Decision Making in ESL Classroom

Tirtaha Raj Wagle
Saptagandaki Multiple Campus,  Bharatpur Chitwan
Small Heaven Model School, Aanptari, Chitwan

In any area of ELT, different approaches are available, so teachers are able to make the best decisions to suit particular situations and goals while planning, teaching and evaluating the students or themselves. But due to the lack of training, they are unable to make the right decisions. This entry attempts to raise awareness in teachers about making the right options which will help to develop their professionalism. The entry is divided into three sections: Planning Decision, Interactive Decision and Evaluative Decision. Each of the sections presents some reflective questions, summary of the topic and tasks for discussion.

Teaching English as a second language can be challenging for any teacher. But this is also a field where tremendous amounts of knowledge and scholarship exist, so teachers can learn about many different approaches, methods and techniques as they will fit their classroom. Teaching involves making a number of individual decisions which are the outcomes of reflective thinking. Since teaching itself is a thinking process, English language teachers have to think through and plan before actually teaching in the classroom. The decisions at this stage are Planning decisions. When the teacher enters the classroom, he or she starts making decisions on the spot; such decisions are Interactive decisions. At the end, the ESL teachers must make decisions about their own teaching which are known as Evaluative decisions. My concern, here, is to discuss how making these decisions effective can boost the professional development of ESL teachers.

(A) Planning Decisions

Neither a novice nor an expert can make his/her second language classroom effective if planning has not previously been made. Lesson plan is intended to help the teachers organize the lesson effectively. It usually includes description of objectives, mentions instructional materials, the activities students will carry out, time needed for each activity and teaching strategies to be used. It makes the teacher aware of possible problems and above all provides with alternative techniques to face them.

The way teachers prepare lesson plan depends upon their personal belief system. Planning of the lesson also differs in great deal on what a teacher believes about English as a second language, language teaching, language learning, language curriculum and language teaching as a profession such as,

Teacher A: I believe vocabulary is the most difficult aspect of English for its second language learners.

Teacher B: In my view, English Grammar is more difficult than vocabulary for its second language learners.

Here Teacher ‘A’ while planning a lesson for second language learners of English may focus on spelling, word meaning, pronunciation or sentence formation. On the other hand, Teacher ‘B’ tends to focus on providing grammar rules through inductive mode. His planning of the lesson seems more like teacher dominated. But, any other Language teacher with alternative belief may try to construct the knowledge in students’ mind from their previous experiences using deductive mode of language teaching. He may try to make the students more creative rather than making them passive receivers of the rules.

Teachers are generally encouraged to develop lesson plan in micro level for every lesson that they teach. Richards (1990) believes that the Planning decision is guided by the objectives of the lesson and should be mentioned using action verb. In a grammar lesson, for example, one of the objectives might include the following:

Students will be able to make a sentence in simple present tense using the structure:

Sub + V-present + Object

Objectives of the lesson lead the whole classroom activities from material use through Language practice and evaluation to homework assignment.

Planning decisions reflect the teacher’s belief about teaching, learning and the lesson plan itself. Beliefs on planning of lesson from five different teachers are mentioned below:

Teacher A: Detailed planning of lesson discourages student’s response, neglects students’ needs, avoids their interest and makes them less creative.

Teacher B: Without a detailed lesson plan, a teacher wanders off tasks in the class and achieves no prescribed goal.

The ESL teachers are suggested to consider the following reflective questions to make and select appropriate planning decisions:

• What do I want my students to learn from this lesson?
• Why should I teach this lesson?
• How should I start the lesson?
• Am I able to fulfill the professional roles?
• Do I have enough knowledge regarding the content?
• What instructional materials are needed for this lesson?
• Do I have materials needed for this lesson?
• What methods, techniques and approaches can be used while teaching this lesson?
• How should I organize the activities into different stages?
• Is the lesson too easy / difficult for this level?
• How can I deal with problematic students?
• How should I deal with students’ ability levels in the class?
• What role should I play during this lesson?
• How will I check students’ understanding?
• What will I do to manage discipline in the class?
• How will I handle interruptions to limit interference in this lesson?
• How will I motivate the students, involve them in language practice and evaluate them?

(B) Interactive Decisions


Since teaching itself is an interactive process, the teacher has to bring a number of changes in his planned lesson when a situation demands. Lessons are dynamic and unpredictable in nature, therefore, are characterized by constant change. The teacher has to make situational decisions to fit appropriate context of classroom teaching. Some teachers often comment that the classroom environment, while teaching, goes on changing and seems to be completely different from what it had been supposed it might be while making planning decisions. While selecting an option in planning the lesson, a teacher can not predict what may go on in real classroom.

A teacher whose teaching is solely guided by a lesson plan and who ignores the international dynamics of the teaching learning process is less likely to be able to respond students’ needs. Interactive decisions enable the teacher to access students’ response and modify the teaching strategy to provide optimal support for learning.

Parker (1984:220) observes – “Teaching- Learning contexts change, and teachers’ behavior must change accordingly: There is no one way to behave in language classroom.’ A number of behaviors are appropriate to the complexity of classroom.

Interactive decisions involve the ability of a teacher to observe the class her or himself to find alternative behaviors and select the best one to suit the specific immediate teaching context.

Consideration of following reflective questions will help the ESL teachers to make appropriate interactive decisions:

• How is my relationship with the students at this moment of teaching?
• Is my voice clear enough for the students to understand?
• Do the students understand it?
• Are the students paying attention?
• Is the class going on comfortably?• Is there anyone with hearing problem?
• Is this too difficult/easy for this level?
• Should I follow the different strategy?
• Am I out of my track?
• Is it going as I planned?
• Why is student ‘A’ not paying attention?
• Shall I ask him about his problem?

• Should I continue this task or start another one?
• Are the students interested with what they are doing or they are feeling bore?

• Do they think it is useful for them to develop certain language skill?
• Do the students have enough vocabulary to carryout this Language activity?
• Do the students need more information or it is too much for them?
• Can I meet the objectives if I teach this way?
• Am I transferring the knowledge or creating it in students’ mind?
• Am I playing the role of dictator or facilitator?
• Am I going according to my needs or students’ needs?

The following examples of interactive decisions made by two different ESL teachers are the outcomes of above reflective questions:

Teacher A: Yesterday in my grammar lesson, I planned to teach ‘Present Perfect Tense’ for grade x. When all the students were practising on – Sub + has/have + V-past participle (V3), one of them asked about contextual difference in the use of ‘has’ and ‘have’ . When I tried to reply, they got more interest in it. I immediately changed my decisions and started teaching ‘Concord’. The students were more curious to learn it, so I had to spend the whole period to teach ‘Concord’.

Teacher B: Once I planned to teach ‘writing’. To meet my objectives, I involved the students in picture description as I had planned. The picture was differently interpreted by different students. Even a single student described it in two different ways. Students became creative by themselves. When one heard the description from another, the class was lively. I immediately postponed the lesson for another day and let the students involve in discussion. I conducted only oral activities that day. I was satisfied with the consequences because all the students actively participated in language use.

(C) Evaluative Decisions


Teacher’s self-evaluation is an integral part of teaching which helps him develop professional proficiency. To evaluate own teaching teachers are typically based on their personal belief system on what constitutes good teaching. For e.g. a teacher following curriculum base approach evaluates his teaching in term of how well s/he explained the lesson as mentioned in the curriculum. In general teachers should make evaluative decisions on the basis of fulfillment of their objectives.

To make self evaluation a teacher should think back his objectives. He should think back his planning, presentation and decide the answers of the following reflective questions by himself:

• How did I start the lesson?
• Were the students well motivated?
• Was I successful to fulfill the desired objectives?
• What did the students get out of the lesson?
• Was my voice loud/clear enough for the students to understand?
• Did I give the correct answers to the students?
• Did the lesson arouse interest in students?
• How did I respond to the problematic students?
• Why did I shout at student ‘x’?
• Couldn’t I do something other than shouting/beating?
• Does shouting/beating bring positive change in her/him?
• Should I reteach any aspect of this lesson?
• What should I avoid and repeat in my next class?
• What were my strong and weak points in teaching this lesson?
• Should I use alternative strategies in next class?
• Were the students attentive all the times?
• Why did student ‘x’ feel sleepy/bore?
• Did all the students take part in oral communication?

After having finished the lesson, the ESL teachers should often evaluate their teaching and make alternative decisions. Following are the examples of evaluative decisions made by two different ESL teachers:

Teacher A: Once I made a plan to teach ‘Instruction’ for the students of grade x. I even got my plan approved by the expert. But, after presentation of the lesson, students could not instruct to make an omelet. I, therefore, concluded that I applied wrong method of teaching and immediately decided to use alternative method in the next class.

Teacher B: In my grammar lesson, once, I was teaching voice. My specific objective was to make the students able to change a simple present active voice into passive. But, about ninety percent of the students, after the lesson was over, could not do it. I concluded that my presentation of lesson was faulty and practice was insufficient. I, therefore, decided to reteach the whole lesson next day.

Second language teachers need to establish a reflective habit which develops the skill of reviewing, noticing, interpreting and evaluating own teaching. Above all, it guides the teachers in planning and selecting. Such reflective habit will help the teachers to face various unpredictable classroom situations in future.


Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classroom (Jack C. Richards and Charles Lockhart)

Language Teaching Education (John Roberts)

A Course in Language Teaching (Penney Ur)

Mentor Course (Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodoczky)

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