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No, you Probably didn’t Create your own Teaching Method

How many times have I come across social media posts by someone who claims they have “created their own method”? I particularly enjoy the ones that are “based on neuroscience”. If I have ever implied that myself, I apologize.

In fact, you might not know this, but this obsession with finding the perfect method in ELT is old. In Jack Richard and William Renandya’s Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology in Current Practice (2020), the first chapter was written by H. Douglas Brown and it starts like this:

“In the century spanning from the mid-1880s to the mid-1990s, the language teaching profession was involved in what many pedagogical experts would call a search. That search was for a single, ideal method, generalizable across widely varying audiences, that would successfully teach students a foreign language in the classroom”

It feels like this Holy Method search has reached extreme levels today. If you’re on social media, you may have heard things like:

  • There’s a secret part of your brain that can enhance language learning

  • Schools and teachers don’t want you to know about it so you can keep on spending money

  • There’s no grammar or books

  • Follow these 5 secret steps to reach proficiency in a couple of months

  • Learn from native speakers

  • You need to stop thinking in your mother tongue and think in English

  • This revolutionary method based on neuroscience

Well, I suppose I have bad news for the folks who promote those ideas. You probably – I’d say almost certainly – did not create your own method. It’s worth mentioning here that I’ve recently published a book based on a framework I actually created. Does it mean I should call it a method? Well, I called it an approach (the KNOW-SHOW-GROW approach) and I wrote a whole book explaining why I think it’s worth a shot but I cannot claim it’s revolutionary or better than anything else – especially when I consider it was self-published.

Here’s the thing: if you simply teach your students according to what you feel is right or what you seem to have “discovered” yourself, you should probably not call it a method. Below is something I posted on Instagram a while back. If you are going to claim you have created a method, I’d say you should at least know the difference:

H. Douglas Brown says a method is:

[…] generally defined as an overall plan for systematic presentation of language based on a selected approach.

OK, there’s a point to be made for interchangeably using approach and method in certain situations. I explain in my book that you might come across in the specialized literature about the scientific method (which is certainly a method in this case) things like:


But what matters here is that an approach is like an ideology or a philosophy. We might even call it a school of thought or a mindset (let’s be careful with this word). A method is like a recipe or a step-by-step procedure. I’d say an approach tells you what to value and what are the general characteristics of learning. The method tells you how to do it, how many stages there are and how you transition from one to the other.

What does that tell us about these people who have claimed they created a method? Well, we need to acknowledge that a method, at least an effective one, is usually not something someone created, tested on a couple of people and decided it worked. We must ask: 1. What was the creator’s background?

2. How did they test this “method”?

3. What were the testing conditions?

4. Did they test it on a number of students?

5. How large was the sample?

6. Was it published in a peer-reviewed journal or book?

The way someone teaches English nowadays is not a proven method they are the only ones who know. When people say something like that, it smells like conspiracy theory to me. Pseudoscientific claims are all over the place and people have been using marketing strategies to set themselves apart from us mere mortals who weren’t clever enough to create our own methods. Now, if you truly have found an interesting way to teach English and it’s based on evidence you collected, well, my advice is: publish it somewhere and let the community decide. I’m afraid that’s how the scientific method works.

The bottom line is: you probably (almost certainly) didn’t create your own method and even if you may have created something, it most likely falls under some pre-existing approach or method (constructivism, behaviorism, humanism, communicative language teaching, engage-study-activate, presentation-practice-production, audiolingual, direct method, silent way… take your pick!)

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