Beth Rayney

My teaching approach

Beth Rayney

‘Creating Opportunities for Communication Worldwide’

October 2013

My approach to Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is communication centric. The key function of our ability to use language is to communicate.  Effective communication requires the key skills of both speaking and listening.  Whilst I give relative equal importance to both I believe the greater challenge lies in the productive or active skill of speaking rather than the passive or receptive skill of listening and comprehension.

In the same way that language continues to evolve so too do the various approaches and researched methodologies to teaching and L2 acquisition. 

I sympathise with Krashen’s theory (five main hypotheses) of second language acquisition in which priority is given to ´meaningful interaction in the target language’ and ‘natural communication’.  As such I believe that immersion in the native language, with purposeful interaction, is essential for L2 acquisition.   Krashen, albeit somewhat radically, believes that comprehensible input is all that is needed for L2 acquisition.  On the other hand Long (closer my line of thinking) supports the importance of comprehensible output (feedback, form, automising language knowledge) and the role of interaction in L2 acquisition. Indeed, if there is little or no interaction then how do you know whether what you have said is correct or not?  I opt more for the idea that there should be a constant negotiation of meaning.

A focused approach on speaking should include an emphasis on correct pronunciation as well as non-verbal communication or paralinguistic mechanisms including intonation, stress, rate of speech. In my approach emphasis will be given to paralinguistic mechanisms, pronunciation of basic sounds and sound differentials.  In order to achieve this I favor an ‘oral-based’ approach similar to that represented by a combination of Audio-Lingual where drilling and repetition is the order of the day and the situation-based Direct Method used by Berlitz. This is to ensure that pronunciation, intonation is mastered early on to avoid errors becoming fossilised.

At this stage it is important to bear in mind MacWhinney’s competition model which expounds that ‘learners can only concentrate on so many things at a time … Learning a language is seen as finding the right weighting for each of the different factors that learners can process’.  My approach takes this logical point into consideration especially with beginners.


My own experience in L2A and background in the business/academic world influences my approach towards developing reading skills.  It is generally Reading is a good way of developing and enhancing abilities in e.g. comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and syntax.  In the business/ academic world, with many business-related texts being written in English is essential to be able to read and comprehend. In this case I suggest reading authentic materials to become conversant with current affairs and to contemplate texts in their original format without being edited.  The world of business/academia requires the ability to be able to present ideas, concepts and read text to an audience out loud.


Reading aloud forms an integral part of my activities – either with the modeling approach – teacher reads aloud  allowing students (adopting a more passive role) to focus on improving listening skills, or the practical positive imitation approach of students taking turns to read, thereby practicing speaking and listening skills. This approach allows for the timely correction of pronunciation mistakes (perfecting) and explanation of target language in context. Following ALM’s ‘natural order’ and Oxbridge’s school of thought on L2A, my approach to writing does not take priority over the other three skills.  By giving priority to speaking practice, listening skills are developed and by placing emphasis on the importance of reading practice, writing skills are supported.


I promote the concept of prioritising learning over studying but equally believe that this is achieved through a situation-based syllabus including reality scenarios. Business people receiving training programmes are more likely to be motivated to learn language which they can transfer to their business environment or real life situations outside the workplace.  The content of material and skills taught should be tailored to the course objectives.  A simple lesson plan combining a real life situation within the working environment including a range of teaching approaches could be a topic activity of going out to eat whilst on a business trip in the UK – Title: Let’s Eat. The incorporation of a real life scenario allows for teaching both structures (e.g. do you cater for vegetarians? May I try it first) and vocabulary (e.g. starters, main course, dessert; food items). 


These situations teach a multitude of skills and may be practiced frequently outside the classroom given that they are likely to occur in the day-to-day working life of an international executive. I believe that language and culture are inextricably linked. An international executive should aim to overcome not just language but also cultural barriers when doing business as put forward by the suggestopedia method which focuses on breaking down barriers to communication, whether they be cultural or histrionic.


The approach in the lesson ‘Let’s Eat’, in terms of methodology is close to the DM but it also incorporates Oxbridge’s projection triangle: topic, structure and vocabulary.  The main syllabus is dialogue based to ensure that as much speaking practice as possible is available. This is combined with a situation- based syllabus so that more skills can be incorporated into activities. By adopting the combination of speaking and real life situations the most important aspects of communication, can be covered.


Lesson Plan: ‘Let’s Eat’

·      Give an example of meals and their corresponding times in the context of the UK (8am Breakfast, 12.30 pm Lunch, Snack anytime, 7pm Dinner) – input of new vocabulary, cultural context information (CCI)

·      Give examples of the kind of eating places I would go to for breakfast and what I would order from the menu, how I would ask for and pay the bill (When I go to a café for breakfast, I order eggs, bacon, sausages and fried tomato.  Can I have the bill please? How much do I owe you? ), - input of new vocabulary and CCI.

·      Ask the same questions to the students, substitute breakfast for lunch (Where do you go and what do you order when you go for lunch?) After the first student has answered and any corrections have been made ask students to ask one another to ensure that they have understood the idea and question form.

·      Introduce new vocabulary in the same format for typical snack food and traditional British dinner (e.g. Shepherd’s Pie, Cottage Pie, Toad in the Hole, Steak and Kidney Pie, Haggis Spotted Dick, Trifle). Ask students if they know what these dishes contain and in which part of England/Scotland they are traditionally found. Introduce 8- 10 new words.

·      Show students pictures of the menu, traditional dishes cited and food items to explain their meaning.  See Appendix 1

·      Introduce the ‘Let’s Eat’ role play.  Ask student to imagine a scenario whereby they walk into to a restaurant where they have a dinner reservation for four people (adapt to people in the class).  One person in the group is the waiter and the others are guests, the teacher is the maître di.  The aim of the role play is to ask for the menu, order the food and pay the bill.  Ensure that everybody participates in the process.

The lesson includes the introduction of new vocabulary within a semantic field; the demonstration of how to use structures accurately, with the correct register and within a cultural context.  The practical use of role play leads to achieving the objective of being able to communicate effectively in this situation.


Within the framework of a course, the role of teacher and that of the student modifies as progress is made and initial objectives are achieved. This is where the competences of the teacher come to the forefront.   At the outset there is a need for level assessment, needs analysis, management of affective factors and understanding of learning styles. Being able to grade well should not be underestimated; just as is having an aptitude for modeling. Initially the teacher leads, demonstrating to students through example how to pronounce words correctly, formulate simple structures and incorporate vocabulary. Students follow acting as imitators to gain a basic understanding of the language and until they learn enough to articulate and comprehend on their own.  At this point that a role transfer takes place. The learner takes the lead as communicator and the teacher assumes the role of technician or guide.  It is important for students to have the opportunity to speak in order to gain fluency through practice, and accuracy through correction. The aim is to achieve a reflective balance between interrupting to correct repeated errors, and maintaining fluency momentum.  In terms of skill transferability, the role of the teacher evolves in parallel with student learning development, regardless of the level.


My approach to receptive and productive skills is to place considerably more emphasis on the initiation and practice of the latter, which is more important for the development of speaking skills.  By practicing productive skills, receptive skills (listening, comprehension) are acquired implicitly. In conversation by teaching productive skills, receptive skills are also taught.


A well-managed classroom with fun activities and a positive dynamic goes a long way to creating an atmosphere conducive to learning, where learners are encouraged to express their ideas. My method emphasises the importance of offering encouragement, giving praise and actively listening (verbal and non-verbal messages) to students, thereby delivering a message which motivates intrinsically.


Correcting mistakes should be seen as a positive opportunity to learn from and whilst care should be taken not to damage confidence or intrude on the student’s train of thought, there are strategies to deal with them e.g. repeating the sentence to elicit self-correction, taking note and dealing with them at the end of the activity.  Self-correction is an effective ways of dealing with errors,  you are more likely to remember how to resolve the mistake.  There are strategies which can be utilized to great effect, e.g. use facial expressions or body language to alert them to an issue and prompt them to immediately self-correct. I favor repeating the sentence with the error verbatim, pause just before the incorrect word, alter intonation to demonstrate a question e.g. my brother she is a doctor? Or my brother is a doctor.


Understanding student learning styles assist in the design of class activities and dynamics.  A class in which students are visual learners allows for illustrating not only lexicon but also verb tenses. As an effective approach, Realia uses visual style to directly associate words with images in the classroom, keeping verbal explanation (TTT) to a minimum.  As such this methodology encourages the direct assimilation of words and concepts in the target language.


Similarly eschewing translation as a learning methodology and the use of interlanguage, I promote using word association and structures with actions and movement.  The TPR method is simple but fun; I imagine it working well with children with emphasis on their involvement in games and activities and the absence of pressure to produce e.g. catch the ball, bounce the ball.


Whilst the use of authentic material is more appealing for adults and high level learners, adapted material is more suitable for lower levels as their comprehension of the material is paramount. Affective factors impact enormously on student motivation and, learning needs, abilities and learning styles.  With lower levels and younger groups I favor a building block approach, combining a mix of descriptive and role play activities, drilling, games and debates in order to generate knowledge and meaning through sequential development of the individual’s cognitive abilities. Brain plasticity and ability to learn essential structures and vocabulary through drilling lays the foundations for more complex learning later on.   Progress leads to greater Student Talk Time (STT), essential for fluency.  With mature students and high/low level students, my approach considers constructivism. Students are encouraged to build on prior knowledge (minus interlanguage) developing existing learning techniques and strategies.  Materials which activate, involve and resonate with the learner are will have a more positive impact e.g. affective factors have a positive impact in the Direct Method where authentic materials are drawn from company resources and used for learning. 


Regarding assessment, I do not subscribe to tests as a motivation tool or a methodology to assess student learning.  Rather I believe in continual assessment through the meeting of SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and timely) objectives, class participation and group work.  This kind of informal assessment monitors student progress adequately and creates a healthy learning culture within the group.


In conclusion, with all levels I believe in a holistic approach which follows the Engage, Study, Activate (ESA) method.  Methods, techniques, approaches and materials clearly change according to age and skill level.  The lesson plan included is aimed at adult learners but this could be adapted for young children and teenagers, where the E for Engage is of paramount importance! 




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