The difference between approach, method, procedure, and technique
English Language Teaching (ELT) terminology can be sometimes confusing. This post tries to describe the difference between approach, method, procedure, and technique. It is important, for us teachers, to be informed about what exactly each of these terms means.
For the difference between methodology and method see this post:
Methodological organization of teaching practices
Methodology informs teachers about different ways to organize teaching practices. Harmer (2001), for example, suggests that there are four levels of organization at the level of methodology, namely, approach, method, procedure, and techniques. The following description is inspired by this framework. Many elements of this framework are also discussed by Anthony (1963) and Richards and Rodgers (1986).
Before, describing our framework of the organization of teaching practices, let’s first review briefly Anthony’s and Richards & Rodgers’ models.
The following table shows how approach, method, procedure, and technique have been viewed by Anthony (1963) and Richards & Rodgers (1986):
|Richards and Rodgers model||Method||Approach|
For the sake of the simplification of the above models, approach, method, procedure, and technique are viewed in the following description as flowing in a hierarchical model. First, an approach, which provides theoretical assumptions about language and learning, informs methods. Each method shouldn’t contradict the approach on which it is based. Similarly, procedures are ordered sequences of techniques that have to be aligned with the theoretical assumption a method aspires to put into practice.
An approach refers to the general assumptions about what language is and about how learning a language occurs (Richards and Rodgers, 1986). It represents the sum of our philosophy about both the theory of language and the theory of learning. In other words, an approach to language teaching describes:
- The nature of language,
- How knowledge of a language is acquired,
- And the conditions that promote language acquisition.
A method is a practical implementation of an approach. A theory is put into practice at the level a method. It includes decisions about:
- The particular skills to be taught,
- The roles of the teacher and the learner in language teaching and learning,
- The appropriate procedures and techniques,
- The content to be taught,
- And the order in which the content will be presented.
It also involves a specific syllabus organization, choices of the materials that will boost learning, and the means to assess learners and evaluate teaching and learning. It is a sort of an organizing plan that relies on the philosophical premises of an approach.
Jeremy Harmer (2001) describes ‘procedures’ as “an ordered set of techniques.” They are the step-by-step measures to execute a method. A common procedure in the grammar-translation method, for example, is to start by explaining the grammar rules and exemplifying these rules through sentences that the students then had to translate into their mother tongue. According to Harmer, a procedure is “smaller than a method and larger than a technique.”
Implementing a procedure necessitates certain practices and behaviors that operate in teaching a language according to a particular method. These practices and behaviors are the techniques that every procedure relies on. Techniques, in this sense, are part and parcel of procedures. They are the actual moment-to-moment classroom steps that lead to a specified outcome. Every procedure is realized through a series of techniques. They could take the form of an exercise or just any activity that you have to do to complete a task. For instance, when using videos, teachers often use a technique called “silent viewing” which consists of playing the video without sound and asking students to figure out what the characters were saying.
In a nutshell, according to this framework, an approach informs methods with both the theory of language and the theory of learning. Methods are actual implementations of approaches. They are theories put into practice. Procedures, in turn, are informed by methods. They are ordered step-by-step events that have specified outcomes. Procedures rely on techniques to achieve desired results.
Anthony, Edward M. 1963. Approach, Method, and Technique. English Learning. 17: 63-67. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Brown H. Douglas (1987). Principles of language learning and teaching. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall
Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching. Essex, England: Longman.
Richards, Jack C. and Theodore S. Rodgers (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press