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How to Teach English 1 page

An introduction to the practice of English language teaching

how to be a good teacher

Jeremy Harmer

Pearson Education Limited

Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, Essex CM20 2JE. England and Associated Companies throughout the World.


© Addison Wesley Longman Limited 1998

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The Publisher grants permission for the photocopying of those pages marked photocopiable’ according to the following conditions. Individual purchasers may make copies for their own use or for use by classes they teach. School purchasers may make copies for use by their staff and students, but this permission does not extend to additional schools or branches. Under no circumstances may any part of this book be photocopied for resale.

The right of Jeremy Harmer to be identified as the author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published 1998 Seventh impression 2001 Printed in Malaysia, VYP ISBN 0582 29796 6


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1 How to be a good teacher

• What makes a good teacher?

• How should teachers talk to students?

• How should teachers give instructions?

• Who should talk in class?

• What are the best kinds of lesson?

• How important is it to follow a pre-arranged plan? Conclusions

Looking ahead

2 How to be a good learner

• Why is it difficult to describe a good learner?

• How important is the students’ motivation?

• Who is responsible for learning?

• What characteristics do good classroom learners share?

• Whats special about teaching adults?

• What are the different levels?

• How should we teach the different levels?


Looking ahead

3 How to manage teaching and learning

• How should teachers use their physical presence in class?

• How should teachers use their voices in class?

• How should teachers mark the stages of a lesson?

• Whats the best seating arrangement for a class?

• What different student groupings can teachers use?

• How can teachers evaluate the success or failure of their lessons?


Looking ahead

4 How to describe learning and teaching

• What do we know about language learning?

• What elements are necessary for successful language learning in classrooms?

• How do the three elements of ESA fit together in lesson sequences?

• What teaching models have influenced current teaching practice?

Conclusions Looking ahead

5 How to describe language

• What does this chapter do?

• Sentence constructions

• Parts of speech

• Noun types

• Verb types

• Verb forms

• Pronouns

• Adjectives

• Adverbs

• Prepositions

• Articles

• Conjunctions and conditionals

• Forms and meanings

• Language functions

• Words together: collocation

• Speaking and writing

• Pronunciation Conclusions Looking ahead

6 How to teach language

• What does language study consist of?

• How should we expose students to language?

• How can we help students to understand meaning?

• How can we help students to understand language form?

• How should students practise language?

• Why do students make mistakes?

• How should teachers correct students?

• Where do language study activities fit in teaching sequences? Conclusions

Looking ahead

7 How to teach reading

• Why teach reading?

• What kind of reading should students do?

• What reading skills should students acquire?

• What are the principles behind the teaching of reading?

• What do reading sequences look like?

• More reading suggestions Conclusions

Looking ahead

8 How to teach writing

• Why teach writing?

• What kind of writing should students do?

• What do writing sequences look like?

• How should teachers correct writing?

• What can be done about handwriting?

• How does writing fit into ESÆ

• More writing suggestions Conclusions

Looking ahead

9 How to teach speaking

• What kind of speaking should students do?

• Why encourage students to do speaking tasks?

• What do speaking activities look like?

• How should teachers correct speaking?

• What else should teachers do during a speaking activity?

• How do speaking activities fit into ESÆ

• More speaking suggestions Conclusions

Looking ahead

10 Howto teach listening

• Why teach listening?

• What kind of listening should students do?

• Whats special about listening?

• What are the principles behind the teaching of listening?

• What do listening sequences look like?

• Where does video fit in?

• More listening suggestions Conclusions

Looking ahead

• What are the different options for textbook use?

• What do adding, adapting and replacing look like?

• So why use textbooks at all?

• How should teachers choose textbooks?


Looking ahead

12 How to plan lessons 121

• Why plan at all?

• What are the aims of a plan?

• What should be in a plan?

• What questions do we need to ask?

• What form should a plan take?

• How should teachers plan a sequence of lessons?


Looking ahead

13 What if? 127

• What if students are all at different levels?

• What if the class is very big?

• What if students keep using their own language?

• What if students are uncooperative?

• What if students don’t want to talk?

• What if students don’t understand the listening tape?

• What if some students-in-groups finish before everybody else? Conclusions

Task File 135

Appendix A: Equipment in the classroom 177

Appendix B: Notes and further reading 185

Appendix C: Phonetic symbols 191

Index 192


A number of people have influenced the development of How to Teach English and have changed the lonely job of writing into something much more like real collaboration - whether directly or indirectly.

I am especially grateful to Richard Rossner, as always. The Engage-Study-Activate description was developed with him in the first place in a book we wrote together and his reading of Chapter 4 - and comments on it - have proved extremely useful. Anita Harmers reactions in snatches of conversation amongst the rituals of daily life have, as ever, been completely indispensable.

I was fortunate to start work on this book when Melanie Butler was in charge of the methodology list at Addison Wesley Longman. Her many suggestions, encouragements and off-the-wall commentaries (a speciality of hers) helped to tease out many of the issues implicit in a work of this nature. David Lotts guidance and his contribution to the final version of the book have been immeasurable.

Along the way, I have been incredibly lucky in the reports I have received from Gill Stacey, Sue Jones and Rodney Blakeston who between them helped to clarify parts of the book. Maggy McNorton and her students at the University of Glamorgan were vital in the development of style and content. Her students’ robust feedback and trenchant comments were immensely stimulating. At a later stage, Martin Parrott s insightful reactions were absolutely invaluable, as were the comments of David Riddell and his CELTA trainees at Kingsway College, London - invigorating reactions from both sides! Terry Tomschas help was also greatly appreciated.

To all these people I offer my profound gratitude. I only hope that they will like the way it has turned out!

Jeremy Harmer Cambridge


ho is the book for? What is it about?
How to Teach English is a book designed for people at the start of their teaching career, at that stage where they are just about to do - or have just done - an initial teacher training course. It is written for people who teach mosdy adults of whatever age.

How to Teach English is about teaching English as a foreign or second language: what it is about, and how to do it. Here is what it contains.

• The first two chapters discuss general issues about teaching and learning: how to be a good teacher, how to be a good learner.

• Chapter 3 looks at issues that help teachers to manage classes better - using their physical presence and voices, and organising the room and students in a variety of ways.

• Chapter 4 suggests a way of looking at all teaching and learning - a way which helps teachers to decide how to put teaching sequences together.

• Chapter 5 is about the language itself. It introduces some basic concepts of grammar, vocabulary, language use, pronunciation and punctuation and is intended for new teachers who may have little experience in this area.

• Chapter 6 looks at the various options for studying language, from very teacher-led presentations to rather more learner-centred ‘discovery’ activities.

• Chapters 7-10 look at examples for teaching the so-called ‘four skills’ (reading, writing, speaking and listening).

• Chapter 11 discusses how teachers should use textbooks - should they be followed slavishly or adapted to the teacher and the students’ particular needs?

• Chapter 12 looks at why teachers need to plan their lessons and how they can do so.

• The final chapter (called ‘What if?’) deals with problems which teachers frequently encounter. How, if at all, can they be resolved?

• The Task File at the back of the book comprises a large number of exercises and activities designed to predict and/or build on the information in the chapters of the main book. These are intended to be photocopied for use on training courses or to be used by individual teachers working on their own.

• The book ends with three appendices. One describes equipment commonly in use in the classroom. The second gives suggestions for further reading, and the third contains the phonetic alphabet and some examples of phonetic script.

How to Teach English is a practical book, concentrating on examples of teaching and teaching practice rather than on a detailed analysis of learning theory. It aims to give a general picture - with examples showing procedures for beginners, elementary and intermediate students, and procedures reflecting a range of current teaching and learning styles.

Teachers and potential teachers may want to read How to Teach English from cover to cover before they start a training course. They will then have a general overview of the profession and what it entails.

During a course, however, readers may want to skip around, looking at individual chapters as and when the topics come up. However, the Engage-Study-Activate description in Chapter 4 is crucial, since much of the subsequent material flows from it.

Readers may also want to start by looking at the Task File for a particular chapter before actually reading the chapter. That way, they can see if their opinions and conclusions coincide with the author’s. This will depend on the nature of the task.

Finally, the teacher is referred to throughout the book as ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’ in about equal proportions. Gender and pronoun usage look set to bedevil the English language for some years yet!

What makes a good teacher?

ow to be a good eacher
How should teachers talk to students?

How should teachers give instructions?

Who should talk in class?

What are the best kinds of lesson?

How important is it to follow a pre-arranged plan?


What makes a In an attempt to find out what we all think about teachers and teaching I

good teacher? recently asked a variety of people the question ‘What makes a good

teacher?’ I was especially interested to see what their instant response would be since that might throw some light upon deeply-held beliefs about this fundamental part of human experience.

Many different people were asked the question, almost always with a tape machine there to record their answers. There were teachers of English in the UK, in Spain and from Finland. Some of the respondents were teacher trainers and methodologists. Last - but by no means least - I interviewed students of different nationalities studying at private language schools in Britain, and secondary school students studying at a Cambridge comprehensive school.

The following answers are representative of the many that were given.

■=£> They should make their lessons interesting so you dont fall asleep in them. This was said by an adult student at a private language school in England.

O A teacher must love herjob. If she really enjoys herjob thafU make the lessons more interesting.

This was also said by an adult student in England. Teachers who look fed up or unhappy with what they are doing tend to have a negative effect on their students. When you observe good teachers you will notice that, even when/if they are feeling terrible (outside the classroom), they put on a good ‘teachers face’ when they enter the classroom.

=4> I like the teacher who has his own personality and doesn't hide it from the students so that he is not only a teacher but a person as well — and it comes through the lessons.

Students tend to be interested in their teachers - at least at first. The

ones who share their personality with their classes often have better results than those who don’t.

=£> I like a teacher who has lots of knowledge, not only of his subject.

The preoccupation with the teacher’s personality is reflected here too: teachers should not be afraid to bring their own interests and lives into the classroom (within reason, of course).

<=£> A good teacher is an entertainer and I mean that in a positive sense, not a negative sense.

Students enjoy being entertained and amused. However, a balance has to be struck between entertainment (which often gives teachers enjoyable feedback) and teaching/learning. Sometimes, the former can overwhelm the latter.

Although, as we can see, the character and personality of the teacher is a crucial issue in the classroom, by far the greatest number of responses to the question ‘What makes a good teacher?’ were not so much about teachers themselves, but rather about the relationship between the teacher and the students. This is borne out in the following responses.

•=£> Its important that you can talk to the teacher when you have problems and you don t get along with the subject.

These are the words of an adult student. Teachers must be approachable.

=£> A good teacher is ... somebody who has an affinity with the students that they re teaching.

Successful teachers are those people who can identify with the hopes, aspirations and difficulties of their students while they are teaching them.

=t> A good teacher should try and draw out the quiet ones and control the more talkative ones.

Experienced teachers can tell you of classes which are dominated by bright, witty, loud, extrovert students. As this EFL teacher implies, it’s easy to be captivated by such students. It takes more effort to ensure that the quiet, shyer students also get a chance. One of the secondary students I questioned said, ‘A good teacher is ... someone who asks the people who don’t always put their hands up.’

■=ˆ> He should be able to correct people without offending them.

Explaining to students that they have made a mistake is one of the most perilous encounters in the classroom. It has to be done with tact. The teacher has to measure what is appropriate for a particular student in a particular situation.

A good teacher is ... someone who helps rather than shouts.

Said by a secondary school student, this was one of the many comments about discipline. The people who resent bad behaviour most are not teachers, but other students who feel their time is being wasted. Learning how to manage students and how to control boisterous classes is one of the fundamental skills of teaching.

=£> A good teacher is ... someone who knows our names.

Class management - the ability to control and inspire a class - is one of the fundamental skills of teaching. Teachers find it much easier if their students believe that they are genuinely interested in them and available for them.

In a book of research called Making Sense of Teaching, the authors Sally Brown and Donald McIntyre selected a group of good teachers, chosen by their pupils. They wanted to find out how these good teachers’ did their job so they asked them about their teaching. This is what they found out.

The most obvious common feature of the different teachers' accounts was that in response to our question about their teaching they almost always talked about what their pupils were doing.

A simple answer to the question ‘What makes a good teacher?’ therefore, is that good teachers care more about their students’ learning than they do about their own teaching.

Teachers can never be quite sure what their students think of them, however. The least predictable things can affect their pupils’ perception. One 13-year-old girl was adamant that ‘The teacher needs to have dress sense - not always the same old boring suits and ties!’

How should teachers talk to students?
The way that teachers talk to students - the manner in which they interact with them - is one of the crucial teacher skills, but it does not demand technical expertise. It does, however, require teachers to empathise with the people they are talking to.

One group of people who seem to find it fairly natural to adapt their language to their audience are parents when they talk to their young children. Studies show that they use more exaggerated tones of voice, and speak with less complex grammatical structures than they would if they were talking to adults. Their vocabulary is generally more restricted too and the attempt to make eye contact (and other forms of physical contact) is greater. They generally do these things unconsciously.

Though teachers and students are not the same as parents and children, this subconscious ability to ‘rough-tune’ the language is a skill they have in common. Rough-tuning is that unconscious simplification which both parents and teachers make. Neither group sets out to get the level of language exactly correct for their audience. They rely, instead, on a general perception of what is being understood by the people listening to them. Their empathy allows them to almost feel whether the level of language they are using is appropriate for the audience they are addressing.

Experienced teachers rough-tune the way they speak to students as a matter of course. Newer teachers need to concentrate their focus on their students’ comprehension as the yardstick by which to measure their own speaking style in the classroom.

Apart from adapting their language, experienced teachers also use physical movement: gestures, expressions, mime. It becomes almost second nature to show happiness and sadness, movement and time sequences,
concepts (e.g. ‘heavy’ and ‘drunk’) using these techniques. They become part of the language teachers use, especially with students at lower levels.

How should teachers give instructions?
This issue of how to talk to students becomes crucial when teachers are giving their students instructions. The best activity in the world is a waste of time if the students don’t understand what it is they are supposed to do.

There are two general rules for giving instructions: they must be kept as simple as possible, and they must be logical. Before giving instructions, therefore, teachers must ask themselves the following questions: What is the important information I am trying to convey? What must the students know if they are to complete this activity successfully? Which information do they need first? Which should come next?

When teachers give instructions, it is important for them to check that the students have understood what they are being asked to do. This can be achieved either by asking a student to explain the activity after the teacher has given the instruction or by getting someone to show the other people in the class how the exercise works. Where students all share the same mother tongue (which the teacher also understands), a member of the class can be asked to translate the instructions as a check that they have understood them.

Who should talk in class?
There is a continuing debate about the amount of time teachers should spend talking in class. Trainees’ classes are sometimes criticised because there is too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time) and not enough STT (Student Talking Time).

As we shall see in Chapter 4, getting students to speak - to use the language they are learning - is a vital part of a teacher’s job. Students are the people who need the practice, in other words, not the teacher. In general terms, therefore, a good teacher maximises STT and minimises


Good TTT may have beneficial qualities, however. If teachers know how to talk to students - if they know how to rough-tune their language to the students’ level, as we have discussed above — then the students get a chance to hear language which is certainly above their own productive level, but which they can more or less understand. Such comprehensible input’ (a term coined by the American methodologist Stephen Krashen) - where students receive rough-tuned input in a relaxed and unthreatening way - is an important feature in language acquisition. TTT works!

A classroom where the teacher’s voice drones on and on day after day and where you hardly ever hear the students say anything is not one that most teachers and students would approve of, however. TTT can be terribly over-used. Conversely, a class where the teacher seems reluctant to speak is not very attractive either.

The best lessons are ones where STT is maximised, but where at appropriate moments during the lesson the teacher is not afraid to summarise what is happening, tell a story, enter into discussion etc. Good teachers use their common sense and experience to get the balance right.

One of the greatest enemies of successful teaching is student boredom. This is often caused by the deadening predictability of much classroom time. Students frequently know what is going to happen in class and they know this because it will be the same as what happened in the last class — and a whole string of classes before that. Something has to be done to break the chain.

What are the best kinds of lesson?
In his monumental book, Breaking Rules, John Fanselow suggests that, both for the teacher’s sanity and the students’ continuing involvement, teachers need to violate their own behaviour patterns. If a teacher normally teaches in casual clothes, he should turn up one day wearing a suit. If a teacher normally sits down, she should stand up. If he or she is normally noisy and energetic as a teacher, he or she should spend a class behaving calmly and slowly. Each time teachers break one of their own rules, in other words, they send a ripple through the class. That ripple is a mixture of surprise and curiosity and it is a perfect starting point for student involvement.

The need for surprise and variety within a fifty-minute lesson is also overwhelming. If, for example, students spend all of that time writing sentences, they will probably get bored. But if, in that fifty minutes, there are a number of different tasks with a selection of different topics, the students are much more likely to remain interested. This can be seen most clearly with children at primary and secondary levels, but even adults need a varied diet to keep them stimulated.

However, variety is not the same as anarchy. Despite what we have said, students tend to like a certain amount of predictability: they appreciate a safe structure which they can rely on. And too much chopping and changing - too much variety in a fifty-minute lesson - can be de­stabilising. Good teachers find a balance between predictable safety and unexpected variety.

ow important is it to follow a pre­arranged plan?
It is one thing to be able to plan lessons which will have variety - an issue we will look at in Chapter 12 - but beingflexible when the class is actually taking place is another matter altogether. Once again, a balance has to be struck between teachers attempting to achieve what they set out to achieve on the one hand and responding to what students are saying or doing on the other.

Suppose that the teacher has planned that the students should prepare a dialogue and then act it out, after which there is a reading text and some exercises for them to get through. The teacher has allowed twenty minutes for dialogue preparation and acting out. But when the students start working on this activity, it is obvious that they need more time. The teacher then discovers that they would like to spend at least half the lesson on just the acting-out phase which they are finding helpful and enjoyable. At that moment, he or she has to decide whether to abandon the original plan and go along with the students’ wishes or whether it is better to press ahead regardless.

Another scenario is also possible: all the students are still working on a

dialogue preparation except for two pairs who have already finished. The teacher then has to decide whether to tell them to wait for the others to catch up (which might make them bored and resentful) or whether to stop the rest of the class to prevent this. Then the other students might end up feeling frustrated because they didn’t have a chance to finish.

There are other crises too: the tape recorder suddenly doesn’t work; the teacher has forgotten to bring the material they were relying on; the students look at the planned reading text and say ‘We’ve done that before’.

Good teachers are flexible enough to cope with these situations. Because they are focusing on the students and what they need, they are able to react quickly to the unplanned event. Perhaps, in the case of the pairs who finish early, for example, they have a couple of quick useful tasks ‘up their sleeves’ which they can ask the pairs to do while they’re waiting. Good teachers recognise that their plans are only prototypes and they may have to abandon some or all of them if things are going too fast or too slow. Good teachers are flexible.

In this chapter we have

• described some of the qualities which good teachers possess: an ability to give interesting classes, using the full range of their personality; the desire to empathise with students, treating them all equally however tempting it is to do otherwise; and 'knowing all their names'.

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