My teaching approach
English is everywhere. No matter what you do or what your area of knowledge is, you will find English. Newspapers, books, radio, TV, movies and obviously Internet. In fact, in the last twenty-five to thirty years the situation has changed drastically. In our everyday lifes, we no longer work, study or do leisure activities with one only language, but we are often prompted to normally use two to three languages. It goes without saying, English is usually among these. The emergence of Internet and the general use of new technologies has meant English to become one of the most used languages worldwide. For example, half of the homepages of the most visited sites on the Internet are in English. This fact, and the increase of the use of English in businesses, in commerce and in culture in general has lead not only to widely spread the knowledge in English but the fact that the learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) improve enormously their general English reading comprehension, their speaking and their receptive skills.
Within this framework, however, the immersion is not always the same for all ESL students. The studentsâ cultural and educational background and the exposure to the English-speaking culture may vary a lot among them and thus will vary the teachersâ techniques and approach.
It is often said that ESL students are better taught by native language speakers that are only fluent in English so that students would only speak in English in the classroom to communicate among themselves and with the teacher. However, and specially students of elemental English and in the very early stages of their learning process feel more confortable when speaking in their native language than in a language they barely know. In this sense, I believe grammar teaching and language rules are better and faster taught when they are explained in the students native language.
This method in which the teacher forces students to only speak English in the classroom is known as the natural method or the direct mehod and it is opposite to the traditional school methods which are basically based in following a coursebook. The direct method focuses specially on improving the communicative skills of the students by making them interact among themselves and with the teacher in English. Despite this, as a teacher, I think this is only useful for students in the intermediate and higher levels and when the teacher has to deal with small groups. As a teacher, I wouldnât use this method when teaching beginners or large groups of students. In some cases the teacher may not know the studentsâ native language. This assumption of only speaking English in the classroom may hinder the learning process at a very beginner level as some grammar rules can be faster taught in the students native language. Also, knowing a third language can be very useful when teaching ESL students as English can be compared to other languages when it comes to explaining rules and sentence structures. This method also known as the grammar translation method (GTM) or the comparative grammar method it is a traditional method and it analyses the inter-lingual differences between the source and the target language. This approach is only useful to some extent when teaching beginners, and I think it can highly contribute to the studentsâ learning process. Thus, romance languages can be very useful when teaching beginners. Also considering the fact of its Latin, French and German roots. This approach, based on the grammar translation method is based more on semantics and on the written language rather than on the oral communication. However, using a method only based on comparing other languages to English would be very limited. In my experience in teaching I have used the direct method to teach English for specific purposes, i.e. technical and business English, to beginners, one-to-one teaching but I always got to the point where students native language or a third language was key to explain the sentence structure or the basic grammar rules.
The use of phrases
Another important strategy when teaching English is to make students practice common phrases until they feel totally comfortable with those phrases. Teaching and repeating English phrasal verbs, idioms, questions and greetings, can be much more effective than reading a coursebook or doing exercises. This technique based on oral communication also allows the possibility that the student focuses more on the pronunciation. It is important when teaching to first focus on the most useful and common phrases, so that students are able to start having conversations in the class right away. It is very important to choose which sort of phrases, words and idioms are better to use first in the classroom environment.
Another aspect I would like to emphasize is the importance of the curiosity or the motivation of the students in the classroom. The reasons for learning ESL may vary a lot among students. The interest for learning English may be for business purposes, studying abroad, passing an exam like the GMAT, the IELTS or the TOEFL, getting a job, travelling and getting to know people from other countries or maybe they are adolescents and it is in the syllabus of the high school. However, and despite the fact that some students have a natural curiosity for learning, it is the job of the teacher to awaken in every activity the motivation and their thirst for knowledge of the students. Some people say good teachers are just born and not made but I think good and effective teachers are those who have a good knowledge of the subject, have an open-minded attitude towards different types of backgrounds and personalities and teach with passion. Life experience is also crucial, in order to be able to adapt the lesson to the students specific needs.
In my experience it is very important in the early stages of the learning process to create a comfortable atmosphere, to engage students in an active learning process. In school, English is often taught with traditional teaching methods, i.e. reading grammar books out aloud and doing specific coursebook excercises. This method it is very spread in primary and secondary school syllabuses but not that spread for teaching adults, for small groups or for teaching English for specific purposes.
How do I structure my class:
- Quick questions (5 min.)
- Structure (15 min.)
- Vocabulary (10 min.)
- Topic (10 min.)
- Activity based on arts or music (5 min.)
- Wrap up (5 min.)
This structure is applicable for small groups and for intermediate and higher levels. Structure, vocabulary and wrap up would be used for beginners.
The Oxbridge Method
In Oxbridge I have learned how important it is the communicative approach, to encourage students to develop their skills by expressing themselves in their own words. By doing so, they learn how sentences are build. Instead of giving the answers, the teacher has to bring the answers out of the student. This technique can be applied in differents ways. But, for example, we can use cards or images or introduce a topic. So, students can make their comments on the specific topic. Another way of applying this method is making students speak about themselves. Another technique I have learned with the Oxbridge teaching system it is the importance of building rapport with the students. For example, encouraging class discussion, showing interest in the students or helping them pay more attention in class. Creating rapport with the students makes them more receptive and motivate them. Another very important aspect I have learned is that if students have fun and enjoy in class, they learn better. In this point, it is very important to try to connect with the students, learn about their hobbies and interests, ie. know the students profile and make jokes. So, if you have fun in the classroom you remember better what has been taught. Having said that, I believe, however, that some grammar activities following coursebooks can be of great help.
In Oxbridge I also learned how important it is to observe and plan a lesson, to program every section and schedule a specific time for each unit. Also to lay emphasis on summarizing at the end of each classroom, the âwrap upâ. The Oxbridge method is a very example based method and it focuses on the oral communication and active learning. It is a modern approach based on the principle, if you learn how to speak, you will learn how to write.
Among the teaching activities I have learned the importance of the use of active games, roll-plays, games like scrabble or cards to introducing a topic. In my experience as a teacher, I have proofread students university texts. At the same time, the subject of the texts helped me to introduce topics in the class. Students of ESP learned English in class and they were able to read texts in their own fields. Usually, I used to begin with focusing on general English in the first lessons, and on later lessons I focused on ESP with respect to their specialty. Instead handing out worksheets it was much more effective that students focused mainly on a specific topic.
In Oxbridge I also have learned new techniques by observing teachers. This feature of the classes to have the opportunity to meet other teachers and learn about their approaches to teaching it helped me a lot to approach the profession.
Finally, I think that it is very important to first focus on the students needs and then develop a syllabus according to their particular goals. Using as much material as possible but at the same time making it simple.