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ESL Teacher Blog
The teacher's point of view: thoughts, observations and ideas about ESL teaching.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ESL Teacher Blog: Talk to Someone

Have you ever met people who studied English entirely on their own?  They didn’t go to a school, but instead use a variety of textbooks to learn the language. 
Rarely do I feel learners who are self-taught are as competent in the language as learners who have at least partially relied on learning from other sources.  I believe that language learning is an interactive, communicative process that cannot be achieved through solitary study.  It must be done in a social context.  Only through interaction can an individual create a real environment in which to use the language, and make the language meaningful.  Only by using language at the basic level, will learners ever become competent in the language and be able to continue to find reasons and needs to continuing growing in the language.  Only through discourse with others will learners discover all the culture clues and contexts that native speakers know and understand. 
Self-study is a very necessary part of learning a language.  It alone however, will not reduce the need for real interaction in the language.  It’s vitally important to have opportunities to practice using the language with other people. 
Learners must not think about themselves as being alone.  They must talk to in order to improve.
POSTED BY Cecelia Sumi AT 8:29 PM   0 Comments  Add Comment

Saturday, March 22, 2008

ESL Teacher Blog: In the Middle

Teaching classes with mixed levels is very challenging. 
In an ideal world mixed classes wouldn’t exist.  But in reality, schools and other organizations offering ESL classes will sometimes have mixed classes because of budget constraints, time or day restrictions, or for other reasons that are never revealed to the teacher.  Whatever the reason mixed classes do occur. 
The time-honoured advice of teaching to the middle is useful when faced with a group of students of various levels.  The logic behind teaching to the middle states that lower level students will feel challenged, intermediate level students will be satisfied, and higher level students will feel confident as they review and reinforce the material. 
It’s easier said than done.  It’s quite easy to lose control of the classroom in this situation.  The higher-level students sometimes ask questions about grammar, pronunciation or vocabulary.  In most situations teachers welcome questions, but in a mixed level class spending time explaining points to higher level students may mean losing the attention of the students who are in lower levels.  Those students won’t understand the questions or the answers.  They will feel neglected and lose motivation. The reverse situation is also true.  Spending too much time explaining points to lower level students will cause higher level students to lose interest. 
One technique I’ve used in the past to keep everyone interested in the class is by assigning higher level students to work with lower level students in pair work activities.  The students work well together.  The higher level students benefit from having to explain points, give instructions, and guide the lower level students.  The lower level students benefit from having a mentor or leader to work with as their partner.
POSTED BY Cecelia Sumi AT 3:47 PM   0 Comments  Add Comment

top Monday, March 17, 2008

ESL Teacher Blog: And the winner is...

It’s award season in North America.  Prizes are being given for the best movie, the best song, the best television show etc. 
Try organizing an Oscar ceremony in your class.  Divide the class into groups of 2-6 students depending on the size.  Each group must nominate one movie for the best picture award.  You can put restrictions on the movies that are nominated; for example, all movies must be in English, must be suitable for family viewing, must be available on DVD, must be comedies etc. Determine what restrictions you’ll use based on the ages and personalities of your students. 
Each group must make a short presentation about their movie.  The presentation should include a short synopsis of the movie, pictures or drawings of the movie, the names of the actors, release date, interesting information about the movie, and why the movie should win the Academy Award. 
Encourage students to be creative when planning and making their presentations.  Students can re-enact scenes from the movie, use music from the soundtrack, or dress as characters in the movie.  The presentations can be made in one class, or over a series of classes. 
After all presentation have been made, the class votes on the best movie.  The winner of the Oscar is the movie that receives the most votes.
POSTED BY Cecelia Sumi AT 12:39 AM   0 Comments  Add Comment

top Monday, March 10, 2008

Teacher Blog: Who Talks More?

There is an old stereotype that women love to talk.  It is believed men by contrast speak much less. 
As an ESL teacher, I have to agree with this stereotype.  I’d say from my experience that 90% of the time, female students speak more than male students.  In the case of learning a language, females definitely have an advantage.  Students with a strong desire to communicate will attempt to speak more often, without worrying as much about making mistakes.  By speaking more often they will make more mistakes, and learn from the mistakes they’ve made.  They will also create more opportunities to speak and practice the language, thereby gaining confidence in their speaking abilities.  The more they speak, the more they’ll learn.
Men, or any quieter student for that matter, will speak less often.  They will make fewer mistakes, but will also have fewer opportunities to learn by correcting their own errors.  They may not become confident speakers because they don’t use the language as often. 
Of course there are many exceptions to this rule.  But generally I believe women have an advantage over men when studying a second language, because they do love to talk and communicate.  Do you agree?
POSTED BY Cecelia Sumi AT 12:23 PM   1 Comments  Add Comment

top Thursday, March 06, 2008

How Are You?

So many students answer the question “How are you?”  with the standard response “Fine, thanks and you?”.  Teaching a lesson that highlights other responses is a great idea to allow students to use a greater variety of answers, and sound less like an ESL textbook. 
First, brainstorm with the class to see what other responses the students know.  Write all the responses on the board.  Have several possible responses ready to give as examples if the students seem stuck.  Some possible answers include:

1.    Not too bad.

2.    I can’t complain.

3.    I’m okay, thanks.

4.    Pretty good.

5.    I’m surviving.

6.    I’m under the weather.

7.    Very well, thanks.

8.    Still living.

9.    I’ve been better.

10.   So-so.

After writing all the answers, the students have brainstormed on the board.  Ask the students, in pairs to decide in which situation the different answers can be used.  For example, some of the answers can be used in formal situations, but some of the answers can only be used in informal situations.  After the pairs have talked for about 10 minutes, discuss as a whole class.  Then remind the class that the delivery of the answers must reflect the answers themselves.  For example, an answer like “still living” is quite sarcastic, and should be delivered as such.  The answer, although a joke, is said in a fairly serious tone, with a fairly serious body language…no smiling, or friendly facial expressions.  Have the pairs practising asking “How are you?” and delivering a variety of answers. 
In future classes don’t accept the answer “Fine, thanks and you?” when asking students “How are you?”
POSTED BY Cecelia Sumi AT 5:12 PM   0 Comments  Add Comment

top Saturday, March 01, 2008

Topics of Conversation

I’ve heard the advice for aspiring authors “write about what you know.”  I think that as ESL teachers, we should keep similar advice in mind. 
When giving our students topics to converse about, as much as possible, we should keep in mind the ages, sexes, and experiences of our students. 
For example, asking a group of high school students to discuss the “cost of living”, in their home countries, will probably be a short discussion.  Do high school students know anything about the cost of living?  Realistically, working adults, or people who manage a household would be better able to discuss this topic.  Think about asking businessmen to describe fashion trends, or refugees about holiday destinations, or women about professional sports (especially ones that are not commonly played in their own countries)….all of these discussions would probably not generate much conversation and be a waste of time. 
Additionally, the topics are rather vague, what exactly should the students discuss.  There are several points that could be discussed when talking about the cost of living.  Will the students know where to start?  People are able to talk about what they know, experiences that they are familiar with, or situations that are common, or information that they possess.  They will learn more meaningful vocabulary, if they are discussing situations that are real to them. 
Asking students to discuss general, abstract or unfamiliar topics is not the best way to promote conversations in the classroom.
POSTED BY Cecelia Sumi AT 1:20 PM   1 Comments  Add Comment

ESL Teacher Blog: Talk to Someone
ESL Teacher Blog: In the Middle
ESL Teacher Blog: And the winner is...
Teacher Blog: Who Talks More?
How Are You?
Topics of Conversation

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