The observation web is a
technique used to reflect on the activities which are used in a lesson.
of classroom observation techniques has been repeatedly mentioned and written about by
many writers (Bailey 1990; Day 1990; Nunan 1987, 1992; Spada 1990; Wajnryb 1992).
Nevertheless, there is a need for handy and time-saving observation techniques which can
be used to reflect on the lesson that is being observed.
Features of activities
Many present-day activities focus on developing linguistic competence, for example, the
ability to use lexis, grammar, and phonetics of the language. They also develop the
pragmatic (practical) abilities of the learners to use the language for real-life
communication. Many activities stimulate thought processes in learners by forcing them to
think and make decisions. Other activities develop background knowledge in learners. This
background knowledge serves as a valuable source of useful information in carrying out the
activities. Any activity can be made teacher- or student-centred. The activities can be
individual with every learner working autonomously, or interactively with learners
dependent on each other in doing the task.
Types of activities
An activity is called linguistic if its purpose is to develop linguistic competence in
the learners. Examples include substitution, completion, transformation, and
fill-in-the-blank activities. A cognitive activity stimulates the thought processes in the
learners. These analytical and reflective techniques include analysing, matching, cloze,
sequencing, and jigsaw. Pragmatic activities teach practical use of language in
situational circumstances (e.g., note-taking and socializing). Informative activities
broaden the students background knowledge of the subject being studied through
reading, listening, or exchanging information. Teacher-centred work is dominated by the
teacher. The teacher dominates not only when the learners are working individually, but
also if the teacher continuously interferes with student-centred and/or autonomous
activities such as role-plays and group discussions. Student-centred activities involve
the learners in active work. In individual tasks the learners work separately (a choral
repetition drill is also an individual activity). In interactive work the learners
actively cooperate with each other.
Any one technique or activity actually has a number of features going on at the same
time. Included are linguistic, pragmatic, individual, teacher-centred exercises, and
pragmatic, cognitive, interactive student-centred exercises.
The challenge is to work out a convenient technique for observing all of the activities
during the lesson.
Observation web design
The observation web is designed as a circle divided into eight sections. Each section
corresponds to a certain feature of an activity used in the lesson: linguistic, cognitive,
pragmatic, informative, teacher-centred, student-centred, individual, and interactive.
Features of the activities of the on-going lesson are marked (strokes) on the
observation web every five minutes in the corresponding section. Because an activity can
be linguistic, pragmatic, individual, and student-centred, or pragmatic, cognitive,
interactive, and teacher-centred, several features of the activity are marked on the
observation web at a time. What is marked depends on what features have been observed
during the lesson. Thus, the "web" is gradually built by the observer during the
By the end of the lesson the observer has an observation web which shows the dominant
features of the activities used in the lesson. The observation web serves as the starting
point for the review and discussion of the lesson.
The use of observation web
The observation web was used to observe the lessons of 10 teachers. The teachers had
previously been classified as "innovative" or "traditionalist" based
on their teaching styles. The following describes typical traditionalist and innovative
The traditionalists preferred the techniques that developed language awareness and
pragmatic abilities in their students. The innovative teachers were interested in focusing
in their classes on thought-stimulating, insightful, and motivating techniques. There were
also teachers among the 10 selected who tended to be more eclectic and pragmatic. These
teachers would very carefully select the activities for their lessons based on their own
experiences and needs. They did not follow any one particular methodology.
The observation web of a traditionalist is shown in Figure 1. In the lesson given by this teacher, the emphasis was on
linguistic and pragmatic activities, teacher-centred techniques, and individual tasks. The
teacher checked the homework, which was a written grammar exercise. The teacher then asked
the students questions about the topic being studied ("Traveling in Britain")
and the students took turns answering the teachers questions.
After that, the students read from the text, answered the teachers questions
based on what they had read, and summarized the reading. After that, the students took
turns reading dialogues which they had previously prepared as homework. Then the teacher
told and dictated a humorous story about a traveler. The lesson ended with the teacher
giving the homework assignment.
The observation web of the innovative teacher is shown in Figure 2. The emphasis in the lesson was on motivating the learners
by having them do interactive tasks. At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher did a
warm-up by giving the students a quiz on British traditions. Next, she had the students do
a jigsaw exercise by having them read different stories about British culture. At the end
of the exercise, the teacher checked the students understanding of the stories by
giving them a short quiz. This was followed by a role-play in which the students simulated
touring London. The students who participated in the role-play competed for the title of
"Mr. or Ms. Inquisitive." The students were awarded points for answering
questions about the role-play. The lesson closed with a class discussion titled, "Is
London an old or a young city?"
The observation web of a "balanced" teacher is shown in
Figure 3. The lesson started with a vocabulary building exercise
in the form of questions and answers on the topic "health protection." The
exercise was both linguistic and cognitive as it did not only help to review the
vocabulary but also stimulated cognitive responses from the learners. After that, the
students read a story about health care programs and did a matching exercise to check
their comprehension of the passages in the text. This exercise was useful for expanding
the general knowledge of the learners, developing pragmatic skills in reading, and
boosting cognitive processes. This was followed by the grammar stage of the lesson. First,
the models ought to, have to, must were reviewed. Then an article titled "Ten
Recommendations on How to Stay Healthy" was read. Using the information they had
gained from the reading, the students gave to each other their own recommendations on how
to stay healthy. The activity was interactive, developing pragmatic and cognitive skills
and adding to the general knowledge of the learners. The lesson was a balance of
interactive activities, individual work, teacher-centred activities, and student-centred
Description of a typical English lesson in Russia
The observation-web technique was useful in identifying and describing the most common
or typical English lesson in the Russian schools. Ninety observations were conducted and
analyzed in four Russian provinces: Tambov, Ryasan, Lipetzk, and Samara. The observation
web of a typical English lesson is shown in Figure
4. A typical lesson begins with a questioning session. The goals of the questioning
session are to review language structures and practise communication skills. Asking
questions and describing pictures is also a popular technique. Another commonly used
activity is dialogues.
The dialogue activities include listening to the dialogue, reading it, and changing the
wording and the plot of the dialogue. The cloze technique is also becoming very popular
with Russian English teachers, and the activity is often done as pair work. An important
part of the traditional Russian English lesson is working with the text. Russian teachers
of English consider the text to be the most essential component of any textbook, and a
great number of exercises included in the lesson are text-based. The students practise
word use including chorus drills, English-Russian translation, and the reading and
discussion of the text. Grammar drills are often used in the form of controlled question
and answer exercises, Russian-English translation, filling in the blank, and completing or
The typical Russian teaching approach is not designed for building communicative
skills. The lessons are mostly aimed at developing the pragmatic skills of the learners.
The lessons are teacher-centred and offer little genuine interaction among the students
(see Figure 4).
Using the observation-web patterns to determine the effectiveness of teaching
The best results in the observed classes were achieved when the teachers used the
balanced type of instruction, that is, the lesson was linguistic and communicative,
teacher-and student-centred, and individual and interactive. The classes which were
observed were of mixed ability, so different learners were in need of different teaching
strategies. When the teacher emphasized student-centred work, the independent learners
were able to cooperate with the others and complete the task. On the other hand, the
dependent and less sociable students felt abandoned and needed the teacher to help with
To achieve the best results the students needed various activities to help develop
their linguistic competence and communicative skills.
The observation web has proved to be of help in analysing the organization of the
lesson. Using it, we were able to identify and compare the typical patterns of a lesson.
The technique can be used during both preservice and inservice teacher-training sessions.
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language teacher education, eds. J. Richards and D. Nunan. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Day, R. 1990. Teacher observation in second language teacher education. In Second
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Nunan, D., ed. 1987. Applying second language acquisition research. Adelaide: National
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. 1992. Research methods in language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge
Spada, N. 1990. Observing classroom behaviours and learning outcomes in different
second language settings. In Second language teacher education, eds. J. Richards and D.
Nunan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wajnryb, R. 1992. Classroom observation tasks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.