For the International House Certificate in Advanced Methodology which I’m studying at the moment I need to plan and teach a series of lessons using a different lesson planning descriptor to ones which I’ve applied before.

I’ve been trying to find out about the “Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment” descriptor used by Michael Lewis in The Lexical Approach (1993) as an alternative to PPP (Present-Practice-Produce) and seem to have come up against a brick wall. Most of what I’ve read consists of the same quote from page vii of the book with no extra information:

The Present-Practise-Produce paradigm is rejected, in favour of a paradigm based on the Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment cycle.

This is what our notes have to say about OHE:

First of all they [learners] observe language in use, for example through listening to or reading a text. Then they make hypotheses about the way that language works and experiment with creating it themselves in their own contexts.

Observation isn’t just a case of receiving language input but also submitting it to critical examination.  Otherwise,  it  will  be  impossible  to  make  hypotheses  about  language behaviour. The  hypothesising and experimenting stages involve activities such as identifying, sorting and matching and their aim is to encourage curiosity about language and among learners. We as teachers need to take a longer term view of learning and cannot expect to limit language to a single structure and presume this has been learnt by the end of the class (as PPP advocates) because language learning simply doesn’t work like that.

I’ve found a couple of other explanations:

From ‘Alan DELTA

The “OHE” or “III” model (Lewis & McCarthy)

1. Lewis and McCarthy’s view on PPP;

2. Observe, Hypothesize, Experiment;

3. Ss get an “Illustration” followed by “Interaction” with the lgg, which will hopefully lead to an “Induction”

From this presentation on Methods and Approaches:

Michael Lewis claims that students should be allowed to Observe (read or listen to language) which will then provoke them to Hypothesise about how the language works before going on to the Experiment on the basis of that hypothesis.

This quote sums up my problem:

In his own teaching design, Lewis proposes a model that comprises the steps, Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment, as opposed to the traditional Present-Practice-Produce paradigm. Unfortunately, Lewis does not lay out any instructional sequences exemplifying how he thinks this procedure might operate in actual language classrooms.

I seem to understand all of the words, but can’t make the leap from that to an actual lesson plan where I can clearly apply the descriptors. So these are my questions:

  • What would an ‘Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment’ lesson actually look like? i.e. Does anyone have an example they could share with me?
  • How much does ‘observation’ involve? What should be done to fulfil this stage?
  • Can it only be used for lexical chunks since it came out of the Lexical Approach? Or could it be used for grammar / skills work too? This is a lesson I planned to practise writing an article which I think fits the OHE descriptor but I’m not sure – what do you think?
  • I have to plan a series of four lessons applying the same descriptor. Does that mean each lesson should contain the full set of OHE with stages being repeated if necessary (I think this is the case) or should it be more of an over-arcing thing?

Apologies if this is not very coherent, but I’m really confused at the moment!

Thank you for your help!

15 thoughts on “Observe-Hypothesize-Experiment

  1. Hi Sandy,

    I think Lewis’ OHE is just another version of the ideas behind ‘noticing’. Students observe language (I think it doesn’t have to be vocab) by noticing or having their attention drawn to it. They hypothesise about how it works and then try using it.
    Being utterly spatially inept, I found your mind map thingy a bit hard to follow, but to give an example: if you were planning to get students to write an article you might start by reading one (doing all the stuff you would usually do to focus on the content of the article). Then you would want them to notice some salient points about how the article is constructed. This might be certain formulae or grammatical structures (say, the use of hedging devices) or it might be the actual organisation of the text- topic sentences, supporting sentences and examples etc. Depending on what you think might be useful for them to notice, you construct an activity to get them to notice it and make hypotheses about it. So, if it was hedging, you might, for example, write two different versions of a sentence from the text, one with hedging and one much more direct and ask them to discuss what different effect the two sentences give. You could discuss when you might want to hedge- when you’re not sure, when you don’t want to be criticised- so politicians do it a lot, as do academics! Then you could ask them to find more examples of hedging and from that pull out what kind of devices can be used to hedge. E.g. modals, verbs like tend, appear, seem, adverbs like probably, possibly etc. So that would be the hypothesising phase. Then you could get them to experiment with writing using hedging.
    That’s my view on OHE anyway, though others may see it differently (she said, hedging).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Rachel that OHE and the concept of “noticing” have a lot in common. Consciousness raising in the Task-based learning cycle is also a close cousin. And OHE certainly can be used for teaching grammar. Don’t forget that the concept of a “chunk” subsumes grammatical constructions too.

    The fact that Lewis never spelled out what a lesson following this model should look like is the main criticism levelled at LA and unfortunately I don’t have any lesson sample following an OHE model to share (perhaps that’s an idea for a future blog post!)



    1. Hi Leo,
      Thanks for this comment. It seems like a very long time since I wrote this post! It would be great to see an example of OHE at work – if you get a chance to write a post about ot, please do!


  3. Hi, Sandy and commenters.

    I only recently came across this phrasing (OHE) myself in much the same vague terms and being a proponent of the PPP model in my own Teacher Training courses, I was keen to find out exactly how OHE would supplant PPP.

    I have come to the understanding that in practicality, it is more of a merge than a complete displacement. It seems to me, and the commenters above have cemented my thinking, that observation and hypothesis (from OHE) make up the process of effective presentation (from PPP). Here, instead of the teacher telling the students what they are going to learn, he or she simply provides them with a context in which the language can be found. The context should be one that the students are comfortable with and should include language that they are capable of using with the only new language being the Target Language.

    From here, the students can analyse (Observe) the language that they are provided with and recognize that there is some new language to be deciphered. They will then try to come to an understanding through their own deductive processes to understand the new language (Hypothesise).

    Now, the teacher should be able to ask what they are learning and what their take on the language is and the students should be able to accurately identify the target language and also attempt explanation/clarification of how the language works. Of course, this might not yet be accurate and so the teacher might need to clear up any misunderstandings and provide appropriate practise (PPP) activities, which will in turn allow the students to experiment (OHE) with the language and eventually produce (PPP) their own structures.

    With this map of the two procedures complete, we need to think of how the OHE steps are to be implemented. Observation in a reading-focused lesson could be as simple as giving the students a passage that contains some new vocabulary or new structures. For it to work, everything else in the article aside from the TL should be familiar to the students. Otherwise, they will not be able to apply the right focus to the TL for working to hard on understanding the language around it.
    Give your students time to identify these new pieces of language and let them try to work out their own explanations of what the language means/is for. When you ask them about it, you should list all of the new language that has been correctly identified, confirm any correct explanations and give further examples of the language in clear use, isolated to focus on the TL. This covers Observation and Hypothesis.

    Later, as a part of the practise stage of your lesson, the students should have the opportunity to experiment (the only term of the three that I am already used to using in this context) with the language a little, seeing how it applies to language and lessons they have learned previously; trying it out in different grammatical structures they have already learned or seeing if it will fit into various collocations and contexts. As they do this, the teacher should monitor closely, congratulating students where their experiments have been successful and being sure to clear up any inappropriate/incorrect usage.

    I hope this helps. Understand that it is largely conjecture as, like all here have agreed, there is not really enough explanation nor example to really be any more certain. Nevertheless, the process above is what I have been training for some time now, just without the use of the words Observation and Hypothesis (I did use Experiment already).



  4. Oh, I forgot to mention grammar.

    The idea Lexical Approach, as with any, does not just sit with a single lesson but is an entire learning process. The idea is that, if applied properly from the very beginning of the learner’s learning process, then the learner will come to recognise and understand grammar through the structures that he or she encounters in language.
    For example, a ‘chunk’ that we might teach our students is “I don’t like…”. When they first learn this, it will have a very specific application but the grammatical structure beneath it will allow them to catalogue this chunk with other chunks that seem to work the same way. Over time, the student should form some understanding of how these chunks all relate to the present and thus, Present Simple arises. This can then be verified later with more grammar-based exploration.

    I think the creates problem that I see in teaching paradigms is that people pick out the fundamentals of certain theories and then over apply them to cut out entire practises and notions that could also be helpful. I come across so many teachers who have been taught in the ways of Lexical or Communicative approach and are thence of the opinion that grammar is taboo.

    Lexical Approach attempts to recreate the natural process of language acquisition for second/foreign languages. As you will recall, there was not much grammar instruction involved in your early encounters with your own language and you learned a lot and were able to do a lot with language ling before you learned about things like Tenses, Passive Voice and Conditionals. However, there did of course come a time when somebody taught you these things. Even in our first language, we have teachers to teach us about grammar and other elements of language that we would not fully pick up through personal experience.

    The same should go then for EFL. Lexical Approach is very valuable but at some point, we’re going to have to discuss grammar.

    So, what does this mean for your conditionals lesson (which I am aware is now long in your past)? You could teach chunk of language that use conditional structure and never utter the words ‘conditional sentences’ and that would be okay but it would only get you so far. If you want to look at advanced conditionals, you will need to apply some grammatical analysis. This can still be done through the same lesson model (POHPEP – to be exhaustive) and as long as it is built upon what the students have already learned (they know the included participles and so on) then they should be able to at least identify elements of the grammatical structure themselves.



    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave these comments. they make a lot of sense. I’m sure ai’ll be returning to OHE when I do my Delta – it seems like an area ripe for investigation.


  5. Just in case you’re still paying attention / need this thread —
    In studying for a new teaching job, I found this book at the pedagogical library:
    “Teaching Children English with Reliance on the Lexically Driven Syllabus,” Joanna Zawodniak, 2005. …but as it was published in Poland and I am in Poland, I have absolutely no idea how available it may be where you are. Anyway, she reports on a lesson plan that blends elements of NLP and TPR in addition to OHE and how it actually worked in a real semester.
    Hope this helps.


  6. 1. Students receive comprehensible input.
    2. Students activate schematic recall (maybe through brainstorming in pairs, drawing or visualizing, KWL diagram, etc.). Then they evaluate, interpret, create, as per Bloom’s taxonomy. Hypothesis can be testing linguistic waters before jumping in head-first (PPP). It’s also about the sophisticated use of cognition to make deeper connections between what we already know and the new language or ideas (the two are inseparable) that we read or hear.
    3. Finally, they experiment with responding to language. Produce language? Maybe. Or respond non-verbally. Just give a well-formulated, personally meaningful response.

    An example may be from the Learning Through Photography lessons of Wendy Ewald at Duke University. It’s about developing real communicative competencies.


  7. I will be so grateful if more examples of the implementation and the application of the OHE paradigm in designing lesson plans or classroom activities are provided.


  8. Hello, I would like to begin my comment with thanking you for your efforts to clarify the stages of OHE paradigm. I also have a question concerning the use of vocabulary. Is it possible to adopt it for teaching vocabulary? and if it is possible how can we do it?


    1. Dear Abdel,
      Sorry for the delay in replying to your comment. I’m afraid I’ve never really used the OHE paradigm after initially looking at it for the course I was studying at the time I wrote this post. As far as I remember, it is designed to work with any new language, so both grammar and vocabulary. I’m not really sure how to go about it though.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.