Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher


by Julie Prentice

“foundation”: the basis upon which something stands or is supported[1]

On the occasions when I’ve gazed on grand and glorious architectural structures, I must confess that I’ve never found myself thinking, “Wow.  What a foundation that must have!” or “I wonder what the foundation materials are.” And yet, with certainty I know that were it not for a solid foundation, the entire edifice would soon crumble.

The Master Teacher, who reminded us to build on rock and not sand, and who was surely familiar with the many references of his ancestors to building plans and foundations, knew how indispensable true foundations were.   Foundations of Truth, essential for life that is truly life.  Foundations in language, pivotal for building the many levels and layers of skills needed for communication.  Foundations in learning without which outcomes go awry.

“foundation”: an underlying natural or prepared base or support

In my experiences as a language instructor, foundation-building, i.e. teaching beginners, requires immense amounts of thoughtful preparation.  Although it seems that low-level classes are sometimes assigned to beginning teachers with the tacit assumption that said teachers are not ready for advanced-level classes, might it be that the opposite is true?  What architect would design a foundation not knowing what the entirety of the structure would be?  Wise teachers of beginners have to keep the bigger picture in view.  These foundation-builders work diligently to:

  • sequence learning appropriately.
  • control input so that the focus stays on the objective at hand.
  • choose and/or create materials that are level-appropriate yet cognitively challenging, especially when working with adult learners.
  • engage students in adequate practice.
  • incorporate repetition.
  • recycle learning objectives.

There is something about being a beginner, I think, that adds a sense of vulnerability to the complexities of learning.  Perhaps it is this hard-to-define aspect of language learning that causes me to feel that teaching beginners, especially adult beginners, is a wonderful opportunity for nurturing and showing patience and respect.  Just as the Master Teacher met people right where they were, we, as foundation-builders, can do the same.When I teach beginners, I hope I always remember they are linguistically capable, well-spoken, and articulate in their native languages and that this stage of their growth in English is not the final chapter of their language learning experience.  I like to administer hefty doses of encouragement, reminding them that they will “get” this crazy language.

I speak words of hope to them, remembering that in my own life, I grow discouraged, too.  I need to be reminded that there is more to the tapestry of my life than my present circumstances, that the discipline of foundations is not wasted, and that the foundational lessons from the Master Teacher are essential for my continued growth.

[1]Definitions are from Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1980.

Further exploration

  • Matthew 7:24-27
  • 2 Chronicles 8:16
  • 1 Corinthians 3:11
  • Ephesians 2:19-22

What’s your perspective?

  • What kinds of encouragement do you give to beginning learners? 
  • What level of students do you enjoy teaching and why?
  • If you’ve been taught well as a beginner, what things did your instructor do to help you learn?

Post Author

Julie feels most at home with world travelers or international students, and no wonder since she lived in China for 17 years.  She taught university students in the capital and beginning level students in one of Western China’s most out-of-the-way places.  Now back at the university where she received her MA TESL, she teaches in their intensive English program.  Outside the classroom, she enjoys reading, relaxing in nature, and resting in the Master Teacher’s presence.

Photo Credit: mac_ivan via Compfight cc

4 comments on “Foundation-building

  1. Anonymous
    September 11, 2014

    Absolutely lovely — and pedagogially wise. This article, though brief, provides a solid foundation for thinking about teaching beginners. The author has encapsulated, very succinctly, the basic considerations when planning and executing lessons for lower level language students. Very encouraging!


  2. Melissa K. Smith
    September 12, 2014

    I agree. It IS encouraging. I love the tone that comes across. I struggle to be patient with beginners and need to learn from Julie's compassion.


  3. Anonymous
    September 14, 2014

    Beautifully written but also lived out in the author's classroom and life!


  4. Julie
    October 11, 2014

    Today a beginning student thanked me for talking with him at a lunch activity. How humbling is that. It may have taken some extra effort to listen to someone try and discuss abstract and philosophical ideas with limited language and grammar structures, but that's exactly what *I* wanted to do when I was studying Chinese. I wanted to talk about real things that mattered to me. What a good gift we give when we try and honor the intellect of those struggling with words and ideas that could be so beautifully articulated in their native languages. May we never forget.


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This entry was posted on September 10, 2014 by in beginning level students, Julie Prentice, types of students.



Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc
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