In a previous post I spoke about the importance of Positive Reinforcement in the language classroom. It’s important that teachers show learners what language they are using correctly and praise them for it.
My justification for this is because we as teachers know what language is correct and incorrect, but that doesn’t mean learners know. In fact, as long as they have executed a successful communicative act, then they have achieved the desired goal: they’ve communicated a message.
Language is a wide topic and showing examples of good language use could range from grammar through lexis to pronunciation. Today, I’d like to focus only on vocabulary. Continue reading
When starting out in teaching, Newly Qualified Teachers tend to be enthusiastic collectors of in-class activities. It’s not unusual to hear in the staff room cries such as “Anyone have any good ideas that I can do with my intermediate group?” or “That sounds like a great activity, I’ll use that!” In short, new teachers will try just about anything once.
With a bit of time and experience, however, teachers come to realise that some activities work better than others. They tend to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work with their learners, making statements such as “that sounds like a nice idea but I just don’t see it working with my group.” And sometimes you have to stop using an activity because you fear you might over do it – this rings particularly true of vocab games.
With years of experience and plenty of development, some teachers then start to question the value of in-class activities. They cast a critical eye over them and start to ponder what principles of learning are behind the activity. This is when you start to hear statements, such as “well, this activity is good fun and they enjoy it, but what are the learners actually getting out it?” That is to say, you start to take a Principled Approach to activities and their design. Continue reading
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?
When teachers first finish their pre-service training course, one of their first worries is to get through their lessons as successfully as possible. Many of them will have gone into their first teaching posts only a matter of weeks before their first formal observations. There is also the added pressure of getting their heads around the syllabus and sticking to the curriculum. The last thing on their minds will, understandably, be Learner Progression.
However, many learners leave courses and do not return to language schools because they think they did not progress during the course. Now, most teachers will be able to assure you that all their learners did indeed progress and might even be able to demonstrate this to you. This is all well and good, but it is the learners who need this evidence of progression demonstrated to them, not other teachers.
If learners need evidence of progression, then that leaves a few questions to be answered: What techniques could be used? How often should a teacher do this? What if a learner has not truly progressed?
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
Teacher Training programmes, development courses and INSETT sessions very often try to push teachers into going that one step further in presenting grammar: guide the learners into discovering the rules, set up tasks which demand the use of the target language, let the need for a particular aspect of grammar arise naturally during a lesson.
Vocabulary, on the other hand, seems to take the back seat in the ferocious drive to being the best. An argument for that might be the notion of grammar being more important, as it is the bare bones of language, the structure upon which words are placed. However, research carried out by the likes of Halliday with his work on functional grammar has shown that vocabulary plays a much more significant role in the structural theory of language than ever before thought. There is also the argument of logical reasoning: words carry meaning – admittedly grammar does as well – without words and only grammar, no message could be communicated.
With the importance of vocabulary established, why does it remain on the back-burners of ELT methodology? Where is the demand high movement in vocabulary teaching?
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.