By Chia Suan Chong

23 May 2019 - 13:22

Woman reading a tablet
'Learners are encouraged to write about a character, a scene or the general theme of the story and find their own conclusion.' Photo ©

Javier Sierra used under licence and adapted from the original

Chia Suan Chong is the author of Successful International Communication, and a regular columnist and award-winning resident blogger for monthly magazine English Teaching Professional

English Language Teaching (ELT) is an industry of diversity.

We are from different countries, we speak different languages, we are interested in different topics and we might have a preference for different methods of teaching and learning.

Diversity is what makes us rich and exciting. It is how we challenge and learn from each other. I don't know another industry that embraces diversity the way we do. 

Here are some examples of diverse approaches to teaching. They are from some of the the finalists of this year’s ELTons Innovation Awards, which saw entries from 45 different countries. 

Diverse teaching methods

Some teachers might choose a quick-and-easy, bite-sized focus on tricky vocabulary like English in a Minute, which produces clear learning outcomes via 60-second videos. It's a useful resource for learners who are short of time. 

Others might prefer On Task, a task-based learning (TBL) course, which provides freer, meaningful speaking practice. Learners can develop their interactional skills and extend their vocabulary with clear TBL cycles.

TBL complements what we know about second language acquisition. It helps learners develop communicative competence, largely through authentic interactions.

However, teachers who implement TBL in the classroom may feel restricted by the lack of realism of the language classroom. Widgets Inc. offers learners opportunities to work together in simulations of realistic situations. These feature increasingly challenging tasks so that students can practise their communication skills through presentations, project management and job interviews. 

Ready to Run uses only authentic reading and listening sources, such as blogs, vlogs and YouTube videos. Their content deals with real-world topics, in an approach similar to content and language integrated learning (CLIL). The learner is also supported with transcripts, closed captions and a range of ELT materials.

Diverse media

Courses like Future Success and Compass offer learners an online platform, which they can use to complement their face-to-face learning. 

Others like Flash Academy EAL operate on a digital platform for mobile devices and PCs. This allows learners of 30 different first languages to tailor their experience, without having to publish 30 different versions in hard copy. 

EF Immersion Challenge uses a chatbot to support out-of-class team-based tasks. It encourages learners to use their own mobile phones to practise their target language in real contexts.

But mobile learning (also known as m-learning) comes with challenges. It is useful for discrete item vocabulary and quizzes where there are clear right and wrong answers.

However, digital learning designers often struggle to get learners to hone their communicative competence and have meaningful interactions online. Go Correct tries to solve this problem by providing users with an online teacher. The teacher, working remotely, encourages conversation and corrects mistakes.

Tackling this problem in a slightly different fashion, Laureate English Level 1 and Level 2 Simulations uses simulated speakers as a teacher’s aide. Learners have realistic conversations to help them develop communicative skills.

For teachers who want to design and deliver online English classes, an online course like Teaching English Online can help with adapting our face-to-face teaching to an online environment. 

Diverse skills

A book like Teaching and Developing Reading Skills pushes us to consider that reading lessons should not simply be testing learners with comprehension questions. 

Like reading, a lot of listening lessons revolve around testing. Learners often listen to a recording and answer questions, with the belief that sufficient exposure will automatically improve the learners’ listening skill. The book A Syllabus for Listening: Decoding challenges these norms. It suggests that teaching listening is also about teaching students to decode the sounds of speech. 

Not all focus on skills needs re-thinking. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of doing things in a slightly different way. Stories Without End shows how to tweak the way stories are told. As specified in the title, the stories in the book have no end. Learners are encouraged to write about a character, a scene or the general theme of the story and find their own conclusion. This gets learners to practise their writing skills, and to cultivate creative and critical thinking skills

Future Success looks at the workplace of the future and helps learners to develop collaboration skills. It also promotes a 'growth mindset', where teachers and learners are encouraged to see mistakes and failure as a desirable part of the learning journey. Communication Skills for Business and Management draws on case studies to encourage crucial communication skills. 

Diverse themes

Business, management and the future workplace are realistic themes and scenarios that learners can relate to. Some learner resources, however, try to motivate the learner by using well-known fantastical stories.

In the Pearson English Readers Marvel series, learners read about their familiar action heroes while learning new vocabulary.

From superheroes to hidden cameras: Undercover English videos feature the undercover reality stars Sian and Clare having authentic interactions in locations like cafes, cinemas and food stalls. Users later learn from the phrases, grammar and vocabulary in their conversations.

Using a global theme, Compass encourages young learners to consider life’s big questions like ‘What is the purpose of art?’ or ‘How does science work?’ It also encourages curiosity about the world, and cultural awareness. 

Diverse needs

Some learners need a good role model. 

Christina Ferreira, a TV personality and head of a media and fashion empire, is one of Portugal’s most influential women. She wrote the book Falar (ingles) é Fácil for other adult learners of English. It includes personal reflections coupled with useful language exercises. 

But it is not only learners of English that need inspiration.

Teachers of English who have been doing things the same way for years might have new challenges, and want to embrace new ideas and approaches.

Teacher Development Over Time helps with the teacher’s professional development by encouraging classroom-based research, and suggesting activities depending on the reader's career phase.

Understanding Teenagers in the ELT Classroom offers new ideas and techniques for teaching teenagers. It also pushes teachers to reflect on the learning process when classes don’t go the way they want them to.

Diverse learning circumstances

Our learners are also different in their learning circumstances. 

Cambridge Natural Science and Cambridge Social Science caters to people who are learning science in English. 

ESOL Stepping Stones is written for immigrant mothers in English-speaking countries who need the language to talk about parenting, health and child development.

Improving Language, Improving Lives: Resources for ESOL provides materials for learners in prison.

Teach for Change Nigeria teaches reading and writing skills for learners and teachers, on the basis that education can lead to positive social action.

Watch the ELTons livestream on 10 June 2019 to find out the winners. Chia will be live-tweeting the event with the username @BCEltons, and conducting the red carpet interviews alongside Callie Massey and Paul Braddock. 

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