Skip to content
Home » English learning » Direct method

Direct method

direct method

Direct method is the only game in town

Direct method — It was three years back when I landed my first job in an English academy in Madrid, Spain. I was young, inexperienced, very nervous and had absolutely no idea how on earth I was going to actually go about teaching my classes.

Ever since arriving in Spain, I, alongside all the other native English-speaking teachers that arrive here to try their hand at teaching, are ready and eager to get themselves inside the classroom to commence teaching.

It seems, though, that when push comes to shove, and you finally get into a teaching position, you find yourself in front of a group of students and most teachers won’t have a clue what to do.

The lesson plan usually goes out the window, and so does the confidence, as well as any other previous motivation or enthusiasm for teaching. The only thing you’ll have before you are 3-6 pupils giving you odd looks, and most disappointingly they’ll be fairly upset at your lack of confidence and expertise.

The whole ordeal can be a terribly drastic situation for the new teacher and in some cases, even bring a possible English teaching career to an end entirely.

Well, this was me when I first started out.

A new approach to teaching — The Direct Method

I sought, though, not to give up but rather endeavour to understand and succeed at the art of teaching and, above all, find a method — A method that students love and which is efficient.

After months of trial and error, learning more or less all the nuts and bolts of English grammar, I came across a method that works. A method that you can find in all prestigious English teaching institutions.

It’s called the direct method.

When you think about it, the objective of all English learners is very plain and simple: Speak English with good pronunciation and without errors.

Thus, the teacher needs to facilitate just that in the classroom, However, I feel that some teachers in their initial stages don’t really understand this. Even though their heart is surely in the right place, they may not have really got to grips with the mechanics of teaching, or rather facilitating correct speech without error, respectfully speaking.

Most of my colleagues will complain about having to teach very low levels, but I always state that this is the best part of teaching!

It’s here one can really get down and dirty with the ultimate language teaching method, the direct method.

My thoughts on the matter

It is during the very initial stages of learning a language that the direct method shines and works amazingly. The direct method facilitates speaking for the learner and ensures that the student learns the essential grammar without having to touch their pen (although it is good to take notes occasionally!).

All the while, having the entirety of the lesson focused on the student speaking instead of doing grammar worksheets. A much more humanistic approach, wouldn’t you say?

Now, how about we delve into a little analysis and elaboration on the direct method? The direct method or the natural method focuses on three main elements, all of which you will see below.

The direct method in practice

  1. Grammar is taught using an incredibly inductive approach.
  2. Target language is taught in the target language itself and not using the learner’s native tongue to aid the process.
  3. Question-answer system. For virtually the entirety of the lesson, correct speech (which is always the goal)  is taught on a question-answer basis. A lesson should be carried out by the teacher in which he/she asks questions to his/her students and the students do the same amongst themselves. Mind you, you need to construct the questions meticulously to account for the specific grammar elements of the lesson plan. That is, the teacher gives a question and the student must answer accordingly. In addition, focusing not on his or her personal response and elaboration, but rather on answering the question correctly, grammatically speaking of course (all of which the teacher monitors carefully).

The direct method in a nutshell

  1. Teach the target language in the target language itself. 
  2. The question-answer approach is the basis for the entire lesson.
  3. An incredibly inductive approach.

A practical look at the direct method

I now intend to fully elaborate and go in-depth into these three facets, so we can thoroughly get to the bottom of all this. The inductive approach.

When has anyone ever learned anything from having the solution given to them on a silver platter? Excuse the expression.

One could argue, If one has a solution presented to oneself with no thought process or effort, then perhaps the learner would be less likely to learn than if they had to make an effort through an inductive approach.

A quick example of an English lesson using the inductive approach

A teacher asks student A to ask student B if she (student B) had left her office before her boss arrived yesterday (remember that asking questions and having students respond forms part of the inductive approach).

Student A asks student B (incorrectly):

  • Have you left the office before the boss arrived yesterday”?

The teacher takes note of the errors (have you left, the boss) and gives a quick grammatical analysis to the class. In this case, the usage of the past perfect and not the present perfect as well as the use of the definite article the instead of the possessive adjective your):

  1. She (subject, third-person singular, but will be changed to the second-person singular.
  2. Had left (past perfect tense) as it’s the past before another past.
  3. Her office (Her =possessive adjective) (student must use the possessive, not the article).
  4. Before (conjunction to introduce next clause).
  5. Her boss (possessive adjective and ‘boss’ as a subject in the subordinate clause).
  6. Arrived (past simple after past perfect).
  7. Yesterday (time expression and adverb).

The teacher then repeats;

  • ’Ask student B if she had left the office before her boss arrived yesterday’.

Student A takes note of the grammatical analysis and now reforms the question in the correct manner:

  • ‘Had you left your office before your boss arrived yesterday’?

*Side note, using the definite article the before boss was not incorrect, however, the teacher specifically asked her boss, therefore, it’s important that you are careful with your language to not cause confusion. 

Example English lesson conclusion

The teacher never corrected the student nor gave them the answer, rather, we use continuous induction (in this example, an overview of the grammar), so the learner can understand the problem for themselves and never be given the answer explicitly. Or put on a silver platter, as the expression goes.

Henceforth, the solution should stick in their mind, and the learner should have worked out the answer for themselves.

In this regard, all the teacher does, then, is act as a communicator and guide the learner in the right direction to induce the correct answer. This is the real learning process.

Induction is key.

The language of instruction should be the same as the target language — no translations

The target language ought to be taught in the target language itself. In order to learn a language, regardless of the student’s level.

It is vital that the teacher do the teaching in the target language with zero translations.

The pupils can utilise grammar books and worksheets in their own time in whatever language they deem most helpful, but class time is sacred and scarce.

During the lesson, it’s vital the teacher ensures the student exits their native language and activates the new ‘chip’ to guarantee a complete immersion in the target language.

Therefore, regardless of the level, good implementation of the inductive approach will mean that no translations are necessary whatsoever.

A language teacher need not be a polyglot to teach a language.

The teaching is done between the learner and the teacher. Needless to say, good communication, interaction, and adherence to an inductive method between the two are sacrosanct.

The question-answer system is key to learning a language

Systematic implementation of the question-answer system during the class is the key to facilitating speaking for the language learner.

Furthermore, the question-answer approach works incredibly well with very low-level beginners all the way up to very advanced and proficient learners. Although the whole question-answer system need not be so rigid when dealing with more advanced learners simply because the lessons can be much more conversation-based.

You should take note of any mistakes and correct them after each member of the class has taken their turn to speak. 

Utilizing the question-answer system in a very low-level group or individual class is the best possible means of aiding and encouraging your students to achieve correct speech.

Keep in mind, that the goal for most language learners is nearly always the same — learn to speak correctly with as few grammatical and pronunciation mistakes as possible.

The question-answer system — a hands-on approach and the right way forward

For instance, in a low-level class where one might be teaching basic prepositions such as at, in and on; the teacher should prepare their lesson meticulously to ensure that the questions that the teacher is directing to the learners will fully encompass the usage of the above prepositions which would be part of the lesson plan.

Once the student has answered the question, said student shall then proceed to ask their neighbour another question, and so forth. The teacher obliges them all to go around in a circle until all students have had a turn at speaking (any mistakes should be noted by the teacher and analysed after all students complete the exercise).

Most importantly though, after every question and answer the teacher must listen very meticulously for any perceived errors, so they can be corrected using the inductive approach. After which, progress continues accordingly.

The question-answer system — an example lesson

A quick example of a lesson based on teaching adequately the prepositions ‘at’, ‘in’ and ‘on’.

Teacher: asks student A where she will meet student B for lunch in Paris on Sunday.

Student A proceeds to ask student B:

  • ‘Where will you meet me for lunch in Paris on Sunday’?

Student B responds (incorrectly):

  • ‘I will meet you at the corner on Paris at Sunday

The teacher then pauses the lesson and writes student B’s sentence on the board for a quick grammar check:

  • In: preposition for inside larger areas; not ‘on’
  • On: preposition for days of the week.

After a grammatical analysis, student B then proceeds to restate the question correctly:

  • ‘I will meet you at the corner in Paris on Sunday’

Ergo, with a proper understanding of the grammar from the side of the teacher, the teacher can facilitate correct speaking in the classroom while also teaching the grammar, and incorporating all the aspects of the direct method.

Such aspects of the direct method include:

  • Inductive approach.
  • Target language is taught in the target language.
  • Question-answer system is a basis for all speaking.