Saturday, 6 April 2013

What every EFL teacher should know

This was the title of Paul Nation's closing plenary at the recent CamTESOL conference.  His speech picked up on parts of his latest book of the same name and its sister publication, 'What every ESL teacher should know', which he has generously made available as a free download here.

Nation proposes that there are twenty most useful language teaching techniques:

Notes on a few of these:
  1. Listening to stories - the teacher reads to the students.  This is appropriate and useful at all levels.
  2. Read and listen - using digital recorders, the speed of the playback can be changed according to the learner's ability.
  3. Speed reading - make use of some of the many free downloadable speed reading courses available online.
  4. 10-minute writing - here the focus is on fluency rather than accuracy so the work is uncorrected.
  5. Linked skills - integrated skills tasks.
  6. Issue logs - students choose a topic and gather information about it over a few weeks.  The narrow focus of the research means that vocabulary is repeated and students are more likely to retain it.
  7. Word cards - deliberate learning = implicit knowledge (Language Learning 2010).
The five most significant changes you can make to an English language programme are:
  1. Use linked skills activities - activities which integrate reading, writing, listening and speaking.
  2. Introduce an extensive reading programme at the appropriate levels for input and fluency development.  This exposes students to a great deal of authentic material in the target language.  Don't teach so much and use the extra time to do extensive reading.  Several research projects have proven the effectiveness of this idea. 
  3. Introduce a fluency development programme incorporating 4/3/2 speaking activities, speed reading and 10-minute writing.
  4. Encourage peer listening and speaking.
  5. Introduce vocabulary size testing.
The teacher's jobs:
  1. Plan a good course - this is the most important job for a teacher.  At the planning stage, you must ensure that all four strands mentioned in the table above are covered.
  2. Organise learning opportunities both in and outside the classroom.
  3. Train learners in language learning strategies so that they are encouraged to be independent in their learning.
  4. Test learners to make sure that they are making progress and that they know how well they are doing.
  5. Teach - the least important of the five jobs, but still vital!  Teaching should be less than a quarter of the course time.
Getting balance into a course

The amount of time in a course for the four strands, the four skills and teaching activities:

So, the key is to devote a quarter of the course time to each of the four strands.  The aim is for students to be fluent (appropriate to level) at all levels of a language course.

  1. The four strands
  2. Input - from reading and listening.  Make use of graded readers with audio recordings, available from 100 to 8000 words.
  3. Time on task - spend time on what you want to be good at.
  4. Direction of effort - focus on things you want to learn.
Free resources


1 comment:

  1. Hi Andrea,

    Nice blog!

    Thanks for your post and review on behalf of the publisher. We love this book!

    If you'd like to review more of our titles, please contact me at

    Thanks again,