The official website of educator Jack C Richards

Assessment and Evaluation


Submitted by Ahmad Alruhban, Marmara University, Turkey

What is the difference between assessment and evaluation in language teaching?

Dr. Richards responds:

Assessment is a general term referring to procedures that can be used to measure students progress in a course. Tests are one form of assessment but many forms of assessment are not tests, such as observations, interviews, or questionnaires.

Evaluation refers to procedures used to determine the overall effectiveness of a language course, and may involve many different procedures such as interviews with teachers and students as well as classroom observation. Students’ performance on texts may also be used as one component of evaluation.

Grammar-Translation Method and The Direct Method


Submitted by 孙赫, Luoyang Normal University, China

  1. What are the teachers’ role and the students’ role in Grammar-Translation Method and The Direct Method?
  2. What are some common classroom activities in Grammar-Translation Method and The Direct Method?

Dr. Richards responds:

Grammar translation:
Teacher’s role: to provide translation of new grammatical items, to answer students’ questions about the meaning of items, to monitor students’ work for grammatical accuracy, to develop translation activities:
Students’ role: to learn and practice grammar rules, to try out new grammar items in spone and written texts
Common classroom activities: translation of sentences from one language to another: writing sentences using the new grammar

Direct method:
Teacher’s role: to present new items through the use of questions and demonstration, to monitor students’ production for accuracy, to avoid use of the mother tongue
Students’ role: to listen and repeat, to ask and answer questions
Common classroom activities: drills and repetition activities: question and answer activities

Principles of the Eclectic Approach


Tina, Ridgeway Campus UNZA, Zambia

What are the principles of the eclectic approach?

Dr. Richards responds:

The term “eclectic approach” refers to a teaching approach that is not based on a single method (e.g. task-based teaching, or CLIL) but that draws on several different method principles that are made use of in practice. It is a problem-based approach to teaching that is based on the following principles:

  • What particular problem do my learners encounter in mastering this aspect of language or language use?
  • What procedures can I make use of from available methods and approaches that could be used to address this problem?

The Importance of Studying Linguistics


Submitted by Ali Abdulhussain, University of Maissan

What is the importance of studying linguistics for a language teacher?

Dr. Richards responds:

Linguistics is a very broad discipline and includes many different approaches to the study of language. Not all of them are relevant to language teaching. If by “linguistics” you mean a course that introduces information on the nature of language, how grammar and other levels of organization in a language work, as well as information of the core linguistic features of English – particularly those that are important in teaching, then this would be useful. Teachers need to know as much as they can about the subject they teach, and linguistics can be one source of this knowledge base. But how useful it is will depend on what kind of linguistics one is talking about and how it is taught. The framework developed by Halliday in his work on functional linguistics is often used in courses for language teachers. Unfortunately many people who may have a Ph.D  in linguistics may have studied linguistic theories that have little relevance to language teaching.

Mother Tongue Teaching vs. Foreign Language Teaching


Submitted by Gafur Khamroev, Uzbekistan

What is the difference between mother tongue teaching and foreign language teaching?

Dr. Richards responds:

In many countries when students come to school their mother tongue has already been established and teaching in this case may involve learning to read and write a language which the children can already speak. The children have already benefited from thousands of hours of contact with their mother tongue. In the case of a foreign language however, the starting point may be zero, and a limited amount of time may be available in school for foreign language instruction. In this case a careful structured and gradual introduction to the foreign language is normally used, based on a corpus of the most frequent words, phrases and structures.

Best Way to Translate New Words


Submitted by Mehrnoosh Panahandeh, Tehran, Iran

When a student gives you a word in his/her native language and asks you for the translation, what is the best solution?

Dr. Richards responds:

There is no reason not to give the translation of a new word. The mother tongue can be a useful resource in teaching and it is a natural reference point for learners.  Translation activities which involve students translating words can be the basis of fun activities such as games and group work tasks.  Remember however that students come to class to practice English so use translation when needed as a springboard to learn and practice using English.

Learning Strategy vs. Classroom Task


Submitted by Hezi Brosh, USA

What is the difference between Language learning strategy and classroom task/activity?

Dr. Richards responds:

A strategy is the action a learner takes to resolve a particular learning issue or problem. So when reading a difficult text, skimming it first for a general idea of the content before reading it more closely, is an example of a reading strategy.

A classroom task or activity is something the teacher assigns the learners to do in order to achieve a specific learning outcome. Dictation is a task or activity, as is jigsaw listening or completing a cloze passage.

Strategy Development for Better Listening


Submitted by Muhammad Shujaat, Saudi Arabia

In coursebooks, usually the sequence of a listening lesson proceeds from the general to the particular and then the students pair-check their answers. Is this proof enough that students are developing their listening or does there have to be another dimension of the strategy development for better listening?

Dr. Richards responds:

It depends on the kind of text students will listen to and what their purposes for listening are. Listening to a news story involves a different approach to listening than listening to casual conversation. So first one has to consider the type of text, the level of complexity of the text, what background knowledge students bring to the text, and the listening purpose.  The choice of listening task or activity that you use should provide guided practice in listening. Support for listening can be given through pre-teaching key words, by activating background knowledge, and by establishing an appropriate listening purpose. A series of tasks can be used that first require global listening, and then move to more detailed listening.


Methods and Techniques for Young Learners


Submitted by David Chacha, Tanzania

Can you suggest methods and techniques for young learners?

Dr. Richards responds:

A number of principles can inform the following approaches to teaching young learners.

  1. Build teaching around activities and physical movement.
    Link language learning to physical activities by having children use and hear English for making things, drawing pictures, completing puzzles, labelling pictures, matching words and pictures, playing games, acting out movements in response to instructions and other activities that involve hands, eyes and ears. Teachers often make use of TPR activities (activities based on linking language with actions, drawing on the method known as total physical response). Many listening activities for young children use this principle, such as activities in which children listen and respond to commands (e.g. ‘sit down’, ‘turn around’, ‘touch your nose’), listen and choose a picture, listen and draw a picture or listen and number a sequence of actions in a picture. Similarly, speaking activities with young learners may involve use of songs, dialogues, chants and fixed expressions that students can practise in different situations.
  1. Build lessons around linked activities.
    Since young learners have limited attention spans, it is important to include several short activities in a lesson and to move quickly from one activity to another. Activities of five to ten minutes in length are most successful. A balance between the following kinds of activities is often useful:
  • Quiet / noisy activities.
  • Different skills: listening, talking, reading / writing.
  • Individual work / pair work / group work / whole-class activities.
  • Teacher–pupil / pupil–pupil activities.
  1. Build lessons around tasks.
    A task is a meaning-focused activity that requires learners to draw on and use their existing linguistic resources to complete a task, such as drawing a picture from oral instructions, or working in pairs or groups and sequencing a series of pictures to complete a story. The key features of classroom tasks for young language learners are:
  • They have coherence and unity for learners (from topic, activity and/or outcome).
  • They have meaning and purpose for learners.
  • They have clear language-learning goals.
  • They involve the learner actively.
  1. Provide scaffolding.
    Scaffolding refers to how a child learns through collaboration with a more knowledgeable partner (a parent, a classmate, a teacher). When children work collaboratively on tasks (such as sequencing pictures in a story, completing a puzzle or completing an information-gap task), more proficient learners can often provide the scaffolding less proficient learners need.
  1. Involve students in creating resources that support their learning.
    Learners can draw pictures of the characters they hear in a story or create puppets to help retell a story. They can colour pictures of items and characters from stories. They can find pictures in magazines, related to a theme or topic in a lesson, and bring them to class. In my Quebec primary classes mentioned earlier, we did not use a textbook. The children created their own coursebook, as the course developed, using the resources that formed the basis of the course.
  1. Build lessons around themes.
    Lessons can be built around topics or themes, such as animals, friends, food or family, for very young learners; and for older learners, themes can be drawn from subjects in their other classes and the community, such as transport, country life, travel and famous people. Theme-based lessons provide continuity across activities and enable English learning to be connected to the children’s lives.
  1. Choose content children are familiar with.
    Teaching can also be built around familiar content from the children’s culture, such as stories and events (e.g. national holidays or cultural practices). Since the learners will be familiar with talking about these topics in their native language, it will be easier for them to connect with how they can talk about them in English.
  1. Use activities that involve collaboration.
    Children enjoy socializing with other children, and activities that work best with young learners are those in which children are working with others in pairs or groups, rather than remaining in their seats, listening to the teacher. Activities that involve collaboration require careful preparation to ensure that children have the words and expressions they need in order to carry out an activity.
  1. Create a supportive learning community in the classroom.
    A class of young learners needs to become a community of learners – that is, a group of learners with shared goals, needs and concerns. Thinking of a class as a community means seeing it as a place where each child in the class cooperates and collaborates to achieve the class’s common goals. This leads to more productive learning. Children who interact and collaborate with other learners develop a more positive attitude towards learning and a greater sense of self-confidence than those in other learning arrangements.
  1. Use enjoyable activities that children can accomplish without frustration.
    Young learners enjoy taking part in activities that they can successfully achieve, but which also offer some kind of challenge. Activities of this kind depend on the teacher providing language input and modelling for young language learners, where the teacher and the materials are the primary source of language.
  1. Provide rich language support.
    Since the learners will have little knowledge of English to call upon, they need careful language support for learning activities. Success will depend on the teacher providing language models, demonstrating the way the activities can be carried out in English and providing the language support an activity depends upon.
  1. Give clear goals and feedback.
    Children like to be successful at things they do in class. In order to achieve this, it is important to set clear goals for children and to let them know when they have been successful, or if not, why not. Praise for success is very important for young learners, for example, by using stars, stickers, points or smiley faces.
  1. Use English for classroom management.
    Use English for instructions, for routines such as forming groups, for introducing activities, for giving feedback and for other teaching processes.
  1. Use the mother tongue when needed.
    While the goal of teaching young learners is to use as much English in class as possible, when teaching homogeneous classes, it is quite appropriate to use the mother tongue when necessary to explain the meaning of words and expressions and to help explain activities. Occasional use of the mother tongue provides a comfort zone for young learners, though the teacher and students should not become over-dependent on it.
  1. Bring speakers of English to class.
    Where possible, it is useful to invite speakers of English to class to meet the learners. These could be children from an international school or older children who are now quite advanced in English. They can ask and answer simple questions, take part in a role play and do other activities that will interest and motivate the learners.