Teaching English through problematic situations

UDC 378.147
Publication date: 20.12.2023
International Journal of Professional Science №12-2023

Teaching English through problematic situations

Lashina Ekaterina N.,
Senior Lecturer of the Department of Foreign Languages,
St. Petersburg State University of Industrial Technology and Design.
Higher School of Technology and Energy
Abstract: The article examines problem-based learning within the framework of foreign language education as a type of educational and cognitive activity aimed at finding a solution to the system of communicative, cognitive, problematic tasks and problematic situations, resulting in the formation of skills and abilities of foreign language communication, mastering the experience of creative activity, and also the formation of a culture of thinking and cognitive interests of students using the English language.
Keywords: problem-based learning, problematic situation, problematic task, problem, foreign language, English language, teaching methods, communication.

The methodology of teaching foreign languages is a flexible and expanding information and educational environment in which, along with the traditional approach to teaching, there is an increase in interest in new educational models and pedagogical innovations, technologies and methods that meet modern social, economic, moral and educational technologies.

One of the active modern educational technologies is problem-based learning, which contributes to the development of students’ intelligence and their emotional sphere, as it involves not only the assimilation of the results of scientific knowledge, but also the path of knowledge itself [1].

Problem-based learning is a system of teaching methods in which the teacher presents a problem situation in class, and students solve it independently. Students gain knowledge not by memorizing and memorizing it in a ready-made form, but as a result of mental work to solve problems and problematic tasks based on the content of the material being studied. Problem-based learning is a type of learning in which the teacher provides an optimal combination of their independent search activities with the assimilation of ready-made scientific findings. Problem-based learning contributes to the formation of the necessary system of knowledge, abilities, skills in students, the achievement of a high level of mental development of students, creative abilities, as well as the development of their ability to self-study and self-education. A problematic situation is one of the main elements of problem-based learning, with the help of which thoughts, cognitive needs are awakened, and thinking is activated [2].

A problematic situation, recognized and accepted by the student for a solution, develops into a problem. The problem of specifying the parameters and conditions of a solution is a problematic task. We can also distinguish four interrelated functions of the problematic task:

  1. a) stimulating,
  2. b) educational,
  3. c) organizing,
  4. d) controlling.

The problem is the student’s awareness of the impossibility of resolving the difficulties and contradictions that he encountered in class in a given situation, with the help of his existing knowledge and experience.

A problematic task is an educational problem with given conditions and, due to this, the resulting limited search field available for students to solve. Problem-based learning is implemented successfully only with a certain style of communication between the teacher and the student, when freedom of expression of their thoughts and views by students is possible with the close and friendly attention of the teacher to the student’s thought process. As a result, such communication in the form of dialogue is aimed at maintaining the cognitive and mental activity of students.

It is necessary to distinguish between a problematic situation and a task. A problematic situation means that during the activity the student came across something incomprehensible, unknown, and disturbing. Then the problematic situation turns into a task perceived by the student. The task arises from the problematic situation, is closely related to it, but differs from it. In a problematic situation, the thinking process begins. It begins with an analysis of this problematic situation itself. As a result of its analysis, a task or problem arises and is formed. Thinking is the search and discovery of something new. In those cases where you can get by with old, already known methods of action, previous knowledge and skills, a problematic situation does not arise and therefore thinking is simply not required [3].

The essence of problem-based learning is that students are presented with a problematic situation, and they must find a way to solve this situation, relying on the knowledge and skills that they have previously mastered. Students are given a task that must contain a contradiction, the resolution of which gives them new knowledge. Overcoming difficulties in solving a problematic problem requires the mobilization of cognitive activity and mental processes, the inclusion of elements of creative mental and speech activity.

Problem-based learning aims to:

1) development of students’ thinking and abilities, development of creative skills;

2) students’ assimilation of knowledge and skills acquired during active search and independent problem solving;

3) nurturing an active creative personality of a student who can see, pose and solve non-standard educational problems.

Solving problematic tasks ensures not only the acquisition of new knowledge, but also the mental development of students, especially their creative abilities. Thus, problem-based learning teaches students to acquire knowledge on their own. We live in an information society and the main capital is the ability to obtain information, which is the most valuable and important product of the future market economy.

Let’s consider the problematic situations underlying problem-based learning. The problematic situation created in the process of foreign language communication is aimed at creating conditions that stimulate the student’s situational communicative need to speak. A problematic situation may contain a new way of activity, an object of activity, conditions for performing the activity, and therefore, a problematic situation stimulates the student to independently construct a productive statement. By the type of information mismatch, problematic situations can be situations of surprise, conflict, assumption, refutation, inconsistency, uncertainty.

In the methodological literature, the level of problems differs:

— situations caused and resolved by the teacher;

— situations caused by the teacher and resolved by the student;

— independent formation of a problem by a student and its solution.

The method of problem-based learning differs from the traditional one in that it puts the student in a position where he is forced to think actively and intensively, mobilizing his intellectual potential to solve a problem and form a theoretical conclusion. The theoretical conclusion obtained in an independent search is assimilated by the student as the fruit of his own labor.

The construction of an educational class as an organized, managed and teacher-controlled sequence of actions of students, ensuring the optimal formation of foreign language communicative competence and its structural components, required the development of an algorithm for organizing educational and cognitive activities based on a problem-based approach to teaching a foreign language [4].

The algorithm for organizing educational and cognitive activities for mastering a foreign language based on a problem-based approach includes the following operations:

— formulation of a problem that requires a solution if the initial data is insufficient;

— identifying obstacles to solving the problem;

— choosing one of several options for solving the problem;

— bringing students to a contradiction and finding a way to resolve it;

— clash of opposing views in terms of content;

— consideration of the issue from different points of view;

— consideration of a phenomenon or event from the perspective of different people;

— comparisons, generalizations, conclusions from the situation, comparison of facts.

The implementation of the proposed algorithm is largely determined by the content of the educational material on which it is based. Thus, the collision of views that are opposite in terms of content can be used in organizing social, political, moral and ethical types of educational problematic situations. The choice of one of several options for solving a problem underlies the organization of behavioral and cognitive problematic situations. Consideration of the same issue from different points of view can serve as a technique for organizing scientific and educational problematic situations [5].

Problem-based learning in English classes complements traditional illustrative and explanatory teaching. At the same time, it helps to destroy old stereotypes of passive learning, forces students to think, and search together with the teacher for answers to complex life questions. The teacher’s goal is to teach students to think, find a problem and ways to solve it, creatively apply the material, adapt it to different situations, and use previously acquired knowledge in new conditions. To do this, it is recommended to use elements of problem-based learning in classes, which can be used both when introducing new educational material and when practicing it and monitoring knowledge, skills and abilities. To successfully use this technology, the teacher needs to properly organize the learning process, taking into account the basic methods, principles and components of problem-based learning, since, due to students’ lack of the necessary skills to independently organize research work, they are not always able to immediately and directly solve the formulated main problem.

In problem-based classes, two forms of work with students predominate, namely: individual and group. There are students who like to work alone regardless of their level of training, but there are also those who want to be supervised or constantly helped. Some love and can think, others cannot or do not want, but are ready to do whatever they are told. Uniting students into groups according to different levels of abilities contributes to the self-learning of each person in the process of common work, the development of a sense of mutual assistance and responsibility for the overall result. But there are also disadvantages, namely: individual students in the group do not complete the assigned tasks very conscientiously, thereby reducing the assessment of teamwork, which sometimes causes friction, mutual accusations, etc.

A problem-based approach to teaching English can be used for all types of speech activity (speaking, reading, writing). At each stage, a system of exercises can be used, which is based on a problematic situation.

Other elements of problem-based learning help to activate mental and speech activity, for example:

– questions about missing information;

– come up with the ending of the text;

– processing dialogue into monologue and vice versa;

– a retelling from the perspective of a hero.

It is important that the problematic situation surprises the student, arouses his interest and desire to understand. The information that students receive when solving a problem must be meaningful, important in the curriculum and in practical application [6].

Thus, systematic work on the implementation of a problem-based approach in teaching a foreign language in problematic situations stimulates the cognitive activity of students, which orients them to extract specific information and develop the skills of processing it, ensures the formation of psycholinguistic mechanisms for predicting the content of a read or listened text, activates speech-thinking activity and creativity of students , contributes to the formation of a culture of thinking and social development of students in the process of foreign language education.


1. Panina, E. Yu., Rubtsova, A. D. Case method as a way of problem-based teaching of English in the 6th grade / E. Yu. Panina, A. D. Rubtsova // Problems of Romano-Germanic philology, pedagogy and methods of teaching foreign languages. – 2016. – P. 212-217. – [Electronic resource]. – Access mode: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/keys-metod-kak-sposob-problemnogo-obucheniya-angliyskomu-yazyku-v-6-m-klasse/viewer
2. Problem-based learning technology. – [Electronic resource]. – Access mode: https://lala.lanbook.com/tekhnologiya-problemnogo-obucheniya
3. Problematic situation and task. – [Electronic resource]. – Access mode: https://studbooks.net/1933576/pedagogika/problemnaya_situatsiya_zadacha
4. Gabdullina, M. G. Development of problematic tasks in the process of teaching literature in English in grades X-XI / M. G. Gabdullina // Foreign languages at school. – 2005. – No. 4. – P. 33-36.
5. Pavlova, L. V. Implementation of a problem-based approach to teaching foreign languages in the paradigm of the new Federal State Educational Standards / L. V. Pavlova, Yu. L. Vtorushina, Yu. V. Baryshnikova // Modern problems of science and education. – 2018. – No. 3. – [Electronic resource]. – Access mode: https://science-education.ru/ru/article/view?id=27546
6. Vorobyova, O. M. Technology of problem-based learning in English lessons / O. M. Vorobyova. – [Electronic resource]. – Access mode: https://interactive-plus.ru/e-articles/collection-20140318/collection-20140318-1558.pdf