BTR-TESOL Unit 1A - Only the Beginning



objective of this unit

the least you should know






comprehensive questions

video example

reflection and responses

where to go to learn more

connections to other units in this program

online and other electronic resources

print and paper based resources

additional references



Congratulations on accepting an assignment to teach English as a second or foreign language! You are embarking on a great adventure. Being prepared for that adventure will allow you to better assist your students with their learning. It will also help you gain richer rewards for yourself as you teach.

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Scenario: Looking for "the book"

Over the years, many individuals have knocked on my office door, called me on the phone, or sent me letters or e-mail. All of these people were about to become involved in the teaching of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), but they had no preparation for doing so. They were going to teach English by virtue of the simple fact that they spoke English. These people have been of varying ages and have come from different backgrounds. Many have been young college students about to travel to a foreign country, quite a few have been older retired couples determined to do something useful in their golden years, some have been professors headed abroad, others have been literacy program administrators working with immigrants and refugees, and a few have been church leaders. Some were going abroad, to countries where people needed English skills to advance in their education or employment. Others were staying in their home communities, where they were working with refugees and immigrants whose English skills and financial resources were limited. Despite this diversity, they have all had one thing in common: they were all looking for “the book” that would tell them how to teach English to speakers of other languages.

Lynn HenrichsenWell, on the bookshelves of my office, I have nearly 600 books dealing with many aspects of the complex, challenging process of English language teaching, but not one of them was precisely suited to the needs of these unprepared novices looking for “the book.” When they came to my office, I used to scare these well meaning individuals by waving my hand at all the books on my shelves and asking them which of these many books was “the book” they were looking for. Deep down, I sort of hoped they would be intimidated, realize the great challenges of teaching English, change their minds, and leave the work to the professionals, like my colleagues in the TESOL organization or the graduates of university-based TESOL teacher-preparation programs, such as the ones I have worked in.

My current response, however, is different. Now I say, “This is your lucky day! I am writing the book that you are looking for. It’s title is Basic Training and Resources for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It’s subtitle is The Least You Should Know and Where to Go to Learn More.

Why this change in heart? Well, because of the fact that English is now the international language of communication, there is a huge worldwide demand for English language skills, and there may never be enough thoroughly trained teachers to meet the instructional needs of the many millions of English learners. Furthermore, because many of the people who need English skills the most are the poorest members of their societies and the least able to afford expensive, professional English language instructors, there will always be a need for English-teaching volunteers. In addition, because of the intrinsic rewards involved in helping people gain a life skill that will do them so much good and that they so desperately want, there will also be people who help immigrants, refugees, and others by volunteering their time as English teachers or tutors. Finally, because the world beckons and people like to travel it—not just as tourists, staying at resorts and seeing the sights, but as “citizens of the world” mixing with the locals and getting to know them on a personal basis—and English language teaching offers them a ticket for doing this, untrained or minimally trained people will probably always be involved in English language teaching.

Why are you teaching English? And equally important, what will you do when you teach English? How will you go about helping non-native speakers improve their English skills?

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Objectives of this unit

The goal of the entire Basic Training and Resources for TESOL (BTR-TESOL) program is not to produce perfect, fully prepared master teachers. Rather, the overall goal is to move unprepared, novice ESL (English as a second language) and EFL (English as a foreign language) teachers up a step or two from where they are now. More specifically, after you complete each unit, you will have some basic knowledge of the topic it treats (“the least you should know”) and you will be aware of additional resources that you can go to (“where to go to learn more”).

The main objective of this particular unit (“Only the Beginning”) is to introduce you to the program’s nature and purposes. That way, you can make sure this program is right for you.

A second objective is to get you thinking about your own particular (current) English-teaching setting (or the one where you will teach in the future) and what you need to know to be successful in that situation.

A third objective is to have you assess your existing knowledge of English language teaching in order to determine how much more you need to know.  

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The least you should know

The main sections of this unit have to do with the program’s intended audience and the type of teacher training it provides (minimalist, connectivist, and problem solving). The explanations below provide basic information about each of these topics. As you read through them, you will occasionally be asked some comprehension questions and reflect on how the ideas presented apply to you. Then, you will be directed to where you might go to learn more about them.  


BTR-TESOL is designed for people who… (1) Are either (a) on the verge of teaching ESL/EFL or (b) already practicing TESOL in one way or another (as tutors, conversation partners, teachers, etc.) and… (2) Who have no academic/professional background in TESOL, but… (3) Are not in a position (due to finances, timing, location) to get a full-scale TESOL degree or certificate.

Does that sound like you? Well, if so, then this program may be just what you need! You may be any of the following:

  • A content expert (in an area such as business, psychology, economics, law, dentistry, music, etc.) teaching that content in English to students whose English skills are limited.
  • An experienced language teacher (of English, German, French, Russian, etc.) who is “retooling” to teach English as a second or foreign language.
  • A newcomer to the field with little, if any, training or experience in language teaching (but assigned to teach oral English, writing, etc. by virtue of the fact that you speak English well/natively)
  • An experienced returnee who has already worked as an English language teacher (without the benefit of formal training) but has realized the value of that training and is now seeking it.

Whatever your case may be, you will probably not benefit much from this program if you are already a “master teacher,” that is, a holder of state teacher certification with an ESL endorsement or a graduate of an academic (undergraduate or graduate-level) TESOL program--someone who is experienced, thoroughly competent, and well versed in both the how’s and the why’s of English language teaching. Even if you are an “amateur teacher” (i.e., a teacher-in-preparation, currently enrolled in an academic degree program in TESOL, or a holder of Basic TEFL Certificate, such as those offered by RSA/Cambridge), you may find this program too basic.

If, on the other hand, you are a “novice teacher” (a neophyte, a newcomer, an unprepared, untrained, or minimally trained beginner; often, but not necessarily, an unpaid volunteer) when it comes to English language teaching, then this program is for you.

As a novice teacher, your mind is probably filled with important questions about English teaching. The most basic of these are “What will I do?” and “How will I do it?” More specific questions include…

  • How should I behave in the classroom? What should I do when problems occur?
  • What can I do to better understand my students and their needs?
  • How should I treat my adult students—as friends and equals, or subordinates?

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Minimalist ("The least you should know," just a "drop in the bucket")

The approach to preparing ESL/EFL teachers that BTR-TESOL takes is minimalist in nature. Minimalist means that it does not attempt to cover every teacher-preparation topic in great breadth and depth as a graduate-level teacher education program might. Rather, in a large number of short chapters (5-10 pages each), it will introduce you to key concepts and procedures related to a variety of particular, focused teaching topics and acquaint you with proven instructional procedures that can immediately be put into practice.

Idiomatically, we might say that this program provides only “a drop in the bucket.” drop in a bucketThat expression, of course, means “an amount that is very small” compared to all the water that a bucket can hold. What you learn in this program is only a small amount compared to what a master English language teacher knows. Nevertheless, it is a valuable start, and as your “drops” of knowledge accumulate, your “bucket” of teaching skills will begin to fill up. To guide you in that process, as you work through the various units in this program, I have created a friendly little cartoon character that looks like a drop of water. Watch for him as you read.

One thing that this program does not do (directly, at least) is build your English language skills. If you are not a native English speaker or a second-language speaker of English with high proficiency, you may need to go elsewhere to get assistance to improve your English skills.


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In addition, this program is connectivist because after introducing you to the basics of a topic it will then direct you to (or connect you with) other sources—print or electronic—for additional, in-depth information. You may not go to these sources immediately, but it is important to know that they are there when you are ready for them.

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Additionally, in contrast to many teacher-education textbooks that present teaching/learning theories and practices in a didactic fashion and then hope readers will be able to apply them in actual classroom settings, each BTR-TESOL unit takes an engaging, practical, problem-solving approach by beginning with short case studies and classroom scenarios situated in ESL (in the United States) and EFL (in Africa, Asia, and Latin America) settings that illustrate the challenges that teachers face in the real world. In this way, each unit will immediately confront you with authentic instructional challenges and involve you in realistic analytical and problem-solving tasks.

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One final word about the type of teacher preparation this program provides is training. The dictionary defines training as “the process of teaching or learning a skill or job” Instructional design experts define training as “instructional experiences that are focused upon individuals acquiring very specific skills that they will normally apply almost immediately” (Smith and Ragan, 1999, p. 3). In the teacher educator circles I frequent, where the terms teacher education or teacher preparation are preferred, training is almost a dirty word. Nevertheless, for novice teachers, training is often exactly what is needed.

To make that point, I use a conceptual model from the business world—Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership.

The essence of this model is that:

  • Different leadership styles are better in different situations
  • Leaders must be flexible enough to adapt their style to the situation they are in
  • The amount of direction and support that followers need determines the leader’s style

Hersey and Blanchard use two dimensions “Supportive Behavior” and “Directive Behavior” to produce a Four Leadership Stylesfour-square matrix that looks like this:

The four squares represent four different leadership or management styles. Each one fits the needs of a particular situation and the levels of competence and commitment of the people involved.

Based on the fact that you (the intended audience of this program) are novice teachers, this program will provide you with mostly “directing” and a little “coaching.” That means that a lot of the decisions regarding teaching tasks, procedures, principles, etc., are pre-made and simply communicated to you. You will be expected to demonstrate trust in accepting these decisions. Of course, there will be opportunities (especially during “coaching” phases) for two-way communication, and your input and suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Later on, if you choose a career in TESOL and enter an academic teacher-education program, your teachers will undoubtedly engage in more “supporting” and “delegating” behaviors.  

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Comprehension questions

Looking back at the explanations above if necessary, answer each of the following questions in your own words:

  1. What does minimalist mean in the context of this program?
  2. What does connectivist mean in the context of this program?
  3. What are the key characteristics of directing and coaching leadership behavior?

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Video examples

Many others have gone through what you are about to experience as an English language teacher.

Here's a little video clip of one of these novice teachers. Click Here  

In most units of this program, you will see more video examples of teachers like this in action. They did it. YOU can do it also!

In these units, after viewing the video clips, you will have a chance to discuss what you saw in the video in light of the principles and procedures that are the focus of the unit. For now, simply practice saying aloud what you should think whenever you watch these video clips. That is, say “I can do that,” four times. Each time emphasize or stress a different word. For instance: 

  1. I can do that
  2. I can do that.
  3. I can do that.
  4. I can do that!

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Reflection and responses

Think about each of the following questions. Write a sentence or two in response to each one. Be prepared to share your responses in class.

  1. Why are you teaching (or going to teach) English? What motivates you? What is your rationale for doing it?
  2. How confident do you feel about your ability to teach English? Do you think you can do the things that you saw the teachers doing in the video clips?
  3. What do YOU want to get out of this training program? (It might help to skim through the list of unit titles [see “Where to go to learn more” below] and choose the topics of greatest usefulness to you.)
  4. How well does the above description of “audience” fit you and your teaching setting?
  5. How much do you already know about the setting where you will be teaching English (if you are not already in it)? How could you go about learning more?
  6. How much do you already know about English language teaching in general?

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Where to go to learn more

Here’s where you get additional information on the topics presented in this unit.

Connections to other units in this program

The BTR-TESOL program has nearly fifty units. Each of them provides additional information on a wide range of TESOL teacher-training topics. See the table of contents or website menu for details.

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Online and other electronic resources (the home page of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc., the world’s largest professional organization of English language teachers) (a treasury of English study and learning materials “over a thousand pages of free information and resources for both teachers and students” all “organized by skill and level for quick and easy access”) (“the Internet’s meeting place for ESL + EFL teachers + students from around the world” including a big “Stuff for teachers” section)

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Print and paper-based resources

SnowSnow, Don. (2006). More than a native speaker: An introduction to teaching English abroad (rev. ed.). Alexandria, Virginia: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. ISBN 978-193118532-5 “Every year, thousands of men and women from English-speaking nations go abroad as volunteer English teachers. Success in teaching is largely based on qualities such as diligence, patience, and common sense, which many nonprofessionals possess in abundance. But learning the craft of language teaching by trial and error can take a long time and involve considerable emotional wear and tear on teachers and students. This book accelerates the process by offering a nontechnical introduction to English teaching geared toward the special needs of native-English-speaking teachers working outside their home countries.”

CrossCross, David. (1999). A practical handbook of language teaching. New York: Prentice Hall International. ISBN 0-13-380957-9 (out of print, but available from many used-book sellers) “The aim of this handbook is to meet the needs of teachers and trainees, as well as those of their advisers, by combining the essentials of successful classroom management and teaching in a single, easily read volume. Thoughtful study, perhaps coupled with discussion with colleagues, will enable readers to learn to teach or to improve their teaching, quite independently. The emphasis throughout is on practicality, although readers are made aware of the theory underlying any technique or approach.”

NunanNunan, David (ed.). (2003). Practical English language teaching. New York: McGraw-Hill/Contemporary. ISBN 0-07-282062-4 “Practical English Language Teaching offers a thorough yet practical overview of language teaching methodology for teachers and teachers in preparation. Teaching principles, strategies, and techniques are richly illustrated with classroom vignettes and textbook excerpts to demonstrate practical applications. World-class specialists offer a variety of perspectives on language teaching and the language learning process. Reflection questions invite readers to think about critical issues in language teaching, while Action tasks outline strategies for putting new techniques into practice.”

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Additional References

Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P., and Zigarmi, D. (1985). Leadership and the one minute manager: Increasing effectivness through situational leadership. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-03969-3 Smith, Patricia L. & Ragan, Tillman J. (1999). Instructional Design (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Smith, Patricia L. & Ragan, Tillman J. (1999). Instructional Design (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.  

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