Elicit Success With Great Teaching Methodology

What method should I use to create a good learning environment in my classes?

When teachers learn methodology for teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL), they often encounter an alphabet soup of acronyms meant to help them remember the steps to good teaching.

Two of the most common methods used when teaching English overseas are PPP and ESA. PPP stands for Presentation, Practice, Production. ESA stands for Engage, Study, Activate.

Confused? Don’t be. Bear with me for a moment—don’t get lost in the soup of terms—and I’ll explain why and how either of these methods, or even your own unique method, can create a great environment for learning.

 Structure is key

The most important thing about method in EFL is that teachers should provide their students with a very structured feed of information—so that after this structured input, the students can walk out of class understanding how to use their new language points—and walk out with the experience of already having used that language in a place where it’s safe to make mistakes and have been successful using it.

Let me show you what I mean.

The ESA method (as presented by Jeremy Harmer) is, as I said before, Engage, Study and Activate.  So, using this method, the first thing a good teacher might do in their English class is begin to elicit some ideas from her students.

Eliciting information makes class fun – in many ways

Let’s say we were teaching a Business English class focused on how to politely manage complaints in the workplace.  We first might pose the idea of complaints, and then ask the students to volunteer up what are some of the most common complaints. What, in their experience, do people say when they want to complain? We’ll get the students to brainstorm ideas, which makes the class interesting, active and fun. This is the part that Jeremy Harmer— or any good teacher, in fact—is such an advocate of: student participation.

When you elicit ideas and language from your students, you are giving them a sense of ownership in your class. Now, they have a stake in what is going on: “I told my class about a problem in my life, and now they’re going to help me solve it.” Elicitation empowers students, invests them in their own learning and increases the motivation of the class as a whole.

This is great for the students—and it’s also great for the teacher. There’s nothing better, teaching-wise, than a group of motivated students who are ready—and excited—to learn the lesson you are teaching.

In our Business English class example, after eliciting the types of things people complain about in the workplace, we would then get them to narrow down into the structures and form the exact language people use when posing a complaint. “What do people complain about?” would be the first question. “What do they say?” could be the second.

At this point in the lesson, it may be useful to put up some of the target structures on the board. For this example, those structures might be “I don’t like…,” or “I have a problem with…” Or, “Can you help me?” This teaches the students to identify complaints right away so they can begin to compose an accurate and respectful response.

During this whole process we want to keep eliciting from the students—what language do they remember having heard before? What language structures do they use themselves? Fit that language that is brought up into the structures you have planned to teach. Then, after having given the students practice using the language in a structured manner, start to remove the constraints and let the students speak more freely.

Practice, of course, makes perfect

For example, when teaching the target language segment, we might tell the students to “listen and repeat,” and then teach them to respond to complaints by saying, “I’m sorry this has happened. Let me do XXX to help you. Let me do YYY to solve that problem.” The students listen and repeat this several times with different variations.

As we go through the lesson, we edge into the the Study and Activate section (or the Practice and Production section depending on which method you might prefer) By the end of the lesson, the students should be able—and eager—to use the language without you laying out the structure for them.

To review the basic idea of this methodology:

First, elicit from the students some ways they can see themselves using the target language for the day.

Then, supply some structure to the lesson and practice, practice, practice.

Finally, remove the structure and let the students explore the language point more freely. By the end of the class, they will be using the language in ways that are relevant to their daily life or life on the job (Business English, remember?).

So, is this method only good for adults, students who are mature enough to think about the ‘big picture’ of their daily life? No! This method also works for children.  Let’s say you want to teach a class of kids about the language of requests. Show them a toy. Now elicit from them, how would they ask for it?

For all learners, adults and children, if the language they learn in your class is crafted to be personally relevant, then it becomes much more motivating and interesting.

The bottom line is that these methods, ESA and PPP, and the simple technique of elicitation are all about creating an environment where students learn, where they want to learn, and where what they learn is useful to them.

Not only will your students be motivated to come to the next class, but you’re likely to have less problems disciplining your students, because they will want to learn what you are teaching, they will be actively involved in your class.

New teachers often worry that their lesson plans need to fit precisely within the boundaries of PPP or ESA, or follow step-by-step what Jeremy Harmer says, or even step-by-step by what I write on this website.  They shouldn’t worry, because teachers need the flexibility to be able to tweak their lessons to the needs of their particular batch of students. Pay attention to your students’ needs and address those in the classroom—even if you have to change your method. Don’t get stuck on just one style if it’s not working for your students.  But do get stuck on the ideas of elicitation and providing a structure that is slowly removed.

In a nutshell

The basic idea I think all teachers should really absorb from this is: Elicit language that is important to the students. Provide structure. Remove the structure. Let the students gradually speak more independently as you move through the lesson, so they can begin to use the language to address their personal situations and use English to make their lives better.

TED’s Tips™ #1: In the ESL classroom elicitation can equal motivation.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Your students deserve to learn language that will help them in the real world.

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How to Teach EFL Reading

Tips for Teaching Reading in the EFL Classroom

Students who are learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) are usually taught reading skills differently than native speakers are taught.

Its Not Just Vocabulary

While learning new words is, of course, important for unlocking the meaning of texts, the reading skills of surveying, skimming, scanning, inference, predicting, and guessing are also crucial.

Research shows that you can help your students develop their reading comprehension by zeroing in on the following skill areas:

Vocabulary Root Words

In your students’ native language, words may not be formed using the same methods or concepts as we form words in English. So, when teaching vocabulary, introduce your students to the idea of “root” words, prefixes and suffixes. These concepts will allow your students to increase their vocabulary pool quickly and with minimal effort.

Prefixes and suffixes (together called ‘affixes’) help us make many different words from one base word. As native speakers we understand that, but many EFL students will not be able to decipher without help that contain is the root of both container and containment; or that desire is the base word for undesirable and desirability.

When students come across new vocabulary in your lessons, be sure to highlight these connections. Then, they can enlarge their vocabularies and improve their ability to predict new words’ meanings from already acquired base words.

Understanding roots and affixes means learning one new root word can help a student understand many more than just that one.

But, studying affixes is only one of many ways to teach vocabulary. For more tips, check out the links further below on this page.

Surveying, Scanning, Skimming

When we are in an academic setting it’s rare that we would carefully read an entire text line by line and word for word. It would be more natural for us to instead glance through the contents of the book– the chapters, headings, subheadings, sidebars, pictures, illustrations, words in italics and bold type—and form an idea of what is the most important information for our purpose. After that, then we would home in on the specific parts of the book which will be most useful to us.

In a nutshell, that is the purpose of the concepts of surveying, scanning and skimming. When a reader does this, she moves from the ‘big picture’ all the way down to the minutiae of details. And, EFL teachers need to be aware that their students may be lacking these important skills. Learning these basic reading skills should be part of your lesson plans, to give your students a more complete understanding of how to read in English. Again, check out the links below for more help on how to impart these skills to your own students.

Developing Students’ Sixth Sense–Guessing and Predicting from Context

Just looking at the table of contents of a book won’t help your students, though. In class you’ll need to lead them through how to derive word meaning from the context of the text, and also how to develop the ability to predict what action or information will be described in the following paragraphs. For more help with teaching these skills, take a look at the links listed below.

Super Resources for Teaching Reading:

Teaching Reading – Both the main file and the subsections are useful, so don’t just skim it!

Teaching Reading Skills – This is a PDF file you can download.

Skimming and Scanning

Scanning Exercise

Skimming, Scanning, and SQ3R

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Research tells us that about 10% of learners learn a language best through reading and writing rather than speaking.   Tune in and look for those students so you can help them learn in the way they learn best.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Having students read out loud in a class is not teaching reading skills.  It is mostly teaching verbal skills.  As students learn to read they should read without moving their lips or making verbalization, discourage it when you see it.  The average person can read 4-5 times faster than they can speak.  Thus reading out loud as an exercise can severely retard a person’s reading speed.

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Body Language in the EFL Classroom

Using Gestures, Modeling and Cueing

Giving directions on just how to do an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) class activity can sometimes be more challenging than the target language in that activity. Your students are still learning and they may not understand the words or structures you are using to tell them what to do.

So how can you communicate directions to your students painlessly?  By using body language—specifically modeling, gestures and cueing.

Good EFL teachers can use their hands and facial expressions to communicate ideas that students can not yet express in English. Show your students what you want them to do by miming or acting out your own request. This is called ‘modeling.’  Or, use specific hand gestures to prompt behavior or more pared-down movements to cue the students to action.  All of these help the student understand your meaning without understanding every word you say.

The point of your English lesson is to teach them the target language of that day’s lesson plan. You don’t want to bog them down in a sea of incomprehensible directions with no clue how to do the next activity.

Teachers should always model the activity before asking students to engage in it; gesture with their hands to indicate when they want students to answer in chorus, listen or repeat (i.e. put your hands by your ears for ‘listen,’ draw your hand away from your mouth for ‘repeat’); and cue students by pointing to words on the marker board or places in the textbook.

However, this “talking” with your hands can be overdone. Only gesture and cue as much as needed. If you overdo it, students may become confused. Pay close attention to how the students are responding and use more or less body language accordingly.

Modeling, gesturing and cueing are all tools in the EFL teacher’s toolbox. They will help make your class run efficiently and effectively. One thing to remember, though, is that different cultures have different ‘rules’ regarding some hand movements. For example, in some cultures it’s insulting if you use just one finger to point, while in others it’s rude to gesture with your palm up.

However, these cultural quirks can be fun to learn, and if you approach each new culture you encounter with sensitivity your students will be glad to help you catch on to the polite way to do things.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If a student doesn’t know how to answer a question you’ve just asked and the correct response is already written up on the marker board, use the subtle cue of placing your hand on the board near the answer to draw attention to it. This isn’t cheating—you’re not giving them the answer, only helping them notice it.

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