their ideas or responses, they join with another pair to form a small group. The pairs present their responses to each other and share ideas, and the teacher can move around the room to monitor students and to be sure everyone understands the task.


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