How EFL/ESL taught in class

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In junior high school, English is taught with a lot of communicative activities, mostly worked in pairs or small groups. However, the way of teaching gradually shift from communicative to entrance exam-oriented especially for the ninth graders, most of whom are to take the high school entrance exam later that year, and classes are conducted mostly in Japanese with emphasis placed on teaching translation and grammar. In senior high school, the situation gets even worse and from the beginning English is taught with a lot of emphasis on teaching reading comprehension (or rather translation) and grammar. Most of the teachers teach English in Japanese spending a lot of time explaining about how to translate sentences and grammar and ask the students for rote learning, which they think is important and necessary for them to prepare for the college entrance exam.[Hiroyuki Yukita: Aomori, Aomori]

I am an assistant English teacher for a high school in the Tokyo metro district. I totally agree with Hiroyuki Yukita's assessment of the typical English class. I have 42 students in seven classes for one hour a week. It is difficult to wake them all up and get them excited about learning English. We have tried singing pop songs - it seems to be the most popular with the kids. [Kerry: Tokyo]

I write most of my own course materials. For instance, for a lesson on "opinions" and opinion-related vocabulary for our second-year students, I've written a script where a girl is breaking up with her boyfriend. ("You're breaking up with me because you need more time to study? That's not a reason." He says. "I'm not going to change my mind." She says.)

Basic teaching philosophy? "Nobody learns anything when they're bored."

Greatest frustration? Probably that Japanese students are forced to read so much boring stuff.

This term I'm working harder at trying to set up small group activities in my classes. I'm researching simulation game-playing as a teaching method. Communicative teaching is hard when nobody particularly has anything they want to communicate to each other. Those "information gap" activities are sometimes kind of lame. So I have one half of the Brussels train schedule and you have the other half. A lot of time I'll borrow the structure of the games from American game shows -- it's good because the logic of play is all worked well. [John Wolfe: Kotogaoka High School, Himeji, Hyogo]


I was able to obtain a position this year with a middle school in Sacramento. I want to emphasize phonology and grammar. Often these areas are neglected in many programs. I believe pronunciation is very important (but I believe I am a minority in this view).

Teaching teens is much more difficult than adults. For one thing they have little experience with life and do not always see the reasons or purposes behind an education. They have fought (i.e. argued and apathetic and lethargic) me every bit of the way whenever I have taught phonology. It is true that they need it, but they and their parents do not think so. As for grammar I emphasize it 1-2 days a week in between teaching ESL U.S. History. I have given them an irregular verb sheet (3 pages) which we go over daily. They are not motivated much with learning verbs, but I push them anyway.

Usually I work on the four areas of ESL learning--speaking, listening, reading and writing. The students I have are quite intermediates as far as speaking is concerned, but they are beginners as far as reading and writing. The problem is that they do not see this and they motivate themselves accordingly. I try to use Fridays for fun activities and phonology. This way they are more motivated (I hope). One advantage is that these kids are exposed to English via TV, radio, newspapers, books and the people around them. [AJ Grauf: Sacramento, California]

I teach ESL at a New York adult education program. We use the communicative approach. I've now taught levels two to four (out of six), and I believe students do quite well with that approach, but that when they get to higher levels more grammar is necessary and more writing experience. One thing that we should stress more is the learning of idioms, from the beginning on, because students should not get to a high intermediate level without knowing many of those. English is a very idiomatic language.

English is also a very rhythmic language. We do not pronounce each word distinctly as beginners tend to do. We run them together. In fact, we have a beat to our language that is like music. This is the premise of Carolyn Graham who has put out several poetry-like "chant" books. Students say them along with a tape and remember how to pronounce whole phrases. This gives students the rhythm of the language at an early stage, and, of course, it's more fun to learn English through songs. These are spoken songs. I think it's an excellent approach to pronunciation.

In general, though American schools vary widely in their approaches, learning things that are practical is something that stays with students and is especially effective on the lower levels. [Mary Lucas: New York, New York]

ESL in our middle school and high school is taught mainly as a reading program at the moment since that is the weakness of most of my students. Their oral skills are good but most of them read at a very elementary level, making progress in normal classes very difficult. I have tried to incorporate writing skills as part of whatever they are reading at the moment. I use English or American classics for the more advanced students which are written for the slow learner native speaker. This means many pictures and a lot of conversation so they understand the action through what they see, not only what they read. I use simple texts such as Bicycle Safety, African Traditions, Recycling, Earth Day, etc. I use crosswords, bingo, etc. to work on vocabulary. I lack resources such as computers to do the tedious drill which often helps the individual students. I make up practices and work with small groups on various topics. I have had the pleasure of seeing a non-reader actually begin to make progress on his own in such specialized areas as American History. Unfortunately, I also must do all the subject tutoring they require and teach a full load of regular language classes, so my ESL time is limited. [Mary Moriarity: New Holland, Pennsylvania]

I'm with a growing number of individuals and institutions who are very dissatisfied with TOEFL. I'm in the process of developing a curriculum assessing student progress by portfolio, utilizing rubrics and performance criteria, which would be submitted to institutions agreeing with this method of assessment as the TOEFL equivalent to determine language proficiency.

My problems with TOEFL include that it focuses on detail, and analysis of separate skills, rather than the summarizing, communicative and integrated skills needed in a classroom in which English is the language of instruction and interaction.

A portfolio, however, addresses these classroom skills, while demonstrating competence through writing, research, presentation, (video) samples, etc. A portfolio applied to ESL would have many similarities to a portfolio, say, for an artist; it is a collection of student-generated documents, projects, and evaluations by the instructor and other students.

I'm currently putting together an MBA-prep. class which uses portfolio as the basis for application into a university's MBA program. The reason for this is that both students and professors complain that preparation for the TOEFL test does NOT prepare students for the classroom environment, which requires summary, cooperative, active presentation and research skills.

TOEFL focuses on detail, individual and passive skills, with no evaluation of presentation capabilities, and no evaluation of research skills.

The portfolio, then, includes a log of student listening activities; a daily journal; weekly essays and refinement of those essays; group cooperative activities and presentations; group evaluation of the individual's participation; videos of presentations; a reading log of articles relevant to business trends: and 3 model research papers. [Mark Uerkvitz: Huntington Beach, California]

I'm a strong proponent of using literature in an ESL program. Here is a brief summary of why.

There are many reasons for using literature in a language program, one of which is that children's literature can be one of the most effective teaching materials available for students of all ages (Smallwood, 1991). Through the use of literature, students not only are able to practice their reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary and grammar skills and general language skills, but they can explore and reflect on the experiences of others, i.e., the characters in the book, their peers, and themselves. They can share their thoughts and beliefs and relate their own experiences and opinions to the story. In using children's literature in the classroom, children, as Huck (1977) points out, take ownership of an experience they relate to on a personal level, much as they draw away from being manipulated for pedagogical purposes.

If students have a focus, e.g., interesting literature, they naturally become involved with it. They form opinions regarding the characters and the characters' actions and behavior. In their writings and discussions, they are able to relate their own lives and experiences to the story, and they find that others are interested in and can benefit from their thoughts and experiences. This then motivates them to express themselves in more interesting, worthwhile ways both in their writings and discussions. It is also a way in which they, in effect, monitor their comprehension through seeing their own ideas in writing, through expressing themselves, and in hearing the perspectives and understandings of their peers. This is especially significant for the ESL students who for the most partrely on activities within the classroom to provide them with needed English language practice.

In their reading, writing and discussing activities, students are practicing the rhythm of the story, of the language of the dialogues, and are continually enhancing their vocabulary. This is also important for the ESL students whose native language structure is often very different from English. Literature provides a natural focus for developing reading, writing and speaking skills and as they read, write and discuss, they have an authentic purpose - an important element in learning. By integrating the teaching of these traditionally separately taught skills with a focus on literature, these skills can develop together with much greater benefit for the students in both the L1 and the ESL classrooms addressing both their similar and distinctive needs. [Max Voelzke: Kansas]

I teach ESL in Sealy, Texas and I teach 4th through 12th grade. I am always trying to motivate or even inspire my students because many of them have great obstacles to overcome. I am a real believer in the newspaper for the classroom because I can find so many articles that would be of interest to my students. Just today, I found an article about a soccer player who came to the United States and he, too, had to overcome many obstacles. To make a lesson on it, I pull out the vocabulary that I think will increase their English, and then of course, I present it to the class. We usually play some kind of game with the new vocabulary, and then I put them in small groups and they read the article and answer questions to it. I also make dialogues from the new vocabulary. I love to teach English through novels that pertain to something that my students can relate to. I use music in many different ways as well as art. I have a karaoke machine with two microphones and we not only sing but do poems, weather reports, etc. I buy music videos and type the words out so the students can read the words, sing the words and see it performed on video. I like to do jazz chants, too. Most of my students have a natural artistic talent and they love to learn about artists. I teach English this way as well. I am always looking for new ideas! [Cyrilla Ivey: Sealy, Texas]


English in regular schools (public and private) still work very traditionally. Students learn grammar and translation, but hardly ever speak the language. One of the reasons is that most of the classrooms in Brazil have about 40 students. [Maria Cristina Pereira: Sao Jose dos Campos, Sao Paulo]

New Zealand

I operate a non profit organisation in New Zealand and I bring about 1,800 Japanese students to NZ per year to encourage their English studies and to sharpen their cultural awareness.

As our students come in the summer vacation we usually try to make the English learning fun thus taking the pressure of the students and making the learning of the language enjoyable. We have so little time to teach and this makes our job of choosing what to teach a little difficult. Trying to teach ESL (which is a progressive course) is almost impossible. We try to major on pronunciation and conversation. At first this is a new concept for the Japanese student but with the affects of having to communicate in the homestay, the student becomes more assertive and will join in the conversation and start to volunteer information verbally.

I firmly believe that all language if it is linked into the culture can become alive. We therefore link our classes into cultural experiences, and this seems to work for us.

The major benefit I believe of our programmes is that the Japanese student who has become bogged down with grammar and rote learning all of a sudden sees that the language can live and they take back to Japan a renewed interest in continuing in their study.

Many schools in NZ teach ESL but again I am not so sure that they have the vision to teach the students through experience and culture. This really is quite a fascinating subject and it is nice to talk to someone who has the same aims. [Eileen Garratt: Director NZIIU]

Jersey Channel Islands

Our teaching of English for Speakers of Other Languages puts great emphasis on listening and speaking to start with. We use a lot of fun methods, including "talking" computer programs, tape-cassettes to listen to while reading the associated stories, and TV videos. Much of our work is based on the game-playing approach. However, we also must introduce as quickly as possible key words for all subjects on the curriculum, since the students are with native English speakers for these lessons. Reading and writing comes later, and the method used is pretty much the same as is used to teach native speakers when they are little, although this material has to be specially prepared as infant content wouldn't go down too well with teenagers!

We also revise and consolidate the language needed in other subjects, so we have a very varied, busy and fun time in our ESOL room!

I will add that much is added to a student's motivation when you learn a few complimentary phrases and greetings in his/her language! [Mary]


I teach ESL at an American community college, Panama Canal College, which services many Panamanian high school students as well as adult learners. In our community college, ESL is taught in six different levels using the In Touch and Side by Side series for the first three levels. Azar and the reader American Profiles are used for Levels 4 and 5. Finally, for Level 6 Evergreen is used. The teaching methodology uses grammatical functions which are introduced through oral exercises, creatively retelling stories, and reading and writing exercises. Each student has the opportunity to immerse in real communication from the very beginning. Remember different ESL instructors always integrate into their courses extra activities they have acquired over the years, so each class has general guidelines it follows and the course varies with each instructor. I am currently working on a problem area and that is inadequate vocabulary activities in ESL classes. This is an area that is many times ignored. So I am evaluating the vocabulary levels of students who have finished the ESL program just to see how they rate. [Maria S. Efthimiadis]


In school English is taught like the other subjects such as geography, history, maths, etc. It is taught as a means for pupils to communicate effectively in certain everyday activities, integrated with moral values and language skills. The English Language Programme is planned in accordance with the National Education Philosophy. It has its core concept of lifelong education geared towards the development of a morally upright person who is intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically integrated.

The secondary school syllabus is an extended version or a continuation of the primary school syllabus. The topics taught develop from the simple 'Home and School' to the wider 'My Country and the World'. The topics are taught again or recycled in the secondary level but in a different perspective and dealt in greater depth. Skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing - are integrated with grammar and moral values.

ESL teachers teach using teaching aids and now a growing number are using computers to teach ESL. Pupils are exposed to the learning of literature in the secondary level. Teachers make use of fables, short stories, poems and other literary materials to provide opportunities for pupils to be creative in expressing themselves. [Mohd Marzuki Maulud: Malacca]

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. Therefore, our school system is a replica of theirs. Our students begin to learn English as a subject from the time they enter kindergarten to the time they leave high school, yet test results reflect that less than 2% of the students barely mastered the four language skills. Why did so few master the skills? One reason is that our students do not practice English outside the English classroom. Once they leave the English classroom, they have no need to speak English. Also, unless they have Cable TV, they don't hear English either.

Another reason why so few students mastered the English language skills is because we are required to use the texts selected by the education department. These texts are ESL texts. In other words, these texts are meant for students who live in a country where English is the language spoken. A Puerto Rican living in the United States would learn English quickly because s/he can practice what is taught in class when s/he goes home. In addition, since we use the Whole Language Approach, students are required to develop their skills through reading. But it becomes very difficult when the stories in the ESL texts are not relevant to the students' reality. They cannot link their prior knowledge to the text. In fact, most of our teachers are Puerto Ricans who have never been to the United States and therefore they are unable to get the gist of some of the stories.

Whole language is a philosophy about how students learn. In this approach, students integrate listening, speaking, reading and writing through a literature based curriculum. Students are allowed to choose what they want to read and what they would like to do with the reading. That is, some students prefer to write, others to prepare a book report, and still others prefer to act out what they have read. The selections read are usually about things that students know and are able to relate to. Usually, after students read a story, I group them and have them decide what they want to do. They will prepare themselves and present it to the class. When you use Whole Language, your class should be very natural and you are just a facilitator.

How do I deal with teaching ESL in an EFL environment? I have developed some activities and have collected others to promote speaking, listening, reading, and writing in the classroom. I'm willing to share some of them with you. [Marta Pabellon: Puerto Nuevo]


In a typical high school class, English is divided into 3 parts: grammar and usage, composition writing and literature. Rules in grammar and usage are lectured and demonstrated by the teacher. Then, the teacher assigns the students to answer their workbook on pages something for drill and practice. This is the homework which the students will have to do at night. This homework will be discussed and checked in class the next day. At the end of the week, they are given a grammar and usage test. Composition writing is done the same and given daily. For example, the teacher discusses a model of an expository composition. The teacher then gives homework. The students will have to do an expository composition on a title she provides. The next day, the students will have to submit it. This will be graded by the teacher and will be returned the next day. Literature is a separate course. First year high school students are given a course on Filipino literature, second year, American literature, third year, British literature and fourth year, Greek and elsewhere in the world. For example, the teacher will discuss an American essay and later will ask the class to answer the questions after the essay. Some other essays in the textbook will be given as homework. On top of this, students are required to write and submit a book report on at least 1-2 novels per month (depending upon the teacher, 1 essay, 1 poem, 1 drama and 1 short story) not covered in the class textbook. [Corabel Y. Diel: Cagayan de Oro City]


I'm teaching English at a school for children with learning and behavioral problems and/or disabilities, what we call Special Education.

The baseline of teaching English to Dutch children (and to whoever) is vocabulary. When you don't know words, it's very hard to speak a foreign language. However, what most pupils absolutely dislike is learning words and idioms. So there are several different ways of teaching them. I shall give you some examples of the way I teach them.

Example 1 - Use music. English music is very easy to access and there are a lot of worldly songs like the Beatles' Yesterday or Let It Be or even Michael Jackson songs.
Example 2 - Show short pieces of film or other programmes in English and let them tell about what they've heard and seen.
Example 3 - Let them listen to audiotapes with conversations.
Example 4 - Discussion in class. Let them prepare a subject and divide them into two groups (or four or eight); one group is pro-subject and the other is con.

Because Holland (or the Netherlands) is only half an hour away from Great Britain, a lot of pupils have been there already. Besides that, English has always been easily available in Holland for the simple reason that we can receive BBC television and radio, that there are more and more American programmes on Dutch television like Beverly Hills 90201 and that most of our youth is listening to English music.

The biggest problem of TEFL is the pronunciation. Because children already know so much about English, they think that they know absolutely everything (more than someone who studied it!) In order to tackle the pronunciation problem, I use a lot of drama in class. I let them act small "plays" which are totally based on improvisation. The only guidance they get is the place where the "play" is set (an airport) and an action (a robbery). They get 5 or 10 minutes to prepare and then they have to "act" for the rest of the group. Of course there are some level-differences. Not everyone has the guts to stand up and "act" in front of a group but with some psychological moves everyone likes to to do it in the end. When they act, I do not really care what they say (depends on which class) as long as it's English.

My exam-classes have to do a written exam consisting of 3 texts plus questions, and also 10 written questions about pictures (roadsigns) or manuals (computer). Besides that, they also have to do an oral exam. For this exam they have to read books and tell about a subject which they prepared beforehand. [Aris de Vries: Hague]

Comoro Islands

I'm from Comoro Islands. I have been teaching English for three years. In the third world countries we have faced the most difficult challenge which is teaching foreign languages without any material at all. Sometimes the government gets some aid from other countries like France and others. However, those books are outdated and sometimes they are full of errors. Therefore, I recommend my colleagues to be pragmatic like me because it is not the book, the computer or the video materials that teach but it is the teacher himself. I urge them to write their own curriculum as well as their lesson plans following the assimilation process. The authority of Comoros had appointed me to write an example for each level which I myself did. I got many criticisms, most of which come from the idea to let the student express him or herself without paying too much attention to grammatical faults. But honestly I believe that learning a second or a foreign language is like swimming. You will not swim out of the water. Jump into the water, drink some water, learn the moves, and then you will become a swimmer. Speak the language even if it is incorrect and keep the fear of speaking away from you, and then you will learn better grammar. After all language is communication, isn't it? [Toiuofik Houmadi]


I teach two "regular" English classes (7th and 8th grades) and one ESL (intermediate - level 4) class. This is a new experience working with ESL students, but I am really enjoying it. I notice their struggle with verb tenses. I try to place much more emphasis on speaking and conversation over a typical English class. They really get a kick out of American idioms, which we talk about frequently. Many are from wealthy Chinese families and have traveled all over the world. The ones who are not as financially well off and have not traveled, are very ignorant of the world outside of Indonesia. The national curriculum is very focused on Indonesia. We talk about how their life would be different if they lived in America. We are currently using the text, Spectrum, but are in the process of choosing a more age-appropriate text for next year. With the financial crisis, we are waiting to see how registration will turn out for next year. We may lose a lot of our students. We hope not. We wait and pray. [Rebecca]


At the lowest level and in the lowest classes we are required to make learning English enjoyable, mostly based on game activities. Like in Japan, students work in groups and pairs. Later we are required to teach our students communicative skills rather than only teaching grammar and vocabulary what used to be a prime occupation during language classes in the Soviet times. It is, however, pretty difficult for some teachers to change their methods of teaching and, on the other hand, we still have problems with good texbooks adequate to the requirements set for the teachers and students. We also still have problems with photocopying of teaching materials for students. In my school we have to pay for photocopies and in comparison with our salaries the price is pretty high. The last two forms of the school are exam-oriented, where accuracy and fluency are stressed upon.

Classes in the lower levels are usually conducted in Lithuanian and even in higher levels some teachers tend to explain everything in Lithuanian. It, of course, depends on teachers. When I came to teach English last autumn my students were shocked to hear so much English during the lesson. Presently they feel better, I hope, because they finally got used to it. [Neringa Paskovskaja: Traku raj.]

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