Language Teaching Paper


This is another module which requires you to be selective, and not go into any depth of reading on all the areas listed below. The module concerns the following areas:

1. Methods and Approches
• Traditional Approaches
• Grammar Translation Approach
• Direct method
• Structural Approaches
• Audiolingual and Audiovisual method
• Humanistic Approaches
o Silent Way
o Total Physical Response
o Community Language Learning
o Suggestopedia
• Communicative Language Teaching

2. English for Specific Purposes

3. Developments in Technology and Language Teaching

4. The 4 Skills: Listening; Reading; Writing; Speaking


Preliminary Reading

As usual, read the Course Notes. Avoid the “Dummy” books, including those books aimed at those studying for the CELTA qualification: you’re doing an MA, so you really need to get more scholarly than the simplistic recipes served up by the likes of Jeremy Harmer. I’ve always thought that Harmer has made a career from stating the blindingly obvious. Even Scott Thornbury’s book on ELT methodology is just not what you need. I should hastily make it clear that I think Scott Thornbury is an exceptionally good author, who has done lots of excellent work, but I don’t think his book on ELT methodology is appropriate for MA TESL students, and I hope he’d agree.

For your preliminary reading, I highly recommend Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching by Richards and Rodgers. This covers everything in the Methods and Approaches section outlined above, and does it with an admirable combination of clarity and scholarship. It is complete, easy to read, organised just like the summary given in the section above, and, really, it’s all you need.

If you think you might do your main paper on one of the other areas, then see the Suggested Reading section at the end of the chapter, but I really think you should read the Richards and Rogers book anyway: it’s a classic.

Choose a Topic

If you’re going to do your paper on some aspect of teaching methodology, then you’ll probably look at Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). Interestingly, the general CLT approach has come under quite a bit of criticism in the last 15 years or so, the main criticism being that grammar teaching is undervalued, that it’s inapropriate for certain teaching contexts outside the USA and Western Europe, and that it’s paid lip service to, rather than being actually put into practice. Some popular topics in this area are:

• The place of grammar teaching in a CLT approach
• CLT: Time for a change?
• Is CLT appropriate for ELT in Japan?
• The role of the teacher in CLT
• CLT: What kinds of tasks are best?

If you decide to concentrate on ESP (including English for Academic Purposes), or technology, then the topics are much easier to frame, but remember: choose a topic that is informed by a well-focused question. Note that all the topics given as examples here, and in all the chapters, remain faithful to this criterion: focus.

If you decide to do your paper on teaching one of the 4 skills, here are a few example topics:

• Listening tasks: The importance of distinguishing beteen interactional talk and transactional talk.
• What can the teacher do to improve listening comprehension?
• The role of authentic materials in listening and reading tasks.
• Product and Process approaches to writing: Can they be reconciled?
• The importance of Schema Theory in developing reading skills.
• When and How should teachers correct learners’ speaking?
• Intergrating the 4 skills in lesson planning.

Read in Depth

Well, it’s the same old story: read only those books and articles which are relevant to your chosen topic. There are so many topics to choose from here, that I refer you to the Suggested Reading section at the end of the chapter.

Write an Outline and submit it to your tutor.

Here’s an example of an outline of a paper submitted to me by by Nikki Hannah, an MA TESL student at Leicester University. She attempts a small study, which is not usually required of a paper like this, but she got a distinction for the eventual paper: micro-studies are much appreciated by markers!

6,000 word combined paper on Teaching.

Nikki Hannah

Title: What did your partner say? A critical evaluation of pair work in EFL communication classes in Japan.

A large component of teaching communicative classes is pair work. For trained, experienced EFL teachers using pair work is a given. I want to examine the reasons that pair work is so often expounded as an effective strategy in communicative classes.Through an evaluation of the available literature and research, I want to ask: what are the factors necessary for pair work to produce positive results and foster learning and communicative competence?

On occasion, however, students in my classes have been unwilling and/or unable to fulfil their required A/B role, resulting in one or more of these problems – communication in L1 only (on and off topic), little or no communication, indifference, frustration and hostility. I also want to examine situations when pair work can be problematic – the possible reasons and implications. After that, examine alternatives/more effective pair work strategies to enable better English communication in the classroom and a feeling of success for both learner and teacher.

After a review of pair-work theory I will then examine it in relation to Japanese EFL classrooms. I want to examine the SLA and learner variables of Japanese learners and the implications it may have on pair-work.

1. Introduction: The problems in doing pair work with Japanese students in a classroom situation. Brief description of problems and then how I think I can help solve them. Then I’ll say how the paper is organised.

2. Review of the literature. I adapt what I found on It gives all the references at the end.
I’ll start with a very quick review of the Communicative Approach, using Richards and Rodgers (2001).

The key term when looking at pair work is probably the “Negotiation of meaning”. Getting practice at communication in the L2 and making sure you understand and that you’re understood are obviously important elements of language learning, and, according to many, favorable to SLA (Gass, Mackey, Pica, & Magnan, 1998; Long, 1983; Mackey, 1999; Nakahama, Tyler, & Van Lier , 2001; Pica, 1994; Swain, 1995). The need to negotiate meaning involves back-and-forth attempts at understanding between students. When students have the freedom to negotiate the meaning and form of what they are saying to each other, this leads them to “notice the gap” (Schmidt, 2001, Schmidt & Frota, 1986) between what they are able to say in the language and correct, or target-like, use of the language – and to focus on the specific areas of their language that need to be developed. As they hear what their conversation partner does not understand, students find out what is wrong with their speech and what will fix the problem (e.g., changing their pronunciation or restating the point).

Student pairs will negotiate different aspects of the same pair activity. Therefore, pair activities help students with their specific language learning needs (Harris, 2005b). In other words, teachers can expect that students will learn the things that they each need from pair activities, rather than all having the same learning experience.

Note, in the article featured in the link I gave above, that when teachers approach a pair of students working together, the nature of the students’ interaction changes. Students often stop negotiating and instead (a) ask the teacher to solve the problem they are having (which prevents them from figuring out the solution on their own), (b) attempt to perform successfully for the teacher (which ends the authentic interaction in which students were engaged), or (c) start to have an independent interaction with the teacher (which ends the conversation and work on the task) (Garland, 2002).

2. The Study.
Study questions: Why do my students not participate as fully as I’d like in pair work? How can I help them take advantage of pair work?
Solution to the problem: 2 hypotheses: 1. They don’t see the value of it (they think classes should be teacher-led) and 2. They’re shy (Japanese culture plays a part in this, maybe). Obviously, I’ll have to express these hypotheses a bit more formally!

Participants. One group of students, either the public school classes or the adult learners. The choice depends on which group is more likely to give me the number of participants you need.

Methodology. I’ll use a Likert Scale Questionnaire, which uses 5 response choices: 1. Agree Strongly, 2. Agree, 3.Neutral, 4. Disagree, 5. Disagree Strongly. Rough idea of Questioonaire:

Explain I want to get their views on pair work.
1. Info about them.
2. I want to improve my ability to communicate in English (sly one!)
3. I like talking to my class mates in English.
4. I think pair work is useful.
5. I think pair work involving information gap activities is useful.
6. I think pair work involving interviews is useful.
7. I think pair work involving role play is useful.
8. I think pair work involving games is useful.
9. I think we should do pair work for at least 20% of class time.
10. Please make any comments you like about these questions.

I’ll give the questionnaire to as many students as possible – 20 min.
I’ll say that there are limitations in the study – small sample, big questions, all that.

3. Report on findings. For each question I’ll report what your respondents said, uusing bar charts.

4. Discussion I think I’ll find that my hypotheses are supported – that means that most respondents will say they don’t like pair work very much. But maybe not, and that’s the fun. Anyway, I’ll discuss the findings just by saying that they’re what you expected or they’re a surprise, or whatever.

5. Recommendations. Here I’ll just say how I think the problem can be addressed. No huge “solution” of course, just ways that the teacher might help the students appreciate the value of pair work, and facilitate it, maybe by going round the class and listening in, giving support, and giving feedback.


Appendices: Questionnaire & raw data.

Model Paper on Language Teaching

Here’s an example of a paper that satisfies all the requirements, without being “distinction” quality.

Title: Problems with Communicative Language Teaching

Submitted by: Mazen Althobaiti Leicester University MA TEFL Campus

Table of Contents
1. Introduction
In the 1980s, British applied linguists developed an approach called Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). This communicative approach has had a big influence in the classroom over the past 20 years. It is an approach for second language teaching, which aims to make all classroom activities focus on communicating in the target language (Richards and Schmidt 2002), with specific focus on ‘‘the ability to understand and convey messages’’ (Johnson and Johnson 1998, p. 68).

Many teachers around the world started to use this approach in their classroom teaching. Often, they used Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), which focuses on tasks encouraging communication, in conjunction with CLT (Richards and Schmidt 2002). However, as much as teachers attempted to use this approach in non-English-speaking countries, they often had doubts about its efficacy and about their ability to use it effectively. This was especially true of less experienced teachers, who had only been trained and taught through traditional methods, such as the grammar translation method (Gahin and Myhill 2001). In some Arab countries, many teachers believe that CLT is not suitable in their particular circumstances, because of a lack of student motivation and large class sizes. These teachers claim that the students can only use the second language (L2) in a lesson, which does not provide enough practise for them to improve their ability to communicate in the target language.

This paper discusses problems concerning CLT for Arab speakers taught in their home countries in monolingual classes, using Task-Based Language Learning. It opens with a literature review regarding the general theory of CLT, before the theory of Task-Based Language Teaching in CLT classes is examined. Then, some literature relating to problems that affect Arab students’ ability to communicate will be discussed. This is followed by a discussion of CLT for Arab students with reference to the researcher’s own background in Saudi Arabia. This paper also aims to assess the problems related to the use of CLT in the English language teaching departments of many Arab Universities. The second part of the study analyses the current situation regarding CLT, and discusses implications that could be helpful for the use of CLT in the classroom.

2. Literature Review
2.1 The Theory of CLT
The theory of communication through language was first developed in the 1960s, when British applied linguists began to place less emphasis on structure and grammar, and focused more on communicative proficiency (Richards and Rodgers 2001). Wilkins (1972, cited in Richards and Rodgers 2001, p.154) argued that understanding language through communicative means is easier and more efficient than describing it through traditional structural concepts such as grammar: it is better to focus on communication when learning a language, rather than on grammar. The communicative approach in language teaching began with the development of what Hymes (1972) called communicative competence (Richards and Rodgers 2001).

Canale and Swain (1980, cited in Richards and Rodgers 2001, p.160) further developed Hymes’ theory of communicative competence. They identified the following four dimensions of Hymes’ communicative competence:
1- Grammatical competence: knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, phonology and semantics of a language.
2- Sociolinguistic competence: understanding the appropriate way to respond to different situations of speech acts.
3- Discourse competence: ability to begin and end a conversation.
4- Strategic competence: knowing how to use a language to express one’s ideas in communication. (Adapted from Richards and Schmidt 2002, p. 90)
In order for a speaker to become a competent communicator teachers need activities that would include these four dimensions. It is not enough to know only the grammar of a language in order to speak it, and it is also not possible to speak a language properly if the speaker knows nothing about the grammar or structure of that language. Therefore, all four competences need to be addressed in the classroom. Unfortunately, Canale and Swain do not indicate which of these dimensions they consider the most important.

Littlewood (1981, pp.22-46) suggests two types of activities that can be applied in order for students to be able to communicate in the target language. The first ones are called the ‘functional communicative activities’, which include actions such as problem solving, identifying pictures, and discovering missing information. The second group are ‘social interaction activities’ which involve communication activities such as role-playing, and conducting conversations and debates. Students also have a chance to include situations that arise in their everyday lives. These activities presented by Littlewood, drawing on real life situations, can help learners to improve their communicative competence inside the classroom through group or pair work.

2.2 Criticisms of CLT
Bax (2003) argues that CLT neglects the ‘context’, which is one of the key aspects of the language teaching. Without considering the context in which the language takes place in the teaching situation, any method or course book may be inappropriate.

CLT has also been criticised by Cook (1996) who made the following claims about the CLT approach:
• It is limited to students of certain types.
• It is more suitable for field-independent students (focused on one particular item and ‘‘not distracted by other items’’) than for field-dependent students who have difficulty studying a particular item that occurs ‘‘within a field of other items’’ (Richards and Schmidt 2002, p. 200).
• It can not be applied in cultures that value silence.
Another criticism of CLT comes from Hughes (1983, p. 1), who claims that CLT ‘‘produces fluent but inaccurate learners’’ which might lead to a pidgin language. A pidgin is produced when two groups of people with different native languages try to communicate with each other by conflating elements of both (Richards and Schmidt 2002 p. 401).

2.3 Defence of CLT
Harmer (2003) criticises Bax’s (2003) claim that context is the most important aspect in language teaching. Harmer claims that whilst context is important it should not be given precedence over methodology. He argues that methodology is ‘fundamental’ in any language learning classroom. He also argues against Bax’s claims about native speakers who judge teachers as failing. Harmer states that these teachers are only a minority and do not represent their whole culture and, moreover, CLT is not to blame for the existence of this minority. The problem is not inherently with CLT, but rather in how people use the methodology and match it to their own situation (Harmer 2003). He also believes that it is the ‘‘teacher’s knowledge, experience, and training’’ that can cause the greatest success in a classroom.
Littlewood (1981) claims that the goal of language learning is ‘communicative ability’. He argues that CLT considers what people do with language forms and how they use them in communication. He also adds that CLT makes learners use the structure of a language in everyday communication rather than just manipulating its structure: CLT requires the learners to use the structure in communicating and not only rely on grammar.

2.4 Task-Based Learning Theory
In many Arab countries, CLT is used through task-based language learning. According to the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2002), completing a task is “achieving a certain goal through a particular activity”. Nunan (1993, 67) defines a communicative task as: “A piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is principally focused on meaning rather than form.”
Ellis (2003, p.244) has presented the following three phases of TBLT:
1. ‘‘Pre-task’’; this involves doing similar activities as the main activity and wants to promote the acquisition of the students when performing the main task.
2. ‘‘During-task’’; this is the main task itself which has, however, time constraints.
3. ‘‘Post-task’’; a kind of repetition of the main task.
Teachers have the choice to progress through all three phases, or they can simply choose the second obligatory one (Ellis 2003, p. 243). This might be suitable for Arab teachers since it would take much time to perform all these phases in a lesson of 40 minutes with around 40 students in a classroom.

2.5 Criticisms of TBLT
Carless (2002) argues that it can be difficult for students to maintain good learning practices in a large class when performing a communicative task. Classes of 40 students or more can be very noisy when performing a task, and this can prevent a teacher from maintaining full control over the class. This is demonstrated in Carless’ (2002) study on three teachers in Hong Kong. One of the teachers had to stop the lesson in order to remind students of their behaviour and noise. This situation is likely to occur in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, where class sizes are typically large.
Another argument about task-based learning concerns the use of the mother tongue. The question is whether students should be allowed to use their native language while performing a task, or focus solely on the target language. Holliday (1994) argues that the sole use of English as a foreign language in large classes is unnecessary.

2.6 Problems that affect the ability of Arab learners to communicate
Many researchers, such as Abdul Hag (1982), Abbad (1988) and Wahba (1998), showed that Arab learners of English in particular face problems in speaking and writing.

3. Discussion

This part of the paper will start by analysing the theories discussed above in relation to my own personal experience. I will start by talking about situations that are relevant to Arab students in general, and follow this by discussing the situation in Saudi Arabia.
The first issue, discussed earlier in this paper, is communicative competence
More practically, we may examine the activities presented by Littlewood (1981).

Let us now address the issues raised by Bax (2003) and by Cook (1996).
Many Saudi students are motivated by exams. Therefore, what is tested in these exams will be the most important thing for them, but, unfortunately, as recognised by Yamchi (2006), these tests do not have any speaking parts. These tests could be changed in the following ways:

4. Conclusion
This paper has presented a detailed account of CLT and its advantages to Arab learners, and in particular those from Saudi Arabia. With the implementation of CLT in Saudi Arabia,


Suggested Reading

***** Excellent **** Very Good *** OK ** Not Good * Don’t go near it! ??? Beats me

My Top Suggestions for the Module

A. Books
***** Richards, J.C. and Rogers, T.S. 2001. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. See comments above.

***** Ur, P. 1996. A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Penny Ur is, in my opinion, one of the best writers in the field. She writes clearly, and with authority. This is an excellent book, highly recommended.

***** Nunan, D. 1999. Second language teaching & learning. Boston, Mass.: Heine & Heine. Very well-written, clear, informative.

***** Richards, J. C. & W. A. Renandya (eds.) 2002. Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Very good collection.

***** Carter, R. & D. Nunan (eds.) 2001. The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Another very good collection.

*****Widdowson, H. G. 2003. Defining issues in English language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Excellent, reflective exploration of the issues with the great Henry Widdowson.

***** Stern, H.H. 1983. Fundamental Concepts in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Old, but still provides excellent backgroud reading. The sections of the book are: Clearing the Ground, Historical Perspectives, Concepts of Language, Concepts of Society, Concepts of Language Learning, and Concepts of Language Teaching.

*** Brumfit, C. 1984. Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching, the roles of fluency and accuracy; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. A classic in its time, Brumfit was enormously influential, but I never quite figured out why.

*** Holliday, A. 1994. Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Don’t like it much myself, but often cited.

* Harmer, J. 2000. How to Teach English. London: Longmans. The Murphy of Methodology! An “update” of the original 1983 book. You need this like you need a hole in your head. A book full of stuff that anybody with half a brain could figure out for themselves. Ughhh!

B. Articles

***** Canale, M. and Swain, M. 1980. Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing, Applied Linguistics, 1(1), 1-47. This is widely quoted and rightly considered a “seminal” article.

***** Swan, M. 1985,a. A Critical Look at the Communicative Approach (1), English Language Teaching Journal 39/1: 2-12.

***** Swan, M. 1985,b. A Critical Look at the Communicative Approach (2), English Language Teaching Journal 39/2: 76-87. These 2 articles are a must
read. Swan is our best pedagogical grammarian, and here he takes an entertaining but very well-considered swipe at at CLT.

**** Ellis, R. 1991. Communicative competence and the Japanese learner, JALT Journal 13(2): 103-127. Ellis does a good job of linking the theoretical underpinnings to a particular local context.

**** Medgyes, P. 1986. Queries from a communicative teacher, ELT Journal, 40/2:107-112.
This very famous article is a bit of a “poor me” moaning exercise, but it’s very popular and makes a good source.

**** Nolasco, R. and Arthur, L. 1986. You try doing it with a class of forty! ELT Journal, 40/2:100-106. Another article moaning about how hard it is to implement a communicative approach, this time in Morocco. Again, very well-known, very citeable.

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