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.