Pusan University of Foreign Studies

TESOL Program


Teaching Techniques in the Classroom

Thor May

The suggestions below are just a few of many, many possibilities. The quest of every good teacher involves a constant search for new techniques, and interesting variations on old ones. Note that most of the techniques listed here require active student performance or response. However, much language learning comes from active listening and observation. It is often a mistake to push students into active responses before they are mentally prepared (and mental preparation may take a long time, even years). Finding ways to help students listen or read with understanding, but without "responding" publicly is a challenge for teachers, who may feel that they are not teaching successfully when "nothing seems to happen".

A. Dynamics

1) In ESL/EFL contexts, rapid, high pressure language exchanges are typically teacher-driven, except in some games. This sort of interaction can be effective if fairly brief, but done as part of a regular daily routine.

2) Slower paced, more inventive language exchanges are best if student centered. This includes most written and some oral/aural work. Diagramming and drawing might also be involved. The teacher in this situation acts more as a consultant.

B. Examples of Activity Types

1) Attention training exercises  - teacher centered; requires high student concentration; works best with a familiar pattern of activity done regularly but briefly. e.g. The teacher tells a very short story (one paragraph), then asks several oral questions requiring a syntactically precise response. The paragraph will have interest content, but be designed to elicit a particular grammatical pattern. [e.g. exercises from R. O'Neil, English in Situations]. In this special oral context syntactic errors are rejected in a friendly way immediately, prompting students to seek a better alternative; (in the context of most language teaching the teacher would let many errors pass without comment so as not to undermine fluency and confidence).

2) Short practice in rhythm & intonation - teacher centered; most effective if done for, say five minutes on a daily basis; requires choral work and also individual oral responses by selected students to a teacher-modeled utterance; must be done with good humour, laughter if possible; may also involve humming, tapping, clapping or physical miming; this is a good way to focus on particular musical patterns and other pronunciation problems in the language; [e.g. W. Stannard-Allen, Living English Speech ].

3) Development of questioning technique & logical thinking by students - ultimately student centered, but requires careful modifications of student ideas about 'what happens in a classroom'. This change in outlook will take time, and need persistent teacher encouragement. The teacher must also be prepared to modify traditional teacher behaviour.

Example : The If-Then-WH Game   [WH = how, when, what, why, which, where, who ]

Student 1 : If sweets are bad for you, then why do people like them?

Student 2 : Because they like sugar.

Student 3 (or Student 1 if partners): Well, if sugar is bad for you, then why do we like it?

etc. etc.

Each response must logically follow from the one before or it loses a point. Bright, intermediate level students might do this game orally. However, it can also be done as a written exchange with two or more simultaneous themes, so that all students are busy preparing a response to something at all times. In some variations of this game, students can even prepare a (longer) response for homework. With students who have an interest in natural or man-made systems (e.g. weather cycles, car mechanics) this is also an excellent way to develop and test their knowledge. A diagram or chart of decision points can be used to cue the questions too (e.g. a problem tracing chart from medicine or mechanics).

4. Continuity Exchanges - the best continuity exchanges are student centered, but probably need some teacher intervention to keep the momentum going.

a) Exercises like the If-Then-WH Game above are also continuity exchanges.

b) The simplest type of continuity exchange is oral sentence completion:  the teacher writes a beginning word on the board, then asks students (maybe in competition) to call out another word which collocates (goes with the preceding word OK) until a sentence is completed. This is quite a fun thing to fill in five minutes at the end of a class.

c) Partner writing exchanges (fast or slow motion) can be used for words, phrases, sentences paragraphs or diagrams. Each partner can work on a different topic simultaneously, then swap, so that both are occupied all the time. If the procedure has a known completion point, then pairs of students can compete to finish first. e.g. completing a set of directions for a tourist, or instructions to assemble some furniture kit would be exercises with a known completion point.

d) Trails - these are "maps" of some kind which show the students where to take their language creations. Trails may not have a known completion point. They are often visual, but may have other forms, even musical. Here are some examples :

i) diagram and picture development exchanges + explanations, discussion, captions, labels, descriptions etc.

ii) memory map or flow chart exchange development.

iii) fantasy island fantasy hotel / fantasy school etc. exchange development.

iv) river / forest path / highway etc. exchange development

v) formula story (e.g. romance, comic hero..) exchange development.

vi) monster mountain / deadly cave / alien planet etc exchange development.

vii) country next door / strange neighbours / strange foreigner .. exchange development.

viii) holiday trip / shopping trip / dentist visit ... exchange development

ix) general's battle plan / warships battle / enemy invasion etc .. exchange development

x) use your imagination ! You can develop many more formula situations like the above !

5. Repetition - some repetition is a normal part of human communication, and also an important part of most learning. Drills are based on repetition. The risk in repetition is boredom, because when people are bored they don't learn. Some students are more quickly bored than others. Even passive repetition may not lead to learning. Repetition + high interest is a much better formula for learning.

a) Daily occurrence - this often a welcome kind of repetition if done briefly in a friendly way. The routine gives most students security and confidence. For example, the first day you teach a song children probably won't really 'get it'. When you play it again on day two, they will begin to enjoy it, and by day three they will 'get in the mood' immediately. Other routines for intonation and intensive listening are mentioned above.

b) Creative revision - a lesson should not be 'finished' on one day, then never heard of again. On the following day, and occasionally thereafter the core of the lesson must be revisited. It is important to do this with enough repetition to spark remembering, but also with a little originality so that students don't moan "we've done that already".

c) Chorus line - some kinds language are designed to have a repeating part. The chorus in songs is a good example. Funny stories can also be made up with a repeating section. e.g. "Oh dear, it was morning again and something bad was going to happen". In this case, the 'chorus' makes a frame, and clever students can even make up a paragraph to tell what happens between each chorus repetition. They can do this in pairs or groups, then compete for the best performance.

d) 'Catch and throw' exchanges - these may be teacher/student, or with preparation and rehearsal, student/student. e.g. T: The little pig cried / S: because he had no friends // T: The little pig ran away / S: because he saw the wolf // T: The little pig ran very fast / S: because he was very, very afraid ....

6. Three's a Team - pair work is often effective, but can easily lose direction. Large groups often carry lazy members. In a group of three, one can have the job of organizing, directing, slave-driving, cueing, looking up words, being secretary, making sure that only English is spoken etc., depending on the task. That is, the third member is the 'teacher'. This 'teacher' role should rotate regularly. Teenagers in groups can sometimes be undisciplined, so in extended tasks a little structure can help. For example, give them a 'job sheet', so that each time the 'teacher role' rotates the 'old teacher' must write sentence about what he/she did, and sign it. Very young children are usually not interested in pair or team work.

a) Learning a dialogue - three students read and/or listen to a tape recording of a dialogue. Next, they take a few minutes to memorize the dialogue. Then two students try to perform it. When they forget, the third student cues them. The cueing job is rotated. When everyone remembers the dialogue, the third student listens, checks and advises for rhythm, intonation and speed.

b) Dialogue extension or dialogue interruption - once a simple dialogue is learned, the team work together either i) to make what each person says more complicated, or ii) the invent a third speaking part for someone who constantly interrupts the other two.

c) Interrogation - give students a role card describing a crime, or a spy's activities, or a school prank. Next, have two of the students be policemen who interrogate the suspect. With advanced students, the interrogation may be spontaneous. Elementary students might be given a basket of questions and answers to choose from. They could also make these up in writing beforehand. Everyone has a turn at being the suspect. It is important to practice body language and voice expression in an exercise like this, (or even make it into a melodrama for fun).


  Material on this site has been prepared by Thor May for the PUFS TESOL Program 2003
Site addresses :
a) http://home.pufs.ac.kr/~thormay
b) http://thormay.net/lxesl/tesol/pufsindex.htm