Systems Presentation: Guided Discovery

As promised, today’s entry is about Guided Discovery (GD).

So what is GD?

For me, that’s the most exciting way to present TL! Technically, you just have to provide a good example of TL and help your students to find the rules themselves, without you teaching a single tiny thing. Easy to say, yep. Difficult to do? Not really!

First, let’s look at some pros and cons.


  • Learner autonomy: Since GD is a series of exercises/questions that bring students to the understanding of TL it’s extremely student-centered and autonomous; like literally, you don’t have to do anything apart from designing it;
  • Sense of achievement: My students were really surprised when they realized that they have just figured out how to use TL without any help from my side;
  • Better outcome (hopefully): For most people, it’s easier to remember something you figured out yourself rather it being just explained to you by the teacher.


  • Requires a very carefully chosen written context: It has to be clear enough for students to see the pattern;
  • Very careful planning needed: You have to ensure that questions do help students to understand the rules;
  • Not always suitable for lower levels since it requires a better language ability – well, that’s what people say; HOWEVER, my teaching practice proves that it is possible to use it even with strong elementary and weak pre-intermediate levels;
  • You can only teach something that is used according to some rules. So, for example, you can’t really do GD for idioms: there are no rules, learners just have to memorize the meaning and context. Or you can’t use GD for teaching irregular verbs because, again, it’s something that has to be memorized. And, well, irregular verbs are called so for a reason.


How to do GD?

So let’s say you want to teach functional language for joining a discussion (something I’ve really done several weeks ago):

Asking Others to Join Joining
Who would like to start? Can I start?
Does anyone want to say something? Can I say something?
Does anyone have any questions? Can I ask a question?

GD was the best way to show students how to use these phrases since otherwise I’d have to explain a lot (like, ‘WWLTS?’ and ‘CIS?’ can only be used at the beginning of the discussion; ‘CIAAQ?’ is used when you want to ask a follow-up question, etc.).

First, I made cards with the 6 target phrases.

Second, I adapted a poster (credits for creating it go to one of my amazing colleagues) with 6 people saying these 6 phrases in a different way (e.g., ‘Can I start?’ = ‘I want to speak first!’, ‘Does anyone has any questions?’ = ‘I want someone to ask me a question’, etc.).

Students had simply to work in pairs and match the utterances with the target phrases written on the cards. To make it a bit more exciting, I told them that was a competition. Since the phrases were quite easy, even high Elementary level groups didn’t need more than 2 minutes to do it.

When students were done, I asked them to turn the posters and check the answers. Most of the time the answers were correct (as far as I remember, only 2 pairs out of, like, 50 made mistakes).

That’s it. By the end of the activity, they knew the exact purpose of each phrase. They did it themselves. I didn’t teach anything.

After that, I would arrange a practice activity for the students to try using the target phrases in the discussion, and most of the time all of them used TL appropriately since they already could understand the way of using it.

Simple and effective.

Another way is to create a set of questions referring to purpose/rules. For example, for the lesson on ‘Connecting Ideas’ (What do you think of my idea? Do you agree with me? | As you said, <…> You said <…>, but …) I created a guided gap-fill exercise. Students had to read the discussion (I rewrote it, like, 4 times before I felt it was good enough) and fill in the gaps with the target phrases (pair work). Then each pair would get a card with 3 questions that they had to answer. The questions were the following:

  1. Which 2 phrases in the box helped people to agree/disagree with other ideas in the discussion?
  2. Which 2 phrases in the box helped people show which idea they agree/disagree with?
  3. Was the Discussion clear-structured and connected? Why?

Again, even for the lower level classes, it wasn’t very difficult and challenging. And again, students used TL appropriately.


As you can see, GD isn’t as difficult as it sounds and can be used for almost any levels. The things you should concentrate on are the written record and the questions (if you decide to have any). Make sure both of these are clear and simple enough. I’d especially recommend using GD for grammar; you’ll be able to find a sample lesson plan on Present Perfect Simple vs. Present Perfect Continuous in the next week’s entry.

I hope this was helpful, and good luck with using GD in your classes!


4 thoughts on “Systems Presentation: Guided Discovery

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