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CELTA Assessment Criteria Explained: Criterion 2C, Setting the Context


Cambridge CELTA Assessment Explained: Criteria 2A

As part of our ongoing series on CELTA assessment criteria, we are looking today at criterion 2C.


Criterion description: providing clear contexts and a communicative focus for language


Subheading: Topic 2 Language Analysis and Awareness


Assessment Objects: Classroom practice; lesson materials.


This criterion is commonly known as setting and maintaining contexts. According to the CELTA syllabus, this is how to meet this criterion:

  • provide a context for language by means of text, situation or task using visual aids and realia as appropriate

  • ensure there is a clear link between the context and the target language

  • ensure that the context provides learners with sufficient opportunity for communicative practice


Defining Con-text (or “with text”)

As with most criteria, the key to achieving this one is understanding the terms. So we’ll begin with an etymological approach to understanding the meaning of context.

If you speak a romance language, you’ll probably know that “con” is a prefix which means “with;” if you have a linguistics background, you’ll also know that the word “text” doesn’t just apply to the written word, but any linguistic means of communication. Thus, we can speak of “oral texts” and “written texts.” For our purposes, the text in question is the language we’re focusing on in the classroom.


So context is that which comes with the text. It supports, encompasses, and frames the text—meaning, very specifically, that it is not the text. In other words, context is the important stuff going on in a lesson that isn’t the target language, nor the language skill being practiced (e.g., reading, listening, speaking, etc.). It is the non-linguistic information that provides a background and—to a very large extent—meaning to language.


Why it’s important (or how language is learned)

Context is generally the most underrated factor in the language classroom. In fact, its importance is capital, and its absence can ruin an otherwise solid lesson, because it is central to the way we establish meaning in life, and therefore to the way that language is learned.


At a very simple level, context changes the meaning of language. Think of the word “run,” and how someone sitting in front of a telephone or computer screen will understand it differently (as in run an app) to someone on a track course.


At a more profound level, context is all the non-linguistic information we use to understand the world, including language. If you’re sitting in front of a computer screen, and your English teacher says “run,” then points to the tab on the screen that launches your app, you’ll immediately understand what that word means.


The role of context in an EFL lesson

Context is key to several factors that enable a successful EFL lesson:

  • Personalization. Clear contexts allow students to relate the target language/skills being practiced to their own lives, which in turn increases engagement, enhances language retention, and generates better rapport.

  • Activating schemata. If you have the same context running throughout your lesson, students need to activate only one schema (that is, world-view), thus enabling them to bring more focus to the language. Switching contexts means switching schemata, which can be a major distraction and a drain on intellectual resources.

  • Communication. When a lesson is personalized, and when schemata are efficiently activated, students immediately get the feeling that the lesson is a well-organized whole. They feel more confident, and more prone to expressing themselves; they can focus more on language accuracy and production.


How do you choose your context?

All of the lesson planning frameworks taught on the CELTA course give context pride of place—indeed, each of them suggests starting tart with a stage specifically designed to “set the context,” the lead-in.


Thereafter, the source of the context will depend on the type of lesson planning framework being used.

Lesson planning framework

Source of context

Skills lessons

Receptive skills (reading or listening)

The topic of the text being read/listened to

Productive skills (speaking or writing)

What you want the students to speak/write about

Language lessons

Text-based presentation

The topic of the text containing the marker sentences

Test-teach-test

A theme common to the marker sentences being used in both tests

Situational

The situation developed by the teacher to elicit the marker sentences

 

How to build and maintain context in your lesson


Here are a few tips to setting and maintaining context:


  • Most importantly, know what the context of your lesson is. If you’re not sure, ask your trainer.

  • Use the lead-in to set your context. Ask a personalized discussion question that is related to the context.

  • Relate every stage of your lesson to the context. In case you end the lesson with another productive task, makes sure that it too is related to your context—but also that it is not identical to your lead-in task.

  • Ensure that marker sentences are related to your context. If you are analyzing language that doesn’t match the context of your lesson, you are weakening your context.

  • Use transitions between stages to remind students explicitly of the context. For example, say: “We’ve just finished a text about employer-employee relations. We’ll now discuss those relations. In the workplace, do you prefer to be the boss or the employee? What are the advantages of each? Please discuss with your partner.”

 

Use these tips, and others in our series on CELTA assessment criteria, to help you succeed on your CELTA course and to help you improve your teaching.

Join us for a fully online, mixed mode, or face-to-face CELTA course this summer. Write to admin@englishforafrica.net, or call +212 680 542220.

 

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