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Part Two: Teaching Methods and Approaches
GR 2


In the long search for the best way of teaching a foreign language, hundreds of different approaches, or methods, have been developed.

Each method is based on a particular view of language learning, and usually recommends the use of a specific set of techniques and materials.

Ambitious claims are often made for a new teaching method, but none has yet been shown to be intrinsically superior.

The contemporary attitude is flexible and practical: it is recognized that there are several ways of reaching the goal of FL competence, and that teachers need to be aware of a range of methods, in order to find the one(s) most appropriate to the learners’ needs and circumstances, and to the objectives of the course.

It is frequently necessary to introduce an eclectic approach, in which aspects of different methods are selected to meet the demands of particular teaching situations. 

Several classifications of teaching methods have been made:

Some analysts make use of the fundamental distinction between language structure (form) and language use (function).

Under the first heading, they include those methods that focus on the teaching of formal rules and categories, and that emphasize the importance of accurate written translation and the understanding of literature.

Under the second heading, they include methods that lay stress on the teaching of active participation in natural and realistic spoken language settings, and where the emphasis is on communicative success rather than on formal accuracy.

Certain methods are widely recognized because of their influential role in the history of ideas surrounding this subject.

Theories underlying teaching S/FL

One cannot define ‘teaching’ separately from ‘learning’. Teaching involves guiding and facilitating learning, making it possible for the learner to learn, setting the conditions for learning.  

Understanding how learning takes place – how learners actually learn – is a crucial factor in determining our view of education, our teaching approach/method, and classroom techniques. Operant

A theory of teaching explains the main principles for deciding on certain methods and techniques.

A theory of teaching should meet our understanding of the learner and of the language to be learned; this will guide us towards choosing useful procedures for our teaching context.        

English language teaching has been influenced by a whole range of theories about second language acquisition.  


(See slide 2) The Albert Experiment.

This research was of much importance and interest because the ‘conditioning’ it demonstrated led to the theory of behaviorism and had a profound effect upon teaching of all kinds.

It has substituted a human being for the various animals who were conditioned to behave in certain ways. Pavlov’s dogs were trained/conditioned to salivate when they heard a bell even if food was not produced.

In Behaviorist theory, conditioning is the result of a three-stage procedure: stimulus, response, and reinforcement. (see slide 3) if the procedure is repeated often enough, the arrival of the food tablet as a reward reinforces the rat’s actions to such an extent that it will always press the bar when the light comes on. It has learnt a new behavior in other words.

Skinner claims that the same process happens in language learning, especially L1 learning. (slide 4) in this Behaviorist view of learning a similar stimulus-response-reinforcement pattern occurs with humans as with rats or any other animal that can be conditioned in the same kind of way.

It is also claimed that even with adult learning Behaviorist principles could still be applied. For instance, the Audio-lingual method depends quite heavily on stimulus, response, and reinforcement, and much controlled practice that still takes place in classrooms all over the world is influenced by Behaviorism. (see slide 5 for criticism of Behaviorism).

Chomsky theorized that all children are born with some kind of language processor – ‘a black box’ or ‘language acquisition device’ – which allowed them to formulate rules of language based on the input they received. Once these rules have been activated, the potential for creativity follows. it is not enough just to teach students ‘good’ habits; they also need to be given input which will allow their ‘processors’ to work.  

Approaches, Methods, Procedures, and Techniques

Within the general area of ‘methodology’ people talk about approaches, methods, procedures and techniques, all of which go into the practice of English teaching. These terms, though somewhat vague, can be defined as follows;


This refers to theories about the nature of language and language learning that serve as the source of practices and principles in language teaching. An approach describes how language is used and how its constituent parts interlock. An approach describes how people acquire their knowledge of the language and makes statements about the conditions which will promote successful language learning.


A method is the practical realization of an approach. The originators of a method have arrived at decisions about types of activities, roles of teachers and learners, the kinds of material which will be helpful, and some model of syllabus organization as part of their standard requirements.

When methods have fixed procedures, informed by a clearly articulated approach, they are easy to describe.    


A procedure is an ordered sequence of techniques. For example, a popular dictation procedure starts when students are put in small groups. Each group then sends one representative to the front of the class to read (and memorize) the first line of a poem which has been placed on a desk there. Each student then goes back to their respective group and dictates that line. Each group then sends a second student up to read the 2nd line. The procedure continues up until one group has written the whole poem.

A procedure is a sequence which can be described in terms such as first you do this, then you do that… Smaller than a method it is bigger than a technique.


A common technique when using video material is called ‘silent viewing’. This is where the teacher plays the video with no sound. Silent viewing is a single activity rather than a sequence, and as such is a technique rather than a whole procedure. Likewise the ‘finger technique’ is used by some teachers who hold up their hands and give each of their five fingers a word, e.g. He is not playing tennis, and then by bringing the is and the not fingers together, show how the verb is contracted into isn’t.