Looking for the best teaching method

I often hear from teachers that they are using their own method of teaching or some of them may say that they prefer Communicative Language Teaching. However, it seems that we often rely on so-called principled eclecticism, which is a hotchpotch of some well-known approaches. In this article I am going to remind you of some traditional and contemporary methodologies that you may be following without realising that.

Grammar-translation

This was and still is one of the most widely used ways of teaching in many places, especially if there are a lot of students in one class. The emphasis is put on the written form of the language. The most prevalent activities are reading and translating texts as the name of the approach implies. The teacher explains the rules using L1 and students practise the target language in a variety of written exercises. Although this method does not include communicative work, the learners can build confidence by doing a variety of written exercises and compare the features of their own language with similar or completely different features of the language that they are learning.

Audio-lingualism

The idea came from Behaviourist theories of language learning, which can be summarised as developing a set of good habits by positive reinforcement. The focus is on accuracy and students learn by drilling model sentences, phrases and patterns of language. Although we cannot agree that all language can be learnt by using habit-formation drills, repetition is still one of the most obvious ways to put the target language into practice after a teacher-led presentation. What is more, these types of activities help to focus on the spoken form of the language.

Presentation-Practice-Production

This approach is based on the theory that language is a skill, which means that we need to help our learners understand the meaning and rules of the target language and practise the language in a controlled and freer way. The name of this method suggests the stages in a lesson. The explicit teaching will help the learners become aware of how the language works so that they can use it consciously. However, some learners may be ready for implicit learning and working out the rules themselves. Moreover, this is not a student-centred way of learning, which is likely to involve a lot of teacher talking time.

Task-based learning

There are a number of methodologies based on the principles of the communicative approach. The idea is that language is used for communication, the focus is on conveying meaning rather than accuracy. The aim of TBL is to help students do different tasks with a communicative focus so that they don’t concentrate on the language. The challenge of this method is to choose appropriate tasks that will help the learners feel the need for the target language and use it purposefully.

Lexical approach

The Lexical approach proposed by Michael Lewis is also based on the idea of teaching language to communicate. Teachers who prefer using this method think that communication depends on the choice of lexical chunks rather than grammatical structures. This way of learning will help students become fluent and natural by being exposed to the target language in context, processing the useful chunks and construct new utterances based on that knowledge of how words can be combined and work together. Some examples of chunks and ideas on how to deal with them can be found here. You may well be interested in reading about Dogme.

What does your choice depend on?

In my opinion, we are lucky as we teach in the post-communicative era. If we don’t have to follow one particular method because of the school requirements, the course design and lesson planning might be really fascinating but you have to be ready to experiment. We can be creative and flexible trying to figure out what our students need. To be able to help them achieve their aims in the most effective and efficient way we need to take into consideration the following:

  • your students’ needs, preferences and expectations
  • the purpose of the course and its objectives and how this can be assessed
  • your personal strongly-held beliefs about language acquisition and the effectiveness of certain teaching methods
  • the coursebooks available

References and useful links