My approach to teaching English
To start with, I would like to share some of my experiences as ESL speaker during the 6 years I spent in the United Kingdom. These experiences have contributed to my decision to acquire the Oxbridge TEFL teaching qualification which will enable me to share my enthusiasm towards English language.
I arrived in the UK in January 2010 where I was lucky enough to find myself working in a restaurant in just a couple of days. I was surprised to discover the instinct through which I managed to develop a good English level in less than a couple of months. This skill soon brought in my way several amazing people from parts of the World I had never heard before. At this point I felt privileged having the opportunity to become friends with such individuals and get to know their culture from first hand. Having spoken the language at a higher level provided the opportunity to educate myself further and it also provided the stepping stone to my professional development.
I had been studying English for 10 years before I decided to move to the UK; however due to the lack of speaking practice, I would have never been able to acquire the communicative competence if I wasn't "forced" to communicate, no matter how poor my language skills were. For this reason I truly believe that a mixture of methodologies concentrating on communication and listening are the way forward to language learning and therefore this is what my approach would be based on.
The question is, how this approach will result in a successful learning outcome?
I believe nature has its great merit in the development of the humankind and therefore, I like to observe everything from this point of view. As my aim is to help students to achieve their goals, I have to find the best approach in order to assist them on their journey towards it. For me the best example to follow is one that has been addressed by the so-called comprehension approach. This approach has its roots in the study of young children's language acquisition. Toddlers learn their native language through a cognitive skill, which is a human mental propensity that enable us to creatively use our mental resources in order to be able to learn and develop. It's a fact that children are not able to comprehend complex grammatical structures; instead, they pick up their language skills from people around them who use body language, mimic and other visual or physical aids along with speech, in order to habilitate their understanding. Having this example as reference, my teaching approach will be put into practice through a mix of different methodologies which are based on the communicative, the content-based and task-based approaches. Along with the explicit use of target language, these approaches focus on the continuous use of spoken interaction, everyday situations in which language practice can be placed, and the importance to engage with students in order to keep them motivated. This is very important as without interest and motivation it is difficult to get students engaged with the material and achieve their advancement.
I believe a good teacher should be able to adapt to the needs and goals of the students. Depending on these factors, student may need a more or less specified syllabus to follow. For example, if the objective is to acquire a communicative competence in a very formal business context, then teachers have to make sure that the content of the syllabus is adapted to this purpose. This would be achieved by basing the activities on real life business situations and tasks, and by including specific vocabulary, appropriate to the level of the students. Although the content can be changed, the approach should always focus on methodologies that promote the explicit use of target language and learning through communication. These methodologies are the Direct Method and the TPR (Total Physical Response) Method. Direct Method focuses on inductive grammar teaching, which means that grammatical structures are thought by presenting them in context, rather then by providing definitions and rules for their use. In order to achieve full comprehension it uses real objects, visual aids or association to demonstrate meaning. The TPR Method also concentrates on the use of target language but it is designed to teach children. The idea is to support student's perception by coordinating speech with physical demonstration of meaning. Teacher acts out the word and encourage students to do the same, this way making them understand and retain the meaning. However, as we are all different, some people might be more receptive to precise definitions, and others to visual aids. Whichever type of personalities we come across with, I believe these are the two most effective methods to achieve understanding. Think about people who travel all around the World with no much language skills, notwithstanding, they are able to place an order in a restaurant or make themselves understood at the supermarket, solely by pointing at objects or acting out their thoughts. These people could be given any kind of grammar book, they wouldn't be able transmit their thoughts without the use of these aids.
Undoubtedly though, taking into consideration the different needs and goals as well as the different levels, personality types and age groups, certain methods might work better than others. Teachers should be familiar with a range of different methodologies and use these as a resource when they approach the students.
Personally, I would try to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere in order to make students feel as comfortable as possible during the class. I find it very important to get to know my students a little better so I can establish their needs, their goals, their strengths or weaknesses. This would also allow me to adjust my language use to their level. Having this information, I would be able to make the lessons more suitable for them meanwhile retaining the structure of the syllabus. For example an S1 class would follow the Oxbridge Model which consist of structure, vocabulary and topic activities. As S1 students doesn't have sufficient knowledge to be able to put their thoughts into words, the lesson plans would include more structure and vocabulary activities. The higher the level is, attention would be gradually shifted from structure to topic activities which give opportunity to a freer practice. This way students can direct the discussion without given instructions and guidelines. S1 students need a more controlled practice though. Although the activities and definitions would be carried out using the target language, some native language would be allowed to be used if absolutely necessary. Clear and simple instructions, repetition and substitution would be a key aspect, in order for them to practice and retain target language. To get students engaged with the activities, I would make sure that the material is based on real life situations and vocabulary that can be useful for them. Activities would include images and videos so their understanding is secured. I would encourage them to use their resources and try to express themselves in any way they can, so their skills can be activated and assessed. When it comes to correction, my focus at this stage would be on correcting errors which are relevant to the material. These errors would be reassessed during the wrap up and revision activities. Again depending on the level of students the focus would be shifted from the grammatical errors to vocabulary and pronunciation errors as these are more important for their continuous advancement.
A smooth, fun and engaging class require teachers to be fully prepared all the time. Having a clearly defined syllabus and a set of objectives to achieve, will provide students with a logically connected, almost effortless learning experience. Teachers should show some people skills, enthusiasm and commitment so students feel encouraged to take on this attitude. If students enjoy the class, they are more likely to participate in it voluntarily, this way continuously improving their language skills. By language skills I mean all the skills, as I believe that having a good level of communicative competence can help students to make sense of grammatical rules, to understand better what they read and eventually to improve their writing skills as well. This cannot be achieved by only concentrating on grammar and writing. For instance, one can practice grammatical structures by writing hundreds and hundreds of sentences; however, if he/she doesn't have sufficient vocabulary and doesn't know how to put these into context, then what's the point of learning them?
So becoming a teacher, these are the ideas and methodologies I would use as a reference. My general approach is to encourage students to express themselves in the target language, as this is the only way I can monitor their improvement, detect their errors and help to correct them. Advancement can only be achieved by challenging ourselves continuously and learning from our mistakes. This is the only way to accomplish a successful learning outcome.
Lesson plan for a level 'S1' class
- this example is based on some previous knowledge that SS have acquired during previous classes
(1) I would start with a couple of QQs relating to previous classes.
eg. How are you? What is your name? How old are you?
I would move on to the first activity by asking a question relating to that activity.
Throughout the class I would pay attention of intonation, to speak slowly and to use very simple terms when giving instructions or explaining something. If I find impossible to explain terms using the TL, I would use SS' native tongue but only if it's absolutely necessary.
Objective: SS to practice and acquire the use of 'I am, you are, he/she/it is' in order to describe people or objects.
Activity: I would use modelling and drilling technique and ask SS to repeat the sentences.
eg. T: I am a woman. Are you a man? No, I am not a man, I am a woman.
- ask them to repeat the sentences one by one - In order to help them to understand the sentences I would use intonation, and I would try to coordinate my speaking with physical actions eg. pointing at myself when I make a statement about myself.
Next I would move on to a Vocabulary activity in order for them to learn some new words and extend their possibilities to practice the structure.
Objective: SS to learn new vocabulary relating to body parts, colours and characteristics.
Activity 1: I would use some pictures that demonstrate the meaning of ' tall, short, fat, slim, hair, eye, ear, blue, blonde, brown, green etc. (probably with the words written underneath the pictures)
- pointing at the pictures and using some body language, I would read the first one out then pointing at a student I would ask them to continue reading the words paying attention of the pronunciation.
Activity 2: Once they've mastered the words, I would show them some more pictures and by pairing the first 2 I would show them what I want them to do.
eg. blue - eyes, blonde - hair, tall - man etc.
Finally to bring the previous activities together, I would teach them how to describe persons. I would do this by presenting a mix of the previous pictures which then have to be paired.
Objective: SS to learn how to use the forms of 'to be', 'have/has' and 'don't have/ doesn't have' when using adjectives to describe people.
Activity: I would make the sentences (by pairing pictures) first in a logical order so they understand the difference between have/has. Intonation would be crucial when using different forms of 'be' & 'have'.
eg. I read, SS to repeat:
T: I am tall.
T: I have blue eyes.
T: I don't have green eyes.
T: You are short.
T: You have green eyes.
T: You don't have blue eyes.
T: He is fat.
T: He has blue eyes.
T: He does not have green eyes.
T: Is he tall?
T: Do you have green eyes?
T: Does he have blue eyes?
- Once we've gone through all the examples I would repeat again but only the highlighted parts, this way emphasising the rule.
- in order to check their understanding I would ask them to make sentences with the remaining pictures.
(5) TOPIC/ Wrap up
At the end of the class I would ask them questions relating to their family. This would serve as a wrap up activity, so I could check if they successfully acquired the structures and the vocabulary. This could also be used as a topic activity as, they would have to speak about their family and friends.
Activity 1: ask questions relating to their family/friends. SS to answer the questions and give a brief description.
T: Do you have a brother?
T: Can you describe him?
Activity 2: Using the written questions as an example but substituting the different words, make SS ask questions from each other and answer them as well. This way all SS would have to take part in the interaction and I could check the individual development of each students. If someone has difficulties with any of the activities, this problem can be addressed straight away and during the wrap up.
During the class I would try to note down the major mistakes, and in the final couple of minutes I would ask SS to make sentences using the problematic structures/expressions. I would try to make sure that SS have a clear understanding of the concepts by the end of the class.