Professional Practices for English Language Teaching

Yura Ganjalyan

The British Council has organized an online free six-week course for professional development of EFL teachers. The course started on the 31st of August and will last until October 15, 2015. The course is called PROFESSIONAL PRACTICES FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING. I have joined in this course and find it very interesting and helpful to EFL teachers. Now about 67000 EFL teachers from different countries of the world are taking part in it. Every day thousands of teachers share their ideas, thoughts and methodological tips with one another on the website   

Whenever I learn something I immediately try to share it with my colleagues in the “Mkhitar Sebastatsi” Educomplex. So I have decided to share the contents, new ideas, methodological tips of this course with my colleagues in a series of six articles:

1.      Learners’ motivation

2.      Lesson planning

3.      Knowing the subject (the learner’s and teacher’s knowledge of the subject)

4.      Managing resources

5.      Managing the lesson (the teacher’s role in class)

6.      Taking responsibility for professional development

So the first week of the course is devoted to learners’ motivation.  The key objective of the week is to reveal as many ideas as possible to find the answer to the question: “How to motivate the learners in class? How to make them speak?”

Claire, one of the tutors of the course, expresses an idea based on the theory of the American psychologist, Carl Rogers, that there are two types of learner’s motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.  According to this theory intrinsic motivation comes from the learner. The learning activity and the learning environment motivate the learner because they are a source of enjoyment or value, and extrinsic motivation comes from an external source, some kind of external benefit or reward. The potential negative consequences of not learning can also be motivating.

Here I have to say that most of the teachers from different countries admit the sad fact that their learners are only stimulated by extrinsic motivation –the teacher’s and parents’ praises and high marks for the subject at elementary and middle schools and oncoming exams at high schools. It is the same in Armenia.    

Here are some tips for motivating the learners of elementary and middle schools intrinsically suggested by Anna Blackmore

•           Display the comic / cartoon / image and elicit ideas from students about what is happening in it. Who are the people / characters? What are they doing? What happens next? What are they saying to each other?

This is an extremely interesting activity. It can also be used at high schools.

•           Choose a vocabulary topic (this can be vocabulary you have recently studied or a topic you want to introduce). Tell students to write a list of 10 words they associate with this topic. To make the activity shorter, reduce the number of words.

•           Pre-teach / revise structures for definitions e.g. It’s a thing which / that.... You use it for... You find this in.... It’s an animal / object / place... It’s the opposite of... etc.

•           Tell students to look at their lists and give them time to think of how they can define these words (3 -5 mins).

•           Now students work in pairs (or groups of 3) to define their words. Their partner must guess the word they are defining.

•           Now students work in pairs (or groups of 3) to define their words. Their partner must guess the word they are defining.

I think these are very good techniques of making the learners speak but I am not of the opinion that the author of these techniques is only Anna Blackmore. Thousands of other teachers, including me, have many times used this technique in the middle and high school classes. At our school we call this language game “Live dictionary”.   

Sometimes teachers can't motivate their learners to speak because the topics chosen for discussion are artificial or trivial. Students are more motivated to speak in class when the aim of the lesson is not just making the students speak. Teachers should create real life situations in the classroom and the students should feel that the teacher or their classmates really want to know the answer to a question that interests or bothers them. Sometimes the problem of the so called "generation gap" helps me to motivate my learners to speak. For example, I declare that the films they are watching, I mean modern films, are much worse than the films our generation used to watch, or I say that the music they are listening to from morning till night, are good for nothing. Then a very hot debate begins. I can hardly speak back. The lessons of very hot debates are my most favorite ones.

Motivating teenagers

Joanna Budden, British Council, Spain, uses the ideas of Carl Rogers and suggests three ways to improve teenagers' intrinsic motivation: expressing empathy towards learners' feelings by using journals, achieving authentcity by using real photos and facts, reaching acceptance by listening to learners' favourite music (taking into account the learners taste and opinions).

 Expressing empathy - Joanna Budden suggests that teachers should keep the learners’ journals (note-book diaries). She suggests that the teacher should keep the student′s journal away from other students’ eyes. The teacher shouldn’t read out loud the student’s notes in class. The contents of the journal should be only between the teacher and the student. It is advised that the teacher not even correct the student’s mistakes in the journal so that not to harm the student’s feelings and dignity. The teacher copies out common mistakes made by the students and gives the necessary explanations in class without saying who has made this or that mistake.

At our Educomplex all the teachers and learners use educational blogs instead of journals, and the links to these blogs are given on the school website.      

Using photos – authenticity

Joanna Budden is of the opinion that both teachers and students should know each other well in order to create a loving atmosphere in the classroom. For this purpose she suggests exchanging photos of families, out of school life.

In my comment I wrote down that authenticity can be considered to be priority in our Educomplex thanks to our school website

In one of my comments I suggested the technique which I often use at our high school.  We open an Armenian electronic newspaper, find an interesting article and read it. After having read the article we begin translating it into English. When we have translated the article into English, we open the English page of the newspaper, find the same article in English and read it. Now the students are sure to guess the meanings of unknown words. After reading the article we begin discussing it. After discussing the article we organize a debate over it. I have always tried to make my students be motivated intrinsically. Project based teaching at our school helps me much to overcome all the difficulties in this aim of mine.

o    Music – acceptance

Listening to the music loved by teenagers is another way of increasing their intrinsic motivation. Teenagers can listen to the same song from morning till evening, and Joanna claims that the lyrics of songs can be teenagers’ enjoyable texts for lessons. She even suggests having music on in the background which will change the atmosphere of the classroom. She writes that when her students are working in groups she sometimes likes to have music playing softly in the class and she allows the students to choose music according to their taste. Class vote decides what they will listen to when they work.





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