For secondary school teachers only (sorry)

Teaching English as a compulsory subject at secondary school is very different to teaching English to business classes, at university or at primary school. I would like to create a forum where secondary school teachers can discuss their ideas, fears, successes and reflections with people in a comparable situation.  There are many great ideas on the British Council website, but many of the comments are not appropriate to secondary school classrooms. Some of the problems secondary school teachers have are: large classes need to assess disenchantment with anything "school" very complex social development occurring in the students that cannot always be put aside in classrooms sensitivity towards failure; and weakness when communicating in a foreign language students who desire to disrupt for social gains, etc frustration as students' mental abilities are much weaker in L2.   These all have huge effects on our teaching and the students' learning; and they are much more relevent to secondary school teachers than teachers in any other situation.  In this forum, I'd like to hear the experiences of secondary school teachers. What age group do you teach? How large are the classes? How long have they been learning English and how capable are they? What have you found successful in motivating the students? What have been your best breakthroughs? What has been most frustrating? Have you ever found yourself in confrontation? How have you helped disenchanted students? How have you supported the weakest students? How have you involved the most capable students? Do you teach grammar based lessons? Do you use meaningful tasks? Do you find you sometimes (often) have to sacrifice learning content for classroom management? Is their a logic to your lesson sequence? Do you have a syllabus? What ideas on these pages have most helped you? How much assessment do you use? Formative? Summative? What do you see as your role in the school? What do you think are the key skills needed to teach a foreign language to secondary school students? What do you think are our greatest challenges? I look forward to hearing from you, Nick (high school teacher, Japan)      

Harsh Kadepurkar's picture
Harsh Kadepurkar

Hi Nick

 Though I am not and have not been a secondary school teacher, most of my work in the last 25 years or so has been for and with secondary school teachers and students. I agree that teaching at this level is different from teaching at primary or university level. I shall be happy to share my experiences with you. May be you will get answers to some of your questions if you visit my blog on this website. 

Only one issue I will take up here: involving teachers in curriculum development. I made an experiment in this direction in Maharashtra, India. You will get information about it in the latest issue of the Teacher Trainer, a journal edited by Tessa Woodword.


thanh nhan's picture
thanh nhan

Hello, Nick.

I'm a teacher of English at a secondary school in Vietnam. As you know, in our country, teaching conditions are still poor. For example: A class with at least 45 pupils, no cassette, no native-English speakers. However, we are trying to bring English to our pupils. Here we only have few pupils brilliant at English in a class. But our class is a mixture of Pupils both good and bad at English. So it is very difficult to find out a way of teaching suitable for both of them. We give more challenging Tasks for good pupils and easier tasks for bad pupils. For Example:Sometimes, good pupils have to use the grammar learnt to set up a new sentence and then bad pupils have only to repeat that sentence and after that the bad have to create a new sentence with one change......For good pupils we usually have higher and higher requirements day by day. But for bad pupils, we usualy praise them and encourage them. This makes them not afraid of English and interested in their learning. After a 8-year teaching I found that my bad pupils more interested in English. They can make their own sentences like the good one. And my good pupils become better and better at English. Some even better at it than me.

giganick's picture

Thank you, Harsh.

 First, sorry, i have not followed up my post for a while... family commitments and rewriting the school homepage.

Second, it was very interesting reading your blog. It's very interesting and stimulating; not least of all, I could use a dip - a long one - in the Godavari.

How has the development of your year X-XII students been going? From your blog, India looks in a very similar state to the UK; "new clothes" but old values. In fact when I was teaching in the UK, it was often a case of new clothes and no values. I had fantastic trainers at University to explain contemporary pedagogy, but the classes I observed in schools were... what can I say?... very similar to the ones I was subjected to fifteen years before: be quiet, be seated, do drills for fluency.

Hope you are motivating the teachers!


giganick's picture

Hi Thanh nhan,

I'm extending a rather rushed reply written late last night.

I think you have described the very essence of successful teaching of compulsary education: challenge the students who are capable; and encourage the students who are challenged. It is a fundamental guide for teachers of any subject. So much dislike for a subject is from fear and other uncomfortable emotions all associated with failure. The majority of misbehavior comes from this too. I feel that - particularly in the Japanese high school when I am picking up students after theree years of compulsary English - a lot of almost belligerent attitudes towards English and myself as an English speaker are defense mechanisms. Particularly with my first year students, I spend a long time breaking the resistance to English, by restoring student confidence and security. Speaking Japanese really helps here.

However two major difficulties remain. The classes are only very generally tiered, and student ability varies. I am very aware that I am not successfully challenging the most capable students in these classes; not the way I can challenge students doing the English course or in our advanced tier. Secondly, balancing language demands and intellectual demands can be very hard.

I am a little rushed at work and home now. I started writing this reply over two hours ago, but the interruptions are endless. Perhaps I should have given up!

How low are your low level students? My low level classes have from absolute beginners (this is despite three years of compulsary English education) to quite competent writers (not quite so competent speakers) of single phrase English sentences.

Do you find using the students' mother tongue helpful in encouraging this level? I find it essential.  

Finally, huge congratulations to you as a teacher. It should be the aim of all of us to be outdone by our students.  As it is our children's ultimate responsibility to replace us.

Thank you for your plain advice, 


Amir A. Ravayee's picture
Amir A. Ravayee

Teaching English at a secondary school is very different from a language school, but not difficult.


 Despite the problems of big classes, there are things which teachers can do.


In such classes, pair work and group work play an important part because they let the student have more participation in class. You can also have group leaders to help you. So you can change a boring class to an enjoyable one.


If some students use their L1 in English classes, you can discuss the matter with students and get their agreement that they need to use the target language not their own native language. You can also ignore the students who use their L1 and respond to those who speak in English. This is a useful way to encourage all students to use the English language when they speak.


Sometimes you have students who are at different levels. At this stage, you can assign various activities appropriate to the level of students in each group.


When students misbehave, we need to act immediately and stop it. We must talk to students. We must not punish them. Positive reinforcement is the best remedy.


We must be very careful when we enter the classroom because students can sense our feelings. Students are intelligent enough to understand whether we enjoy teaching them or not. Teacher’s management and behavior influence the class to a great deal. 


To sum up, a teacher is a manager who must make the right decision at the right time.

Amir Abbass Ravayee


Harsh Kadepurkar's picture
Harsh Kadepurkar

Dear Nick

I am sorry for taking some time to respond to you. Thanks for visiting my blog.

My project is going well. All the 6 coursebooks are now in use. And teachers and students seem to be satisfied with the change.

Right now we are working on a coursebook in literature. It will be prescribed from June 2009.

Though I can't claim that now I know how a curriculum change 'should' be handled, I can definitely say that now I know how it 'can' be handled. By that I mean I know one of the ways in which it may work! But what works in one context may not necessarily work in all other contexts. And yet, we need to share with each other whatever we think has worked and whatever has not worked. This is particularly true where English is taught as a second or foreign language. What do you say?


giganick's picture

Dear Amir,

Thank you for your long and detailed reply. Your ideas are very useful and certainly provide a good basis to teaching a foreign language.

From the classroom management point of view, I have a few follow up questions, for which I would be grateful for anyone's ideas!

1. Pair or small group work is probably the most effective learning in the classroom. How do we minimalise off-task chatting by uninterested students (it's not the topic, the more interesting the topic is the more they want to chat about it in their mother tongue)? What do we do with the three or four students in each class who are nervous in social activities?

2. I use L1 in the class (1) to clarify students understanding, (2) to inject high level humour and other stimulation, and (3) to time the lessons, allow students to relax and digest. I allow students to use L1 (1) to explore their understanding in meaningfull peer discussion, and (2) to boost confidence and moral. In my experience using the students' first language and permitting their use of it facilitates learning and increases confidence. However I think this is very much a personal case, and for most of the points above many excellent teachers can do this in English. The most important use of L1 in the classroom is to be instrumental in the students' learning of the second language through peer collaboration. Would you permit this level of discussion? (I encourage it.)  



 high school teacher, Japan

giganick's picture

I have decided to start every topic with about five warm up questions. The students will write the questions they hear, and then try to write the answers freely. Then I will give them the correct questions to check and some model answers; and I'll do some asking some questions to some students to practice talking. I'll assess them when necessary.

Why? Because I want the students to move their production skills towards their comprehension skills.

For example:

What is your best subject? Who teaches you it? When do you study it? how long have you studied it? Are you good at sports? (Questions are around the textbook chapter.)

I would like to know: what do you think of this unoriginal and unadventurous plan?


nade-ivanova's picture

Hello, Nick! It was interesting to read your message as most of the problems you list are urgent in my situation, too.
Actually, I am an English teacher from Russia. I live in a big city in Siberia. It is called Krasnoyarsk. English is the major foreign language in our place, though there are some other ones.
Our school major is advanced teaching of languages. Therefore, there are special student groups that have English 4-6 times a week on the curriculum. The coursebooks for these groups provide deep knowledge and good basis for skills development.
The rest of the groups have English 2 days a week in the primary and 3 days a week in the secondary school.
In Russia, most children start learning foreign languages at the age of 8. A language group usually includes 13-22 students.
As for students motivation, in most language groups there are few top language learners and some rowdy students who often misbehave, do not do tasks appropriately and disrupt the class.
As for the motivated students, I involve them into serious tasks, make them play the role of a teacher and consult or assess others. They are also suggested doing some out-of-class work, like projects, reports, presentations. They also participate in Internet contests, olympiads, quizes.
Low motivated students need special attention in class, because they rarely participate in group work and can't work individually. So they are given some special, easier tasks on conditions of being assessed at a lower scale. Very often they need to be given extra support from the teacher: tips, rules, flash cards. And of course, these students need teacher's praise badly.
To raise students' motivation I use Internet resources, like on-line quizes, tests, reading, audio and video materials. I also involve my students into international Internet projects to make them use English for real communication.
Here are some ideas on my teaching English.
Nadezhda (Russia)

nade-ivanova's picture

Hello, Amir Abbass Ravayee! I was urged to reply your message as I fully support your position. I also apply to pair and especially group work to develop student autonomy and cooperation skills. Besides, that makes them less dependent on the teacher and afraid of doing mistakes.
What is more, group work develops learners' responsibility and creates competitive environment. In general, it saves time in class and makes it possible for the teacher to control certain groups, assist others, help low students individually.
As for using L1 in class, I prefer speaking the target language even with primary students. That enhances their thinking in K2 abilities. And, of course, even if a student speaks L1 to the teacher, I still speak English to him and make him or her understand me.
As soon as I start using mother tongue in class, my students stop using English.
Thus, I fully agree with you that a teacher should be a manager in class.
Nadezhda Ivanova (Russia)