Solo learning module: Giving control to the learner over materials and learning session design

Author: Graham Bishop


Normal practice in course construction is to supply learners with pre-selected material chosen by the teachers to illustrate a grammar syllabus or progression. This paper will discuss the reversal of this process. The learners will be invited to select the material they wish to learn from according to their needs and interests. The tutor will provide a bank of exercise typologies, graded for level of difficulty and by skill, and guide the learners on how to select a balanced learning session from the bank which is commensurate with their level of expertise and the skills they wish to concentrate on. This method will make maximum use of the motivation of the learners to work with material which they are already interested in and which may be of direct use to them. It will also allow them to specify which skills they wish to acquire or to prioritise.

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Table of contents

This paper was originally presented at the Navigating the new landscape for languages conference (, 30 June - 1 July 2004.

Powerpoint presentation

Download: Solo Learning Module (Powerpoint, 354Kb)

1. Aims and objectives

Principle aim:

  • To enable learners to motivate themselves by working and learning from materials which interest them personally, which are relevant to their work and leisure activities and which they have chosen themselves.


  • To enable learners to construct their own balanced learning sessions using a typology bank of exercises.
  • To develop self-correction, analytical and critical skills.

2. Exercise bank

Exercise bank sections by skill:

  • Grammar
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Literature

Levels of difficulty of the exercises in the bank

Level 1 - This means that all or most of the information you need is contained in the text or extract. The work is based on imitation and adaptation. There is very little original work required of you. Examples: vocabulary listing or searching, translating into English, making notes.

Level 2 - This means that your own input will be greater, though mostly what you need is still contained in the text or extract. Examples: retranslation into French, summarising, reading onto cassette, changing the tense or person'.

Level 3 - Here you will need skills and knowledge which are outside the compass of the material. It will often involve producing original work. Examples: changing a text from prose into a dialogue, writing an essay or report on the subject matter and adding your ideas and opinions.

3. Designing your own learning session

  • 10 - 15 minutes reading over the material you have chosen to work on concentrate on absorbing the content rather than the language.
  • 10 - 15 minutes detailed comprehension work using your dictionary or grammar reference book if necessary.
  • 45 - 60 minutes applying to the extract a variety of exercises chosen from the bank or of your own design, spread over different skills.

Choosing from the exercise bank

  • Think of this process as if you were choosing a meal from the À la carte menu.
  • There is no set formula, so mix harder exercises with less taxing ones and choose at least one with some relaxing entertainment value.

4. Checklists for analysing your own work

  1. Structure
  2. Style and language
  3. Accuracy
  4. Comparing your work with the original
  5. Critical literary analysis

5. Example of student designed learning session

Student chose a description of a walk in the Lot, since walking is her hobby.

Walking in the Lot

  • Step 1 : read for gist comprehension and to relate the directions to a map.
  • Step 2 : prepare to ask questions, and to understand answers, in case of getting lost
  • Step 3 : make a list of items to take on the walk
  • Step 4 : summarise the directions and transfer them onto cards
  • Step 5 : Describe the walk to a friend, on the phone.
  • Step 6 : Do the walk and keep notes on where the instructions were not clear.
  • Step 7 : Rewrite the description putting in improvements to the directions.
  • Step 8 : Make a journal of the walk (audio and /or written)

If you wish to receive further details of the Solo Learning Module and a copy of the exercise bank please contact the author at or