For most subjects, course books are one of the best ways to help your students learn. They can condense all of the information needed to pass a math test or complete a history essay into one place that can be carried around with the student.
When teaching English as a second (or third or fourth) language, you know that the goal isn’t simply to ace an exam or get an A on a homework assignment. The student will use this skill for the rest of their life in work, in their social life, and in countless other areas. Textbooks are rarely able to help teach a student with this kind of learning, so many English teachers prefer to use a course book as one tool in their arsenal and find some alternative ways to teach English.
A great thing about these methods is that so many easily lend themselves to settings outside of the classroom, which generally lead to students enjoying their lessons more and taking on board more of the information. After all, we all learn more when we’re having fun.
How to teach English without a course book
Of course, it can be a little daunting for many teachers if they are suddenly choosing to shake up their teaching style, even though it’s something that we all need to do from time to time. That’s why we’ve collected some of the best tips and tricks for moving beyond the textbook when teaching English.
Just because you’re not using a course book, doesn’t mean that all reading material is completely off the table. Fiction and non-fiction books can be a great way to encourage your students to learn English, because you can choose a topic they’re interested in and assign a related book. Whether they like sports, romantic stories, adventures or history, there’s always a book that matches the student’s interests. The idea is that they get so invested in what they’re reading that they forget that they’re learning and things like vocabulary, grammar, and syntax become entrenched in their brains without them even noticing.
Books are a great tool for learning English, but sometimes they fail to demonstrate how language is actually used in real life. When native English-speakers communicate, they use all sorts of shorthand that isn’t represented in novels and they might lean heavily on filler words. Sometimes speaking perfect English can really affect fluency.
Defeat this by encouraging spoken communication (both with you and other English speakers) and showing your student how English speakers actually talk through a mixture of conversations and audio-visual media. No need to make this expensive as you can find just about anything on the internet nowadays.
We live in the streaming age, where binge watching is the norm and we can watch videos on our phones. Rather than strictly forbidding the use of phones in the classroom, use this to your advantage. In much the same way that getting your students to read a book will help them learn almost through osmosis, films and TV shows will pique your student’s interest and get them to learn English without much effort.
It might be that they find the nearest English-language cinema and watch the new Marvel film or they can take the opportunity to catch up with all seasons of Game of Thrones. (Obviously, if you’re working with younger students, choose age-appropriate media.)
If your student wants something they can consume on the go, then have them find an English-language podcast on a subject they’re interested in or even listen to an English-language radio station in the car.
One of the key advantages to this is that students will pick up on how language is used when spoken, something that is often neglected in written English, even in dialogue scenes in novels. Sometimes people will change the whole meaning of a sentence by putting emphasis on a certain word or they’ll use slang to communicate better with certain types of people. Videos can show how real people communicate, as opposed to just how they speak.
However, videos and audio recordings often fail to help students grasp stuff like grammar, even when you select the English-language subtitles. That’s why it’s best to pair this with some written English work.
Written English is particularly useful for those students who will be using English in their future career, but is also incredibly beneficial to those wishing to communicate with English-speaking friends via letters, emails, or more likely text message.
A fun way to encourage them to practice their written English is having them make an English-language pen pal or having them send a letter to an English-speaking celebrity (or other notable person) that they admire. You can read over the letter before they send it and work with your student to correct any mistakes.
As a bonus tip, if they’re communicating with an English-language pen pal, encourage them to find someone who wants to learn the language your student is fluent in, as they can correct each other in subsequent letters, emails, etc.
You may find that, as with many of us online, the student will blur the lines between written and spoken language when communicating with their pen pal (i.e. typing “um…” when thinking of a response). It may be necessary to have them practice writing formal things, like a letter to their grandparents or writing to a politician about an issue they care about, in order to give them practice with the more professional writing that may be required in a future job.
There is a lot to be said for the immersion method of learning English, which was touched on in the previous sections. This is the same way that everyone learns their first language and is the best way to make a student fluent.
Of course, you can’t just send a student to an English-speaking country and wish them luck, especially not if they’re under 18. Instead, it might make more sense to:
- do day trips to the English-speaking part of town and have them interact in English with their classmates as well as the people there
- ask students to speak only English in class (even when asking to go to the bathroom)
- plan a short trip to the nearest English-speaking country
One problem that can arise when focusing on spoken English is a tendency to overlook errors in speech, just because what a student is saying is understandable, i.e. “I has” rather than “I have”. Depending on the student, it may be best to correct them on the spot or in private at the end of the lesson, but it is important to make sure they are still communicating accurately. It may also help to make a note of the errors and provide them with a copy to look over in their own time.
As you can see, the best way to teach English is to use a variety of methods to ensure that you are covering all the bases. Now, we know that this might require some adjustments (and a little extra work), but we hope that this has inspired you to diversify the way you teach English and help your students get the best possible learning experience.