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Developing Learner Autonomy with AI

September 12, 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become the hottest topic of 2023. It exploded shortly after I submitted my 6 English Language Teaching Trends to Watch in 2023 post. 

Who could have predicted just how much AI could change the world we live in, the way we teach, and the way our students learn? Not me!

There is always a fear that students use tools such as translation apps or AI to cheat on their assignments. However, harnessing AI's potential can be a fantastic way to learn a language. 

In my last post, I wrote about 10 Practical Ways Teachers Can Excel with AI. In this related post, I’d like to explore ways teachers can show students how to become more autonomous by using AI tools like ChatGPT or Bard responsibly.  

1. Tricky questions

AI chat tools are a wonderful, nonjudgmental source of information. They are perfect for asking difficult questions or queries that students may not feel confident to ask their classmates, teachers, or other English language users. 

For example, if a student is struggling with the difference between "there," "their," and "they’re," they could ask AI about it and receive a succinct, bullet-pointed response. 

To practice this in class, ask students to make a list of things they find difficult in English. Support them to ask an AI tool about one or two items on their list and then share the answers they received with the rest of the class. 

2. Error correction

What we don’t want is for students to ask AI to write entire essays, emails, or presentations for them. However, AI can give pretty accurate feedback on their written work or phrases they want to use. 

For example, they could ask: 

Is this correct English? 

 I hope that I will speaking English well.

ChatGPT can provide a corrected version. 

The sentence that you provided is not grammatically correct. It should be:

I hope that I will speak English well.

Students could then ask it to clarify the reason for any corrections. For example: 

Why is "will speaking" not correct? 

The AI tool can then offer an explanation that the student can explore further. 

This error correction technique works best with short phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. Longer texts can be more complicated, but can still be helpful to higher-level or more confident learners. 

3. Translations

Translation tools can often be quite literal in their translations. AI tools seem to have a better grasp of idiomatic language or regional language variations. 

Students can ask AI to translate words or phrases from one language to another. 

4. Inspiration

AI chat tools can provide simple writing frames for learners. If their homework is to write a letter of complaint, students could ask AI to give an example, some structural tips, and a few useful phrases. 

For example, the prompt could be: 

I have to write a letter of complaint for my English homework. Can you give me an example? What do I need to include? What phrases might be useful? 

In this instance, make sure students are aware that they are only cheating themselves out of learning if they copy the example rather than use it for inspiration!

5. Synonyms & alternative phrases

As students progress through the levels, they’ll want to use a greater variety of lexical items. AI tools can provide a variety of rich language ideas.

For example, a prompt of "How else can I say ‘very good’?" returned the following responses on ChatGPT: 

  1. Excellent
  2. Outstanding
  3. Superb
  4. Impressive
  5. Exceptional
  6. Marvelous
  7. Terrific
  8. Wonderful
  9. Brilliant
  10. Splendid

Students can also do this with phrases and longer expressions. Here are some suggestions to try in class: 

  • I was late. 
  • I don’t understand. 
  • When is break time? 
  • What’s the homework? 
  • Do we have class tomorrow?

You could add an extra element of fun to this by asking students to predict what the chat tool might say and then comparing the responses. 

Learn more at ElliiCon2023

If you loved this post, why not join us at ElliiCon2023, Ellii's FREE virtual conference on September 14 and 15? We will be exploring Humanity & Technology in ELT: Striking a Balance in the Age of AI!

We’ve got an all-star lineup with digital experts such as Nik Peachey, Jamie Keddie, Dr. Charles Browne, Russell Stannard, Dr. Amin Davoodi, Angela Tribus Ramos, and the fabulous Ellii crew: Tara Benwell, Ann Dickson, Tanya Trusler, Jen Artan, Lise Papineau, Ben Buckwold, and Eduardo Prause. Plus special guests Diego Boada—instructional designer from the Catholic University of America—and Shelynn Riel and Anna Ciriani-Dean from the Teacher Think-Aloud Podcast!

Sign up for free now!

How do you use AI with your learners? We’d love for you to share your own tips and activities. 

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