Features of Successful Language Classes

From Howard B. Altman, What Is second language teaching?
In J. E. Alatis, H. B. Altman, & P. M. Alatis (Eds.), The second language classroom. Oxford University Press, 1981.

In the spring of 1961, a team of five foreign language teachers and specialists undertook a qualitative assessment of language teaching around the United States. …Team members visited 1,011 classes taught by 747 different teachers. …It is interesting to examine the conclusions of [their] report, since they reflect on the timeless essence of good language teaching.

We conclude by listing the nine features that characterized most of the successful classes we observed:

  1. The class is at ease in working with the [target] language, and seldom reverts to [the native language] to express an idea.
  2. Interest is high and students come to class with a real desire to learn by participating.
  3. Neither teacher nor students depend on the book. Materials fit the interests and abilities of the students and follow the principles of sound language teaching. Because their cultural content is significant and accurate, they are not stereotyped.
  4. The students do most of the speaking. The teacher gives the setting for discussion, asks key questions to direct it, gives cues in case of difficulty, and gradually subordinates her/his own participation.
  5. Control of the class is with the teacher at all times. The students look to the teacher for direction and timing. They are made aware of the objectives of language learning and of how a technique or exercise will help them learn.
  6. Standards of performance are high. The teacher sees that students are neither over- nor under-challenged, and tests are designed to appraise what has been learned.
  7. A variable, or unusual, seating arrangement often indicates that the teacher will be interesting to observe and is probably willing to experiment.
  8. As students enter the classroom the atmosphere encourages them to use the target language and to assume their target culture roles. Throughout the learning process the teacher creates situations which lead to appreciation and understanding of the target culture.
  9. The teacher’s personality–demanding, yet fair and patient–leads the students to a high level off performance. The lessons are well planned, and the techniques of presentation and drill are used strategically and correctly to achieve the purpose of each type of exercise. If desired results are not attained with one technique, the teacher tries another. The teacher’s manner makes the students want to learn the target language, not just because it presents interesting problems to solve or things to say, or because it is fun, but because working under the teacher’s confident and enthusiastic direction is appealing in itself.

Modern Language Association of America,
Reports of surveys and studies in the teaching of modern foreign languages, 1959-61, p. 243.