Patrick Topham Smallwood

My teaching approach

Teaching English the Top Method 


I am going to analyse a few of the current language teaching methods and outline my new method the Top Method. I have been researching different theories of teaching English I feel that they all have their merits and disadvantages which I will outline. 

The grammar translation method (GTM) is very prescriptive and teacher centric not allowing much (if any) interaction making it hard to remember. It doesn’t look at how the language is actually used in a real life context or give any time to speaking and listening, so I feel that it isn’t useful on its own to teach people how to communicate. However if after a long time students have managed to memorise the grammar rules and vocabulary they should be able to learn to speak the language fairly quickly if they are exposed to it. Also this method is one of the oldest and has been used to teach millions of people second languages so it does work. I disagree with the entire basis of this method, and would not use any of its aspects. Except the fact that the teacher is in control but not to the same extent as in GTM which can be stifling to students who are scared to have a go. 

I broadly agree with the direct method in that only L2 should be used. However I would allow the occasional translation of a particularly difficult thought or notion although this should be a last resort and very much the exception rather than the rule. I would encourage teachers to demonstrate and explain as I think explanations can further develop a student’s understanding alongside demonstrations and their own practice. I would give equal attention to vocabulary and grammar at low levels moving to more vocabulary as students become comfortable using different structures. I would also teach grammar inductively as it is more natural and an easier way of learning the structure of a language. The purpose of learning a language is to communicate. To do this studentmust practice in real life contexts so topics would be about real situations as much as possible. I would always correct pronunciation from the beginning as if words are mispronounced students will be misunderstood or not understood at all. However I wouldn’t start teaching students to write until they had all the necessary structures. As they will get to that stage quicker if taught through talking and listening, and I believe writing is less important and used less than speaking and listening. I would also base the syllabus around specific topics. 

I would allow student’s a free reign over topic choice letting them choose topics for the following weeks class this would make the lessons more engaging for students this is similar to the Content based  Task based and Participatory approach’s. All activities should have a communicative aim behind them as it is through communicating you learn most effectively. I would allow authentic or original texts to act as base for a topic or activity as I don’t believe it matters as long as the text is in a regular form. I would also use images as I think it they offer a wide range of uses in the classroom either as prompts a basis for a discussion or to clarify what a word means. I would try not to use a whiteboard although it would be allowed in certain situations such as a very large class size which is obviously not ideal but does happen. 

I think silence can be a powerful tool to get students to talk and keep talking if used correctly. However you must judge carefully if students are actually trying to think of something to say. I think the silent method is very slow and would be very hard to use to teach new structures and vocabulary that none of the students in the group knew. I disagree with the idea that you shouldn’t praise the students as praise boosts confidence. I do agree that the students shouldn’t be criticized as it will discourage students from participating. I agree that simply giving answers is not the best way to learn you have to use language to retain it. Although I don’t think self-correcting is the best way as it is slow and may not be corrected properly. 

I agree with Suggestopedia’s notion that peoples inhibitions, fears and psychological barriers can seriously impair or even prevent a student from learning a language. However I think Suggestopedia takes a rather odd approach which I think many people would find silly or condescending. I would create a friendly open atmosphere by maintaining eye contact, smiling, never criticizing, giving lots of praise, being open, approachable, non-judgemental and making jokes where appropriate. There have been studies showing that classical music can improve learning but I think that it should be the student’s choice whether to listen outside of the learning environment. 

I think Total Physical Recall TPR is good for lower levels and mainly children as I think it could be fairly limited at higher levels. I agree that learning is best achieved in a fun friendly environment however I think I would use topic choices to meet this aim. I think actually learning the language should be the main aim not just to enjoy learning the language although these do go hand in hand to a certain extent. I think that mime and hand actions can really help a student to understand or prompt them in a friendly manner. This style would be very good for kinaesthetic learners. In my system kinaesthetic learners would have to link language and movement themselves. 

I fully agree with the communicative approach apart from the texts having to be authentic as I believe teachers can create texts as long as they are to a high standard. Each task taught would have carefully selected goals e.g. a tense or selection of related vocabulary which the students would have to study and use in context. 

The Callan method I would use the idea of repetition especially at low levels but to an extent at higher levels. At low levels drilling will help with pronunciation and remembering the vocabulary. At higher levels simply hearing questions a few times will help comprehension and how to pronounce vocabulary. At higher levels drilling won’t be used as it isn’t very communicative or natural. Although it could be used if a student is struggling with pronouncing a specific word. I think the Callan method doesn’t allow enough free conversational practice. 

My system would use Oxbridge’s triangular model using a variety of vocabulary, topic and grammar based tasks although in my system the tasks would crossover there purposes more. I would also give students more free reign over what topics they would enjoy and what they feel they need to practice the most. The teacher acts as a guide to keep the class moving and wouldn’t be overly authoritative. I agree that speaking and listening are the primary goals but at higher levels some writing activities would be introduced as homework activities as classroom time should be as communicative as possible utilising the teacher’s knowledge and fluency. I would also adopt the approach of sharing the preparation workload as it allows the teacher to create high quality communicative tasks instead of having to big a workload to continually create high quality lesson plans. 

My syllabus would be fairly free regarding topic and vocabulary but the grammar would be introduced gradually from the simple tenses up to the perfect tenses. At low levels the syllabus would be very prescriptive as students need a specific selection of vocabulary and grammar to understand and learn more advanced forms. At earlier levels the balance of productive and receptive skills will be towards receptive skills as students need to listen in order to copy and understand. However as students begin to understand more and have a better grasp of the language the balance will shift toward productive skills as I think productive skills improve receptive skills at the same time. 

Research has shown that intrinsically motivated students will have more success learning a language than instrumentally motivated students (Kohn 1990). However aside from making the lessons as interesting and fun as possible or trying to persuade students that they should learn English there isn’t a great deal teachers can do to motivate students to want to learn English as motivation comes from within. Also students who are forced to learn will have worse results. 


Regarding the problem of interlanguage errors will have to be corrected promptly and the students will have to repeat the sentence again correctly. Repitition will help students overcome this problem.  Also after being exposed to the language for some time student’s LAD language Acquisition Device (Chompsky) will become active and start naturally acquiring the language. 

In conclusion I think that all the methods I have looked at have some good and some bad points although the communicative and Oxbridge systems seem to be the best after my new system the Top method. I believe that language acquisition is a very complex field as everyone is different and there are many ways to get the same result. I think more research must be done to gain a more complete understanding of the field. 

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