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Perspectives in teaching a language are often formed in the process of doing so; either when you realize that there are gaps in the coursework, or you see that concepts expressed in the target language are misunderstood or simply missed by the students. Here, Anthony Vaughan, an English language teacher in Kuala Lumpur, shares his classroom-realizations and subsequent methods of teaching what was initially lost in translation. 


Written by Anthony Vaughan – originally published November 10, 2012 on his blog.


Thinking is something that we do without … well … thinking.  Sometimes we do it too much and unfortunately sometimes too little.  The same can be true in the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classroom.

Recently I taught my beginner students how to spell English numbers from one to ten.  On their weekly quiz I gave them a question like this:

Write the next word in the series.

One, three, five,            .

Answer: seven.

Most of my students wrote six.  Hmmmm, that was disappointing.  The problem was, I had indeed taught my students how to say the numbers in numerical order and how to spell them.  I had not helped them to think and use them in different contexts.  I had neglected to add a critical thinking element to my class.  On one level my ego was tarnished.  On another level I learned a very valuable lesson.


Take your students as you find them.

If your students come from a country where critical thinking is integrated into their school and/or university curricula, you are very lucky.  However, some students may not have had much focus on these skills or they are still developing them.


So…teach your students how to think.

For example, if students have been taught to memorise facts or information in a sequence (such as numbers one to ten), you need to teach them how to go beyond this in your class and manipulate their knowledge.  Tessa Woodward suggests chanting the numbers, increasing and decreasing gradually:

1, 2, 1     1, 2, 3, 2, 1     1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1  and so on.

This could also be done in reverse.  Hopefully students are then distracted from memorising the numbers and start to use them.  They may even learn them if they are distracted enough!


Understanding components

The same concept works for learning sentence components.  Students can easily repeat a sentence.  However, if they understand the components of the sentence, they can make their own sentences effectively and derive great pleasure from creating new utterances.

If this happens, you can dance a little language teacher jig and pat yourself on the back.  You will have moved on from teaching a list of language items.  You will have taught students how to feel the language and use it in novel contexts.  When students can do so, they will be inspired and motivated.  You will be proud.  So, teach them how to think and you will teach them more than a foreign language.  You will allow them to bring it to life.




Anthony has been an English Language Trainer in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the last three years.  He is heading to Bali shortly to work as an English Teacher Trainer for local teachers.  He speaks French and has been learning Malay and Indonesian.  He believes the key to understanding language learners is to be one yourself.  Check out his blog at Sustainable Learning.

41JtKPcUKHL._SL500_AA300_Anthony’s post was inspired by Tessa Woodward’s “Thinking in the EFL class*.  She offers some great suggestions to add thought-provoking routines into the EFL classroom.  A real gem of a book!


Woodward, T (2011) Thinking in the EFL Class Helbling Languages.