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Teach by not Teaching

What is the best way for a student to learn?   By them doing it themselves.     As teachers, we can speak, read, write and listen to English.    If we want our students to be able to do the same, they must speak, read, write and listen to English themselves, with as little help from us as possible.    How do we do this?   Let’s go step by step.


With songs, it is essential the kids sing.    Not just you.   Not the CD.    The students.    Sing.   Not just sing, but pronounce the words correctly.      That is why I recommend using no CD.    Just you and your students’ voices.    And sing slowly.    Why slowly?   Because when you rush a song, you will find that the students do not pronounce the words correctly.      Why no CD?    You can control the speed of the song and control stopping/ starting easily when it is your voice and not a machine.     It is often enough to sing a few lines of a song and if you notice 1 child not singing, to point at the child and say ‘Tomoya, let’s sing.’ and re-start the song.      You want all the children singing, and through singing, learning.


With speaking in class, we want the students to be thinking and speaking.   Not just repeating what we say.    So, for example, if we have a game where the children get points when they say the name of something (it’s a pig—-when I hold up a pig):     if I initially hold up the pig and no child knows what it is in English, the students should say “ I don’t know.   What’s this?”  and of course, I will teach ‘It’s a pig.’     I expect all students to repeat (and hopefully remember).      No points can be given when I told them the answer, so I will put the pig back in the box and lift out another object.    After 2 or 3 more objects, I will go back to the pig.    Hopefully, 1 student will remember and say “It’s a pig” and get the point.   But if no one remembers, that is fine.    I will just teach the word again and go on to 2 or 3 different objects and go back to the pig again.    After the 2nd or 3rd try, 1 child usually remembers the object.   I initially taught them the word, but they are remembering and speaking themselves, without my help.


With writing, we want the students to be able to write, without copying, themselves.     We use the My English Book and Me series (from book 3 for writing).   There are many mini-tests in the books.     Students should do the tests, without looking back at other pages for the answer.   Without copying another student’s answers.    Without the teacher or parent helping too much.     The students need to be able to write by themselves.       It is OK if they write the wrong answer.    Students learn from mistakes.     Students should correct their mistakes right away (again by themselves)—— you can help a little if the child is really struggling, but it is important that ultimately, the child figures out the answer themselves.     And then re-correct the mistakes the following week (erase and re-do), so they remember the correct answers.   Once is not enough.


With reading, when children are onto reading 3 letter words (for example), we don’t want them looking at a card which says b u s and saying ‘I don’t know.  What’s this?’     We always say ‘Read it.   The answer is there.’     It would be for me to tell the answer.   But if I tell the child the answer, they will not learn.      They need to look at the letters, sound out the word and realize they can do it.   By themselves.   Without me.    


Finally, with listening, there should be as little native language translation as possible.     Students need to learn to listen and understand by themselves.     There will not always be a translator next to them to translate.     Our lessons are all English.     But, occasionally the native language is used briefly to translate a question or grammar point.    If, for example, I introduce a new question and I am met with blank stares, I will initially see if any student understands what ‘Where do you live?’ means in their language.   If 1 student knows, that student will say it in the native language.    Students teaching students.   Not teacher teaching students.   But, of course, if noone knows, then I will teach.    Then no more native language.    


You might be wondering, what is my job then?    If my job is not to teach.      I would say your job is to know your students’ reading, writing and speaking abilities well.     And to set up activities in your class which re-enforce the level they are on and pushes them to the next reading, writing and speaking level.     Your job is to set up good activities, to monitor and to provide a little (as little as possible) assistance if needed. 


The easy way is to give the child the answer.   Speak for them.   Read for them.   Help them TOO much.    But if we allow the child to struggle, to figure it out for themselves, they will learn and remember.    And have the confidence to do it again and again.   

One Response to Teach by not Teaching

  1. I totally totally totally agree. Don’t teach the students the answer 100 invest a little time and creativity and teach them how to find the answer. A teaching technique I truly believe in. I’m going to keep an eye out for your text book and give it a try sometime, sounds like it’s right up my alley!
    I’m looking forward to your next posting

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