Dealing with emerging language

One of the many bits of Dogme terminology that perplexed me in the first year of teaching was exactly this, ‘dealing with emerging language’. I mean, if you consider that dealing with a problem generally means finding a solution to it, the whole idea seems kind of counter-intuitive if you ask me. Emerging language isn’t a problem, is it?  This issue perplexed a number of my colleagues on DELTA  during the experimental practice. Keen on trying Dogme, there was some doubt about the language focus even if there was great success in facilitating learner-centred, conversation driven lessons.

I got the impression that the easiest way to do this would be reformulation. During my first year and a half of teaching, this issue led me to ask myself whether dealing with emerging language meant only reformulating it to make it sound more natural. If this were the case, then surely it would become rather frustrating if every effort to engage in classroom discussion resulted in reformulation?

The questions that led on from those questions concerned how to expand my repertoire of ideas for dealing with emerging language. In addition to this, I thought about if my choices regarding which language and which topics to focus on, but that’s another story for another post. Now I’d like to share the ways of extending emerging language which have worked best for me in the past 6 months in hope that there might be of some use and that others out there might contribute their favourite ways too.


For form

Ask everyone to close their eyes and rub off all the verbs for verb-noun collocations or all the prepositions in chunks. Ten should be challenging enough for any level. Although some classes have wanted as many as twenty! Ask everyone to write the answers then give them the pens to take turns filling in the gaps.

This was my board after a conversation on our favourite things to do in London. At the end of the lesson, about 20 minutes remaining, I gap-filled the board.

On the left hand side are some expressions recycled from the previous lesson written on cards.

Language from a debate

Alternatively, after a classroom debate, the gap-filling can be done in teams; one for each side of the board.

Tables can also be good for a focus on word formation using suffixes if I’ve heard a particular problem with suffixation of nouns. I use the emerging language as a basis for the activity and then continue it with dictionaries.


I also find that collocation webs can be a way of extending language from a conversation. If I hear difficulties with common collocations, I write them and put the words on the board, or in the case of a mistake, put the right word (I then mention the mistakes and ask them which is the correct way of saying what they said). The words are copied and joined to make as many collocations as possible.

Form for noun modifiers 

After a quick explanation of noun modifiers, I ask everyone to think of nouns and verbs on the topic of the conversation just had, then we add them to the board and make noun phrases with noun modifiers in groups. They can be as long as as absurd as possible, the only rule is that the person who makes it must be able to explain the meaning of it. These are then written on cards and passed around for groups to guess the meaning.

“a dancing sandwich box”

“A sandwich box which dances”

“an eye removal safety department”

” a department to make sure that eyes are removed in a safe way”

Good for helping students create and make sense of chains of long and complex noun modifiers. At lower levels it fits in well with situational vocabulary, for instance in a hotel. You might get phrases like “hotel swimming pool service”.

2. Pronunciation

When I’ve covered pronunciation, I often take a photo of the board and then remove the stressed syllables, schwas or weak forms and ask students to fill them in, working in groups so that they have to say the phrases to each other to guess. I find it’s sometimes better to leave it a while before doing this to revise, perhaps at the end of the lesson.

Another thing that has worked really well, which I adapted from an idea my DELTA tutor gave me involves take chunks from emerging language written on the board and writing the stress patterns for students to match. This can be done on the board or on strips of card if available.

Here’s an example of the board

Since then, I’ve found that the activity works better with as outlined above with small cards. I sometimes put them around the room for students to match or dish them out to individuals for them to find their pair. Either way, it gets them to focus on stressed and unstressed syllables and keeps thing a bit more student-centred while you’re free to monitor and do a bit of one-to-one pron teaching.

Other times, I’ve drawn a table on the board to focus on past-participle endings and asked learners to mark the consonant sounds, doing the first as an example to help

In this case we also focused on elision of final consonant sounds in past participle endings. I got the class to create every-day phrases where these might appear, for example I missed the bus, a missed call, you’re not allowed to etc.

3. Focusing on meaning


1. If I have lots of vocabulary on the board, I ask people in pairs to write a paraphrase of the word/chunk and then the word on the back. I monitor during this stage and make sure paraphrases are not too difficult and do some one-to-one clarification if needed. Cards are then collected and distributed, paraphrase-side up and pairs guess the phrase and check.

2. Alternatively, with higher levels, I write down on card some good phrases said during conversations and reformulate some less accurate phrases. While I’m doing all of this I’ve asked everyone to make a list of the topics they spoke about. I then distribute the cards to groups and ask them to match them to the topic. This will often throw up phrases like “Yeah, we were talking about X and I wanted to say something like this” or “I remember that X said this when we were talking about Y, it means Z”. As a teacher you’re then free to monitor any problems in connecting the meaning to the context and can ask other people to explain.

What I really like about this activity is that it really connects meaning to context, forcing people to think back to the context in which the utterance was said or the context it could be said in. Make sure the phrases aren’t TOO difficult, as it the task is quite challenging already. At lower levels, the reformulated phrases could be added to one side to help. This activity has only worked well for me when the whole class has been in the conversation, otherwise it’s better to make group-specific cards.


What I try to avoid is standing at the board explaining grammar. I imagine myself in my students’ shoes when their teacher explains a load of grammar to them and this usually stops me. Although, having said that, it’s nice to have your questions about grammar answered, which is why I often devote time to questions about language. I ask everyone to write one question about the grammar on the board. In groups they try and answer it, the ones that cause difficulty or don’t get answered I then answer after.

Exchanging modals

Exactly what it sounds like, ask them to exchange the modal in the sentence and discuss how this changes the meaning.

Time lines 

I normally put some sentences said on the board and some timelines and we match them. The discussions are always full of questions and beliefs about grammar… it’s possible in these cases to highlight personal preference or stylistic preference. I’m lucky to have intelligent and curious students who ask lots of questions… when asked by them, they are always more meaningful.

The drawback of this is that it has a tendency to draw out lots of rules, some of them helpful, some of them not so helpful. I do however encourage students to make theories about grammar and suggest possible alternatives, making sure not to accept anything absurd or just plain wrong.

Not that reformulation doesn’t play a part in my classroom, it just seems to me that ‘dealing with’ means more than just changing it but also ‘extending’. I guess this falls into the category of ‘doing language work’ too. Also, I want to point out that not all the dealing with emerging language takes place on the board, its just I have the most pictures of this!

So this leads me to ask you: how do you deal with emerging language?