These are the guidelines I have developed to help program effective courses for my ESL clients. This material should be used in conjunction with my Language Proficiency Rubric.
Novice Level Programming
Novice level programming is simple: Introduce commonly used words and phrases. Novices need to develop a toolbox of practical communication tools. The principles of teaching novices are also simple: Context, repetition, and validation. The goal is to have the words and phrases you teach to be readily available for students in the real world.
About Lesson Planning for Novices
Don’t mistake Novice sessions as “teaching”. Novices have little to no need of explanations, even in their mother tongues. They might think they do and will ask for clarification, but be wary of complying. Unnecessary explanations will likely impair the Novice’s capacity to remember the words and phrases being taught. No amount of analysis will help the physical skill involved in saying new words or phrases. Explaining wastes valuable time that could be used for memorization and internalization. Novices need concrete communication tools they can deploy in the real world.
Novice sessions should be considered live demonstrations and memory drills. The goal of any Novice session is to give the student enough confidence to communicate in English by maximizing the recall of specific words and phrases within a set, real-world context. In other words, Novices need the tools and confidence to interact.
Context, Repetition, and Validation
First and foremost, it is crucial to stress the context of new words and phrases. Without knowledge of context, the student will be severely hampered in practical application. This is the only aspect of Novice programming in which the student’s mother tongue may be used. This will also be the only part of the lesson in which understanding is important.
For example, if the words/phrases are for bank transactions, the tutor must stress that these phrases will only be used in banks. The tutor must also be certain the student understands the context. If the tutor does not speak the student’s mother tongue, illustrations will be necessary.
You must repeat the context phrases and teaching phrases continually. The students must drill initiations and responses repeatedly. The goal here is pronunciation and total recall in the student.
If the tutor is engaged in a group lesson, you will need to split students into groups or partnerships. But make sure you engage each student individually. This is because every student requires guided practice for confidence and validation.
Remember that the goal is not for Novices to merely remember the words and phrases. The students must have the confidence to apply lessons outside the classroom. Positive reinforcement is the key to successful validation. Gauge the student’s initial performance. Acknowledge and/or praise every incremental improvement.
The Importance of Review
The tutor must review previous lessons at the beginning of each and every session. This cannot be stressed enough! One 45-60 minute session is not enough for lifetime recall. It is highly recommended that tutors spend at least 10 minutes reviewing previous material. Because 10 minutes is not enough for comprehensive review, stagger the materials reviewed weekly or monthly.
Subject Matter Cycling
As much as it is important to introduce a variety of different communication contexts, it is also important to keep students from becoming overwhelmed. It is recommended for tutors to stick with one theme (e.g. shopping) per lesson. It is also recommended for tutors to alternate between social tools and practical tools. What themes are being alternated is up to the tutor as long as s/he is wary of making the programming too complex.
Novice Level Assignments
Novice level homework will always be the same: practical application. Novices must become accustomed to practicing newly learned material in order to better internalize the words and phrases. It is important to encourage outgoing behavior at this stage, even if a student is particularly introverted. If praise is not effective, it may be necessary to establish an incentive system. Another method may be to ask the students to take pictures of or get social media information from whomever they spoke with. These mementos may serve as a source of pride or accomplishment in the future.
Intermediate Level Programming
The Intermediate level is what most tutors experience as ESL teaching. It remains important to introduce new words and phrases, but the tutor must be aware of what the student knows and does not know. The intermediate speaker has, through trial, error, and hard work, acquired a sense of the basic shape of English. This “sense” must be deepened and given more subtlety. Intermediates do need new communication tools, but they also need to develop communication tactics. More importantly, Intermediates need to increase their self-awareness.
The principles of context, repetition, and validation remain crucial at the lower Intermediate levels. Lower Intermediates do not have an adequately large knowledge base to easily acquire new information. As Intermediates grow their foundations, tutors must begin to factor in three more principles: Understanding, feedback, and tactics.
Lesson Planning for Intermediates
New Intermediates are those who have reached a stage of conscious incompetence. The students are aware of what they do not know, and true learning can finally occur. In other words, Intermediates can finally sense what they must learn to communicate as they require. Therefore it is absolutely crucial for tutors to ask the students what material they require. Tutors should inquire at least once a week, but ideally at every session. The topics gleaned will be the foundation for the initial lesson plans.
The aim of Intermediate level programming is to encourage conscious competence. The goal of the intermediates themselves is to acquire the ability to handle most basic situations and conversations. As gaps in knowledge are filled, the tutor will then begin to add variety and novelty to the situational contexts the students have knowledge of.
Understanding, Feedback, and Tactics
In order to teach effectively, the tutor must be able to gauge the student’s level of understanding. Although any experienced tutor will be able to do this intuitively, it is important to establish concrete evidence of understanding. The most popular way to do this is to have the student summarize learned material. There are two reasons for this: First, to increase the student’s level of self-awareness. Second, that the tutor may more easily and effectively plan future lessons.
Feedback is a more advanced application of the principle of validation. Where validation focuses strictly on reinforcement and building confidence in a small set of words/phrases, feedback adds components of choice, variety, and explanation. Tutors must introduce a larger variety of questions and responses for a given context. Intermediate drills will necessarily be more fluid and will require more attention from the tutor. Furthermore, tutors must begin explaining whenever students need correction. Intermediates must learn why a particular wording was incorrect, so they may correct themselves in the future.
In order for someone to navigate the real world using a non-native tongue, the person must be able to compensate for lack of vocabulary and understanding. Each person will have their own specific styles of communication. Some will be predisposed to utilizing body language while others will be more accustomed to asking questions. For Intermediates, an overreliance on a single tactic will prove detrimental in the future. Therefore the tutor must encourage the use of varying tactics to accomplish the same goal of communication. It may be necessary to compile a profile of each student being taught.
Intermediate Group Sessions – Appointing Assistant Tutors
In a group of Intermediates, it will be difficult to perfectly calibrate your topic to every individual. There will be times when one or more students already know the material being taught. Because teaching aids greatly in comprehension, it will be advantageous to recruit these students as assistant tutors for the other students. This will greatly increase the confidence of the knowledgeable students while increasing the overall conversation quality of those that are struggling.
Intermediate Level Assignments
Assignments for Intermediates will necessarily be very similar to those for Novices, but with some important differences. First, tutors must encourage students to introduce variety into their conversations and interactions.
Advanced Level Programming
Advanced speakers speak the language comfortably. These individuals straddle the line between conscious competence and unconscious competence, the latter being the ultimate goal of fluency. Given enough time and experience, the Advanced speakers will progress to total fluency naturally. These individuals are aware of this, and seek help for a different reason: mastery of specific contexts and adaptability. The principles of Advanced level programming are specialization, strategy, and adaptability.
Specialization, Strategy, and Adaptability
More often than not, Advanced speakers will seek help in mastering specific contexts. Namely, they will seek to specialize. Broadly considered, there will be three main specializations: Business/Professional, Academic/Vernacular, and Social/Storytelling. It will be important for the tutor to assess exactly what the student requires. Ideally, the tutor will compile a complete list of requirements during the initial sessions. This list will serve as the curriculum and will grow as necessary. The tutor must be highly perceptive to the student’s needs, may it be for sales, presentations, or storytelling.
The tutor must make aware of the student’s strengths and weaknesses at all times. Because Advanced speakers generally know when they are grammatically incorrect, the focus will necessarily be on idiomatic, connotative, and denotative speech.
This may be the most challenging aspect of Advanced level programming, both for the student and the tutor. In any given discussion, the tutor must be able to quickly generate a variety of novel situations for the student to exercise. The tutor must also take into account varying levels of analysis and states of emotion.
Lesson Planning for Advanced Speakers
Because Advanced speakers have very specialized needs, “lessons” will generally turn out to be role playing and discussion with vocabulary/phraseology components as necessary. As suggested above, the tutor should have a solid list of necessary scenarios within the first few meetings. There may be little to no linear improvement as time goes along. This is because specialization is, by nature, diagnostic.