How to Apply Vygotsky's Theory in a Language Class

Updated July 11, 2018

Learning how to use Lev Vygotsky's social development theory in a language class can help your students grasp ideas more quickly. Vygotsky believed that social interaction plays a integral part in learning and promotes a more reciprocal teaching style than a flat, lecture-based style. His theory includes important ideas such as the "More Knowledgeable Other" and the "Zone of Proximal Development" which can help you convey ideas effectively to a language class. Vygotsky also believed that language plays a vital part in development, so in his view, your job as a language teacher is all the more important.

Split the children into groups of four. Vygotsky believed that children can learn from teachers and peers, and either a teacher or peer can fill the role of the "More Knowledgeable Other." Put more intelligent children with less intelligent ones to ensure that there is a "More Knowledgeable Other" figure within the group.

Hand out a worksheet with an explanation of a grammatical concept or a topic related to your lesson. For example, a lesson on synonyms and antonyms should be accompanied by a worksheet explaining both concepts and offering examples of each.

Assign each child in the group one of the following roles: "Summarizer," "Questioner," "Clarifier" or "Predictor." Explain to the children that they each have a special job. The "Summarizer" summarises the worksheet's content. The "Questioner" identifies any areas that aren't quite clear. The "Clarifier" tries to address the issues raised by the questioner, and the "Predictor" tries to determine what information is likely to come next.

Ask the children to take notes as they read the worksheet to help them fulfil their roles more efficiently. Encourage the children to start a discussion after they've read the worksheet and made any notes or highlighted any points relevant to their role. Tell the "Summarizer" to explain the lesson first; then ask the "Questioner" to raise any issues, the "Clarifier" to try to answer them, and the "Predictor" to speculate as to what is still to be taught. The fixed roles help foster a discussion about the subject matter. This utilises the "Zone of Proximal Development" --- the difference between what children can learn alone and what they can learn with guidance of a more knowledgeable peer.

Walk around the groups in the classroom to determine if there were any questions raised by the "Questioner" that the "Clarifier" couldn't answer. Guide the children toward the correct answer to the problem. For example, if the children couldn't work out why "scent" and "fragrance" are synonyms, ask them about each word to ensure understanding of the words' meanings. Then ask the "Summarizer" to review what a synonym is. Vygotsky believed that children learn more efficiently in a social setting, rather than an instructional one. Help them find the answer instead of giving it to them.

Rotate the group members' roles in the next portion of the lesson. It's important that children learn to fill all of the roles, so they eventually learn to fill the role of "More Knowledgeable Other" within their groups.

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About the Author

Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.