The Silent Way, Suggestopaedia, TPR and other ‘designer’ methods: what are they and what can we learn from them?

In the 70s there was a positive rash of so-called designer methods for learning language. The first part of our #ELTChat on 12th September 2012 at 12pm was mainly concerned with clarifying exactly what some of these methods involved. For the sake of clarity I have prepared a brief overview of what I understand about each method. There then follows a summary of the discussion and finally a set of links to articles and videos about these different methods.

Theory of learning Theory of language Teaching method
The Silent Way Learning is facilitated if the learner discovers or problem solves. Students work co-operatively and independently from teacher. Very structural- language is taught in ‘building blocks’..but syllabus is determined by what learners need to communicate. Teacher should be as silent as possible, modelling items just once. Language is learnt inductively
Total Physical Response (TPR) Learners will learn better if stress to produce language is reduced.Learners, like children, learn from responding to verbal stimulus. Also structural. Mainly uses imperative ‘’everyday conversations are highly abstract and disconnected; therefore to understand them requires a rather advanced internalisation of the target language.’ Asher Not clear how TPR used at advanced levels. Teachers role not so much to teach as provide opportunities for learning.But very teacher directed- even when learners interact with each other, usually the teacher who directs.
Community language Learning Not behavioural but holistic. Teacher and learners involved in ‘an interaction in which both experience a sense of their wholeness.’ Curran Language is communication. Not structural, but based on learning how to communicate what you want to say. Learners learn through interaction with each other and the teacher. They attempt communication and the teacher helps them to say what they want to say (using translation as necessary)
Suggestopaedia People remember best and are most influenced by material coming from an authoritative source. Anxiety should be lowered through comfortable chairs, baroque music etc Language is gradually acquired. No correction. The teacher starts by introducing the grammar and lexis ‘in a playful manner’, then reads the text while the students follow or just relax and listen. Students then use the language in fun and/or undirected ways. 

Comments on the Silent Way

@Mo_Americanoid kicked off the discussion by suggesting that ‘those trends helped deviate the focus from the teacher to the Ss. Silent can be handy in some specific situations..especially in multi-lingual classes where students will take control of their learning at their own pace.’ @teflerinha agreed, saying silent way probably most influential of these in my teaching because of emphasis on getting ls to do stuff.’ @jankenb said ‘Silent way is ideal for Ss who are reluctant to speak in class. It allows for interactivity in group setting.’ @rliberni said I still use some silent way type things when drilling or s’times presenting new language.’

@worldteacher had worked at a school based on Silent Way, but found it  ‘no good for me, I’m afraid!’ She had also tried learning Japanese that way, but never felt confident about the pronunciation.

@Shaunwilden hadn’t ‘done’ Silent way, but was a big fan of using Cuisenaire rods- and so was @rliberni (and me, @teflerinha).

@ELTExperience made the point that children learn by imitating parents and that they wouldn’t learn to speak if parents were silent. @teflerinha commented that the Silent Way involved ‘having to work stuff out- so kind of discovery approach (but can b 2 unguided 4 me)’ and @ELTExperience responded ‘I suppose a balance can be struck between SW and more guided forms of teaching tho.’

@cerirhiannon said ‘only use silent way in short bursts – find the driling too controlled and t-centred.’

@Mo_Americanoid commented ‘I know a teacher from Portugal who learned French and Italian through the Silent Way back in the 70s. She swears by it.’

Comments on Suggestopaedia

@MrChrisJWilson asked if Suggestopaedia was ‘about using the whole environment to promote language learning and reinforce the language?’ and @LizziePinard reminded us that it was the one that uses music- at a certain number of beats per minute according to @Marisa_C.  @teflerinha thought it was something to do with matching branwaves, and @LizziePinard said ‘ties in tradition to yoga and soviet psychology.’ @shaunwilden said ‘reminds me of  some AR i did many years ago-1 class with Baroque one without – proved nothing :-).’

@PatrickAndrews said ‘People keen on suggestopedia say it is very complex but seems to be about using the subconscious’. @LizziePinard pointed out that ‘the teacher is seen as an authority figure, on the theory that learners learn better from authority.’

@Raquel and @teflerinha had a short interchange about aspects we both liked, like room decoration, playful manner, using music..but also agreed that some students hate background music- perhaps because very auditory.

@Marisa_C pointed out ‘original quite focused on translation and structural grading but permutations allow for lots of creativity.’

Comments on TPR

There was a general feeling that this worked better for kids . For example, @rliberni said ‘remember them learning vocab while on a trampoline w/words in front of them!’, but people had also used the method, or elements of it, with adults. However @jankenb disagreed- saying good for all classes 0-99, except when you have 130 students!

Comments on CLL

@Cerirhiannon said ‘elements of CLL can work really well with truly mixed level (note level not ability)  classes  in a monolingual setting’

Other methods

@AlexandraKouk also mentioned grammar translation and contrastive analysis and she and @teflerinha agreed that this could be valuable for ‘noticing, analysing, drawing conclusions and implementing.’

What can we take from these methods?

@raquel_EFL said ‘when I started reading for DELTA, I realized I had used some features of these approaches/methods in my lessons.’ A lot of people agreed that they were using elements, either consciously, or because they had picked up the ideas without knowing where they had originated.

@ChrisJWilson asked about how principles could fit with methods, and @teflerinha gave the example of believing students have to notice language to learn it- which fits with Silent Way.

@esolcourses said ‘I use ideas from all of them in my teaching, although not sure how well they’d work as a ‘stand-alone’ method.’

Some specific examples: @Marisa_C -finger correction @teflerinha -and the use of gestures, taken from Silent Way, @hartle – story telling where teacher is silent indicating yes or no whilst stds ask questions. @eltexperiences – any form of slient eliciting

@hartle said ‘decorative flashcards also come from Suggestopedia and matching card games etc..’

@cerirhainnon suggested ‘ss have to programme me  (robot) to walk, but with limited verbs and preps, and lots of obtuseness from me.’, based on Silent Way/TPR. And also : ss guide blindfolded peers through maze of chairs, if they touch the chairs, go back to beginning

@hartle made the point that a lot is tied in with st expectations and context.  At uni some activities like this OK but stds must perceive it as “serious”!!

There was also a lot of discussion about the idea of ‘cherrypicking’ from the different methods, and many people made the important point that cherrypicking is all very well, but that there should be some principles behind it. There was some debate about whether the original principles of the methods should be watered down in this way, but most people seemed to agree that so long as you knew why you were doing something, it was fine to pick and choose. For example, @jankenB said ‘Not random- always well planned and understood, & flexible to teachable moments.’ And @Raquel_ELT said @Raquel_EFL: Planning is crucial.Being aware of these methods/approaches’ features, we have a bigger repertoire of solutions 2 improve.’

It was also agreed that context was important, and that different approaches would suit different students (at different times) @elleplus1 ‘You assimilate the principles then you can adapt them to different contexts.’

There was some discussion, led by @EBELT about whether there was any empirical evidence as to the effectiveness of these methods. @michaelegriffin later wrote a blog response to just this point

And finally, @michaelegriffin directed us to Kumaravadivelu’s ‘Beyond Methods’, which is an attempt to synthesise everything that has been learnt over the last decades


Silent Way

Overview of Silent Way from OneStopEnglish , with a response from a real Silent Way teacher.

@Marisa_C gave us a link to this video of a Silent Way lesson


A quite detailed overview of TPR

@rliberni gave us this link to a video of Gunther Gerngross doing TPR with kids.

@cicocas gave a link for a TPR based computer programme

Community Language Learning

A good overview of CLL from the BC/BBC Teaching English website

@Marisa_C gave us this video of Turkish teachers using CLL with mobile devices.

@michaelegriffn contributed the link to this post on CLL by Kevin Giddens (of do nothing teaching fame)


@Marisa_C suggested looking for Lonny Gold on YouTube e.g.

And have us the following link too

@cerirhiannon wrote a very readable and interesting follow-up post about her experience of learning using a suggestopaedia type approach

After the chat, @reservopedic , who is a suggestopaedia teacher, tweeted several links on suggestopaedia and a list of tweeted do’s and don’ts.

Various methods

A link provided by @theteacherjames with some good summaries of different methods and how and why this teacher uses them

@cioccas suggested Jason Renshaw’s site for an overview of various methods

[Apologies if I have missed anything important out- the transcript ran to 25 pages! Also if I, or we have misunderstood any of the methods discussed- feel free to comment and correct!

And please join us for #eltchat on twitter Wednesdays at 12pm and 9pm UK time. The new website address is]


Filed under Teaching methodology

6 responses to “The Silent Way, Suggestopaedia, TPR and other ‘designer’ methods: what are they and what can we learn from them?

  1. This is a wonderful write up of the #ELTChat discussion. There was some discussion on a ‘Balanced Approach’ and whether this was appropriate in the classroom. Other than this, it was a very lively discussion and a lot to take on board. You captured the mood and provided a very well written summary.

    • Thank you, Martin.yes, i should perhaps have mentioned the balanced approach specifically, rather than lumping it in with the idea of taking what works for you..sorry. Was rather losing the will to live by the end of summarising! 😉

  2. Pingback: I Left my teacher’s room behind | ELT Squared

  3. Pingback: The Balanced Approach: Can It Be Personalised? | ELT Experiences

  4. Reblogged this on Silvia Rovegno Malharin and commented:
    Interesting summary for my trainees!

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