Gordon Smyth





My teaching approach

Students talk, teachers walk.

We ask students to read texts or search for information on the Internet, so they learn to read and pick up passive vocabulary. We have them watch YouTube clips or other films, and they may improve their Listening, reading and writing skillsbut none of these activities will help them to speak fluently or carry on a normal conversation.

It is silly to think that students will learn to speak and pronounce words with a decent accent by simply listening to a teacher or a recording. Speaking is not learnt by watching and listening. You have to introduce language with the right vocabulary and right tenses. That is why you need to practice speaking as much as possible.

If the teacher doesn’t give you the opportunity to pronounce words, sentences, whole paragraphs and be corrected when needed, then the students will never be able to speak English correctly.

 “What should we do?”

 I think we need to change the way we teach and the way we plan our courses. Instead of preparing class activities for students to do, we should give them activities where they will be speaking as much as possible.

Aside from English on TV we have the Internet. Students can use this to improve their reading, writing and listening skills on their own. It is important to keep the classrooms open for speaking practice, introducing new vocabulary, and leaving the rest for them to practice what they have learnt in the classroom.

When preparing a class, you should ask, “How much time will the students actually be speaking?” and “What activities will make them speak the most?” Start from an audio recording instead of a text. The teacher may also read text to the students and have them follow along so that they both see, and hear the language which is being taught to them.  Although video can sometimes be good, I feel it distracts some students as they are more focused on what is happening in the video rather than to what is actually being said. If the teacher asks a student a question and the student answers, and you continue to do this with every student in the class you will find that the teacher is speaking half the time and the students share the other half of that time which in turn reduces the students speaking time in half.

  • Give written grammar and vocabulary exercises for students to do at home so that class time can be devoted to speaking.  They can complete quizzes, multiple choice, and gap fill exorcises on line in their own time to practice their listening, reading, and writing skills.
  • Give the students explanations that are simple and easy to follow and exorcises that keep them speaking more.  Have few different levels of change so that they are able to practice a particular part of the language and fully understand it before moving on to the next level or class.  Make sure to repeat as much as possible so that they understand but try not to overdo it as this will decrease the attention of the students in which case learning no longer becomes fun. Some students see or hear words that they recognize, but they don’t know the exact meaning of these words. This is why it is very important to keep speaking in class and leaving the written exercises for home.
  • Whenever possible have the students teach each other from key information sheets, or prepared exercises that cover the theme, or topic vocabulary they are working on including the target language.
  • Intervene as little as possible except for correcting the students when necessary and for giving instructions so that teacher talking time is reduced which will create more student speaking time.
  • Insist that the students speak only English in class. But to help them provide lists of appropriate classroom phrases. These can be printed on the back cover of booklets to make access easier.
  • Have students often prepare short (one to two minute) presentations and have them present several times to different small groups in the class.
  • Prefer shorter to longer student presentations, and make these guided presentations with required structures and vocabulary.
  • If students give longer, more formal presentations, be sure most students have a role to play and are not simply relegated to being a passive audience. They can introduce the speakers, participate in the exorcise, thank the speakers and/or take notes in view of an oral exam on the presentations made by classmates.
  • Assign speaking activities on the Internet like interactive drills. Then have the students test each other in class with the transcripts.
  • Assign listening activities on the Internet. There is a multitude of excellent podcasts like Listen to English or Breaking news in English.

 

Good and bad points of some common Methodologies

 

The Direct Method (also known as the Berlitz Method)

This method, although sometimes very quickly paced, is a great method for both children and adults to acquire great communication skills for both the classroom and to use in real situations.  Again it is important for the students to understand what is being said and they are encouraged to give full and descriptive answers to the questions presented by the teacher.

 

Audio Lingual Method

This method offers some good practice for the students in certain situations but it promotes too much talk time by the teachers and the students are merely reading text.  This method is sometimes difficult for the students.  They learn the text before them but don’t acquire the skills necessary to use it in real time conversations.  They need to have the ability to make decisions based on a situation and use appropriate dialog whenever possible.  This can be obtained by having the students think about what would be said, explain the dialog, and only then have the teacher correct and drill when required.

 

The Silent Way

This method is good for practicing certain vocabulary and is also good for the students to practice the art of reading body language but is not an effective way of teaching as a whole.  After students have learnt certain vocabulary, pronunciation, and structure, this method is good for practice.  The method certainly promotes very little talk time from the teacher and allows the students to both work together as a group and individually.  The students can listen and learn from the other students and by understanding the gestures are able to apply this knowledge to other languages as well.

 

Suggestopidia

In my opinion Suggestopedia is a great activity for students to use cognitive skills and to be able to submit much of the context to memory but promotes far too much teacher talk time and almost no student talk time.  As mentioned earlier, student talk time is crucial in class and very little teacher talk time is suggested.

 

 

 

The Physical Response

 The method teaches gestures to students along with the context of the gesture.  This is good practice for students as it commits many of the gestures to memory along with the context of the gesture.  This method is good as a stand-alone method, or used prior to activities using the Silent Way Method, but again using audio and visual methods promotes very little student talk time.

 

The Callan Method

This method should be avoided at all cost.  It is aimed at teacher talk time.  Although the students repeat what is said, they are only doing just that, repeating.  The teacher corrects the students at the time of speaking which eliminates the students from self correcting as they are given the answers from teacher during correction.  The method also gives the students the basis of the answer before they have time to think about it themselves.  For example: When the teacher asks a question, they then respond with ‘’no’’, indicating that the student is to use it in negative but also suggests the answer to the student with very little thought process.  This method is not only too fast paced, but also promotes far too much teacher talk time and very little student talk time.  This method might be good for drilling or practicing but again should be avoided as a stand-alone teaching method.

 

 

The Vaughan Method

This method is ok and gives great examples of what vocabulary to use in a situation and the examples are often repeated.  The problems I find with this method are: To short and too fast for the students to acquire context, meaning, and the ability to practice using different situations.  It is focused on teacher talk time which again is highly frowned upon.

 

Happy Students make Happy Teachers.

In conclusion, by promoting students talk time, having them interact with each other, and doing so in a calm, relaxed, and positive environment, the students will see and hear the progress that they are making in the class.  The happier the students are with their learning, the happier the teachers are with their teaching.

 

Lets keep talking.



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