Teaching English to people who are just beginning to learn English (second-language learners) can be quite a challenge, especially when the novice teacher has not studied languages herself. Teachers should be mindful that language learners have a variety of learning styles much like all students in the regular classrooms. Some students prefer writing while others prefer social interaction as a setting for learning. Visual learners need unique stimulation in the forms of pictures, drawings, and designs; whereas, kinesthetic learners need to employ body movement. For that reason, one would be advised to ask questions to determine the student’s level, his preferences, and his cultural background. The correct methodology to be utilized in class depends somewhat upon the learner’s and the teacher’s preferences. No matter which of the following strategies you should employ to teach your new students, it is preferable to try more than a single strategy and to mix as many as needed.
Presentation, Practice, Production
The Three P’s Strategy is commonly used in classrooms to teach all subjects. First, the teacher presents the topic of the day, week, or month. He sets up a situation that elicits and models language. Presentation techniques vary. I would recommend jotting down some notes on a whiteboard. Perhaps, the teacher will stand at a podium or move around the classroom. He might utilize a projector for a PowerPoint presentation or for drawing diagrams. Next, students practice what they have learned, often through simple drills, and then they “produce” a tangible project such as a written paragraph or a diagram to be explained to the class. The Production Stage utilizes some authentic (real life) materials and encourages students to use language in a real-life context. The PPP Strategy often integrates a variety of the other techniques because it is basically a means of organizing and presenting a lesson.
The Communicative Language Teaching Approach
The Communicative Language Teaching Approach is often employed together with the PPPs. The CLT approach evolved naturally to encourage open communication and interaction between teachers and their students. As a teacher, you will focus on communicative competence rather than on grammatical structure. Students will use the language in a quasi-authentic context in which the teacher elicits responses from them while also paying attention to fluency and accuracy. The goal of CLT is to achieve communicative ability while thinking of English as a form of communication. The teacher will ask questions to get to know the students. His questions will elicit topics that will introduce the class to new vocabulary as well as new idioms. The learning activities that you choose should be interesting to the learners and related to the authentic (real) world in which people live.
The Grammar Approach
Some people call it the “grammar-translation” approach. Learning the rules of grammar and translating interesting writings still has much value and is not to be derided. The mother tongue of the learner can be employed to discuss the grammatical structure of a writing in English. Nevertheless, in most cases the native-speaking teacher only speaks English to explain the grammar of a phrase or text. Even without good knowledge of grammatical structure, at some point learners will discover how useful this component of learning can be. Therefore, I would suggest teaching a grammar point or eliciting the students’ observations of grammar rules that become apparent while teaching through the communicative approach. The two approaches intertwine quite well if we permit them to do so.
Phonics, Reading and Literary Approaches
Depending upon your student’s level, you might decide to implement a reading program. For beginners, you might teach phonics or the sounds of letters. Students will benefit from some readings that are not much higher than their current reading levels. Such levels vary between students. As students progress, the teacher might ask questions on the readings to check for understanding. Online resources and computer programs are helpful nowadays in the areas of phonics, reading, and literature because computers sound out the letters for students in a delightful way while making learning become more like a game.
Total Physical Response
Total Physical Response (originally by James J. Ascher) is a technique that utilizes commands requiring students to use their bodies to show understanding of terminolgy. TPR can be used to review vocabulary as well as to practice authentic situations. You should prepare by selecting commands carefully before utilizing them in class. It will be a part of the lesson-planning process. Although many teachers say TPR is efficient at any level, I recommend using this form of instruction mostly for the lower levels. I recently used TPR in a class when I asked my student to stand up, to put her hand up, to turn around and to sit down. It was very effective, but as the lessons advanced I used less TPR. At any point in a lesson, no matter what the level, the kinesthetic learners will appreciate the movements of TPR.
The Natural Approach
In the Natural Approach, beginning learners are exposed to excellent models of language, namely, their teachers. It is through the subconscious and natural acquisition of language that learners best acquire English. Therefore, students need to be relaxed in the learning environment where they are encouraged to use the language naturally. This can be accomplished by telling an anecdote to the class and listening for how students respond. You may teach your class by playing games with them, by sharing personal experiences, and by solving a problem like “which dress code would be best for the school.”
The teacher with whom the student interacts is the best classroom resource. That is why I would not put students in front of computers for the entire class period. On the other hand, there are thousands of resources that you can find on the Internet to use for teaching English language learners. Teachers often share their handouts for free online, and there are publishers who share free materials for both ESOL and TEFL classrooms. I would suggest exploring the Internet for additional ideas and materials. Students might benefit from some assignments and tests that you will find on the Web.
No matter which techniques you choose, be mindful of learning styles and seek to meet the needs of individual learners. If you begin with a short story and then you ask your students open-ended questions on a simple topic, you will be on the right track to being an effective teacher of English language learners (ELLs).