The children each have three coloured cups: red, orange and green. The teacher pauses at various times in the lesson and asks the children to choose one of the three cups to display on their desk in front of them, A red cup indicates they don’t understand what is being taught, an orange cup indicates they more or less understand but feel they need more practice, a green cup indicates they understand fully and are ready to move on and do something else. Once the cups are displayed the teacher has various options:
• to explain the teaching point again to the class
• call on a green cup child to check their understanding
• encourage peer teaching amongst the children
• Group the children by colour and for example work with the reds while the orange group do more practice and the green group do something else
• Any combination of the above
So this procedure offers the teacher an insight into how children are learning and how far they are being challenged. It helps the teacher to differentiate and cater for different learners in the group and fosters collaborative learning. In this way it supports the creation of optimum challenge or “flow” which I have referred to in The Developing Teacher (Foord, 2009). It also facilitates what Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill refer to as “high demand teaching” (see their blog).
Equally importantly from the point of view of learner coaching it encourages learners to take a pro active role in the classroom, to see learning as something they do rather than something the teacher does to them. The teacher in this set up is manifestly a facilitator helping learners to move from red to orange to green and back to red again with something new.
How can this work in the language classroom?
In stages of the lesson where students are learning new language (doing some vocabulary, pronunciation or grammar work ) some clarification and controlled practice is followed by students displaying their cups (they needn’t be cups of course, any set of three distinct objects will do) and the lesson then proceding in one of the ways described above.
It can also work in stages of the lesson where students are practising conversation more freely. After a group or pair work conversation activity students can be asked how well they feel they can have that conversation in English. Again, according to the cups on display, the teacher may decide to repeat the activity, or have some students repeat the activity and move others on to a new task.
Of course many teachers do this kind of thing already without cups, by listening to and observing their students (monitoring), they can make individual interventions and pace the class accordingly. However in this scenario, all the responsibility lies with the teacher and in classrooms with inexperienced teachers or a lot of students (or both!) relying on the expertise of the teacher may not work. What the cups do is help leverage the expertise of the learners to maximise learning, great for coaches and great for learners.
Has anyone used this approach or something similar in class?