What tools did I have to leave in the toolbox?

Roger's Style of teaching ESL

Here are some of the tools I had to leave in the toolbox while I was in CELTA class.

Tool #1: My class introduction

What follows are my opening remarks to a class. These remarks are conducted as a lot of questions to the students so they start getting used to the question-and-answer format that will be the mainstay of classes I teach. This introduction is not considered proper CELTA format for two reasons:

  1. It is teacher-centric (I'm doing too much talking)
  2. It starts with an overview of what will be taught in the upcoming class, rather than starting with a game designed to create interest in the lesson of just this session... in this case, it should be an "introduction game" since this is the first meeting of the class.

What is English? (wait for any answer)

English is a tool for moving ideas. You have ideas in your head, and you'd like someone else to have those ideas, too. English is the tool for moving ideas.

Because it is a tool, how do you get better at using it? (wait for any answer)

You get better with practice... practice, practice, practice. Sorry, I can't help that. But what I can try to do is make your practice more interesting. I will do that because if what your practice is interesting, you'll practice more. And if you practice more, you get better faster.

The English we will work on in class consists of three parts. The first part is listening. What is the second part? (wait for an answer)

The third part is speaking, and the second part is thinking. Hopefully, you will do some thinking about what you hear before you start speaking. This is true in any language.

Those are the major elements we will be working on throughout the class: listening, thinking and speaking. Because of that, I will conduct this class by asking lots of questions. I will ask questions about all sorts of things. I will ask so that you get a chance to listen, think and then speak. You can ask questions, too, and I hope you will. The more you ask, the better. You'll be using your English every time you do.

This class will be all about using English to move ideas.

There is a fourth element I will also work on with you: that is pronunciation. You can speak in English and your grammar and word choice can be terrible, but it is likely I can figure out your meaning. But, if I can't understand your words, there is no hope. So, we will also spend part of the class on pronunciation. usually the first part. I have some Tongue Twisters that I will hand out, and we will open the class with them. You can practice these, and I will go over them with you. When we are working with Tongue Twisters, I will put on my American Ear and listen closely to what you say. When we are doing questions and answers I won't be as diligent about correcting pronunciation., unless there's a meaning problem associated with the bad pronunciation.

Those are the four elements we will be working on in this class: listening, thinking, speaking and pronunciation. I'm here to help you use English as a tool for moving ideas. The better you are at doing that, the better you are at English.

Are there any questions?

That is my class introduction to almost all my classes.


Tool #2: Teaching Fluency

The core of what I teach students is how to listen, think and speak in English. I presume that by the time they get to a class of mine they have studied enough grammar to make passable sentences. What they need from my class is practice integrating those sentence building techniques so they can be used quickly, so they can be used to move ideas in real time. What they need from my class is empowerment: affirmation that they really can use this English language as a tool for moving ideas. I presume that getting sentences built correctly is something they can study well on their own time, once they see the value of doing so.

This is not proper CELTA because I'm presuming too much knowledge on the part of my students. A CELTA class must spend a lot of time on proper sentence construction. Fluency is only a small subset of all that must be taught.


Tool #3: Interviewing students, then ad-libbing the class

Since my style is heavily based on question-and-answer format, I find out lots about what my students are interested in. I then use this information to dynamically craft the class subject matter to match those interests. If I have students who are interested in cars, I will adapt what's in the text to center around car talk. If I have clothing shoppers, we will talk about clothes, and so on.

This is not proper CELTA format because it is too teacher-centric, and it doesn't follow the lesson plan.


Tool #4: Telling students what I have seen when I day-trip

A variant on the interview format is to tell students about what I have seen in their country, and ask them to explain it further. I would say something such as, "Last weekend I went to such-and-such temple and I saw an old bell. What can you tell me about this old bell?" I have found that students love to talk about their country, and they love to stretch their English to tell me more about what I've seen. This is another way of generating interest in using English.

Once again, this is not proper CELTA format because it is too teacher centric -- students should be talking to each other, not to the teacher.


Tool #5: Reading and analyzing an article

I will often bring in an article, or take an article from the text, or use an article a student brings in, and work it the following way: The students will one-by-one, read a paragraph of the article out loud. I will read it after they do so they can hear a native speaker saying what they did. Then we will then talk as a class about what the paragraph means. We will discuss it's content and context, what the author is saying, and implied or double meanings in the author's word choices. Then move on to the next paragraph.

Working an article this way opens the door for all sorts of interesting questions and diversions.

But this is not proper CELTA format once again because it's too teacher centric. There is some discussion going on, but it's not being done as student-to-student "pair work." If students are to discuss things, they should do so in pairs.


Tool #6: Being a know-it-all

One of the more rewarding aspects of teaching ESL in Korea is that I can use diverse chunks of my experiences and knowledge base. I do this as an integral part of my ad-lib teaching style. I know a lot about a lot of different things, and when I get asked questions by my students I get to put that wide knowlege-base to work. It's very rewarding for me, and it's a really good way to build interest in using English in my students -- the better their fluency becomes, the more interesting the answers become when they ask me questions. It's an "Ah Hah!" experience for many of them.

This is CELTA blasphemy on three counts: a) It is teacher-centric. b) It isn't teaching English, it's teaching something else using English as a tool. c) This isn't something you can expect an average CELTA teacher to do, so there is no way the instructor teachers can mark it as a satisfactory technique on their grading sheets.

Tool #7: Tongue Twisters

When I introduced my Roger's Annotated Tongue Twisters to Julie as part of Written Assignment Three: Focus on the Learner, her comment back was "tongue twisters are an invitation to failure on the part of the students", and therefore my choice of that as an exercise for my student was not to standard.

This was a real headscratcher for me, since my Roger's Annotated Tongue Twisters is one of my most popular tools when I teach in Korea. When I teach these, no one fails, everyone learns. Not only to they learn, they come away feeling empowered. These tongue twisters confront difficult pronounciation problems head-on, and I'm there with my American Ear to help the students through the problem. When they finish with a tongue twister exercise, my students have faced a difficult problem for them, and come away with much greater mastery of the problem.

This is hard to call an invitation to failure.

All left at the door when I entered the classroom

These are some examples of Roger Technique that I could not show off in the CELTA environment. What I was left with was pretty strange for me to work with, and not much fun. By the end of my CELTA teaching experience, when I was using the fully stripped down personal toolbox plus new CELTA tools, I felt I was teaching like a mediocre elementary school teacher. It was a deeply frustrating experience.