For many years Teachers of English have used the PPP model of Presentation, Practice and Production for the preferred model of teaching. It has worked well. The PPP model falls short however, in that it does not work well when teaching more complex language problems beyond the sentence level or when teaching communicative skills.
Jeremy Harmer in How to Teach English (Longman Publishing 1998) proposed an alternative to PPP called ESA: Engage, Study, and Activate. In an article written in The Guardian Weekend, March 15 1997, Bridget Riley complained about the treatment she and her fellow students received at the Royal College of Art. “We were abandoned when what we needed and what we hoped for was help toward independence in teaching rather than having independence thrust down our throats. Jeremy Harmer responded to Ms. Riley’s complaint suggesting a consideration of his ESA teaching methodology. He stated that ESA stands for Engage, Study, and Activate. He used the example of a computer and suggested that in teaching trainees to teach that the ESA should be considered as the computer default mode.
During the Engage phase, the teacher tries to arouse the students’ interest and engage their emotions. This might be through a game, the use of a picture, audio recording, video sequence, a dramatic story, or an amusing anecdote. The aim is to arouse the students’ interest, curiosity, and attention. Over the years the PPP model has always assumed that students come to lessons already motivated to listen or engage. The results of many years of PPP teaching do not support this assumption.
The Study phase activities are those which focus on language or information and how it is constructed. The focus of study could vary from the pronunciation of one particular sound to the techniques an author uses to create excitement in a longer reading text. It could vary from an examination of a verb tense to the study of a transcript of an informal conversation. There are many different styles of study, from group examination of a text, to discovery related topic vocabulary, to the teacher giving an explanation of a grammatical pattern. Harmer says, “Successful language learning in a classroom depends on a judicious blend of subconscious language acquisition (through listening and reading) and the kind of study activities we have looked at here.
In the Activate stage the exercises and activities are designed to get students to use the language as communicatively as they can. During the Activate, students do not focus on language construction or practice particular language patterns, but use their full language knowledge in the selected situation or task.
In Harmer’s response to Bridget Riley’s complaint about the short comings of her training program, he once again returns to the computer analogy. “The ESA model is a macro default setting, almost (to extend the metaphor) a teaching program. All three elements need to be present when it is in use. But what makes it useful as a macro default is that the order of these elements is not fixed.
Harmer describes the variations which can be used with the ESA model. He names his default level E.S.A the Straight arrow approach. The first variation is the Boomerang approach: E.A.S.A. It is a task based approach. The Boomerang approach after the Engage (E) phase, gets students to perform a task (A) using all and/or any language they know and only then does the teacher go back to the language Study (S). The Study phase is then undertaken based on what the teacher witnessed in the students’ language performance. The teacher in short will fill in the gaps of the students’ knowledge. To check that learning has taken place the students are then re-activated.
Harmer goes on to say that most classes are neither “Straight Arrow” nor “Boomerang” classes. They tend to be more mixed up than this. The sequences in his “Patchwork” lessons include all these elements, but can do so more than once and in various orders. A sequence such as E.A.A.S.S.E.S.A would be perfectly possible.
Harmer in conclusion states, “Trainers need clear models, just as computer users rely initially on a default setting. I have suggested a macro default ESA as a general proposal, which provides three micro default settings: Straight Arrow sequences, Boomerang sequence, and Patchwork sequences. I believe that these will be of use to a teacher preparing for a life time as a teacher. Sooner or later the teacher will be able to break away from them, emerging as diagnostically creative as anyone might want.”