TEFL Methodology: Two Common Methods

How to Teach English as a Foreign Language

One post is nowhere near long enough for you to learn all you need to know about teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL or EFL). However, in this post what I can do is introduce you some of the basic methods commonly used in the EFL classroom, and I can provide you with links to several good on-line resources.

One of the best resources around for good solid basics is: Basic Teacher Training for EFL Teachers. Some of the material here on TEFL Teacher Training is drawn and expanded upon from my own on-line training course at  TEFL Boot Camp.

It’s Not Only What You Teach—It’s How You Teach

As for methodology, the two most commonly followed methods taught by TEFL Certification schools are “Presentation, Practice, Production” (PPP) and/or “Engage, Study, Activate” (ESA).

Advocates of each teaching camp often think that the method they know is the only way to teach properly– but to an impartial observer, the two methods are actually quite similar.

What your students really need is for you to take a relatively flexible approach to how you teach, and if you do this, you will see there are benefits of both methods. In fact, you can use a bit of both methods in every lesson.

These methods and my explanations here are primarily for teaching speaking skills, though the methods can be adapted to teaching reading, writing and listening skills as well. In future posts, I’ll also address how to teach non-speaking skills individually.

Let’s start with PPP.

“PPP” Means Presentation, Practice, and Production

“Presentation” is where the target language, the language to be taught to the students, is “presented” to the students.

In this stage the teacher elicits language from the students with cues, to see what they already know (often you’ll find some of the students know a lot of– even all—of the target vocabulary). If no one knows any of the words for this topic, then the teacher will provide some vocabulary, but usually a good portion of the target phrases can be obtained from the students.

Now, why do we do this? Eliciting and cueing the students makes the topic (and your class) more relevant to the students.  After all, they gave you the material they are going to practice and learn.  That’s relevant to them and when things feel relevant, students are more motivated. (Yet another topic for another post!)

The teacher will put that lesson’s target language up on the marker board. This might take different structures, perhaps as grammar, in charts or written in dialogs.

The presentation stage of a lesson features more “teacher talk” than the other stages of the lesson.   Teachers probably should budget as much as 20-40% of the total lesson time for this stage.

That said, less teacher talk–in any part of the lesson–is better. Our goal is to have the students talk, not the teacher. You already have plenty of practice speaking and they don’t. So don’t hog the lesson – that’s the classic symptom of a poor language teacher.

Next comes the “Practice” stage of the lesson. The students practice the target language in one to three activities. These progress from very structured—providing little possibility for error–to less-structured as the students master the material.

These practice activities should include as much “student talk” as possible and not focus on written activities, although written activities can sometimes provide a structure for the verbal practices.

Practice activities should have the “student talk time” range from 60-80% of the time. Teacher talk time should be as minimal as possible. The practice portion of the total lesson may take 30-50% of the total lesson time.

The third stage, “Production”, is when students take the target language and use it in conversations they ideally create and structure. They now can talk about themselves or their daily lives or situations using the language they have just learned.

The production stage of the lesson involves “student talk” as much as 90% of the time – and this component of the lesson can/should take as much as 20-30% of the total lesson time.

As you can see, the general structure of a PPP lesson is flexible. An important feature is the progression from controlled and structured speech to less-controlled and more freely used and created speech.

Another important feature of PPP, and other methods, is the reduction of teacher talk time and the corresponding increase in student talk time as you move through the lesson.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most common errors untrained teachers make is that they talk too much. Let your students do the talking and watch how quickly they learn.

 “ESA” – means Engage, Study, and Activate

The stages of ESA are roughly equivalent to PPP, though ESA is slightly different in that it is designed to allow movement back and forth between the stages. However, each stage is similar to the PPP stages in the same order.

Proponents of the ESA method stress its flexibility compared to PPP. The ESA method as defined by Jeremy Harmer, its primary advocate, uses more elicitation and stresses more “Engagement” of students in the early stages of the lesson.

Both elicitation (drawing language from the students by use of questions, prompts and cueing) and Engagement are important in raising student motivation, but both tactics can just as easily, and should, be used in the Presentation stage of PPP.

ESA is superior method to PPP when both are looked at from a rigid point of view.

But, EFL is not rigid and you should not adhere to any one viewpoint or method. PPP is often an easier method for teacher-trainees to get a handle on.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Study and learn one method well – branch out to other methods as you increase your experience and skill level.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t get hung up on terminology or married to any one method. There are many ways to approach language instruction and PPP and ESA are used primarily because they are easy to teach in the relatively short four-week TEFL Certification or CELTA courses.

PS: I have developed the GRO method – similar to but different from PPP and ESA – for helping my students improve. The GRO Method is more student focused, even in its description. “G” is for Growing student knowledge by Getting new information and Grasping the function of the target language of the lesson. “R” is the portion of the lesson for student Reaction to and Rehearsal or practice with the target language. And the “O” is for the students to Optimize their use of the language by making it more personal and relevant.

I know my method is effective and no other method is nearly as flexible. So there!   I hope you don’t mind my humor.

You can create your own method too – as long as you have the best interests of your students in mind as you do it.

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International Standards for TEFL Certification

Warning: I am going tell you the truth, but some people won’t want to read it.

Here it is:  There is not just one organization or one standard in the world for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) programs.  Sorry! I know it would make everything easier if this weren’t true!

So, if what I’m telling you is right, then what does it really mean then when TEFL programs say they are “Internationally Recognized?”  It usually means that their certificates have been accepted pretty much around the world.  And that is true of probably 98% of all TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certification programs.  It would be quite rare – at least in my experience – if a particular program were to be rejected.

Anyway, don’t read too much into claims of “accreditation”.  A few schools belong to organizations that will check the institute’s course content and might even come by to see if that content is presented well. But don’t read too much into that either. Large fees are paid and well . . . no one likes to bite the hand that feeds them.  Some large programs even own the very company that evaluates them.  How do you think that is going to work out?  I bet they get a good rating EVERY time!

The Nitty Gritty

Skipping the boring bits, what new teachers really want to know is:

1. If I take that course, will it help me get a job?

2. Will it meet the standards of employers?


3. Will it meet the standards of the Ministries of Education in countries where a TEFL Certification of some sort is required?

Now, when TEFL certification is required, the employers and Departments of Education and/or working visa authorities may or may not have any real requirements.  China – the world’s biggest TEFL jobs market, doesn’t have any set requirement about what they will accept.   A country like Thailand (probably the world’s third largest employer is generally are looking for a minimum of 100 hours of training and at least six hours of observed teaching practice.

Who Decides All This?

So, you might be asking, what international agency sets the standard for ESL/EFL training?

Sorry, because again, there isn’t one. The benchmark stated above of 100 training hours and 6 hours of observed teaching practice is just generally what is considered the minimum acceptable training for developing good basic EFL teaching skills. Will you be the world’s best teacher by the time you finish such training? Probably not, but what you will have is the knowledge you need to further develop your skills as a teacher.

What Types of TEFL Certificates Are Out There?

Before you sign up for a TEFL course, compare a few different ones and see what the differences are.  Look for a good basic one that meets the standards explained above, but also look for any extras. Some organizations will add on a module for Business English or will give you a concentration in Young Learners – nice if those are areas in which you wish to teach.

TEFL wannabees are often confused by two terms that emerge from the alphabet soup of English Teaching. These are the “TEFL Certification” and the “CELTA.” Both of these meet the standards mentioned earlier on this page.

A TEFL Certification (often shortened to “TEFL Cert”) is more of a generic term meaning “Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification”, while the other is the CELTA, the “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.” Some years back there was also the Trinity RSA. Generally all of these can be considered equivalent and will have roughly similar content.

One important note – if you intend to teach in Europe or the UK there is strong preference there for the CELTA name brand. Mostly, in the rest of the world, employers don’t have a preference. However, keep in mind that schools which sell CELTA or even their own name brand, will often prefer to hire as teachers students who have previously taken their branded course, of course!

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you spend the money and time to get a TEFL or TESOL Certification (or CELTA) be sure it is one that meets the generally accepted international standards reviewed on this page. Otherwise you may find someday that you will need to take another course to meet the requirements for a job you really want.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you intend to work in Europe, the UK and/or for schools that sell the CELTA course, get a CELTA.

TED’s Tips™ #3: There are many reasons why it is best to take your TEFL course in the country in which you first wish to teach. Experience with country-specific learner problems will be helpful on your first job. I’ve taught in five countries and each one has their own unique problems. As you develop your skills you will get better at quickly finding solutions, but a newbie teacher fresh out of the box will often struggle with solving pronunciation issues and explaining common problems that their students have.

TED’s Tips™ #4: Check out TEFL Program dot com for the five checklists the website provides to help you select the BEST training for you.

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Do I Need TEFL Training to Teach English Abroad?

English teaching wannabes and newbies ask me these questions frequently:

1. Is TEFL training required to get the job I want?

2. Do I have to have it?

3. Would it make a difference to employers if I had it?

If you’ve been waiting impatiently for the answer to just those questions, here they are: 1. sometimes, 2. sometimes and 3. yes.

Some countries require a Teaching English as a Foreign Language(TEFL) certification before they can approve your papers to work legally. Thus – before you can work in Thailand, Indonesia and a few other places, you must have completed a TEFL course.

That said, most countries don’t require any TEFL training at all. However, even in those places the best employers will prefer their new hires to have had training before they start work. So, in fact, getting TEFL training may your first hop in leap-frogging up the food chain, work-wise.

New TEFL teachers shouldn’t forget that, even if many countries and jobs don’t require training at all, teaching abroad shouldn’t be about getting by with the minimum effort and just doing a lackluster job. Doing a good job is good for you, too.

Will TEFL Training Really Make a Difference?

There are several ways in which you may benefit from TEFL training. The first is that many employers will pay higher salaries to teachers who have had good training. While this might not be much on a monthly basis, over a year or a semester it will add up. TEFL certification courses tend to easily pay for themselves in only one or two years. Add to that the idea that you’ll land a better job with a TEFL certificate than without training and you might be seeing an even better return on your investment.

Doing it Right is the Right Thing to Do

Those are the good practical reasons for getting yourself some training. There are also some ethical, moral and emotional issues to consider.

The first is that you owe it to your students. In most foreign countries, your students are paying a lot of money to sit in your class. Wouldn’t it be fair to them if you knew what you were doing? Getting a TEFL certification is the first step to being a better teacher.

Lest you think I exaggerate, I do realize teaching English overseas isn’t brain surgery or even rocket science, but it does require skill to do it well. As long as you are changing your life by heading overseas – why not do it right and feel good or even GREAT about the service you provide to your students?

The days of just showing up at a TEFL, “chatting with the students for an hour,” and collecting your money are long gone. Language schools these days would like you to provide some real teaching in their classrooms. And students can intuit when a teacher knows what they are doing – and when they don’t.

It Just Feels Better

One of the best reasons for getting yourself some training is that you will find preparing your classes much easier and you will enjoy your work more knowing that you are providing a quality service and not just grabbing someone else’s money. Best of all, you will sleep better at night.

It’s about doing it right – and feeling good about it.

Now . . . not everyone can afford the tuition for a full-blown TEFL certification program, not to mention taking four to six weeks off work to complete it. So, in the following post we will talk about some good alternatives to the commercially available courses.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get some training. You will enjoy yourself more and do a better job.  Remember how lousy teachers really turned you off when you were still in school? Yeah, don’t be one of those.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you can’t afford the “Full Monty” of a four-to-six-week course, check out alternatives in the next post.

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Scouting a Good University Teaching Position

A reader recently wrote:

I’ll be finishing an MATESOL soon, but have noticed that almost all job advertisements are for language schools.  I’ve already spent a year teaching overseas and loved it, but I want to teach at the university level now.  Help!

You are quite right, universities don’t tend to advertise as much as language schools.  There are simply far more language schools than universities and colleges.

It would be worth researching the country you want to work in and – these days – it is easy to find all the colleges and universities and even their email addresses and approach them directly.

I am never a fan of responding to advertising as then you are just one in a large group.

Also, my opinion only and I have had good success with it, is to direct your inquiry to the president of the university/college. Why?  Because while they probably won’t respond to you, they are likely to pass your email on to the appropriate person. And that person, having had your details sent to them from the president of the university, is much more likely to act on it and contact you.  Your resume/CV won’t end up at the bottom of a pile, forgotten.

Another and probably the best option, though more costly, is to get yourself on the scene and conduct informational interviews.  I’ve had good luck with that method as well. Most schools, even if they don’t have a position open for you, are happy to help you connect with someone who does – assuming that you present yourself well.   Often they will even make a phone call or two for you while you are sitting there.

If you have had experience in Korea, that is a good place to start as they will like that you have been there before. The Middle East is also ALWAYS looking for people.  Look for job in the Europe/Middle East section of TEFLJobsNow.com

Realize that with your MA you will be at the very top of the pecking order, so you shouldn’t expect to see as many advertisements for you. There are numerous organizations though that are more for people in your position and that advertise university/college type positions.  Do take a look at TESOL.org and there are numerous others.  Google about a bit to find them.

TED’s Tips™ #1:   Landing a good university position requires a different job search strategy than looking for a language school position.  But – if you qualify – the differences are great and the jobs are very worth the effort.

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