Difference between revisions of "Approach, method and strategy"

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== Background ==
According to Richards & Rodgers (2001, p.141) “Competency-Based Language Teaching (CBLT) is an application of the principles of Competency-Based Education to language teaching”. In Competency-Based Education (CBE) the focus is on the “outcomes or outputs of learning” and the center of this educational movement is what the “learners are expected to do with the language” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.141). This approach emerged in the United States in the 1970s and can be described as “defining educational goals in terms of precise measurable descriptions of the knowledge, skills, and behaviors students should possess at the end of a course of study” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.141). By the end of the 1970s Competency-Based Language Teaching was mostly used in “work-related and survival-oriented language teaching programs for adults” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.141). Since the 1990s, CBLT has been seen as “the state-of-the-art approach to adult ESL” (Auerbach, 1986, p.411) so that any refugee in the United States who wished to receive federal assistance had to attend a competency-based program (Auerbach, 1986, p.412) in which they learned a set of language skills “that are necessary for individuals to function proficiently in the society in which they live” (Grognet & Crandall, 1982, p.3).

Revision as of 17:42, 2 June 2011

There are, and have been, many approaches, methods, and strategies in English teaching.

Approaches deal with general philosophies of teaching; methods deal with more practical nuts and bolts; and strategies deal with specific actions. Nevertheless, the terms approach and method sometimes overlap when the term method becomes too broad or the term approach too narrow. Over the years, the objective of many teachers has changed from trying to find an ultimate "best method" to identifying compatible approaches and then deciding on strategies for actually doing what needs to be done in the classroom.

The teacher has a spectrum of roles in these methodologies ranging from language model and commander of classroom activities in systems like Grammar Translation and Total Physical Response to background facilitator and classroom colleague in Communicative Language Teaching and Dogme all the way to minimally present in the Silent Way. In a similar manner the role of the student may vary from that of passive recipient in Grammar Translation, childlike follower in Total Physical Response to active driver and decider in Dogme.

A examination of some of these methodologies may bring the reader to the conclusion that some appear counter-intuitive - not to say downright weird. While teachers should obviously view things with an open mind, a certain level of scepticism is sometimes appropriate.

It is likely that, over time, experienced teachers select whatever elements of these methodologies work for them and adapt them to their particular teaching style or students' learning style. It also seems highly probable that something which works well for one teacher (or with one student) will not work for another.

There is also the question of how seriously we should take methodologies anyway; Scott Thornbury has suggested the idea of discrete methodologies may be an oversimplification as they all tend to have good and bad elements, or perhaps good and bad practitioners.


Approaches are general in nature. They involve the belief and principle underlying our methods, but are less about proscribing the specific methods. #Methods are the way we teach, approaches explain why we teach that way.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

Replaced the Situational Approach. It was originally promoted by Howatt, at al., and more fully developed in the 1980s. CLT comes in both "strong" and "weak" forms. The intent is to capitalize on the collective intelligence of the group and give everyone a chance to grow in appreciation of diversity.

  • Teacher's role: needs analyst and task designer.
  • Student role: improviser and negotiator.

CLT advocates avoided prescribing a set of practices through which these principles could best be realized, thus putting CLT clearly on the approach rather than the method end of the spectrum. The assumptions are that (a) learners learn a language through using it to communicate, (b) authentic and meaningful communication should be the goal of classroom activities, (c) fluency is an important dimension of communication, (d) communication involves the integration of different language skills, and (e) learning is a process of creative construction and involves trial and error. Spin-offs from Communicative language teaching include the Natural Approach, Cooperative Language Learning, Content-based Teaching, and Task-based Teaching.»Communicative Language Teaching

Competency-based Language Teaching

Competency-based Language Teaching is still a very popular outcome-based approach. The focus is on measurable and usable knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). It was promoted in the 1970s by Scheck.»Competency-based Language Teaching

Theory of Language and Learning

The major basis of CBLT is the “functional and interactional perspective on the nature of language (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 143) which means that language learning always needs to be connected to the social context it is used in. Therefore, language is seen as “a medium of interaction and communication between people” who want to achieve “specific goals and purposes” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.143). This especially applies to situations in which the learner has to fulfill a particular role with language skills which can be predicted or determined for the relevant context (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.143). In connection to this Competency-Based Language Teaching shares the behaviorist view of learning that “certain life encounters call for certain kinds of language” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.143). Another key aspect of both language and learning theory is the so called “mosaic approach to language learning” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.143), which assumes that language can be divided into appropriate parts and subparts. Communicative competence is then constructed from these subparts put together in the correct order (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.143). All these aspects together show that CBLT is in some respects similar to Communicative Language Teaching (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.143).


A syllabus for a competency-based framework clearly differs from the traditional approach to developing a syllabus. Instead of selecting a topic or field of knowledge that one is going to teach (e.g., British History, American Literature, or poetry) and then choosing “concepts, knowledge, and skills that constitute that field of knowledge” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.144), Competency-based Language Teaching “is designed not around the notion of subject knowledge but around the notion of competency” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.144). Therefore, the focus is on how the students can use the language instead of their knowledge about the language. Schenck (1978) points out that the teacher provides a list of competencies which the course is going to deal with,and these are “typically required of students in life role situations”.

The fact that CBLT is an outcome-based approach also influences the syllabus, especially the kind of assessment which is used. In contrast to “norm-referenced assessment” (Docking, 1994, p.16), which is used in many other teaching approaches and methods, “criterion-based assessment” (Docking, 1994, p.16) is essential for CBLT. Students have to perform specific language skills which they have already learned during the course (Docking, 1994, p.16). The competencies tested “consist of a description of the essential skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors required for effective performance of a real-world task or activity” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.144). These performance-criteria form the basis for the assessment.

Learning Activities

The learning activities used in CBLT can be described as systematically designed activities to achieve a certain competence. These activities are real-world tasks which “may be related to any domain of life” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.144) but especially to survival-oriented and work-related situations in a new environment (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.144). Typical areas, for which such competency-based activities have been developed, are for example Job Application, Job Interview, or Work Schedules (Mrowicki, 1986). All these areas “can be described as a collection of units of competencies” which consist of “specific knowledge, thinking processes, attitudes, and perceptual and physical skills” (Docking, 1994, p.11).

Eight Key Features

According to Auerbach (1986) there are eight key features which are essential for Competency-Based Language Teaching: 1. A focus on successful functioning in society which means that language is taught in order to prepare the students for the different demands of the world (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). 2. A focus on life skills to determine that language is always taught as a medium of communication in concrete tasks in which specific language forms/skills are required (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). 3. Task- or performance-centered orientation. The focus is on what the students can do with the language and certain behaviors instead of knowledge of the language (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). 4. Modularized instruction emphasizes that the competencies which are taught have to be systematically separated into manageable parts so that both the teacher and students can handle the content and realize their progress (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). 5. Outcomes that are made explicit a priori. “Outcomes are public knowledge, known and agreed upon by both learner and teacher” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). Therefore, the students clearly know what behaviors and skills are expected of them (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). 6. Continuous and ongoing assessment which means that the students are tested before the course to determine which skills they lack and after they have had instructions in that skill they are tested again to ascertain whether they have achieved the necessary skills or not (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). 7. Demonstrated mastery of performance objectives. The assessment is based on the students’ performance of specific behaviors instead of traditional paper-and-pencil-tests (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). 8. Individualized, student-centered instruction. The instructions given by the teacher are not time-based but the focus is on the progress the individual students make at their own rate. Therefore, the teacher has to concentrate on each individual students in order to support them in those areas in which they lack competence (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146).

Role of Teacher

The role of the teacher in a competency-based framework is not defined by specific terms. The teacher has to provide positive and constructive feedback in order to help the students to improve their skills. She/he needs to be aware of the learners’ needs so that everybody feels welcome in class (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). The different competencies dealt with in class require specific instructions for the various learning activities. Thus the teacher has to give clear orders and explanations to make sure that every student understands the task they are going to deal with. But the teacher does not push the students because the instructions are not time-based; instead the student’s progress is most important (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). Another task of the teacher in CBLT is to select learning activities and to design a syllabus according to the competency the students are going to acquire.

Role of Learner

The role of the learner in a competency-based framework is to decide whether the competencies are useful and relevant for him/her (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). This shows that the learner has an active role in the classroom which is underlined by the fact that the students are expected to perform the skills learned (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.146). The competencies the students will learn are clearly defined and present in the public so that “the learner knows exactly what needs to be learned” and for which purpose he/she has to use the competencies (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.147). In this regard it is vital that every competency is mastered one at a time because this makes sure that the learners know what they have already learned and what the next steps will look like (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.147). Moreover, the students have to stay in the actual program until they improve. After they mastered their skills, they move into a more proficient group of students. The main goal of the learner in Competency-Based Language Teaching is to be able to adapt and transfer knowledge from one setting to another.


The materials the teacher chooses are mainly “sample texts and assessment tasks that provide examples of texts and assessment tasks that relate to the competency” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.147). These materials are used to provide the students with “the essential skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors required for effective performance of a real-world task or activity” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.144). A great variety of competencies should be improved by these tasks. On the one hand, knowledge and learning competencies as well as oral competencies are dealt with. On the other hand, the materials include tasks to improve the reading and writing competencies (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.147).


At the beginning of a course in a competency-based framework the students have to go through an initial assessment, in which the teacher determines the current proficiency level of the individual student. After this the students are grouped on the basis of “their current English proficiency level, their learning pace, their needs, and their social goals for learning English” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.147). Furthermore, a course based on CBLT is divided into three stages, which the students have to go through in order to successfully finish the course (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.147). At Stages 1 and 2 the learners deal with twelve competencies which are related to general language development (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.147). At Stage 3 the students are grouped on the basis of their learning goals and “competencies are defined according to the three syllabus strands of Further Study, Vocational English, and Community Access” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.147).


There are both critics and supporters of Competency-Based Language Teaching. According to Tollefson (1986) it is very difficult to develop lists of competencies for every specific situation. This is due above all to the fact that many areas in which people need certain competencies are impossible to operationalise (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.148). Other researchers argue that describing an activity in terms of a set of different competencies is not enough in order to deal with the complexity of the activity as a whole (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.148). But on the other hand, CBLT is gaining popularity in the whole world. It is argued that through the clearly defined outcomes and the continuous feedback in CBLT, the quality of assessment as well as the students’ learning and the teaching are improved (Docking, 1994, p.15). These improvements can be seen on all educational levels, “from primary school to university, and from academic studies to workplace training” (Docking, 1994, p.15). Rylatt and Lohan (1997, p.18) point out that “the business of improving learning competencies and skills will remain one of the world’s fastest growing industries and priorities” in the future.


• Auerbach, E. R. (1986). Competency-based ESL: One step forward or two steps back? TESOL Quarterly 20(3): 411 – 415. • Docking, R. (1994). Competency-based curricula – the big picture. Prospect 9(2): 11 – 15. • Grognet, A. G., & Crandall, J. (1982). Competency-bases curricula in adult ESL. ERIC/CLL New Bulletin 6: 3. • Hornby, A. S. (2000). Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (Sixth Edition). Oxford: OUP. • Mrowicki, L. (1986). Project Work English Competency-Based Curriculum. Portland, Oreg.: Northwest Educational Cooperative. • Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (Second Edition). Cambridge: CUP. • Rylatt, A., & Lohan, K. (1997). Creating Training Miracles. Sydney: Prentice Hall. • Schneck, E. A. (1978). A Guide to Identifying High School Graduation Competencies. • Tollefson, J. (1986). Functional competencies in the U.S. refugee program: Theoretical and practical problems. TESOL Quarterly 20(4): 649 – 664.

Content-based Instruction

Promoted originally by Krahnke (1980s) but embraced by almost everybody who teaches language through content and meaning. (S. Krashen, 1982, & D. Nunan, 1989). The research on this is quite firm: teaching language for the sake of the language is not nearly as effective (when it comes to using it) as when taught as a means to an end. Its focus is on integrated skills, cooperative learning, and grouping strategies. The stress is on meaning rather than form. Its aim is to use authentic language and facilitate experiential learning. Using graphic organizers is a typical trademark of the process. »Content-based Instruction

Cooperative (Collaborative) Learning

An approach credited to Olsen and Kagan. It is a part of the collaborative approach. Competition is replaced with team-based learning. »Cooperative Learning


First described by Scott Thornbury. The teacher doesn't prepare classes; merely uses whatever happens to be in the room. »Dogme

Lexical Approach

In 1997, Lewis stated, "the building blocks are not grammar, functions, notions, or some other unit of planning and teaching, but lexis, that is, words and word combinations." It may have influenced in his "lexicon-is-prime" position in his minimalist linguistic theory (using collocations/chunks). »Lexical Approach

Multiple Intelligences

This learner-based approach was brought to popularity by Gardner (1993). It stresses that all dimensions of intelligence should be developed and not just those measured by IQ tests, i.e., language and logic. Gardner states that pedagogy is most successful when learner differences are acknowledged and factored into the process. »Multiple Intelligences

Natural Approach

Brought to us first by Terrell (1977) and then jointly by Krashen and Terrell (1983). Their book (with classroom procedures) titled Natural Approach should not be confused with the older Natural Method also called the #Direct Method. The focus is on "input" rather than practice. Language is its lexicon, not its grammar. Teacher role: actor and props user. Student role: guesser and immerser. »Natural Approach

Neurolinguistic programming

Invented in the 1970s by Grindler and Bandler it was intended to be a generalised self-help system. Subsequently widely regarded as a pseudoscience it found a home in English language teaching. »Neurolinguistic programming

Task-based Language Teaching

Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT) was said to be a logical development of Communicative Language Teaching (Willis, 1996). It uses real communication activities to carry out meaningful tasks, and stresses the importance of targeting these tasks to the individual student as much as possible. »Task-based Language Teaching

Whole Language Approach

This term was coined in the 1980s by a group of U.S. educators but it wasn't until 1991 that Rigg made a firm stand against all approaches which he considered "fragmented". He said, "If language isn't kept whole, it isn't language any more." The suggested focus is on using a tailored combination of the four modes of language (speaking, listening, writing and reading) as often as possible. Its intent is to be functional and topical. »Whole Language Approach

Input Processing

»Input Processing


Methods are the way we teach. #Approaches are the why we teach that way.

The 1950s through 1980s were considered the "methods" period.


Dominant since the 1950s. Developed in the USA. This method is skills-based, allows no use of L1, and stresses memorization, repetition, tapes, and structure. Teacher role: language modeler & drill leader. Student role: pattern practicer and accuracy enthusiast. » Audiolingual

Counseling Learning

From Rogerian Counseling (1951). Later by C. Curran (1970s). This method is part of the Humanistic Technique. The teacher is the coach; the students are clients. »Counseling Learning

Direct Method

Made popular by Berlitz in the 1950s, it allows only the second language, uses everyday vocabulary, and stresses pronunciation. It is used in Community Language Learning. teacher role: counselor and paraphraser; student role: collaborator and whole person. »Direct Method

Grammar Translation

Most popular before the 1940s. It started to be slowly replaced by the Direct Method from the early 1900s. It is still popular, however, in countries where reading is more important than communicating. »Grammar Translation

Silent Way

From Bruner (1966) to Gattegno (1990s) and referring to the teacher. Students are encouraged to produce as much as possible, to get the spirit of the language by exploring and practising it. »Silent Way

Situational Language Teaching

A classical oral method that gave birth to many of today’s structuralist approaches. (Firth, Halliday, etc.) Language is a purposeful activity toward a goal. Stress is on meaning, content, and situations. First used in the 1930s and further developed in England in the 1950s, it is an oral approach that views language as a purposeful activity toward goals. Teacher role: context setter and error corrector. Student role: memorizer and imitator. »Situational Language Teaching


Started in the 1970s by Lozanov, it takes an authoritative holistic but lexical approach and uses music and ambiance. It purports to be 25 times faster than other methods. Teacher role: auto-hypnotist and authority figure. Student role: relaxer and true-believer. »Suggestopedia

Total Physical Response (TPR)

Coordinates speech and action and draws on other sciences but its speech theorems are Palmers' (1925). The idea is to repeat during the L2 learning process what was used to learn L1. It is structure-based. Teacher role: commander and action monitor. Student role: order taker and performer. »Total Physical Response


These individual strategies might be used within any other method or approach they are frequently intended to help foster maintain creativity.


Blackboard (or chalkboard, whiteboard, poster board, projector etc.) is a strategy to provide visual structure during a lecture or discussion. » Blackboard


Debate is a cooperative learning strategy in which students organize planned presentations for various viewpoints. »Debate

Dialog journal

Dialog journal is a strategy that uses journals as a way for students and their teachers to communicate regularly and carry on a private conversation. »Dialog journal

Field experience

Field experience is a planned learning experience in the community for students to observe, study, and participate in a real-life setting; FE uses the community as a laboratory. »Field experience


Flowchart is a graphic organizer strategy in which students depict positioning and role relationships. »Flowchart

Free writing

Free writing is a strategy for encouraging students to express ideas in writing. »Free writing

Graphic organizer

Graphic organizer is a visual representation of abstract concepts and processes; students transfer abstract information into a more concrete form. »Graphic organizer

Group read

Group read is sharing a reading to promote better understanding. »Group read

Interactive language task

Interactive language task is a strategy in which at least two students work together to accomplish a meaningful activity. »Interactive language task


Interview is for honing organizational and planning skills. »Interview


Jigsaw is a cooperative learning strategy in which everyone becomes an expert and shares learning so that eventually all group members know the content. »Jigsaw

Know - want to know - learned (K-W-L)

K-W-L is an introductory strategy that provided structure for recalling what the student knows regarding a topic, noting what the student wants to know, and finally listing what has been learned and is yet to be learned. »Know - want to know - learned

Laboratory investigation

Labortory investigation is a strategy that involve students with their environment. The students propose a question, develop a hypothesis, explore methods for investigating the question, choose one of the methods, then conduct research and draw conclusions based on the information gathered. »Laboratory investigation

Language experience approach

Life experience approach is a strategy in which students, as a group, describe an experience in their own words orally (using a first or second language) as the teacher records their history. The story serves as the basis for follow-up activities. »Language experience approach

Learning cycle

Learning cycle is a sequence of lessons designed to have students engage in exploratory investigations, construct meaning out of their findings, propose tentative explanations and solutions, and relate concepts to their own understanding. »Learning cycle

Learning log

Learning log is a strategy to develop structured writing. »Learning log

Literature, history and storytelling

Literature, history and storytelling is a process for using scientists' autobiographies and biographies to connect social context to their data. History comes alive through the eyes of a scientist. »Literature, history, and storytelling


Mini-museum is a strategy for creating a focused exhibit. »Mini-museum


Modeling is a representation of a concept: may be concrete, such as a ball-and-stick model of an atom, or abstract like a model of weather systems. »Modeling

Numbered heads together

Numbered heads together is a cooperative strategy in which students work in small groups to review information. »Numbered heads together

Predict, observe, explain

Predict, observe, explain is a strategy in which the teacher shows the class a situation and asks them to predict what will happen when a change is made. »Predict, observe, explain

Problem solving

Problem solving is a strategy in which students apply knowledge to solve problems. This approach facilitates scientific thinking. »Problem solving

Reflective thinking

Reflective thinking deals with reflecting or thinking about what was learned after a specific lesson . . . an activity usually finished by writing about it. »Reflective thinking

Role-play and simulation

Role-play and simulation allow students to assume the identity of another person. Simulations further use role-playing to involve students in situations that require a group of people with two or more points of view to formulate a common decision. »Role play and simulation

Think, pair and share

Think, pair and share is a cooperative strategy to help students develop their own ideas and build on the ideas of others. »Think, pair and share

Venn diagram

Venn diagram is a graphic organizer strategy for creating a visual analysis of information representing similarities and differences between concepts, objects, etc. »Venn diagram


Webbing is a graphic organizer strategy that provides a visual of how words or phrases connect to a topic. »Webbing

See also