Mary Naughton

My teaching approach

While it is important to have objectives for what you will teach in every class and to prepare well as a teacher you must be receptive to your students’ needs and desires. What I want students to learn is a question I cannot answer without knowing them first. If I were teaching children English to children, I would like to teach them English as it is spoken. As the world becomes more globalised and people travel more to work and study it becomes increasingly likely that children we teach now will grow up making friends with peers from other countries and more often than not in these situations the common language tends to be English. Thus I would like to teach children how to communicate with their friends in English, and the syllabus would focus on every day, conversational speech with more emphasis on speaking and listening skills as opposed to reading and writing.

The profile of adult learners is somewhat different. In general, their principal motivation for learning for English is to benefit their career. Thus, with adults I would try to focus topic and vocabulary activities on situations that are likely to come up in their line of work. I would split focus more evenly across the four skills: speaking; listening; reading and; writing, as so much of our communication at work is now through emails and presentations. However, written exercises could be part of homework, with class time spent on practising speaking and listening. I would try to keep the atmosphere of the class informal and conversational. From what I have seen at Oxbridge the secret to teaching a language is giving students the confidence to try. Often language students have a good grasp of grammar and vocabulary learnt in school but are afraid of looking foolish. If students have a positive association with English, because their classes are in a relaxed environment where they have fun and feel secure, they are more likely to feel comfortable slipping into speaking English at work.

I agree with Oxbridge that the students are the stars of the class, it is their class and the objective is for them to learn. As a teacher my role is to facilitate their learning by finding what types of learners they are and using appropriately graded activities that engage their interests. I would use a mix of methods, such as total physical response and the direct method, which have students learning languages in different ways eg. listening, repeating, speaking, but which place the learner as the central actor in the activity. 

I would have these different goals in mind when preparing syllabi for adults and for children. Depending on the level of the group it could be helpful to consult a textbook designed for that level to check the concepts that they might be familiar with already as well as those to develop next. Similarly, for an adult course it would be important to consider the different contexts in which they use English at work- informal conversations with colleagues, vocabulary structures for phone and email, language specific to their profession and to have lessons that focus on these different areas. I would keep the language levels we have at Oxbridge in mind in deciding what types of vocabulary, structure and topics to introduce in a given course. At the beginning of the course I would provide students with an outline of what we will be learning each week so they have an idea of what to expect and can let me know if there is something they feel should be changed or if I have left something out that they are interested in covering. Alongside each topic I would include some resources that students could have a look at in their own time to aid their learning. For example, if we were going to discuss a certain type of vocabulary would recommend a film or song on that topic that they might enjoy.

In a one-hour class I would aim to include three activities, beginning with structure and then moving to vocabulary and a topic. This would leave time at the start of class to ask some questions that practice the structure and vocabulary we learned at the previous session.  I would adopt the presentation, practice and production approach to structure my classes. Thus if I were teaching a P3 class this week and last week we had covered countable and uncountable nouns with determiners I would ask students did they have any breakfast this morning. If they bought it how much money did it cost. Do they need some coffee to feel awake for class? I would then introduce a structure activity, using the PPP approach. In my introduction I would set up the structure with a question using a structure students are familiar with and lead into the target language. I would then provide more examples to ensure students understood what I am trying to convey with the new structure. For example, I would demonstrate the function of the future simple tense by using a time reference-next week, tomorrow- in every example. I would then ask the same questions to students to see whether they understood the structure and could apply it before beginning an activity which shows its function in more depth eg. Simple future, an exercise about describing your plans for the weekend. The objective is to familiarise the student with the function of the structure, why we use it and get them comfortable with using it themselves by giving them lots of examples and showing them how to form clauses.

I would wrap up the activity by asking students a question we had covered and answered eg. ask student A what student B will do this weekend. Go to the cinema. I would then use this opening to introduce a vocabulary activity around a trip to the cinema. The objective in teaching vocabulary is to introduce students to word and phrases that are relevant to an issue that is useful or interesting for them. So I would ask students questions using vocabulary they already know eg. What day of the week do you like to go to the cinema, what type of films do you like (encouraging use of adjectives-funny, sad, romantic) before introducing more specific, new vocabulary. I would provide visual aids such as pictures of popcorn, the ticket booth and posters, with the target language written beside each picture, so that students have something to help them remember what we have learned. This activity could lead on to a topic such as celebrities and the different ways we view male and female celebrities. I would provide students beforehand with some target language and would introduce the topic by asking an open question such as do you think that male and female celebrities are treated in the same way or are they treated differently. Of course one must have in mind when designing topic activities that beginners are less likely to have the vocabulary and structures in place to respond too complex questions, whilst higher levels will be able to discuss topics with more fluency. Thus, if my activity proved too complex for the group I would have a back-up activity on a related topic, such as who is your favourite film star and why. The hope is that the students would not notice I had graded the language downwards and we could forget about the initial difficulties and keep discussing without anyone feeling inadequate.

English would be the vehicular language of the classroom. Depending on the students this might be the only opportunity they have during the week to be fully immersed in English, therefore it is important that they hear and speak as much English as possible. While it can be tempting to speak in the mother tongue or translate, languages are not mirror images of each other. Often you oversimplify when you tell a student verb X means this as most verbs are used in many different ways. It is better to get them thinking in English as soon as possible. Teaching beginners without translating is challenging but we can teach quite a lot through actions and repetition. For example, you can start a class by saying hello while waving at students. Students will know that you are greeting them when you say hello and will probably imitate by saying hello too.

With beginners I would concentrate on encouraging them to speak and produce rather than continuously correcting errors. I would ask other students the same question and hopefully hearing the correct answer would allow them to imitate. If not, I might return to the presentation part of the lesson and practice myself with a few examples and then try again. I would try not to draw attention to the mistake as in the early days of learning affective factors are particularly important. If a student perceives that they are doing well at something and making progress early on they are more likely to enjoy it and to stick with it, even if it becomes much more challenging later and the learning curve slows down. Thus, with more advanced students I would be more willing to correct mistakes. If a student was using the wrong verb tense ‘last night I go to the cinema’, I might say, you went to the cinema, because last night is in the past . Since the student already has a foundation of positive affective factors I would be less concerned that being corrected would reduce their confidence when it came to production. I think it is also important that any type of correction is made with a smile, to remind students that making a mistake is not the end of the world and is actually part of learning. 

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