Are you a language teacher looking to stay up-to-date with the latest educational technology? If you said ‘NO, not tech again’, this post is definitely for you. As the saying goes, ‘know thy enemy’. Even if you’re not particularly interested in educational technology, it’s important to at least be aware of what’s out there and how it could potentially impact your classroom. On the other hand, if you said ‘Yes’ and you’re already familiar with the tool, this post may still have something of interest for you. 

What exactly is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a type of artificial intelligence that is able to ‘talk’ to users about any topic imaginable. Additionally, it is able to perform impressive tasks such as creating lesson plans and activities in a matter of seconds, filling us with awe (beware of Eliza effect!). However, as we become more familiar with ChatGPT and the initial ‘wow’ factor wears off, we may begin to feel that it is ‘sort of useful and sort of not that useful.’

Backward Design Approach

As such, ChatGPT is limited by the parameters that are input by the teacher and cannot create something truly unique or tailored to the needs of the learner without guidance. While it can construct a certain text and a number of typical exercises based on the frameworks it was trained on, it is not a miracle worker. ChatGPT can help automate the creation process, but it is still necessary for the teacher to have a clear idea of what they want to get in the end in order to create meaningful prompts, select and elaborate on the best responses, and produce effective materials for their students. 

The best way would be to use a backward design approach, by starting with the desired final outcome in mind and and working backwards to determine the necessary parameters.

Prompts for Language Teachers

At the moment, I see two areas where the tool may potentially add value. First, it could help foster learner autonomy  and provide some form of automatic checking, helping you save time and focus on providing personalised support to your students. For example, now students can go through and check their Question Chart questions on their own, with the help of ChatGPT.

Second, it could be useful for generating relevant content and exercises for specific needs/niches. 

The prompts below focus on creating content and activities/tasks for language instruction. The list is not exhaustive – I am still exploring the tool to see what it can do, but it may be a good starting point for generating ideas. I have also included a few examples to give you a better idea of the types of activities/materials you may create with the help of the tool. 

Updated as of February 26, 2023 

Prompt Templates

Limitations

Nothing is perfect.

What is important to remember before you start experimenting with ChatGPT is that it, like any other tech tool, has its own advantages and drawbacks. Currently, it is still in the testing stage, so it may produce different results for the same prompt. In some cases, you may need to train it to get it to generate what  you need. The ChatGPT database only goes up until the year 2020, early 2021, so be critical of the information it provides. In addition, it may lack some cultural or common sense knowledge (e.g., the success stories for IELTS generated by ChatGPT included two British students – John and Sarah, who would not need to take the IELTS test to study in the UK).

As such, it cannot think or understand the depth or meaning of your message. It simply follows the algorithm behind your command ‘Write [what] [length] [style]’, checks its database, and responds according to the parameters you input. The more parameters you include in your prompt, the more accurate and specific the output will be. In that sense, it is similar to AI art models in that the more details you include in the prompt, the more original the resulting image will be.

Prompt: a house, red tile roof

Source: Playground AI

Prompt: A fairy-tale Mediterranean-style house, in the mountains, sunrise, red tile roof, trending on artstation, sharp focus, intricate details, highly detailed

If you have tried any prompts that could be useful for language instruction, please share them in the comments below!

Useful resources:

Using ChatGPT for Language Instruction: a collection of resources from David Deubelbeiss

ChatGPT: a collection of ChatGPT-related links from the TEFL Zone

6 Comments

  1. […] If it aligns with learning outcomes or helps students focus on learning better consider its suitability for the topics/situations your students study and their language proficiency level. By default, the AI output (*LLMs) hovers around the B2 level. So, if you have lower-level students, what you’ve planned might be too advanced for them if you do not have the option to adapt the tool to their level. Additionally, the language might be a bit dull and ordinary if you cannot adjust the output. For instance, if you’re aiming to enhance your students’ conversational skills, see if you can prompt it to ‘write/talk like a human‘.  […]

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