Tongue in Cheek 1

In the old days (pre-modular Delta) when Diploma candidates would be assigned topics/titles for their essays, we used to give trainees a couple of spoof essays and different colour highlighters for different criteria (e.g. misuse of terms,  using references appropriately, relevance of content etc.)   We had a lot of fun writing them (often copying from first draft submissions) and I hope they give you a smile as well. This first one was penned by George Vassilakis,  one of our Cambridge Delta tutors. 

by George Vassilakis

Pencil drawing by Marisa Constantinides 1998

Essay Title

There is a number of different techniques for the presentation of new language. Describe and exemplify the main presentation techniques and explain how and why you would use them.

The Essay

Presentation options include the text, the dialogue, the picture, the visual aids, the gesture, the diagram, the timeline, the drawing. the photograph, the audio recording, the video, the rule, the inductive and the deductive approach. Also we must mention the teacher himself and the learners themselves, especially in roleplay and simulation practice activities, as Penny Ur mentions in her book. Below I will write about each option separately and then I will give examples from my own teaching experiences.

Texts are very useful for presentation of written language, for example I may use the passage to explain the passive voice to my students, as it does not lend itself to drilling and similar oral techniques. Moreover, presentation through the text is recommended for the active versus passive voices by Jeremy Harmer and other theories.

On the other hand, for an oral structure like the present simple, the dialogue presentation method is obviously more suitable, as it might present the oral structure in a natural, authentic context of language use and not in the contrived exponents of inauthentic texts, as Widdowson says. It is very important, of course, to have a recording of the audio and to have good sound reproduction facilities for pronunciation, stress, intonation and phonological work.

The picture is a very important method of presentation, because it is motivating and it arouses the children’s curiosity. I would have used the pictures with junior classes to present, for example, this is and that is and it has prooved very effective in my experience as it involves personalisation, which is very important as it enhances motivation, therefore I use pictures a lot, especially with younger learners.

For older learners, visual aids are more relevant than pictures, as they tend to consider them childish. For this reason, I use visual aids for more mature structures, such as the reported speech, a form that causes difficulty even to the most advanced learners. We must bear in our mind that visuals are, moreover, advocated as a contextualisation technique by Dave Willis.

According to Gowers, gestures are a very versatile technique which I use for tenses. They help clarify the concept and function, providing they would not be ambiguous. Jeremy Harmer warns that we have to teach our learners the meanings of the gestures we use we cannot assume that they will know them, especially since there are gestures that might even be considered offensive in some cultures such as the open palm gesture in Greece, known as the mountza, so I use them sparingly and I beware of the ways I gesticulate.

Diagrams are particularly useful for the presentation of future tenses. I have used them to present the simple present with its near future meaning in the form of a timetable. I found it very effective, because it showed the uses of the future In a very clear context, and context is, as Hymes has pointed out, of paramount importance in teaching beginners and elementary students, though I have occasionally also used it with adults.

Timelines are considered by some the legacy of the direct method: they have been with us since the twenties, and as Susan Holden says, they are here to stay. I first saw them in a video class with Mary Spratt the teacher and she was really good. They are not only useful for tenses and times, but also for adverbs such as already and while and, of course, for the passive voice and the modals.

Drawings are used with young learners to involve the kinaesthetic centres of their brain, because otherwise they become sleepy, as Puchta prooved. So I often ask them to draw to relax a little during a long and tiring presentation. I always take care to give them a purpose for drawing, to make the activity more communicative, and I then display their drawings up the wall, to provide an audience, again for communicative, but also for motivational, purposes.

Photographs are a necessary part of our modern life and there is as a result no reason why they should not be used in the classroom as well. I mainly use photographs from google, which show a person before and after a slimming programme to teach comparative form of adjectives and adverbs. Of course, I opt for another method whenever I have had overweight children in the class, that is most times, as in this country mothers rarely look after the dietary aspect of their issue’s nutrition, as they suffer from the so called German Occupation syndrome. But of course, In other cultures and situations, photographs would be entirely appropriate: one must not generalise from isolated instances of experience, as the philosopher Popper says in his famous Conjectures and Refutations!

Modern technology has also offered a lot of help to the teacher of English: who can imagine, to give but a simple example, a language classroom without a CD player? Would it be an exaggeration to say that no presentation can happen without the recorded dialogue? Don’t even the titles of popular methodological books, notably Teaching Oral English by Donald Bird, suggest this? Suffice it to say that the CD player is the single, most indispensable tool available to the language teacher.

Not to mention the even more contemporary invention of the video and youtube, which, alas, I have not had access to in my school, because the computers are kept locked, but still, I would have used it for adjectives and adverbs, and especially the superlative degree, with videos of tv commercials. It is well known and widely accepted that our learners like commercials, so they would be highly motivated and in addition, it might have made our lessons more realistic, which is a basic tenet of the communicative and humanistic methodology.

These technological advances should not lead us to believe that old, tried and tested techniques such as the rule are useless. After all, most of us non-native teachers learned English through the rules, and we evidently learned them well. That’s why I invariably use the rule to begin my presentation, as it is the clearest and most economical way of explaining the forms, but also the concepts. Particularly when one is dealing with such aspects of grammar that are notoriously difficult to teach as the conditionals.

The inductive method, where the students induce the examples, is extremely useful as well. But it Is perhaps more appropriate for revision and remedial lessons, while first presentations had better be done deductively (i. e. the students deduce the rules), because as I said before rules are very useful, provided, of course, that they are explicit enough for all of our students to understand, so they might occasionally be in the learner’s native tongues, which, however, we must remember, should be used sparingly and, above all, judiciously!

The teacher himself is an important presentation technique. I remember, following John Haycraft, who suggests the mime stories, I used myself to teach the present simple. I did not use mimes, of course, as I was not teaching little children, but I explained and the students repeated all of my daily routines, which are the basic meaning of the simple present according to Geoffrey, and so they learned this tense intensively.

Sometimes we might even want to exploit the learners for our presentation. I remember the last time that I taught the modal verb should with the perfect infinitive of the main verb to express rebuke, I drew on the learners themselves and the mistakes in their homeworks and I presented it in the example “you put X but you should have put Y”. Thus I killed two birds with one stone: the students not only did they understand the new structure through personalistion but they also corrected their mistakes in other structures as well.

Finally, last but not least, comes the roleplay. Because students like to play roles and their extrinsic (see Gardner and Gardner) motivation increases, I use roleplays a lot, especially with everyday conversations for beginners and intermediate learners. They read the rolecards dramatically and then the class claps the best performance. It must be noticed, however, that not all students like the theatre, because as a very able girl once told me “we are learners, not actors” for this reason we must be careful not to have these roleplays very often and even when we have them to not insist too much.

In conclusion we can say, as Thornbury opines, that no presentation method or option stands out as the best for all situations. Depending on the age and level of the learners and the technology available, we should always choose the best option we can!



Grammar Practice Activities by Penny Ur

The Practice of ELT by Harmer, Jeremy

Teaching English as Communication by Widdowson

Teaching Practice Handbook by Gowers

Thornbury, How to teach Grammar

Conjectures and Refutations by Carl Popper

Teaching Grammar by Jim Scriveneers

Teaching Oral English, D Bird

Grammar book by Geoffrey, Leech

Introduction to teaching English by Haycraft

article by D Willis

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