Laura Hayhurst

My teaching approach

The Whiffy Way



Having studied a variety of different language teaching and learning methods, I think it is risky to rely on one single approach, as some methods are better suited to teaching receptive skills, whereas others are better for developing productive skills.


Usually, ESL students want to improve their speaking skills, feeling that this is the skill they find most difficult to acquire (out of speaking, listening, reading and writing).  In terms of developing speaking skills, I think the strongest, most effective approaches are those with a communicative focus, for example, the Direct Method, the Audio-Lingual Method, the Communicative Approach and the Oxbridge Method.  These vary, but the main focus is that students must practice producing language independently.  In the Oxbridge Method, students learn how to express themselves in a variety of situations even from the lowest levels, which is important for building students’ confidence.


These approaches contrast with the Grammar-Translation Method, which prioritises accuracy over fluency and writing over speaking. There is a strong focus on analysing literary texts rather than using language for communicative purposes.  Personally, I would steer away from this method, particularly for lower levels, as I fear that it would be a very dry way to teach English. It could reduce students’ motivation and enthusiasm, which would have a negative impact on their progress. In my opinion, uncommunicative tasks such as translation and gap fill activities, that are present in some of the older methods like GTM, should be avoided, as they do not help students to develop spoken skills. In fact, students taught solely using this method, are not automatically guaranteed any form of oral competence when holding a natural conversation, even if they do complete written activities with 100 per cent accuracy.


In terms of choosing a syllabus and how to integrate grammar so it is most accessible for the learners, I understand why the Oxbridge Method has set activities for Vocabulary, Structures and Topic. I agree with the principle that simple vocabulary should be used when teaching grammar and simple grammar should be used when teaching vocabulary, as this isolates the new learning and makes it easier for the students.  The format of these lessons is intense but it is good for the students to practise using language in a number of contexts. However, for the lower levels, I think it would be advantageous for all activities to link to a set theme, so students can use more common sense and context to help them acquire new vocabulary.  This format would also provide them with many more opportunities to keep practising the newly acquired vocabulary.


Therefore, I believe it is important to combine a mixture of approaches depending on the learning objectives, proficiency levels and personalities of the ESL students. Variety is key. Students need it otherwise they will become bored, lose interest and become demotivated and demotivated individuals are not effective learners!  Given the number of existing and developing approaches to teaching and learning English, I think it is important to adopt a curious but critical attitude to emerging research and approaches in SLA that can benefit our students. I shall now dedicate the rest of this essay to my own method.





To enable ESL students to make progress in their learning, it is essential that they learn from their mistakes and that they have a positive attitude towards this part of the learning process.  However the correction is managed, it is important that the student repeats their corrected utterance and understands their mistake. Ideally, the correction is retained in the student’s long-term memory otherwise they risk making the same errors once they leave the class. But how can we be sure this memory sticks?  The importance of memory in relation to language learning is stressed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur[1]:


"Probably no aspect of learning a foreign language is more important than memory. Yet no aspect of language learning has been less well examined..."


With this in mind, how do we get the best out of our students’ memory power so they can best acquire the English language?


  1. “EMOTION PROMOTES MEMORY”[2] Joseph Rhawn


This quote coincides with advice from John Rassias, which is to incorporate emotion into teaching and learning: “if we can emotionally charge the material for our pupils, they’ll learn better and faster” (the Dartmouth Method).[3]  One way to do this is through storytelling as in Suggestopedia.




Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that a student’s basic needs, such as their need to feel safe, unthreatened and comfortable in the learning environment, must be addressed before we can expect them to learn[5].  In terms of making the physical space more comfortable for our students we can:


·      adjust the lighting,

·      adjust the temperature,

·      use a fragrance.


This last suggestion may appear bizarre in a classroom setting but in Japan it has become popular to spritz fragrances in factories and offices in order to keep employees alert and boost productivity.  In my opinion, there is no reason why we shouldn’t extend this practice into the classroom as certain smells can boost our mood, make us feel more relaxed and more alert.





Teachers are often encouraged to accommodate for various learning styles, whether they are teaching visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners.  However, little to no attention is given to the gustatory and olfactory senses, even though these can be very powerful in a learning context because of their capability to produce long-term memories.


“The Gustatory (taste) and Olfactory (smell) senses… can be used to reach way down into the memory.  You can use certain smells and tastes to reinforce and enrich good experiences.”[6] Sue Hunt.


“Olfaction, either paired with other senses or on its own can be a very powerful accessory to the formation of many kinds of memory.”[7] Benedict Carey.


My aim in creating the Whiffy Way is to make the correction experience less stressful, more positive and ultimately more memorable for learners. We know that it is important that learners feel relaxed, focused and alert when learning ESL, as this is a key element of existing methodologies: Suggestopedia, TPR and the Silent Way. However, what else can be done to further accelerate learning?





In the Whiffy Way when a student makes a mistake and arrives at the corrected version (either through self-correction or from the teacher’s guidance) they have to stop and smell an aroma* directly before they repeat the corrected utterance in full. The student is free to choose the aroma from the selection provided by the teacher, for example a scented candle, some herbs, spices or essential oils.


*IMPORTANT: the aroma MUST be one that the student finds pleasant. An unpleasant aroma will increase anxiety and create a negative memory, which would be counterproductive and even detrimental to the language acquisition process.





This process of stopping, inhaling, smelling and repeating carefully makes the student physically take a breather and focus on the correction. This very important section of the lesson is punctuated by this smelling ritual and helps the student to concentrate just on that moment.   The ritual combined with the smell becomes the glue that sticks memorable learning experiences into the student’s mind!


To gain a better understanding of how effective the use of olfaction could be in terms of ESL, it is worth finding out about the science behind this process.





“The olfactory system… is capable of learning and forming memories (Brennan et al., 1990; Woo et al., 1987), and specific "positive" odours (e.g. peppermint) have been reported to improve learning and memory (Baron, 1990; Ehrlichman & Bastone 1992).”[8]


This is because the part of the brain that processes smell, the olfactory bulb, is located very closely to the hippocampus and amygdala, which is the section of the brain responsible for memory formation and emotion. This proximity to the brain’s memory hub gives olfaction the advantage over sight and the other senses when it comes to our ability to retain memories. 





Around 50 per cent of visual memories are lost within months. Whereas the majority of new memories captured through our sense of smell will still be there a year later. [9]  Therefore if we associate visual memories with a scent, they are more likely to stay with us for longer.  Consequently, it is worth using scents to help ESL students reinforce their learning memories, in addition to using visual aids.





SUGGESTOPEDIA: Suggestopedia taps into unconscious learning processes whilst reducing anxiety through the use of classical music in the classroom. Similarly the Whiffy Way enhances learning by unlocking areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotion through olfaction.


THE PROUST EFFECT: Marcel Proust defined this as memory recall as a strong unconscious reaction to a smell.


GARDNER: Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences details the many types of intelligence and recommends that teaching should cater to as many of the learning styles as possible[10].





Here are the opinions of two fragrance experts about the modern use of fragrance:


"In the twentieth century fragrance will be used as much for its behavioral effects as for adornment.”[11]

Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation.


“Fragrance-evoked mood changes are small, but beneficial to our well-being,"4

Craig Warren, director of fragrance science at International Flavours and Fragrances (IFF), the world’s largest manufacturer of flavours and fragrances.


Boosting well-being is important in the learning environment, as we know that happy, relaxed students with high self-efficacy are better placed to learn and acquire English.





When teaching ESL it is important that the fundamentals of good teaching practice are in place so that first of all a positive learning environment can be achieved. It is essential that students feel relaxed and ready to learn and there is a good rapport between the teacher and the students.


In terms of how to teach English, I would use a communicative approach, such as the Oxbridge Method and combine it with the Whiffy Way because research shows that olfaction can be an effective way to secure memories more deeply into our brains.


To conclude, here are the key benefits of the Whiffy Way for ESL students:


  • It relaxes students and thus removes negative barriers to learning.
  • The ritual punctuates a significant moment in the class.
  • It boosts the student’s concentration by making them stop, breathe in and focus on the correction.
  • The use of olfaction works like a memory glue in the student’s brain.
  • The sum of many stronger, positive ESL memories accelerates the individual’s learning.
  • It can be used with ESL students of all ages and levels.

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