My teaching approach
INTRODUCTION – HOW BEST TO TEACH ESL
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
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.
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
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.
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
THE MOTIVATION BEHIND 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:
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?
- “EMOTION PROMOTES MEMORY”
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). One way to do this is through storytelling as
- RELAXED STUDENTS LEARN MORE THAN STRESSED STUDENTS
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.
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.
WHAT’S IN A WHIFF?
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
“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.”
“Olfaction, either paired with other senses or on its own can be a very
powerful accessory to the formation of many kinds of memory.”
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?
…THE WHIFFY WAY…
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.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
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 SCIENCE OF SMELL
“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).”
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.
WHAT YOU WHIFF IS ‘WHIFF’ YOU FOR LONGER!
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. 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.
SUPPORT FROM OTHER
THEORIES AND PEDAGOGIC METHODOLOGIES
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
THE PROUST EFFECT: Marcel Proust defined this as memory recall
as a strong unconscious reaction to a smell.
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.
WHAT THE FRAGRANCE EXPERTS SAY
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
Annette Green, president of the Fragrance
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.
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
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
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
- 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.