Beginners | young learners | learner-based teaching | music and songs | video | CALL | writing | grammar dictation | translation | conversation | role play | self-access | project work | class readers | newspapers | literature | drama.
It is often said there are no absolute beginners if such a widespread language as English is concerned, but the knowledge of a couple of words and short expressions does not mean a level of language skill. So the teacher must be well aware what kind of beginners he meets in his lesson, and there can be wide differences in methods he should prefer: for example an absolute beginner might be slower at first than a 'false' beginner but more comitted, or a false beginner or 'restarter' may already have had unsuccessful previous experiences in language learning, an adult beginner usually has a clear reason for learning, a youngster may be too young to understand certain explanations, etc. The first big goal can be scored by the teacher by catching the students' interests and building up a strategy of orientation and motivation on this base.
The chosen balance of teaching oral and written skills, less or more grammar, competence and performance, etc. also largely depends on the students' interests, age, social background, etc.
At the beginning level the importance of the first lesson must especially be emphasized. The students' first impression of the teacher's personality and workstyle and of the language itself will dominate in their motivation for a very long period of the learning process.
The first thing to mention here is that it is not so much the children's age that counts in the classroom as how mature they are. Inevitably, it must be emphasized that the approach and type of ability the teacher decides to use with a class must be influenced by their circumstances, environment, iterests, attitudes and intelligence. The teacher ought to be not only a language teacher but also a trained primary teacher.
Considering all this, there are a few things we must ALWAYS be aware of:
The kinds of activities that work well are games and songs with actions, total physical response activities, tasks that involve colouring, cutting and sticking, simple, repetitive stories, simple, repetitive speaking activities that have an obvious communicative value.
Class activities can be done using information that the students themselves bring to the lesson. In the first stage of learner-based teaching students prepare a certain material entirely base on their own knowledge, skill and ability, then in the second this material is passed over or performed to other students to carry out different activities with the aim of practising a particular skill, function, grammar item, etc.
The role of the teacher can be very varied with a wide range of nuances to shade off. He can be an active participant in the group genuinely taking part in the activities, contributing ideas and opinions, or relating personal experiences. He is also a helper and resource responding to students' requests to help with vocabulary or grammar. And he can be a monitor with checking and correcting the students' work and controlling their activities. Here the questions How? and When? (at what stage of the process) are very important.
Music is highly memorable: songs simply stick in the head with their rhythm and repetitive patterns. And music is highly motivating, especially for children, adolescents and younger adult learners. It would be clearly unwise to ignore this flexible and attractive resource in language teaching.
The frequently mentioned reasons against taking music to the class (it is noisy, pop songs are poor in vocabulary and grammar, and they are full of slang, students only listen and do not work, etc.) can easily be overdone by the fact that the language of songs is usually simple and natural, and it contains basic conversational expressions and grammar items, not speaking of their cultural background and the wide range of possible topics to be discussed after listening to music or watching a video clip.
What is perhaps the greatest value of having music in the classroom is that you have fun or relax between 'more serious' exercises. The way the teacher makes use of the lyrics of a song can be the same as with any other text, still the athmosphere is very different.
Few things make a more immediate impact than the visual image - and that impact is enhanced when the image is a moving one. Thus, using videos in the class can be a most effective way of teaching.
As good videos provide a great variety of activities that can be carried out in a sequence or at one and the same time - apart from the moving picture there can be meaningful picture and sound effects, actors' gags, subtitles, etc. - the teacher may need more time for preparation and more concentration in the lesson to handle everything well, but it is definitely worth the effort.
Video coursebooks are usually supplied with a complete soundscript and a detailed video guide for the teacher with all kinds of activity exercises, which he may simply carry out by following given instructions or he may as well use his own ideas of active viewing, soundless viewing, viewing backwards, slow motion, still picture, dubbing, subtitle writing, role playing, recording your own video, etc.
Computer Assisted Language Learning is a great chance for the teacher to make his lessons more extensive and effective. With the help of computers the teacher can give different exercises to individual students, pairs or small groups within one lesson and keep control on them on his own screen and keyboard, or just walking round. While he is with one student, the computer provides the neccessary task, feedback and help for the others.
In addition to all this the computer can be used for storing the students' work, creating new exercises, printing out analyses or texts, not speaking of their use in self-access learning.
Language teaching programs are usually designed so as they could be easily handled with the permanent help of clear information on the screen about possible steps to proceed: the user is only supposed to be able to turn on the equipment, click with the mouse and press buttons on the keyboard.
Writing is an 'authoring' skill, and so, as compared with speaking, for example, needs much nore planning and preparation and is not so easy to practise. It needs a rather high degree of organization in the development of ideas and information, and a careful choice of vocabulary and grammatical patterns, which may cause problems even for a native speaker.
The process of learning to write has to guide the student through the fields of achieving a considerable range of vocabulary, a solid competence in grammar, accurate spelling, meaningful punctuation, a good command of sentence structures and linking ideas and information across sentences to develop a topic.
Students have to go through the process of planning, organizing, composing and revising at different levels of the development of their skills, and the teacher's task is to select or design activities which support them through the process of producing a piece of writing.
Grammar dictation or dictogloss is a comprehensive and complex procedure which involves the teacher and students in communicative interaction, text creation or reconstruction, and error analysis - at a higher level of language study.
The procedure consists of the following major stages: listening (a text is dictated at a speed that allows only key words to be noted), text reconstruction (students pool their resources to reconstruct their own version of the original text) and analysis (the correction process enables students to understand their errors and the language options available to them).
While writing is composing, which allows relative freedom within the possibilities of the language and the chosen topic, translation, as the most possibly exact interpretation of a foreign text both in meaning and style, is to be laid between the borders of the other language and the other author.
The effect of learning and practising translation is mostly due to these limits: sneaking down this narrow way develops accuracy, clarity and flexibility both in structure and vocabulary usage.
The most important principles of clear and understandable translation are: no conversion in meaning, no arbitrary additions or omissions, neccessary changes in form or order if required by the language, proper register, style interpretation, careful handling of idioms, etc.
Accuracy, fluency and appropriacy in speech do not neccessarily cover one another exactly, so general speaking skills do not always mean the presence of good conversation skills.
Conversation or 'chat', being perhaps the most authentic and up to date performance of the language by native speakers, is a very difficult task for foreigners, and has to be carefully taught and practised. It is not only the specific 'looseness' and flexibility of structure and vocabulary in conversation that needs special attention, but also the various levels of informal language usage in accordance with the participants' attitudes, social backgrounds, age, sex, etc, just as well intonation, gestures, body language, slang, etc in addition.
Role play is an ideal vehicle for developing fluency, and it also offers afocal point in lessons integrating the four skills. Role play is highly flexible and can be used successfully at any level of language teaching. Its main goal is that not only does it put the learners' knowledge into 'live' practice, it also improves their confidence and self-assurance in a very effective way. The students' first embarrassment and uneasyness dissolves rather fast, and if once they get used to acting freely in situations in the classroom, they will surely be able to communicate easily in real life.
Here is some advice for the teacher setting up a role play:
The primary aim of self-access study facilities is to enable learning to take place independently of teaching. Students can choose and use self-access material on their own and the material gives them the ability to correct or assess their own performance. By using such facilities, students are able to direct their own learning.
The main point for the teacher here is teaching to learn and providing the student with the neccessary background. But never give more than obviously neccessary, neither as regards to resource nor to instruction and advice. To reach the greatest possible success it is useful to be aware of the student's individuality, study habits, likes/dislikes, motivation, etc.
By encouraging students to move out of the classroom and into the world, project work helps to bridge the gap between language study and language use. It is, therefore, a valuable means of extending the communicative skills acquired in the classroom.
The motivation lies in the project itself. Students are offered the opportunity of using their acquired skills in situations which are new, challenging and real.
The teacher in project work acts as the students' collaborator or consultant; he takes an active part in the first stage (classroom planning) and in the third (review and analysis), but the students are entirely left on their own in the second (carrying out the project), where feedback can come only from reflections of the real world around the real situation.
Reluctant readers are a problem in all types of classroom at present, and it sometimes seems hopeless for the teacher to convince them that reading, either extensive or intensive, is pleasurable. Still, she or he can do a lot about it.
The teacher's choice in proper texts is as important as the way that he presents them. Extensive reading, perhaps, can offer higher pleasure in general, but if the text is not properly chosen and it does not match the reading skill and interest of the student as an individual with his own ability and taste, the effort will often end in a failure - while the range of enjoyable and motivating activities connected to intensive reading is large: from role play to card games, from matching tasks to Snakes and Ladder games, from creating documents to playing Bingo.
Reading newspapers in the classroom is one of the connections with the outer, real world, and it is also a means of developing a valuable skill of skimming and scanning when reading for information.
Since it is often said by foreigners that English newspaper language is a nuisance to read (which is more or less true), special care has to be taken so as the student should not get frightened by it.
In addition to learning the general characteristics of newspaper language (headline and advert language, omission of words, unusual use of verb phrases, etc.) nespaper articles can serve as a new colour on the palette of texts for different purposes.
It might be a question for the teacher whether to think of literary texts as well when choosing something for text work, listening, reading or translating. There can be reasons both for and against the idea.
Here are some reasons for:
There is a Chinese proverb: I hear and I forget, I listen and I remember, I do and I understand… So doing is the top of acquisition.
Drama is doing, and drama is being - such a normal thing. Little dramas in everyday life, dramas in history and literature.
So why do we not take drama into the classroom as a higher variation of role plays and situation games? What is meant here is merely the simple extension of practising the four skills in situations completed with emotions, or passions even, that is not only do you see and do something, you also feel and experience.
© Trickshot English (1994)
Copyright © 1998-2004|
All rights reserved.