The secret of how to plan and run
quality English courses on a low budget
Hi folks. Mark Hellyer here, and in the next five minutes I’m going to show you my tried and tested formula for running quality English courses on a low budget. This is how British Council inspectors described it back in 2005, and since then I made many improvements:
‘The materials are outstanding, both in terms of content and presentation.’ and ‘The courses were standardised and based on an excellent set of in-house teaching materials which were entirely appropriate to the students’ needs.’
So what’s the secret? Well it isn’t really a secret. It’s all about the brain. The approach of most other courses is to put an uninspiring grammar-based coursebook in the hands of an inexperienced teacher. As you’d expect, the results aren’t great. What I do is just apply what we know about how the brain works with regard to language learning.
These are the four elements of language learning:
First is Memory – how we actually remember language. I can’t overstate how important this is because we actually forget about 75% of everything we learn after 48 hours. Second is how much and what kind of exposure we get to the language, and third is our level of emotional engagement: we tend to remember things that are fun, shocking, interesting, puzzling, funny, etc. Lastly there’s the learner’s motivation. Without focusing on these four basic elements, progress will be slow – it’s as simple as that.
So that’s how we learn language; the next question is what? What should we teach our students? Well there are three main areas to focus on, and the first is vocabulary, or lexis. Vocabulary can be learnt, and is more useful than grammar, which can only be acquired over time. Common words are the most useful, and computer analysis can tell us which words those are. Next is pronunciation. If you can’t say a word in a way that your listener can understand then you might as well not say it. In fact research has shown that a massive 70% of all communication breakdown between learners could be directly attributed to pronunciation problems.
The third thing is learner training; simply making learners aware of all these things we know about language learning and what they need to do to be successful. Because the idea of focusing on grammar is so ingrained learners constantly need to be reminded about strategies that will make them more effective language learners, and that it requires effort, particularly outside the classroom.
Now what else do we need to consider?
Well, spaced repetition, because we know that’s a big factor in memory. And we need to cover interesting and relevant topics. We need to use a variety of activities to break the class time into more manageable chunks so we maintain our students’ attention, and we absolutely have to give students a coursebook – it doesn’t have to be expensive, but they have to have one because it’s an essential memory aid. Then there are language games. Students learn more when they are engaged and having fun, so the right kind of games and quizzes are a powerful learning tool. Lastly we need to remember that students are more engaged when they are talking about their own experiences or opinions, so they need to be given the chance to do this, both through speaking and writing.
So those are the building blocks of the course I designed, spread across two books which the students can take away as a record of the course. The student’s book follows the Trinity College exam syllabus and has 12 topic-based units, with an emphasis on speaking through questionnaires, games and quizzes. There’s also a grammar section for those that really can’t do without it.
The one-size-fits-all workbook contains step-by-step pronunciation lessons, spaces for journal writing, other quizzes and activities and reading texts on British history and culture. These texts are also available as free downloadable listening exercises on YouTube.
As I’ve already said, games are a very powerful learning tool and they’re always popular in the classroom, so I created Quizword as a way to practise common vocabulary. This is a set of 200 cards, each containing six questions in different categories, so a total of 1,200 questions. Quizword can be used in many different game formats, but what really makes it different is that the questions only use 2,000 of the most common words in the English language.
To help the teacher keep the students focused on those essential learning strategies I designed a set of classroom posters which cover learner training, classroom management, classroom language and the phonemes of English.
All these elements combine to makes the teacher’s life much easier, and further support is provided in this book which is designed to help inexperienced teachers become competent and effective in the shortest possible time. This is also backed up with online training videos.
OK, that’s my five minutes – thanks for watching, and I hope you found it useful. If you want more information on these or any other resources, or would like to download the first three TEFL shortcuts to better teaching, just go to: www.silverhammerpublications.com