Guided Discovery: What’s That?

One of the themes that comes up in many teacher training classes is guided discovery. For lots of us, including me when I first heard of it, this is somewhat of a new concept.

If you’re using a textbook like Cutting Edge or Headway, there is already some guided discovery there. In general terms, as I understand it, guided discovery works something like this: students get some examples, in a meaningful context, and then answer leading questions – which are focused on the target language – about the examples. The point is not to“guess the rules” but to give students examples and clues which they have to think about in order to reach the end point of some grammar rule. Even when the questions are very direct, it is better than just telling them the rule because they are pressed to use their own logic to figure it out a) because people are more likely to take in something they are actively involved in than something they are passively told and b) because it is good to practice these deduction skills because developing them will help them as language learners.

When we learn our own language, we don’t get a list of rules. Kids hear lots and lots o examples, start out with sometimes making mistakes, and then eventually get it right on their own. Your students are generally adults, not children, and they don’t have the exposure to language a child does nor the possibility to make so many errors without being negatively judged…but it’s a similar principle.

Most simply, asking a learner a question and waiting for their answer “forces” them to think it through and means that you won’t go on until they have processed it. There are times when they won’t get it and it’s fine to tell them…but if the context and examples and questions are well-thought out, they should often be able to. I think a lot of students are resistant to this kind of learning – many are used to just being told and expect that, but in my experience, it’s worth trying to get guided discovery to work.