• ESA: A Teaching Methodology

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    For many years Teachers of English have used the PPP model of Presentation, Practice and Production for the preferred model of teaching. It has worked well. The PPP model falls short however, in that it does not work well when teaching more complex language problems beyond the sentence level or when teaching communicative skills.

    Jeremy Harmer in How to Teach English (Longman Publishing 1998) proposed an alternative to PPP called ESA: Engage, Study, and Activate. In an article written in The Guardian Weekend, March 15 1997, Bridget Riley complained about the treatment she and her fellow students received at the Royal College of Art. “We were abandoned when what we needed and what we hoped for was help toward independence in teaching rather than having independence thrust down our throats. Jeremy Harmer responded to Ms. Riley’s complaint suggesting a consideration of his ESA teaching methodology. He stated that ESA stands for Engage, Study, and Activate. He used the example of a computer and suggested that in teaching trainees to teach that the ESA should be considered as the computer default mode.

    During the Engage phase, the teacher tries to arouse the students’ interest and engage their emotions. This might be through a game, the use of a picture, audio recording, video sequence, a dramatic story, or an amusing anecdote. The aim is to arouse the students’ interest, curiosity, and attention. Over the years the PPP model has always assumed that students come to lessons already motivated to listen or engage. The results of many years of PPP teaching do not support this assumption.

    The Study phase activities are those which focus on language or information and how it is constructed. The focus of study could vary from the pronunciation of one particular sound to the techniques an author uses to create excitement in a longer reading text. It could vary from an examination of a verb tense to the study of a transcript of an informal conversation. There are many different styles of study, from group examination of a text, to discovery related topic vocabulary, to the teacher giving an explanation of a grammatical pattern. Harmer says, “Successful language learning in a classroom depends on a judicious blend of subconscious language acquisition (through listening and reading) and the kind of study activities we have looked at here.

    In the Activate stage the exercises and activities are designed to get students to use the language as communicatively as they can. During the Activate, students do not focus on language construction or practice particular language patterns, but use their full language knowledge in the selected situation or task.

    In Harmer’s response to Bridget Riley’s complaint about the short comings of her training program, he once again returns to the computer analogy. “The ESA model is a macro default setting, almost (to extend the metaphor) a teaching program. All three elements need to be present when it is in use. But what makes it useful as a macro default is that the order of these elements is not fixed.

    Harmer describes the variations which can be used with the ESA model. He names his default level E.S.A the Straight arrow approach. The first variation is the Boomerang approach: E.A.S.A. It is a task based approach. The Boomerang approach after the Engage (E) phase, gets students to perform a task (A) using all and/or any language they know and only then does the teacher go back to the language Study (S). The Study phase is then undertaken based on what the teacher witnessed in the students’ language performance. The teacher in short will fill in the gaps of the students’ knowledge. To check that learning has taken place the students are then re-activated.

    Harmer goes on to say that most classes are neither “Straight Arrow” nor “Boomerang” classes. They tend to be more mixed up than this. The sequences in his “Patchwork” lessons include all these elements, but can do so more than once and in various orders. A sequence such as E.A.A.S.S.E.S.A would be perfectly possible.

    Harmer in conclusion states, “Trainers need clear models, just as computer users rely initially on a default setting. I have suggested a macro default ESA as a general proposal, which provides three micro default settings: Straight Arrow sequences, Boomerang sequence, and Patchwork sequences. I believe that these will be of use to a teacher preparing for a life time as a teacher. Sooner or later the teacher will be able to break away from them, emerging as diagnostically creative as anyone might want.”

    Ralph Braswell


  • Comparison of teaching methods and why ESA?

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    As a native speaker of English I did not have to have an “English language teacher” I simply began to speak English (before I could write or read) by picking it up form my general exposure to English all around me. This natural language acquisition is almost impossible to bring into a classroom and so we need to look at other ways for people to learnt a foreign language.

    There are several tried and tested methods of doing this all with differing benefits, initially there was the Grammar-translation method used for many years and involved learning a foreign language through direct translation of native language, the problem with this is the teacher needs to know both the language which they are learning and the language they are teaching it also revolves around the grammar not the actual language and so makes conversations stilted and difficult.

    Audio- Lingualism is another train of thought based on behavioral theories of learning and suggests learning is the result of habit formation hence it uses a bit of repetition drills and although we use this with Choral Drilling in ESA, it has been dismissed as teaching method by linguists as language learning they and I agree is more than habit forming. Dialogues used to be presented orally memorized drilled and repeated and during class the learner was never encouraged to ask but simply answer it was the epitome of a teacher controlled classroom with passive students, it was in its day revolutionary however as of 60’s it has become less popular based on theory and results. Students were not happy with teaching methods as theory were unable to take it and use it when learnt hence it fell. The loss of Audio - Lingualism left a whole in the 2nd language teaching not surprisingly post 1960’s there was a number of 2nd language teaching theories that came out all claiming to have the best results.

    Presentation, Practice and Production - involves teachers “presenting the context and situation for the target language and explaining and demonstrating the meaning and form of the new language” The students are then in Practice mode where they make sentences in a controlled way before final stage of production where they can be creative. This method is still used today in some places and is very effective in lower levels but an issue could be too much teacher talk time.

    Other methods of teaching 2nd language include Task Based learning,communicative language teachingcommunity language teaching and the Silent way. I want to look at a “designer method” by Georgi Lozanov a Bulgarian psychiatrist trained linguist. Lozanov concentrates on the student psychology and the class room rather than language. Lazanov talks of accessing the students “ unconscious ability to obtain information”, he believes learners success depends on their confidence in the method, his basic philosophy is if the students think the method is effective the content of the method is irrelevant! The teacher’s role is again central and the Teacher - Student relationship should be like parent and child giving the student the passive role. The lesson will have 3 parts - oral review of previous lesson, Presentation and discussion of new language and then finally students listen to relaxing music whilst the teacher reads out new dialogue!!

    Another theory that was taken seriously is the Lexical approach, this basically states that it is not Grammar that is important in learning a 2nd language but vocab in the form of phrases in large numbers, this was not considered by students as a great way to learn as there were so many and so much reading to do they were put off, in many books it shows that new vocab is learnt after a lot of exposure and Grammar has to be learnt along side it. This is why the Lexical approach has proven difficult as a method. Once again it involved increased teacher talk time.

    There are other methods such as Whole Language learning and the “Natural approach” however after reading these I can believe that Jeremy Harmers ESA method employed at TEFL school in Phuket. Is is a theory that recognizes students need to be motivated, exposed to the target language and have the opportunity to use it. Harmer put this forward in the form of Engage, Study and Activate.

    Engage is when the teacher needs to get the student thinking and speaking in English, there are many ways we can do this in a stimulating was that are fun so that the students are relaxed, receptive, thinking and speaking in English or the target language. Once this is achieved we move on to the Study phase, this is when the class need to focus on the language and how it is constructed, this is mainly teacher talk time and a download of information to the student via diagram, mime and visual aids. Once this has been re iterated through worksheets either in pairs, groups or solo they are read out to ensure correct and then the final phase of Activate is carried out - allowing the students to put into practice what they have learnt.

    ESA provides a balanced range of activities for the students and ideally will not be shorter than 30mins or longer than an hour. It discourages teacher talk time as it is not them that need the practice! ESA can be adapted using “boomerang” and “patchwork” methods - a mix of “straight arrow” as described above so can be used for any level. Seeing this in practice works really well, it gives structure for the teacher and the student becomes familiar with the format. It ensures students learn and then understands what has been learnt in context.

    Tesol Course material - EFL methodology section

    Douglas Brown “Principles of language and teaching”

    Diane Larsen - Freeman “techniques and Principles in language teaching”

    Jack C Richards + Theodore S Rodgers “Approaches and methods in language teaching”

    Amanda Scarr


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