Mark Beales

Ways of teaching

Do you know your TBL from your ESA and CLT?

By now you won’t be surprised to learn that for every teaching method there’s a corresponding acronym.

Whenever you learn to teach, you’ll doubtless be presented with some of these.

Great debates rage as to whether PPP is outdated, if TPR works for everyone and if ESA is really PPP in disguise. The good news is that the basics remain simple – keep students entertained and give them a chance to use what they are learning. 

Here are the main teaching methods:

PPP - Presentation, Practice, Production.

PPP is the grand-daddy of ESL methodology. For years it was seen as the definitive way for students to study as well as the ideal way to teach. These days it’s often maligned and dismissed by modern teachers as old-hat (they’re often the same Philistines who dismiss Pink Floyd as dated). 

Briefly, PPP splits a lesson into three parts. 

The first, Presentation, looks to engage students in the task and offer a model of what is going to be learned, for example a telephone conversation. The Practice part gives students a chance to use that conversation themselves. In the phone conversation example, pair-work would be an obvious choice. Lastly, Production asks the students to come up with their own version of the model. So rather than a phone conversation about booking movie tickets, they could create one based on making a restaurant reservation.

PPP still has its place but it’s important to realize that it is a way of teaching – it’s not the only way. It has many good points but it tends to work best with lower-level groups, not advanced ones. 

If you think about the phone conversation example, it’s a tightly-controlled model that doesn’t offer much for advanced students unless we give them a looser reign to create any phone conversation. Another criticism, and it’s a justifiable one, is that it can be extremely teacher-centred. The teacher models, the students repeat and then come up with something vaguely similar. Whether learning truly occurs if students only recreate controlled models is a debatable point.

ESA – Engage, Study, Activate.

You may well claim that Engage, Study and Activate sound eerily similar to Present, Practice and Produce, and we wouldn’t argue with you.

However, the point here is that you can mix things up and have SEA, AES or ESE or ESESA. The limits of lexicography make it tricky to do that with PPP. All ESA means is that you don’t have to be rigid with your lessons; if you want to start with a Study activity and follow it with an Activate one, then go right ahead. 

Taking our phone conversation as the model, you could ask students to begin with a gap-fill of the conversation (a Study phase) then act it out (an Engage phase). After this you could get students to describe pictures of different people (Engage) and then ask them to imagine writing a phone conversation that two of these people may have (Activate). 

It can take a little thought to come up with a series of activities that works, but such lessons are usually successful and far more student-centred.

TBL – Task-Based Learning.

An increasingly popular method that motivates students by giving them a problem or scenario that they have to deal with. By working through this problem they have to use English and therefore learn without overtly realising it. 

An example of TBL would be to get students to imagine they are marooned on a desert island. Present them with ten items (for example: a compass, rope, a lighter, book, shirt, football, knife, spoon, tin of tuna and a mobile phone) and explain that they have to choose only five items for their island. 

The students work in groups (only speaking English) and then explain their choices to the class. Students then vote based on what they’ve heard for which items they would take. Students should be encouraged to think practically about how they could use the items; the pages in the book could be burned to make fire, for example. 

Students tend to enjoy TBL as they have more freedom. Teachers do need to ensure there is a goal that goes beyond students speaking English. With the desert island example they could be made to use modal verbs when presenting their ideas (have to, must, need, ought to, etc).

TPR – Total Physical Response.

Lessons using TPR force students to move around, maybe finding answers in different corners of the room or asking them to piece together information that has been cut up. Obviously a winner with younger students, it also helps students who learn best through kinaesthetic means. 

If students are learning prepositions of place, you could set up a mini treasure trail in school. Students would have to read the clues (in the corner, under the green box, etc) to complete the route.

CLT – Communicative Language Teaching. 

This looks for a more authentic style of lessons and uses less grammar than many systems. CLT will often employ role-plays and function phrases (would you like to/in my opinion, etc) to get students using realistic language. When using CLT it’s important not to ignore grammar altogether; the point is that with this method you don’t get bogged down by it.

Clearly, this is a smorgasbord of styles and a good ESL teacher will nibble on each occasionally rather than devour the same method all the time. 

- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)


Visit Mark's website (lots of stuff on Mark's travel adventures, photography, etc)

Buy Mark's book - 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)

Browse Mark's Amazon author's page for publications he's written for.

Follow Mark on Twitter

Read Mark's Hot Seat interview on


No comments yet

Post your comment

Comments are moderated and will not appear instantly.

Featured Jobs

Native English Teachers

฿50,000+ / month


Multiple Teaching Positions

฿35,000+ / month


English Conversation Teachers

฿35,000+ / month


Part-time Teachers for Weekends

฿330+ / hour


Native English-Speaking Nursery Teacher

฿60,000+ / month


Native English-Speaking Kindergarten Teacher

฿60,000+ / month


Featured Teachers

  • Zoltan

    Hungarian, 59 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Mark

    American, 69 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Shunn

    Myanmarese, 26 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Zamatome

    South African, 24 years old. Currently living in South Africa

  • Mazher

    Pakistani, 37 years old. Currently living in Saudi Arabia

  • Yahaya

    Nigerian, 32 years old. Currently living in Maldives

The Hot Spot

The dreaded demo

The dreaded demo

Many schools ask for demo lessons before they hire. What should you the teacher be aware of?

Will I find work in Thailand?

Will I find work in Thailand?

It's one of the most common questions we get e-mailed to us. So find out exactly where you stand.

The cost of living

The cost of living

How much money does a teacher need to earn in order to survive in Thailand? We analyze the facts.

The Region Guides

The Region Guides

Fancy working in Thailand but not in Bangkok? Our region guides are written by teachers who actually live and work in the provinces.

Teacher mistakes

Teacher mistakes

What are the most common mistakes that teachers make when they are about to embark on a teaching career in Thailand? We've got them all covered.

Contributions welcome

Contributions welcome

If you like visiting and reading the content, why not get involved yourself and keep us up to date?

Air your views

Air your views

Got something to say on the topic of teaching, working or living in Thailand? The Ajarn Postbox is the place. Send us your letters!

Need Thailand insurance?

Need Thailand insurance?

Have a question about health or travel insurance in Thailand? Ricky Batten from Pacific Prime is Ajarn's resident expert.