Teaching English to Absolute Beginners (2)

Last Monday we published part 1 of Joan Taber’s guest blog entry. Here in part 2, Joan continues discussing how to teach absolute beginners, and how to avoid using textbooks.

Joan on textbooks

I’m fortunate to work in a school district that gives me the liberty to teach without prescribed texts. However, I have been stuck in teaching positions where I’ve been handed a “textbook” of sorts and forced to use it as the sole teaching prop. If that happens to you, you’ve just got to shut the classroom door and cheat.

If you’re nervous about keeping your job, then search the text for ways to transform phony dialogue into real situations.  “I see the yellow bus” can become a virtual bus ride. Have your students “board” the bus, ask if a seat is free, ask the driver where to get off, bump into someone and say “Excuse me.” At the very beginning, you can provide students with written prompts in the form of cloze dialogues or a few cue cards.

Joan on grammar

I think it’s against current academic law to utter words such as “adjective” or “verb.” In fact, just whispering the word “grammar” might incite a mob of theoretical academics to throw rocks through your classroom windows.

If you’re just starting out your teaching career, please remember that some of us need to understand structure.  If we’re over the age of eight or nine, we’re simply not equipped to learn language the way we did as babies. We need it all-reading, listening, speaking, writing, acting, repetition, and grammatical explanation, yes, even at the beginning.

There’s nothing wrong in saying, “In English, the adjective comes before the noun” or “In English we don’t have our years; we are our years.” (Babelfish or IGoogle translators can be helpful with this, but never assume they’re completely accurate.)

Joan on the map

That world map is your springboard into language acquisition. You can rearrange and group desks into continents or countries, create cultural and culinary feasts with your students, conduct “map Olympics” and dole out gold and silver medals made of chocolate. You can turn your classroom into a solar system, a theatrical stage, or an airplane. Or, you can follow the text, and your students will be able to say: “The big yellow bus goes to the little red-brick school.” (Okay, I admit to hyperbole, but I think you get it.)

Have a look at Joan’s entertaining and informative blog here. Joan also maintains a fascinating series of academic papers on ESL, language, and translation that is well worth reading.

If you would like to write a guest blog for My TEFL Journey, get in touch!


About Ben Davies

The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to some ideas about teaching English as a foreign language. I lived in Japan and taught English for several years. It was a great experience that I would strongly recommend. Browse through the blog posts and get some tips, or get in touch if you have a specific question or comment.

3 Responses to Teaching English to Absolute Beginners (2)

  1. Family61Guy says:

    Glad i came across this blog.Added “Teaching English to Absolute Beginners (2) My TEFL Journey” to my bookmark!

  2. I’ve just started with a large group of pre-schoolers and have them for two hours at a time, three times a week. After having taught adults for the last ten years, I am floundering. Your article is concise, and very helpful. Thank you!

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  3. gregory sam says:

    Very rightly said! yes it happens with almost most of the individuals. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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