ESL Solutions: How to Help Learners Speak English Correctly

For many years I strove to find an effective way to get my students to speak correct and quite fluent English. Then suddenly it dawned on me—the solution was obvious. The more you practice a skill, a sport, a musical instrument—the better you become. You may need a coach to encourage you, but above all you need to practice and not just listen to someone explaining things to you. You need to discover by yourself and then apply what you have learned to real or quasi-real situations.

Montessori schools

I read about Montessori schools for children between two and six, who learn by working on their own with puzzles or items from the real world. The teacher demonstrates, and then the kids pick up the materials that interest them and practice spontaneously until they have mastered a new skill often associated with counting, reading or writing. But the new skills can even be practical things like laying the table, washing the dishes and picking up the crumbs from the floor. Children acquire knowledge and skills on their own, but with this method they also learn to respect others and to work with their classmates.

Actors in the learning process

It may seem strange that a teacher like myself would apply notions befitting kindergarten classes to groups of university students. But with hindsight that is exactly what I did. I decided students would have a choice as regards the curriculum and would, as a consequence, be partly responsible for the success of the course. They would be actors and not just spectators in the learning process. I also wanted students to show respect for each other by listening attentively and following instructions. All this is more easily said than done.

A core curriculum and a lab program

The first thing I did was set up a core curriculum—all the teachers working in my team agreed to follow the same program. We worked out this curriculum (program) together. Then we brought in tutorials, one-to-one sessions with the students during the lab hour. The reasoning was simple: teachers could do something much better during the lab hour than just checking that the students were doing oral exercises correctly—they could actually be listening to students talking about topics they were passionately interested in. Of course, to make this activity function properly, we had to come up with a lab program that would really interest the students and keep them busy while their classmates were doing tutorials, our one-on-one sessions.

Intensive pair work

Once our lab program was working well, we tried to make the classroom hour just as stimulating and productive as the lab hour. At first we just muddled around doing mainly “traditional” teaching and then we came upon intensive pair work. The idea was to make “teachers” out of our students so that they could learn from each other. The obstacle here was to find the materials that would make this happen…

Read more by going to the Interviews with Marianne or by reading her book QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book. The price is only €29 for 1,500 files on a DVD! A lighter downloadable version is available for €14.99. To purchase proceed to the store - see the top of the home page.

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