During pre-service training teachers learn how to apply the PPP formula for teaching new language: Present Practise Produce. “Language” in this sense is in the specific and narrow meaning of Target Language i.e. grammar, functional exponents, lexis etc.
As teachers progress beyond their initial teacher training qualification they might continue to employ the PPP formula or they may move on to other approaches. In fact, I have come across a number of teachers who vehemently support the application of Guided Discovery to all lessons where new language is taught, or Task-Based Learning, or others who insist on a Dogme approach.
Regardless of your preference, it seems before any discussion about the best approach can take place there needs to be some understanding of what goes on in the background: what’s behind the language teaching approach?
The acronym MPFA will be well known to most English Language Teachers, who probably first come across it in their pre-service training: Meaning, Pronunciation, Form and Appropriacy. It represents the order in which new language – be it grammar or vocabulary – is taught.
You start by building a clear context which shows the meaning of the target language – that could be achieved with a picture, a mime or a story. You try to elicit from the learners what you are after and if they cannot provide it, then you give it to them. What follows should be some good choral and individual drilling to make sure they are saying it correctly. At this stage you might want to make sure they understand the target language, as drilling something which has not been understood will only result in bad habits. Then the teacher will move on to the form i.e. getting the lexeme or the tense on the whiteboard. The final stage is to deal with how appropriate the target language is in a given context. For example, ‘commence’ is quite a formal word, most often used in written form: it would not suit an informal conversation in a café, rather the synonym ‘start’.
M P F A is the procedure I use and it is the one I always recommend other teachers. However, some use a slightly altered order: M F P A . Given that English is not a phonetic language – written English is not representative of how it is said in most cases – I personally think it is better to drill pronunciation first and then move on to the form, as many learners might see the construction “I talked” and pronounce the -ed ending as /ed/ and not /t/. I have had learners who base their pronunciation entirely on the written form and when I point out that what I am saying is different to what is written, they say that they just assumed to have heard me incorrectly. However, regardless of this there are those out there who advocate the M F P A procedure.
I had always thought M P F A is the right way to deal with new language in the classroom and could not really imagine any teaching situation which would refute that. Until this week. Continue reading
Currently, I am doing the International House Certificate in Advance Methodology (short: IH CAM). It’s generally seen as a stepping-stone towards Delta Module 1.
It’s one of the heavier modules and it looks at the learners in terms of their ‘needs’ and ‘learning styles’. In short, it’s about how to establish what the learners need to learn and which approaches would best achieve this. What should follow would logically be a curriculum personalised to the group in question.
For the vast majority of ELT workers, the situation above is a beautiful dream that isn’t going to happen any time soon, as curricula are very often provided by schools. Although you may be allowed to diverge from the curriculum here and there, generally speaking you need to follow it.
So, by following the prescribed curriculum, which more often than not is the contents page of a course book, that should mean you’re doing your job correctly, possibly even well.
However, unfortunately in most cases, looking at a double-page spread of a course book and ‘figuring out’ how you will deliver it does not equate to a successful lesson.
At a meeting in Torun (Poland) in June 2013, I met the DoS of IH Torun – Glenn Standish. While talking about activities for engaging Teens and Young Learners, he mentioned something which I had only heard in passing: dictogloss
Since then, I’ve observed this activity numerous times and discovered that teachers have different takes on how to do it.