What is an effective teaching method?


Talking with many teachers, listening to recorded lessons and reading about teachers’ experiences, I often find myself thinking about the best way to teach English and my own experiences as a language learner.

I remember my pre-TEFL days when my learning of foreign languages consisted of songs and role-plays in primary school, conversational (!) Latin in the first year of secondary followed by French audio-lingual drills in the language lab and rote learning of French verbs in the classroom. After university, I picked up some German in Austria and learnt some Japanese 1-1 in Japan.

As a teacher, when I started my RSA Prep Cert TEFLA (CELTA today) I learnt about staging lessons, talking time and concept checking. In my first job I was trained to base young learner lessons on questions and answers. Later I worked with teachers who ‘analysed’ and teachers who ‘bonded’. I observed dynamic, impassioned teachers and others who were steady and sure. During my Dip TEFLA (DELTA today) I experimented with negotiated syllabuses and project work and went much deeper into pronunciation.

After attending last November’s English UK Teacher’s Conference and listening to Chia Suan Chong discuss the history of TEFL methodology I have found myself more than once coming back to her excellent blog. I recently read a most interesting article she wrote on the pros and cons of the Callan Method (in a nutshell staged drilling and no analysis).

So what is my answer? I suppose it is to draw on a wide range of techniques and approaches so you can select the most effective ones for your particular student (and yourself). It is a very brave (and perhaps foolhardy) teacher who uses the same techniques whatever the age, background or level of learner, and with no reference to their priorities. If you do find yourself relying on a rather narrow approach, do try to learn new ways to teach. As your teacher’s tool kit gets larger, you are likely to be more responsive to what you student needs and to enjoy your teaching even more.

If you have a CELTA qualification, try not to be a slave to Presentation, Practice and Production (commonly referred to as PPP) or over control the lesson but on the other hand if your style is less structured, do make sure you are clear about what you are trying to teach. If you have taught TESOL in a state school as opposed to having taught English as a foreign language, you may need to brush up on how foreign students are typically taught English grammar so you can deal with their questions. Your methodology tool kit could include:

  • task-focussed activities (e.g. cooking – often great for young learners)
  • test-teach-test approach (where teaching comes after the student has attempted a task and not before, as in PPP. There can then be another attempt at the task (or similar) to test for improvement)
  • role plays (e.g. we are at a job interview and you are the candidate)
  • pair work (in 1-1 you can be the other person)
  • occasional drilling (can be useful at lower levels)
  • self-correction (gives the student a chance to correct themselves)
  • free conversation around a topic (we all want to give an opinion!)
  • very occasional translation if you are sure you know the relevant word or phrase (can save a lot of time and frustration – English 99% of the time is still full immersion in my book!)
  • working together on a project (e.g. helping your student to put together a ‘photo-story’ of their stay. A collaboration.)

Finally, do bear in mind how long the student’s course is. If they are here for a week then it would seem reasonable in most cases to focus on confidence, fluency and activating their passive vocabulary. If they are here for 2 weeks, you have more time to spend on new vocabulary grammar and pronunciation. If their stay is longer then you may need to consider more fully how you are going to structure your syllabus and what materials you need.

Homelingua teaching is about the most suitable teaching for your student!





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