ROLO: Reformulate Output Lightly but Often

ROLO: Reformulate Output Lightly but Often

by Paul Emmerson

Key points

ROLO is diagnostic language feedback. It involves starting with what the students said in class just now (their Output), and then helping them to say the same thing either in a more accurate way, or in a way that expresses a meaning closer to the one they would achieve in their own language.

A ROLO-shaped lesson has the structure Output→Language focus (non-pre-selected), rather than Language focus (pre-selected)→Practice. As part of a lesson, rather than a whole lesson, ROLO can simply follow any speaking activity, for example from a coursebook.

I think most BE teachers, and all 1:1 teachers, eventually end up doing a lot of ROLO through force of circumstances, and it is a major feature of BE wherever students do tasks and other speaking activities.

I believe ROLO feedback should include language development and enrichment primarily, but should also include good, old-fashioned error correction (with a light touch). Work on lexical and grammatical errors and accuracy is important – students won’t thank you (and won’t pay you) for helping them to speak pidgin ever more fluently. And feedback should include work on phonology – writing up and practising word stress and phrase stress, practising pronunciation through quick drills, etc.


Many lessons, or parts of lessons, have a Language focusPractice shape. Here, after a warmer, the lesson begins with some presentation of language that is pre-selected on the coursebook page, or from a teacher’s lesson plan. The lesson moves on to a practice stage, this usually being controlled practice that takes the form of a short, heads-down exercise. There may or may not then be some freer speaking practice that provides a context for using the words or forms. If there is such a free practice stage all teachers know that most students produce little of the language presented in the first part of the lesson. It’s clear that there has to be a deeper level of mental processing before language is available for active production.

In fact, this lack of follow-through in speech in the same lesson doesn’t actually matter. It’s still useful to have input, and students will notice the language, then acquire it passively and then produce it actively when they are ready to. Much they will never acquire. The speed at which they pass through the various stages depends on a wide variety of factors largely beyond our control, such as their own internal cognitive processes (including biological processes of nerve pathways and synapses and memory), their further contact with the same language item, their motivation and need for the language etc. At any point in a lesson when a student speaks they will use a mixture of previously acquired language (from inside the classroom and out), half acquired language, poorly acquired language, language presented in the book or on the board in the same class which they will indeed use and learn, other language in the book or on the board which they will use and then forget, fossilized errors, new errors etc. It’s all part of the fun. The connection between teaching and learning can’t be forced.

Other lesson shapes, or parts of lessons, are OutputLanguage focus. Here, after a warmer, the students move quickly to a free speaking activity. In Business English this aims to be as meaningful and life-like as possible – perhaps discussing some aspect of the students’ work, or business in general, or discussing a reading or listening text, or doing a meetings/telephone role-play, or giving a presentation. Then, following the task, the teacher goes to the board and does a feedback slot. This is where the teaching (the Input – the explicit and directed noticing of language) is largely done.

OutputLanguage focus lessons are particularly appropriate and particularly common in Business English (especially for in-work students) and 1:1. Why? It’s simple: our students have genuine real-life needs to discuss business and practise meaningful tasks like those listed in the previous paragraph. That’s why they paid to come on the course. So what could be more natural than having them perform those discussions and tasks first to see what language they need, and then doing any necessary language work through feedback? You might call it a diagnostic approach, with teachers acting as language consultants. In General English (GE) the same principles can apply if the teacher so wishes, although in conversation with GE teachers I sense that they tend to do more Language focusPractice and less OutputLanguage focus. That’s fine. In GE an OutputLanguage focus lesson often comes at the end of a coursebook unit, and is often referred to as Skills Practice or Speaking Practice. GE teacher trainers should note that in this kind of lesson language aims cannot be specified on a lesson plan before the class.

The references to ‘tasks’ in the previous two paragraphs need explaining. I do not in any sense believe that classroom tasks have to be ‘authentic’ in a closely defined way. For example, a student describes the marketing strategy of their company or discusses an article on Innovation. Would they do these things in English in real life? Possibly yes, probably no, depending on the student’s job. The marketing strategy of their company would more likely be an internal company discussion in the mother tongue, and how often do business people sit around discussing Innovation in a general way – even in Social English? These activities are still enormously worth doing, but not because they are realistic ‘Tasks’. They are worth doing because they are a) enjoyable and are good speaking practice and have face validity in the lesson, and b) they generate opportunities for language focus (lexical development etc) that would indeed be useful in other English-language business situations (completely unpredictable at that moment). For a teacher, the task is there to elicit language that can be worked on. If it is indeed learned by the student at some point then it will be used by them on a myriad of other occasions in their lives, perhaps none of them remotely connected with the context of the original task. Of course a presentation or a telephone role-play would be examples of a more closely-defined ‘Task’, and that’s also good. But it’s not better.

One further qualification is necessary. Not all classroom time is necessarily taken up with Language focusPractice or OutputLanguage focus. For example, there may be reading or listening, or speaking with no feedback. Reading and listening are great – they provide ‘comprehensible input’ in a lesson. This is language one step more advanced than the students’ current level that they may notice with or without the teacher drawing attention to it. Speaking with no feedback is also (sometimes) fine – for example I wouldn’t do a feedback slot following a warmer, and it’s also normal to occasionally run out of time and finish a lesson with speaking but no feedback.

Appendix 1 has a table showing some differences between Language focus → Practice and Output → Language focus. The remainder of this article focuses on the latter, and discusses how to actually do the feedback that constitutes the language focus.


ROLO stands for Reformulate Output Lightly but Often. It is a term I have coined. I have been giving talks on ROLO at conferences and seminars since the mid-1990s.

Reformulate is the key teaching technique in the language feedback part of an OutputLanguage focus lesson. It means starting with what the students said – or were trying to say – and then helping them to say it better. ‘Better’ means coming ever closer to achieving the same meanings in English as the students can achieve in their own language.

Output means the students’ own words. (It can also refer to written production, and ROLO is certainly an appropriate technique following writing activities – for reasons of space however this article will restrict itself to speaking).

Lightly refers to moving on quickly to a new item in a feedback slot rather than the ‘heavy’ presentation-practice of just one language item over a major part of the lesson. In terms of language acquisition it means allowing students to restructure their developing knowledge of English slowly in their own way through the gradual accumulation of insights.

Often refers to two things:

1) the fact that the teacher should do feedback slots often – in my view immediately after every speaking activity

2) the fact that particular or troublesome language items should be returned to often, as recycling.

ROLO Stage 1: Teacher takes notes

While the students are doing a speaking activity (any), make notes on their language use: good points, lexical lacks or errors or over-simplifications, grammatical lacks or errors, mispronunciations etc. If there is a class discussion you will be quietly making notes while acting as a moderator of the discussion; if the students are doing a role-play you will be sitting in the corner of the room (small group) or circulating round the edge of the room (large group). Write down the whole phrase you heard to keep the context – you need it there in your notes to come back to in the feedback slot.

Should you help and correct during the task rather than afterwards? Many people, including colleagues who I respect and admire, would say ‘yes’. But twenty years of doing ROLO in every lesson I have taught and discussing the issue often with students makes me say ‘no’. The exception is when a student really needs a word and looks at you and asks for it (in which case you just quickly give it and then shut up, making a written note and returning to it later in class feedback). I believe that students quickly lose the flow of what they were saying/thinking if the teacher intervenes while they are speaking. Worse still if they stop to make notes. They jump back into the world of the language classroom from the world of the content of the task, then try to get back to the task, and after a few more teacher interventions all fun and fluency is gone. I believe that the cognitive processes involved in a speaking task – listening to others, rehearsing in your mind what you are going to say, saying it – are completely different to the cognitive processes involved in focusing on language. Both are needed and useful and part of language acquisition, but the vast majority of students do not have the attentional resources to do both at the same time. Trying to do both at the same stage of the lesson makes both ineffective.

So instead of jumping in with language ‘help’, the role of the teacher during a task is:

  • During pairwork. To take notes for later feedback.
  • During a class discussion. To take notes for later feedback, all the while acting as facilitator, responding to the content, not the form, of what is being said.
  • During a role-play. To take notes for later feedback, all the while speaking only if asked a direct question (in which case answer briefly and quietly and then withdraw eye contact).

The students need to keep focused on the discussion and their colleagues. If they feel the teacher is giving important information to other students which they are missing, they will stop to listen and lose their train of thought.

What should you make notes on? Use these guidelines:

  • Go for variety. Include a mixture of vocabulary the students needed, recurrent grammar mistakes, pronunciation difficulties, collocation development etc.
  • Go for good language production as well as needs and mistakes. Complimenting a student is highly motivating for them, and also for the others who will then try to produce the same item.
  • Go for language at the right level for the group. In the case of grammar this means remedial areas – structures that the students already know but cannot yet produce accurately. Do not dig a hole for yourself by having to present a grammar point for the first time without preparation.
  • Go for language that is relevant to the class. The need or error will arise from just one student’s speaking, but choose it for feedback if it will help most of the other students as well.
  • Go for useful language. Avoid ‘authentic’ language that is low-frequency or that other non-native speakers in the real world will probably not understand.

Then, when the task finishes, make sure you leave time for a feedback slot. As a rule of thumb, I would say that feedback time should be around 40%-60% of the time taken to do the task. It is after all the main point in the lesson where you ‘teach’. Some teachers don’t give feedback in the same lesson, but type the phrases into a feedback sheet after class and print it out for the students to work on in the next lesson. That’s okay, and students always pick up on and are motivated by extra time that the teacher has spent on their behalf, but I personally would not do it often that way. I think ROLO feedback is more effective when it’s immediate: the need for the language was created in class ‘just now’ – it’s still hanging in the air.

With a role-play allow a few moments for the students to de-role or ‘ground’ themselves, before moving to language feedback. Let them relax by joking for a few moments. They will not be receptive for language work immediately following a lively discussion.

ROLO Stage 2: Teacher uses notes to run a feedback slot at the board

  • Keep the feedback slot fast-paced, covering perhaps 10 – 12 items over 20-25 minutes.
  • Remember this golden rule for boardwork: give enough co-text to provide a context.
  • Look for occasional chances to do mini personalized practice (asking a student to put a new word or new structure into a sentence of their own, with a context given by you).
  • Remember pron as well as lexis and grammar.

Here is the procedure:

① Write up on the board the whole phrase, exactly as you heard it. Below I have given some examples, taken randomly from a sheet of paper I have in front of me – two sides of A4 that were my feedback notes on one particular day (the students’ level was Intermediate, and their mother tongue mostly German).

I’d like to say a few words to my person.

I am living in Frankfurt since two years.

It’s a step on the career ladder.

The sales people have to talk about the important things of the product that the customers want.

On the one hand …, but on the other hand …

We empty the containers at our distribution centre.

For how long time does a project usually take?

We can’t do it good as that every time.

It’s a very hierarchy organization.

We make the service personal to the client.

Tell it again, please.

The turnover was less than half of the budget.

May I suggest something?

It’s difficult to find good-educated staff.

First you have a look on the procedures.

(pron) agenda analyze/analysis freight neutral crisis

Write up one phrase at a time on the board, following points ②-④ below before returning to the next phrase.

Stand back and allow five seconds silence while the students think about what you have written. Stop keen students from calling out. This silent period is very important: it is where students are noticing language, checking it internally to see if it is right or wrong, activating their passive knowledge to reformulate language into better language. This silent internal mental process is preparation for the process of self-correction of their own real-time speech on a later occasion (including outside of class).

Reformulate language to correct or develop it. If the phrase is correct, praise it and perhaps briefly develop some other related language. If the phrase is basically okay but needs a little lexical development, then try to elicit some improvements and feed in ideas of your own. If the phrase is wrong, ask the students what the problem is. Again, elicit and feed in improvements. If most students can immediately see the problem, then simply cross out the less good version and write up the improvement, moving on quickly. If no-one can see the problem, guide the students to an answer, or give it yourself.

In Appendix 2 I explain in detail what I actually did for the fifteen phrases given above.

One of the arts of ROLO is how to guide students to better language and/or feed it in yourself. The key technique in guiding to better language is sometimes called ‘eliciting’. Here are some typical ways to elicit better words/forms:

– reading the phrase on the board with a questioning intonation at the word/s you want to focus on

– reading the phrase with an explicit prompt, eg ‘Can you think of a simpler way to say that?’ / ‘The word order is wrong here’ / ‘It’s a little direct – can you make it more polite?’

– pointing directly at the wrong word/s, followed perhaps by mouthing the first syllable of the correct word

– crossing out wrong words, followed by writing in the first letter/s of the right word

– giving an opposite/synonym to guide to the correct word

– using mime (saying ‘I’m sorry I didn’t …’ and then throwing up and catching a board pen to elicit ‘… catch that’)

– concept questions (eg for a misuse of for/since say: ‘is it a period of time or a point in time?’)

In ROLO it is very important to keep the whole process of reformulation/development/eliciting fast-paced. Don’t let explanations drag on and become boring. This is the ‘lightly’ part of ROLO. If you need to explain in depth then it’s probably a) the first contact between learner and language item and b) a language item that needs more time to explain fully. If conditions a) and b) are both met then ROLO is probably not the place for focusing on this item. Returning to the item in more depth later – after the break or in the next lesson – is always an option.

Where guiding and eliciting don’t work. If the students cannot see what the better language should be, give it yourself, quickly and with no further fuss. Cross out the wrong language and write up the better language. You now have various options:

i) Give a one-sentence explanation (your previous hints and concept questions will have prepared the ground for this) plus remind yourself to return to this item in more detail later, as mentioned just above.

ii) Give a simple explanation plus suggest to the students that they look in a dictionary or grammar book for homework

iii) Don’t give an explanation – just write up the better language and move on (the students aren’t ready for this yet, it was poorly chosen for feedback, and any explanation is going to be long, frustrating and a waste of valuable lesson time).

Finally, right at the end, allow students time to take their own notes on the boardwork. I much prefer giving time for this at the end rather than point by point. It keeps the feedback slot fun and fast-paced.

Why the silence at stage 2? It’s during these few seconds that the students are scanning their memories and activating past knowledge. It is at this stage that language development is actually happening. If students can supply a correct form or missing lexis themselves at this stage, in their mind or aloud, then the next time they make the same error or need the same word/s in their own output they are much more likely to notice. They will kick themselves: “How stupid! I’ve made that same mistake again!” / “How stupid! I’ve used that direct translation of my own language again!”. But at least this time they caught themselves doing it. Perhaps the next time, or the time after that, they will catch themselves before they utter the incorrect/less appropriate/less complex word or form. And then they’ll remember the better version and produce it. They self-correct. And at that moment language acquisition has taken place.

Great! So ROLO is ‘the answer’!

No it isn’t. Nothing is. Or rather, everything is. Language focus followed by practice is also good (particularly for first contact between learner and language item, and/or where the item is complex, and/or where a student is confused by poor previous explanations). Speaking without feedback is also okay (eg as a warmer or just because you run out of time). And we mustn’t forget reading and listening. And you do a little grammar translation with your students? Okay by me. Then there’s self-study outside of class. And practicing with friends and colleagues in social and business situations in everyday life. And singing along with songs on the radio and watching DVDs in English.

It’s just that when students do speak in class, the language that comes out of their mouths provides such a great opportunity for teaching and learning that it deserves a lot of our time and attention.


Here are the key advantages of ROLO, presented in slightly more academic language than the rest of this discussion, just for fun. With ROLO:

  • The need for the correct form or new item has been revealed ‘just now’ in a meaningful context (the task).
  • The forms and items chosen for feedback will be at an appropriate developmental stage for the students (the teacher will have chosen them to be so).
  • The forms and items chosen for feedback will be targeted at meanings that the students themselves wanted to achieve.
  • In feedback the students are encouraged to ‘notice the gap’ either between their output and English (‘English’ as defined by the teacher in terms of the final version on the board – graded linguistically by the language-aware teacher and not necessarily native speaker English), or between their output and their passive knowledge of what their output should have been. By such noticing students are helped to stop producing the same fossilized errors ever more fluently.
  • In terms of cognitive processing, students are provided with active opportunities for reformulation, instead of simply being given the correct forms by the teacher. A silent period of reflection (a few seconds) after the teacher has written something on the board encourages activation of passive knowledge. It helps reinforce the neural pathways from long-term memory (where words and rules are held passively) to short-term memory (where they are needed right now in class to reformulate or supply language). These reinforced pathways will help develop automaticity during later online processing in speech, outside the class.

So ROLO is a kind of teacher-led development of the learner skill of noticing and self-correction, with the student’s own output in a task providing the items for language focus.

Paul Emmerson

November 2010

Appendix 1: A brief overview of Language focusPractice vs OutputLanguage focus

These two approaches can be shapes for a whole lesson or a part of a lesson. In my own teaching (in-work students at Intermediate and Upper Intermediate levels), excluding time spent doing reading and listening, I spend maybe 30% of my time doing Language focus→Practice broadly defined and 70% doing Output→Language focus broadly defined. If I have Pre-Intermediate students the ratio might be closer to 50-50.

Language focusPractice OutputLanguage focus (ROLO)
Lesson begins with presentation of new language and moves on to practice it. Appropriate for first contact between learner and language item. Lesson begins with tasks and speaking activities of all kinds. It moves on to language work in a feedback slot. Appropriate for activating language already presented, wherever it is needed or misused.
Language items are covered one at a time, in detail. Many language items are covered in one feedback slot. Each item is covered lightly (e.g. quick elicitation or concept question).
Language items are pre-selected, either from the pages of a coursebook or the lesson plan of a teacher. They are likely to be part of an explicit grammatical/lexical program written in a coursebook, exam syllabus etc. Language items are not pre-selected: they arise naturally as a need/mistake during students’ output in the lesson. The grammatical/lexical syllabus is led by student needs as the course develops, and is not explicit or written down.
Role of the teacher is classroom manager, managing the flow of target language from the pages of the coursebook or lesson materials to the students. Role of the teacher is language consultant, managing the flow of language from the students back to the students.
Particularly appropriate on extensive courses where the students expect, want and need to go round a full language syllabus. Particularly appropriate on short courses where there is no time to go round a full language syllabus and language work needs to be more targeted and personalized.
Free speaking may be relatively rare in the classroom, perhaps because students revert quickly to L1 or a large class size makes it chaotic. Free speaking is very common, and the students expect and enjoy meaningful tasks in class.
Feels strange in one-to-one: depersonalized, just ‘working through the book’. Absolutely essential for one-to-one.
Appropriate for both monolingual and multilingual groups. Ditto, but particularly appropriate for monolingual groups as points chosen for feedback are likely to be relevant for everyone.
Easier and safer for inexperienced teachers. More interesting and fun for experienced teachers. Requires some teacher skill in choosing items for feedback and handling eliciting/reformulation.

Appendix 2: ROLO in action

Here are some example phrases taken fairly randomly from one of my feedback sheets. They came from class discussions and role-plays over one full day. The phrase I wrote down is given in italics, and the way I dealt with it is given below. Please note: there is no single correct way to reformulate and develop student output – on another occasion I may deal with the same phrases in a completely different way. And you yourself may think of other, equally valid ways to ROLO the phrases. What I’ve shown is just what I actually did, in real life in real time in a real classroom.

I’d like to say a few words to my person.

I pointed to the words ‘to my person’ and a student said ‘about myself’. I saw by the students’ body language that everyone realized the error and I simply crossed out the wrong words, wrote up the correct words, and moved on.

I am living in Frankfurt since two years.

I was aware that students know the correct forms in theory at this level, but can’t produce them actively. For this reason they were exactly the kind of errors worth focusing on in feedback. I said ‘I am living in Frankfurt’ with a questioning tone in my voice, and one student tentatively offered ‘I have lived’. I didn’t make any comment, but said to the group: ‘Is it just a temporary activity in progress right now, or is it looking back at your life up to now?’ They said that it was the latter, and I said ‘yes, good’ and wrote up ‘I have lived’ while acknowledging the student who had indeed made this suggestion. I decided not to mention the fact that ‘I have been living’ is also fine here, as this would require a major lesson focus that was inappropriate for a feedback slot. Then I pointed to ‘since’. I said: ‘Is it a point in time or a period of time?’. After a short pause several students called out ‘for’ and I wrote up the correct form and moved on.

It’s a step on the career ladder.

I put a large tick on the board before this phrase, and congratulated by name the student who said it. I said that it was an excellent phrase, typical of business English. I drew a very quick sketch of a ladder and mimed taking a step, just in case there was anyone who didn’t understand.

The sales people have to talk about the important things of the product that the customers want.

After five seconds’ silence I said: ‘There is nothing really wrong with this, but there’s a much better, more businessy word for the important things of the product’. Then I gave another five seconds’ silence. No-one volunteered anything, so I crossed out ‘important things’ and wrote up the first letter ‘f’. Still no-one volunteered so I wrote up ‘fea’. Still no-one volunteered so I wrote up ‘features’ and moved on. I made a mental note that if time permitted at the end of the feedback slot I might return to the question of features vs benefits.

On the one hand …, but on the other hand …

I put a large tick on the board before this phrase, and congratulated by name the student who said it. I said that it was an excellent phrase for balancing two contrasting arguments. I then said: ‘Another good phrase for balancing two different arguments is In general … although …’ and I wrote this up. I asked one student by name to think of an example sentence using one of the phrases, with a context of taking about their typical customers. They gave an example. Then I asked another student for an example using the other phrase and with the same context. They gave one and I moved on.

We empty the containers at our distribution centre.

I said that there was nothing wrong with this phrase, but there was another, more specific verb for ‘empty’ in this context. Several students called out ‘unload’ and I wrote it up. The student who said the phrase worked in the logistics area, so I asked him what other verbs he uses with ‘containers’. He suggested load/ship/fill/store/transport, all of which I wrote to the left of a vertical line with ‘containers’ on the right of the line. He then said: ‘oh yes, send them back empty – because they arrive in Germany full but there aren’t enough products to send back to China.’ I added ‘send back’ to the list and made a mental note to ask him to talk more about this after the break.

For how long time does a project usually take?

After five seconds’ silence no-one wanted to suggest anything. I said: ‘Two words are not necessary here – which are they?’ One student said the new phrase How long does a project usually take? and I crossed out the words ‘for’ and ‘time’. Then I said: ‘There is another way to say this’ and I wrote up How …… time at the start of the phrase. Several students called out ‘much’ and I wrote it up and moved on.

We can’t do it good as that every time.

No-one could suggest anything here, so I said: ‘There is one word missing’. Still no-one suggested anything so I wrote in the ‘as’ before ‘good’. Then I wrote up underneath (not) as … as … and I asked students to think of sentences comparing their own company with a competitor. After hearing a few with different adjectives I moved on.

It’s a very hierarchy organization.

After five seconds I pointed to the word ‘hierarchy’ and looked around the room. One student said: ‘hierarchy, it’s wrong’. I said: ‘Yes, it should be hierarchic …?’ and several said ‘hierarchical’. I said: ‘yes, hierarchical, it’s the adjective you need here’ and I wrote it up. I asked for a sentence with ‘hierarchy’, which a student gave, and I moved on.

We make the service personal to the client.

One student said: ‘personally’, and I said ‘no’. Another said ‘customer’, and I said ‘Usually both words are okay, but client is good if it’s a personalized service, so that’s okay’. Then the students looked blank, so I rewrote below We offer/provide a …….. service. I asked them to think of a word for the gap. One said ‘personalized’ which I wrote in, and another said ‘customized’ which I also wrote in. Then below those two I wrote ______-____ and I asked ‘what is the name of the person who makes a suit by hand?’ No-one suggested anything so I wrote in the first letters t and m. One student called out ‘tailor-made’ and I said ‘good’ and wrote it up. I asked the group: ‘which of you offer a tailor-made service?’ and they all said they did. I made a mental note to ask the students to prepare for homework a short presentation on ‘How We Customize Our Services’. Then I moved on.

Tell it again, please.

I said: ‘Okay, the other person will understand if you say this, but I’m sure you can improve it’. Underneath I wrote Can you …………………………., please? One student called out ‘Can you say it again, please?’ and I said: ‘fine, but try that in place of it’ and I filled in the words Can you say that again, please? I said this was a good phrase if you don’t understand something in a meeting. I asked what other phrases were useful for communication problems in a discussion. One student called out ‘Can you give me an example?’, which I wrote up, and another called out ‘Can you be more precise?’ I wrote up Can you be more sp……… ? I looked around, waiting for someone to complete it. No-one could. I said (with one more syllable added): ‘Can you be more spec………? and one student called out ‘specific’. I wrote up the phrase and moved on.

The turnover was less than half of the budget.

I said to the students: ‘What is the meaning of turnover?’. One said ‘money coming in to a company’, and I said ‘yes, and can you think of another word with the same meaning?’ and another student said ‘revenue’, which I wrote above ‘turnover’. Then I said: ‘And what is the meaning of budget?’. One student said ‘the money they give you for a project’ and I said ‘Yes, so is that the best word here?’ There was a silence as students looked at the board. I said: ‘The word you want is the turnover that you aim for – your objective’ and I mimed setting a particular level on a vertical scale. One student called out ‘target’ and I said ‘good’, and wrote it up in place of ‘budget’. Another student then asked ‘what’s the difference between objective and target?’. I said: ‘actually there are four similar words, aim and objective are perhaps a little more general, and target and goal are more specific – they always come with a number. For things like turnover and sales we usually say target’. I wrote them all up and moved on.

May I suggest something?

I put a large tick on the board before this phrase, and congratulated by name the student who said it. I made a mental note to return to the difference between suggest and propose if time allowed, but decided not to focus on it at that point. Underneath I wrote up May I ………………………? and asked if anyone could think of other phrases beginning with these words that are useful in a meeting. Someone said: ‘May I interrupt?’ and I said: ‘Okay, but probably in this case you’d add a few more words as well’, and I wrote up May I interrupt for a moment? I then drew an arrow between I and interrupt and asked what common small word could go here to make the phrase even softer. Several called out just and I wrote it in and moved on.

It’s difficult to find good-educated staff.

After five seconds’ silence one student said: ‘I think the problem is with good’. I said: ‘Yes, it should be …?’ and one student said ‘well’. I crossed out good and wrote in well. I asked the group if they knew any other adjectives beginning well-. One student said ‘well-known’ and another said ‘well-paid’ and I wrote them both up and moved on.

First you have a look on the procedures.

I underlined ‘look on’. I said: ‘You can use look with different prepositions, can you give me some examples?’ One student said: ‘look after the children’ and another said: ‘look for something in your bag’. I said ‘yes’ and wrote them up. Then I said: ‘If a customer calls you to complain, and you need time to investigate the issue, you can tell them I’ll look … it and call you back’, making a ‘mmm’ noise for the gap. One student called out ‘into’ and I said yes and wrote it up. Then I directed the students’ attention back to the original phrase on the board and crossed out on. I said: ‘And what about this one?’. One student called out ‘at’ and I wrote it up and moved on.

(pron) agenda analyze/analysis freight neutral crisis

I wrote on the board the words above – in my notes I had written pron before each one (eg agenda had been said with a hard g, analysis with the wrong stress, and crisis said as crise). I didn’t refer to the mispronunciations, but just immediately drilled them. Each time I said the word clearly a couple of times as a model, then indicated with a sweep of my hand (back of hand towards students) that I wanted choral repetition. After a couple of turns of choral repetition I picked out a few individual students to say the word. If a student mispronounced a word I didn’t say anything but asked another student to say the word and then returned to give the first student another chance.

Finally, I returned to a few other words and phrases already on the board (including all the functional phrases), and drilled them in the same way. This is the ‘pronunciation spot’ that I always have at the end of language feedback. In the examples above I returned to:

I’d like to say a few words about myself.


How long does the project usually take?

hierarchy hierarchical

Can you say that again, please?

Can you be more specific?

turnover target

May I just interrupt for a moment?

I’ll look into it and call you back.

agenda analyze analysis freight neutral crisis

Appendix 3: Practice your ROLO!

  • Always finish the lesson at the end of a speaking activity, without leaving time for feedback?
  • Ever heard students say as they leave your class: ‘All we did today was talk’?
  • Unsure of your abilities to deal with language development ‘live’ without knowing beforehand what items are going to come up?

You need to ROLO!

Here are some zero-preparation activities that are fun, worth doing anyway, and will allow you to practice your note-taking and language feedback skills. They are suitable for in-work students, pre-experience students, and GE as well.

Student mini-presentations to whole group

1. At the end of a previous lesson ask Ss to prepare for homework a mini-presentation to the group (5 mins) on a topic such as the marketing strategy of their company (in-work), what they have learned on their course about XXXX (pre-experience), or an interest/hobby of theirs.

2. Ss give their mini-presentations followed by group questions and discussion. You join in as moderator and take notes.

3. Feedback slot where you ROLO.

Summarize a newspaper article

1. At the end of a previous lesson ask Ss to prepare for homework a short written summary (in English) of a newspaper article that interests them (original can be chosen by you or them, in English or in their own language).

2. Ss get together in threes. They take turns to read their summaries, followed by questions and discussion. You circulate and take notes.

3. Feedback slot where you ROLO.

Job mind-maps

1. At the end of a previous lesson ask Ss to prepare for homework a mind-map of their job (like a spidergram). Model a mind-map of your own job on the board first as an example. Pre-experience students can use a holiday job, or interview their parent/uncle/aunt.

2. Ss get together in threes. They take turns to describe their jobs using their mind-maps, followed by questions and discussion. You circulate and take notes.

3. Feedback slot where you ROLO.

Continue the coffee-break discussion

1. You hear students talking about something (in their language or in English) during the coffee break.

2. Continue the discussion in class. ROLO doesn’t have to be based on a strict work-related ‘task’. If it was interesting to talk about during the coffee break, it’s very likely to be the same in Social English in the real world. You join in as moderator and take notes.

3. Feedback slot where you ROLO.


Michael Grinberg

Hi Paul,

I printed out this article a couple of weeks ago (by the way, having PDF versions up on the website is a really good idea!) and to tell the truth, at first, I didn’t feel any real difference between ROLO and the usual delayed feedback stunt I started using after CELTA. However, it turns out that what you’re suggesting here is extremely useful and relevant to different teaching contexts.

I’ve introduced several changes to how I give feedback, and so far, my learners have reacted very positively:

* If there’s more than one student, I now ask them to keep silence for five seconds.
* I now try to make feedback slots shorter, but repeat them multiple times per lesson.
* If I feel that a feedback item is too complicated to discuss, I now correct it quickly and move on before they fall asleep.
* I try to prevent my students from taking too many notes while the items are being discussed. I give them an opportunity to write it all down either at the end of a ROLO stage or when we deal with emergent language nearer the end of the lesson.

While being quite simple and obvious, these tips have proved to be really valuable and totally indispensable when it comes to teaching one-to-one. I also like the general idea of reformulation as opposed to correction. So, thanks a lot for sharing your experience!



Thanks for this comment, Michael. Yes, when I give talks on ROLO I always begin by saying that it’s not something new, and it is something that all 121 teachers find themselves doing naturally in class after a while. But what I do want to emphasize with ROLO, beyond the points that you so well picked up, are the following:
+ We have to remember to make time for the language feedback slot, consistently after (nearly) every major speaking activity. It’s not good enough to regularly run out of time at the end of the class, and if the energy level during the task is high it can be particularly difficult to bring it to a gentle conclusion in order to leave 15 mins for feedback. ‘All we did today was talk’ is an after-class comment that I guess is often made (or thought) by students and rarely heard by the teacher.
+ Feedback is more than correction. Developing language is just as important.
+ Techniques to guide students to produce a better structure, or more complex lexis, or more appropriate utterance, are fun to think about and talk about and experiment with, and they form a key part of our teacher skillset.
+ A really key issue live in class is when to feedback and when not to. As you hear something, do you let the language point go? Do you let it go but write it down and return to it later? Or do you scaffold there and then?
I hope that my ROLO article puts some flesh on the bones of these questions. So often I hear people talk and write about the importance of language feedback and scaffolding without saying exactly how it can be done.

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