What method do you teach with?

Early last semester a student of mine on the MA TESOL asked me this question.  Thank you for the inspiration, who know who you are…

And the answer is, I don’t.  Teach with a ‘method’ in mind, that is. And not because I place myself in the ‘post-method‘ era. Or because I stick exclusively to dogme (which IS brilliant). Or because I’m trying to be different or above a method.


I pondered why I was so puzzled and taken aback to be asked this question.  Why couldn’t I find an answer off the top of my head? I was in the middle of a lecture series on methodology, during which I ask the students to reflect on their teaching (actually, I do this on every module).  Why hadn’t I reflected on my own teaching?! I even wrote a blog about it last week!

I mulled over this reflection question as the lecture went on.

To answer this really involves looking at what a method is. And how is it different from an approach? To glance over at a timeline of methods, looking at how they change and taking into consideration the wider time and trends each method took place in and grew from. To look at what your boss wants, what the students want, what your accreditation body asks of you.  To ask about how you acquire a second language, anyway (more about this very subject in my next post). Because that’s the thing about (anything, really) the classroom.  It does not exist in a vacuum.

Your classroom?

First, to address what a method is, and how it differs from an approach:

Approach – set of beliefs about language teaching

Method – overall plan for systematically teaching the language based on your beliefs

Technique – classroom activities carried out to teach according to your method

Adapted from Anthony (1963), cited in Brown (2002)

So, before I do anything at all in the classroom I allow it all to flow from my set of beliefs about what language teaching is. ‘The curriculum you teach is yourself’ a very wise teacher friend of mine once told me.  And my set of ideas flow from years of studying linguistics, as well as years of being a student of second languages, even my experiences at school in general.  It’s the years of linguistics studies which very probably gives me a different angle to many.

Not many TESOL teachers study linguistics (thankfully…!), at least not to begin with.  Linguistics is my first love (thanks to having read this when I was 16 and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and just knowing I would make studying the subject possible – thanks Bill!). It means I have looked at and reflected on the very nature of language, more than most.  And that gave me an a-ha moment (maybe moment of realisation is better here as I just reread this and thought of this) fairly early on.  What that moment was, and how anyone can (and should reach it if you haven’t already) will come after a quick look at a methods timeline.

  • Long history of language teaching prior to 20th Century.  Influence from Latin grammar teaching.  Influence from German scholarship.
  • Grammar Translation is a way of studying a language that approaches the language first through detailed analysis of its grammar rules, followed by application of this knowledge to the task of translating sentences and texts into and out of the target language,” Richards & Rodgers (2014: 6)
  • The Natural Method/The Direct Method based on foundations set late 19th Century and still visible today (ever heard of Berlitz?).  Criticisms included its lack of basis on theory/evidence and its strict adherence to its ‘techniques’.
  • Early 20th century – theories drawn from linguistics and psychology
  • Social context  such as WW2 and increased migration = increased demand.
  • Communicative language teaching.
  • Now the internet and ICT in general.
  • Now post-method…

As you can see, methods keep changing (my next post on SLA will look at some of these in more detail). Our expectations of teaching and learning influence how we teach and learn. The context influences the classroom.  And each student changes everything.


So I teach according to who I have in front of me, why they are there, and what the context is.  Sometimes I use a technique which I do not agree with, because of any number of varying limitations. I adapt and give up on lesson plans regularly.  With everything I (am only really just starting to) understand about what language is and how we teach/learn/acquire it, my main insight is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ method.  I am sure most teachers here have come to, suspect, or will come to a similar insight.  This isn’t a surprise. It’s about working with and enjoying the students you have in front of you, watching them reflecting, using AND challenging experience and dipping into evidence based knowledge (to help us override our sometimes misguided experience or beliefs).

These guys agree:

While attempts were made to empirically test which methods were ‘best’… “[w]e have now discovered that something as artful and intuitive as language pedagogy cannot ever be so clearly verified by empirical validation” Brown (2002: 10)

“…there never was and probably never will be a method for all…” Nunan (1991: 228)

So does this quote:

“…Centre-produced methods are based on idealized concepts geared towards idealized contexts.  Since language learning and teaching needs, wants, and situations are unpredictably numerous, no idealized teaching method can visualize all the variables in advance to provide situation-specific suggestions that practising teachers need to tackle the challenges that confront the practice of their everyday teaching.  As a predominantly top-down exercise, the conception and construction of methods have been largely guided by a one-size-fits all cookie-cutter approach that assumes a common clientele with common gaols.”

Kumaravadivelu (2012: 18)

Great schools have well thought out pedagogical supports, strong syllabi, and great teachers who know how to make that work for the students in front of them.

What method do you teach with?


  • Brown, H.D., (2002) English language teaching in the “Post -Method” era:  Towards better diagnosis, treatment, and assessment. In Richards, J.C & Renandya, W.A, (eds) Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP. 9-19
  • Kelly, L. (1969) 25 Centuries of language teaching. MA: Newbury House
  • Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012) Individual identity, cultural globalization, and teaching English as an international language: the case for an epistemic break.  In L. Alsagoff, S.L. et al. (eds) Principles and Practices for Teaching English as an international language.  NY: Routledge. 9-27
  • Nunan, D. (1991) Language teaching methodology: A textbook for teachers. NY: Prentice-Hall
  • Richards, J.C & Rodgers, T.S. (2014) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (3rd Ed.) Cambridge: CUP

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