The Star Wars Guide to ELT

17 Feb

Well, it had to be written.  You can blame the excellent “Behaviour management: what can we learn from Darth Vader and Yoda?” – a post by Simon Thomas on for the inspiration.  Simon examines the lessons that the conflicting characters of Darth Vader and Yoda have to teach us, particularly as their wisdom and world views apply to classroom management.  As I read his post I wondered – what would it be like to be in a classroom with Darth Vader as your teacher?  And once you start thinking along those lines, it’s a slippery slope…

So without further ado – I present to you:  “Approaches to ELT Explained – The Star Wars Guide”


It is perhaps unfair on both the Emperor and on Grammar Translation to lump them together like this.  Neither deserve approbation for each others’ crimes (so to speak), but there is, rightly or wrongly, a certain degree of negativity associated with them both.  I’ve chosen to place them here together because I feel that they are both the main driving forces of their universes – everything else arises up around them, either because of them or in direct opposition to them.  What arises later defines itself by not being what came before.  Thus, in Luke’s rejection of the Emperor’s blandishements in Return of the Jedi we can see the rejection of the Grammar Translation method in every approach that has appeared since.

If the Emperor represents Grammar Translation, then Darth Vader must surely represent Audiolingualism.  Here, we’re not so much interested in creating independent linguistic beings as instilling a set of desired behaviours.  Mimicry and repetition, endless drilling and processes of input rather than exploration.  Positive feedback reinforces the desired behaviour and negative feedback corrects the behaviour.  Those still living learn from the mistakes of their peers….

R2-D2 goes through every single film without saying a word, affording all of those around him the autonomy to do as they wish, make their own mistakes and to learn from their experiences.  He observes all, knows everything that’s going on but doesn’t interfere – making only small, timely contributions to help everyone get where they’re going.  The only thing missing from R2-D2’s masterclass of the “Silent Way” is a set of Cuisenaire rods…


“Ability with language not paramount it is.  Sentences of Yoda good for correction they are.”  Yoda’s English language ability has been long noted for it’s word order and sentence structure issues – classic examples of fossilised errors…  However Yoda’s teaching style borrows heavily from the Task-based-learning stable.  “Try not!  DO!  Or do not.  There is no try.”  The emphasis here is on the practical applications and learning by doing, with a model demonstration of the task and subsequent analysis.  Prabhu would be proud.

C-3PO is happy doing role plays, interviews and surveys, is one half of the ultimate pairwork duo and possessor of the largest information gap in history.  He’s familiar with “over six million forms of communication” and if the purpose of Communicative Language Teaching is to develop people’s ability to interact with foreign language speakers, then C-3PO must surely be the poster boy.


“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”  If ever there was a perfect example of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, then Ben Kenobi’s finger wiggling would appear to be it.  This is not to suggest that NLP is some form of mind control and while Obi Wan could possibly represent many different aspects of teaching, this seminal scene represents the ability to put yourself not only in the same shoes as the other person, but the same mindspace.  To know how best to help people to think and act the way you want them to.  Which isn’t so far away from NLP….

“Winging it elevated to an art form”?  Hans Solo typifies the Dogme approach. Let’s all just go with the flow and see what happens and I wonder if we can’t maybe tweak things to our best advantage?  At least on the surface.  A set of principles does exist under there somewhere, but few are prepared to delve that deep to find out what they are and nobody fully understands them anyway.



Purists are no doubt bemoaning the absence of some of their favourite characters here – Luke, Leia and Chewbacca not having made an appearance.  I must confess that within the metaphor of Star Wars as ELT I’ve always really seen Luke as the student in all this – encountering all these different teaching styles and trying hard to develop an identity of his own.  But if you disagree with any of these or have any additions to make – feel free to let me know!


5 Responses to “The Star Wars Guide to ELT”

  1. simonthomas Monday 20 February 2012 at 21:17 #

    Ha ha – thanks for this, David! I think you’ve got the characters’ secret teaching methodologies down pat.

    Hmm, I wonder if Princess Leia is, in fact, a natural ADoS – sort of a sensible, background character in the Star Wars universe, the sort of person your students and staff could trust – and you just know she’d be a whizz at timetabling. Jabba the Hutt, on the other hand, I can imagine running one of those dodgy visa factory “schools” around Oxford Street in London, one hand on the lever for the Sarlacc Pit should any foolhardy teachers (or students) complain…


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