I heard this term for the first time during CELTA when we had an input session on TBL (Task-Based Learning). To be honest, I didn’t really understand what it was and how to use it (neither of us did, really). Next time I heard about ‘Deep End’ was during training at my current workplace. It sounded somewhat familiar. I went through an imaginary CELTA folder in my head trying to get a tiny bit of information but failed. It didn’t really ring a bell. The only thing I could remember was the observation video of Jane Comyns-Carr teaching a lesson on Past Perfect using TBL approach, and there was something about ‘Weak End’ and ‘Deep End’, too.
So what is ‘Deep End’?!
Do you remember how you learnt to swim? I don’t know how it happened for you, but in my case, my mom just pushed me into the swimming pool when I was passing by without wearing armbands. Can you imagine how it felt? ‘Cos that’s what your students will feel when you decide to use ‘Deep End’ and throw them into using FL without explaining anything about it. ‘Here are the phrases I want you to use, guys. You have 3 minutes to talk about this topic. Use the phrases. Go!’ It’s a perfect approach for malevolent teachers, isn’t it?
What other pros and cons does it have (apart from being so tempting to be used if you’re in a bad mood)?
- It’s more supportive than TTT since students are exposed to the language you want them to use;
- It’s very student-centered since it requires a shorter ‘teach’ stage (students have an opportunity to kind of figure out how to use the language by themselves);
- It brings the sense of achievement if students manage to use the language correctly from the very first time;
- It’s illustrative: if students used some language incorrectly, you just put the real example of what they said on the board and give feedback on the how-to part.
- It’s less supportive than GD since you don’t ask any probing questions that would help them to figure out the rules;
- It only works with FL considering that it’s easy enough for students to understand;
- It might be more stressful than TTT or GD – same as finding yourself in a swimming pool with no armbands when you’re just 8 years old and you can’t really swim (well, couldn’t until now).
How to use it?
Using ‘Deep End’ is extremely easy.
- Pushing your students into the swimming pool:
Prepare cards or checklists with FL you want students to use.
Give them a topic. Tell them to discuss this topic using all phrases. (Also can be done as a written exercise – depends on a situation.)
Tell them to keep track of the phrases they’re using by either picking up a card (make sure to cut a lot of cards in this case) or by checking it in their checklists.
Listen and write down successful and unsuccessful examples of FL use.
- Giving feedback:
Start with successful use and then talk about unsuccessful use explaining why it was incorrect and what the right way of using this particular phrase is.
- Making them swim:
You may want to start with a gap-fill exercise or something similar for the controlled practice stage.
Give them another topic and tell them to discuss it using all the phrases.
Make sure that they keep on track.
Make sure that they follow the ‘points to improve’ part of your feedback.
Intervene if necessary to support them – they’re just learning!
- Watching them swim:
Aka freer practice. Design it any way you want.
Make sure to collect the cards/checklists – no visual prompts should be available, students can only use their memory.
I hope you find this article helpful! Don’t be afraid to throw your students into using the language: no one said learning English is safe 😀