My Approach to Teaching English.
The world is shrinking in terms of mobility of people. The need for a second language or even a third is on the rise. English is the generally accepted language of the world, not owned by any one country in particular. People want to learn a language much quicker than ever before and we have to react to that need. There is now a focus on being able to communicate more with other people and less emphasis on the actual grammatical structures or writing.
The approach I would take is to base the syllabi on more functional approach to learning and teaching in context while introducing grammar as part of the activities using vocabulary and topic based lessons. I advocate using a mix of elements from the communicative approach (CLT), the total physical response approach (TPR) and the Oxbridge approach (OXB) to teach students. They each have their part to play in achieving what the student wants and that is to be able to communicate in a spontaneous and fluid manner.
They all focus on the four Macros; the native language is not used. English is the taught language in the class, aiming to prevent the students reverting back to their mother tongue. The acquisition is based on listening, comprehension and speaking. The syllabus can be organised around vocabulary, structure and topic activities linked to grammatical points. The aim is for activities to be planned for the productive skills of speech and writing as well as receptive skills of listening and understanding. While, writing is not essential for communication when the goal is to communicate verbally.
There are many approaches to language learning some have been around for over 100 years others have a relatively younger pedigree. My approach is based on the students learning all of the skills but using elements of CLT, TPR and the OXB methods. I feel these three can achieve the goals that most students wish to have and that is being able to communicate the language in everyday real life situations. The lessons should reflect this by covering all the skills but structured so that grammar is incorporated in a functional way through vocabulary use, in topic activities and specific structure lessons in the functional use of grammar. Writing while important is less important at this stage where we want communicative output.
While not all the elements for each approach are applicable, the syllabus will be such that the elements of each approach can be adapted to suit the particular level and age of the students. The TPR approach for example is not really suitable for all levels and while it does have its merits it would not really be appropriate for intermediate or advanced levels. What is required for all the elements is to give the student confidence to communicate confidently after giving them the skills to do so.
A teacher has to perform a number of roles in the classroom, from organizing and directing the class to maintain focus on the learning objectives. The teacher has to assess prior learning, and what motivates the students. This means building a rapport with each student, finding out their interests, what motivates them and if they have any problems which may impede their leaning. Things such as are they shy, do they have low self esteem, problems outside the class, things that could potentially de motivate them affecting their ability to achieve their goals. The teacher needs to conduct the class for the good of the whole class ensuring participation from all students giving them equal opportunity to be involved fully.
Students need to understand their role in the learning process also. If they are sitting in class in a passive role then this is counterproductive as any learning would just bypass them and this is not good. The student needs to be self motivated, have needs and goals and the learning should meet these expectations. They should participate in the lesson actively, the less the teacher talks and the more the student talks the better and this can be achieved by the teacher making the learning fun and enjoyable. They should be encouraged to question the learning process and make their feelings and opinions known. They should also be willing to accept correction knowing that it is part of the learning process to give them fluency.
The organisation of the syllabus will be based on the students learning all 4 macro skills but adaptable to ensure that the needs of the students are met. The focus will be on being able to communicate fluently. The lessons will be function and topic based dealing with activities in context. ( Inviting, liking, doing and going, real life topics, shopping working socialising). It will of course be tailored to suit the needs of, children teenagers and adults at all levels. It needs to be recognised that not everyone learns at the same pace, and this of course must be reflected in the syllabus.
Consideration not only to what is covered in the syllabus depends on the level it also concerns the age of the students. Therefore again this must be taken into account when creating the syllabus to ensure it is adaptable to meet the needs not only of differing levels but differing age groups.
The atmosphere in the class is important. The motivation to the students their needs and goals will affect the progress, productivity and pace of the class. The pace can be affected by the teacher and the way and how they chose to correct the students. This needs to be given careful consideration and while correction is an important part of learning it should be done as much as possible in a way to keep the flow going. One particular error is the use of inter language. It is usual at the start of learning and the errors are often linked to the use of mother tongue structures and vocabulary, over generalisation and simplification. After initial beginners period the use of the mother tongue should be prohibited to eradicate the use of inter language. However it should always be remembered that praise is just if not more important than correcting errors or mistakes.
The use of the mother tongue is always present in language learning and with the elements of approach I advocate it should be discouraged from day one. However at very low beginner level it should be permitted initially but stopped as soon as the teacher feels it is the time. At this level the use of cognates and body gestures should be used instead. Gestures are a most important part of body language. The teaching in classes focuses on communication activities. Dull and dry communication will make students passive, so exaggerated actions and gestures can enliven the teaching circumstances, making the activities fun and enjoyable.
E.g. the teacher makes gesture as if ready to kick a football towards goal, then follows through as to kick it when teaching the word football (or related word) all of the students can guess the meaning of it. The when the teacher teaches the verb, it will be more accurate to do a simple gesture for the students than have repeated explanation.
A typical lesson plan for an intermediate 1 hour class would be: Intro,5 mins: As an icebreaker to get the students thinking in English. It could be quick questions or revision. Activity 1 15 mins A structure activity using grammar in a functional way, Activity 2 15 mins Vocabulary with TL 6-8 words communicating using the TL and practising its use and pronunciation and meaning in context. Activity 3 15 mins Topic based activity practising comprehension and reading and context of topic vocabulary. Wrap up 10 mins Concept checking questions on all activities. The lesson plans should be adapted to focus on all levels and ages.
Teachers should take advantage of all the materials that are available and use as they feel necessary to achieve the best learning process for the student. The lesson plan is a good basis to work from but it should be adaptable enough to allow the teacher to use his imagination in addition to audio visual, authentic material, internet, whiteboard or realia...generally whatever he feels is suitable for the student learning experience. These materials such as realia give students a concrete thing to associate vocabulary with, also images and pictures are a great way for them to see what it is they are talking about. There is also a wealth of experience around the teacher in the form of other teachers, so do not be afraid to ask.
The assessment of the student should be carried out carefully. It may or not be required depending on the goals and needs of the student. Before doing it consider what is o be achieved by it. If it is needed could be done weekly or fortnightly as an informal chat with the student to see how they feel they are getting on. The teacher may keep anecdotal notes on a student to measure the progress from one lesson to the next. Whatever way you use it, ensure it is in the best interests of the student. You may find that a student is struggling and may need that bit if extra attention or maybe a bit of homework to help them deal with a particular subject, be aware of their needs and do your job to meet them as best you can. Higher level student may require more formal assessment depending on their goals, i.e. maybe a Cambridge Exam. If so formal testing might be required to assess how the student is progressing
The use and advances in technology are ever present and will become increasingly so particularly in language learning. However no matter what advances there are, be it devices or methods of approach verbal face to face communicating between people will always be there. It has emotion and meaning that no email, sms or social media site can ever replace. It’s good to talk.