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Guided discovery for teaching ESL/EFL

Guided discovery is a very student centred teaching method which avoids the use of long explanations by the teacher. Learners take a more active role in their own progress and work at their speed. Basically, learners have to take responsibility for their own learning. Guided discovery encourages peer teaching and sharing ideas. Because the teacher doesn’t lead the class, he/she is free to walk around (through monitoring) and get a good overall picture of how the class is doing.

Another big advantage of Guided Discovery is that it gets the learners to think about language. The effort students put in the learning process, makes it more memorable. The mental work involved in explaining grammar points to each other has a powerful effect on the memory.

It avoids time consumption because Guided Discovery gets straight to the point. Its direct and uncompromising grammar focus is suitable for adult students who are not deterred by an analytical approach. Guided discovery offers the possibility for communicative practice in the actual process of learning about the grammar.

Guided discovery is suitable for intermediate to advanced level where the students have already some exposure to English. It is less suitable for lower levels but still can be done with simple language points, as long as the guided discovery questions are carefully written with carefully graded language.

Particularly, Guided Discovery approach is suitable for complex language and language that is more written rather than spoken (such as passive voice). Other good areas where Guided Discovery is good are: verb patterns, phrasal verbs, articles, quantifiers, modals of deduction etc.

Guided Discovery Stages


The teacher does something to get the learners attention and have them engaged in the topic (activate schemata).

Pre-teach essential lexis

The teacher should teach just the vocabulary that he/she thinks is above the learner’s level and that they will need to complete the task. The teacher makes sure that the learners will not block later in the lesson because of the lack of vocabulary.

Gist/global task

Design a question (or more) which will check the general understanding of the text (reading or listening) and give the learners a reason to read/listen all the way to the end of the text.

Detailed receptive skills work

It’s much easier to work with the language in the text if the learners have understood the main points. A more details comprehension task does just that for the teacher.


The teacher can design a gap-fill activity or multiple choice (or others) to see how much the students already know about the meaning and form of the target language. Initially, the students work alone then the students check in pairs to encourage peer teaching and build confidence. The teacher should monitor this activity.

Pulling out the target language from the text

If the teacher uses a listening text, have a gap-fill activity with the key language in gaps. Avoid giving the tape script at this point. Make sure the students put some effort in the task. The tape script can be given for the feedback or after feedback.

Language focus stage

The teacher designs a series of questions that make the students look back through the text that will encourage the students to notice features of the meaning, form, pronunciation of the target language. Monitoring and help are very important at this stage. To make the task at this stage more fruitful, the students have to discuss the language with their partners, so working in groups or pairs is a great idea. Learners might want to use their own language at this point (which is fine, as long they put the right answers on the paper).


Some groups do better than other, so rearranging students in new groups and have them checking again is a good idea.


If there are many questions on the worksheet written by the teacher then go through them orally. Cover the problem areas with the class and hand out an answer sheet is the best way to go.

Practice activities

These can be some activities that practice the language points in questions. I usually do these activities in the following lesson but it can be done in the same lesson if the time permits.

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