My personal approach to teaching English would be related to lead engagingly the students towards reaching their learning goals. I would use strategies based on engaging students, stimulating them with interesting inputs and offering a sympathetic support for their effort to learn. As we are made of body, brain and emotions, we have to stimulate students throughout all these aspects in order to create a fun learning experience.
A holistic approach
Students' goals and motivations in attending a course are different and they have to be taken in account when teaching. Most of the students of any age attend GE courses for travelling or for school curriculum. However, others need classes for specific reasons (ESP) or to study abroad (EAP). If a student comes with a strong need for improving writing skills in medicine, it would be useful to tailor the lessons to this aim. The thing is that their writing level will be heavily dependent on their speaking level and probably the student has already an advanced level. It is not always like that, of course, but I agree with the learning approaches that insist on speaking as a foundation stone. When we speak it is as if the body, the brain and our emotions come together to play a song. An effective teaching model stimulates all these areas in order to produce communication (the song).
At the time we learn L1, we come into contact with sounds, which we associate with word; only later we learn the structures and how to write them down. It should be the same when we learn a L2. My teaching approach would keep as a priority the ability to speak in order to communicate ideas and would give students engaging inputs to develop their communicative skills.
Being able to master a language requires both productive communicative skills and receptive ones. Nevertheless, the ability to speak generally implies the ability to write, but not always vice versa and this is the reason for insisting on speaking despite the importance of writing. This is crucial at the very first stages of learning.
For this reason, in my approach I would primarily focus on acquisition by repetition, then on acquiring the structures and using them in communicative tasks. It would be the launching pad for enhancing all the other communicative skills and at any stage should be fun. It is always important to bear in mind the student's level and ages, for beginners for example, I would let students familiarise with useful vocabulary and acquire basic structures. A good way to achieve that would be through setting a memory game where students need to find pairs of the same words and making sure they can pronounce the words properly. On the other hand, working with elementary level I would widen students' vocabulary and structures; I would also make sure that I cater to the interests of the students especially in a mixed aged class. At an intermediate level however, I would start with an easy topic and get the students to have a conversation with a partner for a few minutes and then elicit vocabulary and target language based on the topic. These students might already be able to express their ideas regarding a topic, if not accurately, at least just enough to convey their message. However, from this level on, I would start working on idioms and phrasal verbs, always strengthening their structures and vocabulary too.
As the teacher I would offer myself to be a resource for spelling a word, if a student directly requires, or for repeating if the students cannot catch the word pronounced; I would even write for them the word, but I would not allow use of L1 in the class. I would not use a traditional board, which could oblige me to turn myself over and lose eye-contact with them. At every level - apart from working with children, I would sit in a circular table with students or I would stand in front of a horseshoe-shaped sitting arrangement. Anyway, the spelling task I mentioned would be a kind of puzzle for them and they would be engaged in looking for a solution. At a basic level though, I would strongly work on repetition, which definitely helps learning.
However, repetition as mere repetition would not suit my teaching approach: it is not efficient in terms of learning and is not fun because repeating without figuring out the sense can be really boring and discouraging. An approach as the Callan Method is totally not advisable for me, who by the way I tried a long time ago.
On the contrary, repetition's process can bring if well-led to a great moment: the time we grasp the meaning of what we repeat. In order to achieve this, I would progressively omit some words from the sentence and wait for students to complete the sentence. I would support their understanding with gestures and facial expressions; other times, I would suggest to look at some pictures and invite them to come up with sentences. Only at a late stage, I would ask again for a questions where they would need to use the structures and vocabulary they learned. By their oral production, I would understand if the students really have grasped the structures and have internalised the main points of the lesson or if we still need to work on it. Regarding assessment, I would constantly be careful to students' interaction in the class and I would positively guide them towards learning especially if getting away from it. I would also take care of the weakest students without penalising the strongest ones and I would assess them day by day in order to nurture and re-assess without doing gap-filling tests.
To summarise, I would first act as a model for students by clear repetition; by imitation they would finally acquire vocabulary and structures to communicate. The loop would be taught and performed according to the students' level as mentioned above and its purpose would always aim to integrate the three “elements for successful language learning” (J. Harmer): ESA. In fact, when we are not engaged emotionally in a lesson we are more likely not to take part genuinely and we learn particularly less if not at all.
Under this point of view, games, stimulating pictures, dramatics stories, amusing anecdotes and any realia or activity that can grasp students' attention have a key-role. I would base my teaching approach on doing these activities in order to activate the curiosity of the students and really involve them. I would also work with students on “discovery activities” related to structure, vocabulary and topic according to the levels. These would encourage students to guess meaning, deduce it from the context and test acquisition. I would let them use in a personal way the structures and vocabulary they came in contact with, offering compelling communicative tasks. Their body, brain and emotions would take part in learning and the acquisition would be effective.
In addition, rather than explaining directly grammar rules, defining words by dictionary-style definition or even by translation (GTM approach), I would involve students in communicating something that matters to them or that is popular. They would not think that they have to use a specific English rule or term, but they would truly use what they have acquired up to now – acquiring even more. I would also use some features of the Suggestopedia model, supporting students in expressing themselves freely, breaking down psychological barriers and shyness. I think it is not easy for a training teacher to do it, but I would really aim to try. My TTT would generally be about 1/5 of the whole lesson's time, but I would adjust this according to the class. I also would try to decrease it at some point, in order to encourage students to speak, as suggested by the featured of the Silent Way approach. I guess this comes with a lot of experience though. In any case, my teaching approach would project myself as a playmaker in the teaching environment. I would build up a friendly, pleasurable and fun environment to facilitate learning and flourishing.
Moreover, I would mainly teach how to speak instead of analysing language – as in the GTM approach. They would be exposed to stimuli and communication problems as if they were in a English speaking country. My teaching approach would take a student for an hour in a stimulating, enjoying environment where you can only use English. In fact, interaction with sounds you do not know provokes a kind of breakdown in communication because you cannot understand and be understood. However, here is the true opportunity to get involved in the learning process: time you look for a meaning and acquiring that. This experience is when you finally learn and what I would offer to my students.
In addition, the power of repetition plays here again an important role: you can acquire a word or an expression just because you are exposed to hear that many times in a real context. To reproduce this in my class, I would also use pro-forms, pictures and realia and, showing a positive and funny aptitude in relation with the activity, I would let student smile and enjoy. I would always try to be the first to smile, of course according to the situation. I would reinforce the learning process by praising little by little, in an honest but also encouraging way. Little by little, I could build up a rapport with my students acting as an agony aunt, being attentive to their hidden body language's messages and sensitive to their personalities. All this would result in a fun class.
Therefore, teaching a P2 class I would start introducing a quick question. I would use the structure without saying it (GTM approach) and I would repeat until the above-mention “communicative breakdown” would come up. I would guide the student till the time the sound and the structure have a meaning for them and can really start operating a communicative task. The activity should be fun and interactive, not as the model of gap-filling activity.
For example, my syllabus would contain the starting question “There is the opening night of The Lord of the Rings this Saturday... Are you going to the cinema?” and it would contain pictures in order to practise examples of this structure by repetition. Pictures and short cartoons would bring students into contact with TL too. At the end I would invite students to have a conversation asking to someone else in the class what s/he is going to do during the weekend. A personal question would engage students in replying and they could come back to the pictures again to consolidate TL. On the contrary, if working with children, I would focus on games and activities that would involved their visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning skills. By actions, sounds, mimic activities, colourful pictures and games, I would aim to engage them and activate their learning process in a fun way (TPR).
To sum up, our first and pivotal way to communicate in the world is by speaking. My teaching approach would use all the elements that make us communicate and learn in the word – which are body, brain and emotions – to create a pleasurable and efficient learning experience. This would let students do activities using auditory and kinaesthetic actions getting more involved in the learning process; it would let students feel free to express themselves in an interesting environment stimulating positive emotions and it would give the opportunity to acquire the language to reach their goals: communication.