You don’t want to reinvent the wheel.
But that doesn’t mean we should drive our cars on wagon wheels instead of tires.
Sometimes, a smart update is necessary to turn something good into something great.
Take your language teaching. Do you want to teach exactly like your own teachers did, or like theirs before them? Probably not—a lot has happened in language education since their time!
While we don’t need to tear down the foundations of language education, it’s always worth exploring modern language teaching methods to see what useful updates can be brought to our own classrooms.
Whether it’s the energy and physicality of TPR or the comforting patterns and structures of the Cognitive-Code approach, we have modern language teaching methods to perfectly complement your teaching style and your class. Throw them in along with all the other successful teaching methods that you already use to make your classroom even more vibrant and exciting.
Let’s explore some of these modern teaching methods, and then we’ll show you some examples of mixing and matching them to get the best results for your students.
A Few Modern Methods to Add to Your Repertoire
Most of us are familiar with the tried-and-true Grammar Translation method of language teaching. We also know about the Direct Method, formulated in response to this old-school approach. In this post, we’ll be covering more modern teaching methods that you may have encountered less in your teacher training, or might be wondering how best to implement in your own classroom.
Below, we’ll give you the rundown on six important modern language teaching methods and their general pros and cons. Of course, as with any teaching method old or new, it’s important to be flexible and to look for student benefits wherever we find them.
So we’ll also show you how to “mix and match” these teaching methods for maximum engagement and language acquisition in your classroom.
The Audio-lingual Method
As modern language teaching methods go, this is one of the older ones, so you may already have some familiarity with it. This method is based on B.F. Skinner’s theories of behaviorism. Teachers begin by systematically teaching the sounds of the target language.
Then, they drill sentence structure in order to give students a thorough grounding in correct pronunciation and sentence formation.
As with the Direct Method, instruction is almost completely in the target language and explanations of grammar are minimal.
Pros: Students get lots of exposure to vocabulary in an authentic context.
Cons: Let’s face it: drills, repetition and memorization can become boring if you do them all the time.
The Cognitive-code Approach
This method was developed in contrast to the audio-lingual method that came before. In this method, essential language structures can and should be explicitly laid out by the teacher, as long as there are also lots of opportunities for students to practice those rules.
For instance, if you’re teaching a lesson about the past tense, you might start with a brief explanation and then present the students with several dialogues or passages in which the past tense is used.
Students will learn grammar rules through these examples rather than explicit instruction.
Pros: This approach allows students to master grammatical structures in a more natural way than through the Grammar Translation method.
Cons: It’s difficult to assess student learning with this model. There’s also very little use of authentic materials and differentiation based on student need or interest.
The Communicative Approach
This method is concerned with the use of language for meaningful communication. As such, it’s very learner-centered, relying on authentic materials.
Instead of structures, the emphasis is on practical skills for conveying and understanding meaning.
Pros: This approach facilitates a harmonious teacher-student relationship. It also tends to build student interest, because students have more freedom to express themselves.
Cons: The lack of emphasis on structure and syntax can feel disorderly and illogical. This approach can also put pressure on educators in terms of finding and accessing quality authentic materials.
The Task-based Approach
Rather than teaching predetermined vocabulary or structures, language use is driven by tasks that students must accomplish.
With this method, the teacher gives directions for a task and the students then work in pairs or small groups to accomplish it in the target language, reporting back to the whole class when finished.
Pros: This approach encourages students to be active and engaged in their learning. It also builds a sense of community and cooperation, as students work together to accomplish tasks.
Cons: If this method is used at the exclusion of all others, it can result in gaps in student learning, as they’ll only learn vocabulary related to the accomplishment of specific tasks.
Total Physical Response (TPR)
This popular method channels the natural energy of children into active, engaging lessons. The concept is simple yet brilliant: students learn vocabulary through physical examples, such as holding up objects or acting out words. Lessons involve lots of movement.
Pros: Full use of the often untapped connection between movement and memory. Besides, what’s not to love about getting up and moving around?
Cons: It’s difficult to teach vocabulary for academic or abstract concepts with this method. Also, students’ opportunities to reproduce the language (through speaking or writing) are somewhat limited.
The Natural Approach
In this approach, students learn through exposure to lots of comprehensible input through numerous listening and reading activities. Students learn to speak before they learn to write. A typical lesson might involve viewing pictures while the teacher repeats the word, then listening to recordings of these words used in a comprehensible dialogue.
Pros: The natural approach facilitates spontaneous interactions in the target language.
Cons: This method requires a simulation of real-life settings, which can be difficult. The approach is ideal for small classes and doesn’t work as well with large ones.
Mix and Match: How to Combine Modern Language Teaching Methods for Maximum Learning
As different as they are, these approaches do complement one another! Their commonalities are such that it isn’t difficult to combine these approaches within the same lesson. Here are some examples of practical ways in which you can carry this out in your classroom.
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Teaching Food Vocabulary with Modern Methods
Begin by holding up a flashcard picturing a food item, such as a carrot. Repeat it a few times, slowly and clearly. Then make a statement like: “Ralph likes carrots. Who likes carrots? Does Ralph hate carrots? No, he likes carrots. What does he like? He likes carrots.”
Then ask individual students to respond to the question: “Do you like carrots?” Have the students get up and move to one side of the room if they like carrots, and the opposite side if they don’t. Direct them to split up again based on whether or not they like other food items, such as cheese, orange juice, etc.
Takeaway: You can introduce new vocabulary by having students respond to it (spoken and with visual aids) through movement.
Distribute copies of the USDA food pyramid in the target language.
Ask students to list some foods they’ve eaten that day on a sheet of paper. Then, have them list what foods they should eat more or less of, based on the pyramid.
Takeaway: You can give new vocabulary context and make it memorable by asking students to complete a task that requires using the words.
Give students a fill-in-the-blank (or “cloze”) activity in which sentences requiring plural and singular food items are used. Explain the rules for pluralization. Then have students plug the names of different foods into the sentences so that they make sense.
“Would you like some more ____?” (Students will need to choose a plural noun.)
“No thank you, I don’t want another _____.” (Students will need to choose a singular noun.)
Takeaway: Explicit explanations of language rules should happen in close proximity to student practice.
You might also note that applying modern language teaching methods doesn’t have to mean completely redoing your teaching regimen. Tried-and-true activities like fill-in-the-blanks can still be useful.
Have students use the sentence structures presented in step three, and/or the foods and vocabulary from step one, to survey one another about foods and beverages they like or do not like. Then have them report back their results.
Takeaway: Even basic foundational vocabulary can lead to target language communication practice.
Teaching Numbers with Modern Methods
Count from one to 30 two or three times, with students repeating after you. Offer immediate feedback on their pronunciation. Then ask students to count various items around the room (chairs, books, paper clips) to continue practicing and repeating.
Takeaway: Language drills can take multiple forms and can build on one another for successful use of the audio-lingual method.
2. Natural Approach
Read the students a brief paragraph in which several numbers are mentioned.
You can create your own paragraph or borrow one from a favorite story, like “Olivia Counts,” “Abuelita fue al mercado” (“My Granny Went to Market”) or “Animal Counting Fun.” Phone numbers, dates and ages provide excellent ways to slip in numbers meaningfully.
Read the paragraph twice, asking students just to listen at first. The third time you read it, ask students to write down any numbers that they hear.
You could also do this with authentic media such as videos. For this, I recommend FluentU.
Takeaway: the Natural Approach works best when you find relevant materials that you can present in repetitions.
Choose a predetermined number and then ask students to try to guess what it is. Every time they make a guess, say “higher” or “lower” until they guess it correctly. You can then have students work in pairs or small groups, taking turns thinking of the number and guessing.
Takeaway: The task-based approach is flexible, and can leave you the option to monitor and assess as students work on their task.
With such a variety of methods and activities available to you, it would be a mistake to get stuck on just one! So enjoy the fun of “mixing and matching,” and watch your students excel.
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