ELT Methodologies and Approaches – A Cheat Sheet

ELT Methodologies and Approaches – A Cheat Sheet 

“What methodology do you use in the classroom?”
“I just teach.”

That’s a conversation I had recently with an ELT teacher. Hmmm. Something’s not quite right there. Whether you’re aware of it or not, every teacher is using some form of teaching methodology. When you get into studying at higher levels, for instance Delta, this becomes even more important. I remember when I first learned about all the different methodologies, it blew my mind.

The reason is that I thought teaching methodologies went in stages. So it starts with one method, then that dies off and we bring out a new one, and then a new one. But older teaching methodologies haven’t died off. They’re still used, and still useful. Often, they’re combined with more modern methodologies too!

Anyway, here’s a cheat sheet to introduce you to the basic teaching methodologies that exist in ELT, TEFL, TESOL, or whatever other acronym you want to call it.

If you want to learn more, there’s a wonderful webinar on this topic by Chia Suan Chong, on the British Council’s Teaching English website. Compulsory listening for any passionate teacher.

NB: for the difference between ‘approach’ and ‘methodology’, see this handy Quora link.

1. The Lexical Approach

Year: 1990s
Key Features:
  • Lexical phrases and ‘chunks’ of language are taught
  • Students acquire grammar as a result
  • Broadly a ‘lexis – first approach’
  • Began the use of corpora in language teaching
  • Developed by Michael Lewis  
Read More:
The Lexical Approach at the British Council’s website
Lexical Approach to Second Language Teaching at ERIC Digest 
– – –

2. The Natural Approach 

Year: 1970s/1980s
Key Features:
  • Focus is on communication
  • Speech is never forced, and comes through clear stages (e.g. yes/no)
  • Uses categories of content, students own ideas, games, and problem-solving activities
  • No drilling or error correction (opposite to the AL method)
  • Less importance on practice. More focus on making students comfortable.
Read More:
The Natural Approach at My English Pages
The Natural Approach on YouTube
– – –

3. Task Based Learning (TBL)

Year: 1970s-ish
Key Features:
  • An outgrowth of the Communicative Approach
  • Focuses on asking students to complete tasks using the target language
  • How well the task goes is the criteria for assessment
  • Structured normally as pre-task, task, and a review
  • The focus is on the process, not the product
  • One of the more popular formats in ELT today
Read More:
Task Based Learning at ESOL Nexus
Task Based Learning Special Interest Group
– – –

4. The Silent Way

Year: 1963
Key Features:
  • Uses silence!
  • Uses a structural syllabus; focuses on a small number of words
  • The teacher uses silence, gestures, to elicit responses
  • No formal assessment, no grammar translation, no uses of mother tongue
  • Uses Cuisenaire rods (wooden blocks) to represent ideas or concepts
  • Also includes coloured charts, word charts, and coloured letters
  • Focus is on learner autonomy and ‘getting the teacher out of the way’
  • Not widely used, but some ideas have been incorporated into other methodologies
Read More:
A website for Silent Way Teachers
The Silent Way at OneStopEnglish
– – –

5. Total Physical Response

Year: 1970s
Key Features:
  • Listening is given pride of place (a ‘comprehension approach’)
  • Speaking is not necessary straight away
  • Based on imperative commands e.g. ‘jump!’, ‘run!’
  • A fun, physical approach suitable for younger learners
  • Has been criticised as only good for beginning students
  • Posits that language is internalised better when associated with physical actions
Read More:
The official TPR website
Materials at TPR Source
– – –

6. Suggestopedia

Year: 1970s
Key Features:
  • A little bit wacky
  • Teacher introduces the topics, vocabulary, or grammar
  • Uses the mother tongue (unlike the Direct Method)
  • Includes an ‘active’ and ‘passive’ session
  • In the ‘passive’ session, Baroque music is played, the students chill out
  • This is followed by a session with actions, role plays, games, dramas, and songs
  • Which leads to use of the target language spontaneously
  • Often called pseudoscience
Read More:
How to Apply Suggestopedia
Suggestopedia at Teflpedia
– – –

7. Communicative Language Teaching

Year: 1970s-1980s
Key Features:
  • Interaction is king in CLT
  • Uses role-play, group work, interactive activities
  • Often uses a functional-notional syllabus
  • Ultimate goal is communication, not accuracy
  • Emphasis on authentic texts and authentic language in use
  • Teacher is the facilitator, rather than the model
Read More:
CLT at the University of Texas
The Advantages of Communicative Language Teaching at The Internet TESL Journal
– – –

8. The Direct Method

Year: Around 1900
Key Features:
  • Only uses the target language
  • Established in France and Germany
  • Uses realia, props, and role-play
  • Heavy use of recitation scripts and Q&A
  • Focus on spoken language
  • Inductive approach to teaching grammar and syntactic rules  
A reaction to the grammar translation method
Read More:
The Direct Method at the Direct Language Lab
The Direct Method at TJ Taylor Blog
– – –

9. The Audiolingual Method

Year: Early 20th Century
Key Features:
  • Used in the military, also known as the ‘Army Method’
  • Behaviorist in theoretical foundations
  • No grammar instruction; just repetition of correct forms
  • Uses numerous repetitive drills
  • Focuses on spoken language and vocabulary for essential communication
  • Uses dialogues, language labs, and comprehension tests
  • Teaches skills separately. First listening, then speaking, then reading, then writing.
Read More:
The Audio-lingual Method at TJ Taylor Blog
Three ways to use the Audio-lingual method in your class by FluentU
– – –

10. Grammar Translation Method

Year: As far back as the 1400s, and possibly further
Key Features:
  • Involves learning grammar rules by heart
  • Practice with drills, translations of sentences and texts
  • Focuses primarily on reading and writing; evolved from translating religious texts
  • Still used in some arcane spheres of study, especially for dead languages
Read More:
The Grammar Translation Method at Brigham Young University
Teaching Approaches at OneStopEnglish
– – –

11. Community Language Learning

Year: 1950s
Key Features:
  • Students and teachers work together; similar to counselling in approach
  • Focuses on establishing relationships, trust, and intimacy
  • Heavy on translation
  • Very student-centered
  • Encourages students to make decisions together on the learning process
  • The goal is to make students comfortable enough to ‘accept’ correction and criticism
  • No syllabus or textbook!
Read More:
Community Language Learning by the British Council
A CLL Demonstration on YouTube
– – –

12. Dogme ELT

Year: 2000ish
Key Features:
  • Focuses on discarding textbooks and materials
  • Involves a conversation-heavy approach as a fundamental part of language learning
  • Language is seen as ‘emerging’ rather than being acquired
  • Collaboration and communication among students also leads to language development
  • Basically, teaching with no materials; little planning; and back to the ‘communicative’ approach that’s been lost in CLT
Read More:
Original article ‘A Dogma For EFL’ by Scott Thornbury
‘Throw Away Your Textbooks’ – The Guardian
‘Dogme in Language Teaching in Japan’ – Christensen in ‘The Language Teacher’