Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Games for Vocabulary Development

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

One of my all-time favorite ELT quotes comes from Keith Folse’s 2004 book, Vocabulary Myths. He is summarizing Lewis (1993) when he points out that “[w]ithout grammar, little communication may be possible; without vocabulary, no communication is possible.” (25) This quote always reminds me of when I lived in Korea and wanted to buy rice at the little corner store. I knew the word for rice when I ordered it in a restaurant, bap, but I didn’t know that Koreans use a different word for a bag of uncooked rice. The shopkeepers kept saying they didn’t have bap. I did not believe that a corner store in Korea did not sell rice, but because I didn’t know the right word, I eventually left frustrated, perplexed and empty handed. Clearly, words are absolutely necessary for language learners.

Unfortunately, however, there is often precious little time in class devoted to vocabulary development. In fact, one of the eight myths discussed in Folse’s (2004) book is Teachers, textbooks, and curricula cover second language vocabulary adequately. Research clearly shows that if we are to help our students become more capable communicators, we need to provide them with more exposure to and practice with new words. In a previous blog, I summarize one of Folse’s TESOL presentations on the topic (Words, Words, Words) that contains some practical suggestions for helping students build their word banks. However, I also wanted to share a couple of fun games I’ve used with great success in my classes.

Joanne’s Line Up Game

Years ago, I used to work with a woman named Joanne, and I was observing a lesson of hers once in which her students played this game. I loved it so much, I’ve been using it ever since.

Before the Class

  1. Write target vocabulary (at least 1 or 2 words per student) on the board.
  2. Make sure you have several colored markers.

Read more »

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Amazing Correction Race

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

Let’s face it, writing classes don’t usually scream “fun and games.” I mean, in real life, writing is usually a solitary activity. Even when I collaborate on a project with a colleague, we don’t often actually sit side by side and write. Also, writing can feel deeply personal, even when it’s academic or professional. Whenever I send off any writing I’ve done to my publisher, I always feel a bit vulnerable. And, that’s when I submit work in my L1. Imagine the bravery it takes to write in a new language, much less have a classmate peer review your work.

Clearly, getting students to relax enough to interact and write in a new(ish) language can be a tall order for any writing teacher. So, I heartily embrace any ideas for making writing lessons more engaging and fun for my students. Luckily, many years ago, when I was teaching TOEFL Prep, I stumbled upon a game that I have played with students of all ages and at all levels since then.

Read more »

Monday, August 13, 2018

Let’s Play a Game: Why Games Are Important to Our Students

Kristine Fielding teaches ESOL at Lone Star College in Houston, TX.

“If I gave you one million dollars that you had to spend in one day, what would you buy?”

A question like this is typical in a simple game reviewing second conditional statements or subordinate clauses. One student reads the question, another student answers it using the grammar form that is being reviewed, then asks the next student a variation of the question. A class may even see how fast they can repeat this process for an added thrill. A simple game like this is found in nearly every ESL/EFL class.

Playing games is one surefire way to increase student engagement. Jane McGonigal quotes Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (2011). The quote reads “One way or another, if human evolution is to go on, we shall have to learn to enjoy life more thoroughly,” (p. 17). It stands to reason that students enjoy class more if we play games, as any experienced teacher knows this. The quote comes from Csíkszentmihályi’s 1975 book Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: The Experience of Play in Work and Games.

Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture by Swiss author Johan Huizinga was originally published in German in 1944 then in English is 1949. He says, “[C]ulture arises in the form of play, that it is played from the very beginning…In the twin union of play and culture, play is primary” (p. 46). This is often demonstrated in our basic language classes where the lingua franca is still in its infant stages. Students can still play a game, even if they cannot formulate a simple sentence yet. From this game, the class culture is born. Read more »

Monday, July 30, 2018

Right from the Start: Teaching True Beginners

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

This past academic year, I taught a class that was brand new to me. It’s always weird to be doing something completely different when I’ve been teaching ESL for as long as I have (25ish years now), and that’s one of the things I love about this field. You never know where you’re going to find yourself if you say yes to stuff on a regular basis.

My instructional sweet spot is high intermediate, but I’m one of the administrators of our English Language Center, so I teach what is needed. This past year, what was needed was a teacher for a brand new academic pre-beginning all skills class. We’re talking students whose English proficiency is so limited that they can’t say where they are from, they don’t know colors, they may not be able to decode letters the alphabet, and they can’t understand basic commands. Gulp. So, way back last August, I panicked for a bit, and then I attended a professional development session, googled “teaching true beginners,” talked with my generous mentor, took a deep breath and jumped in.

It’s been quite a year. I am painfully aware that I still have a lot to learn about teaching true beginners. In my experience, pretty much any first pass with a class is destined to be a bit of a train wreck, as I experiment with supplemental materials and figure out what works and what bombs. True to form, I made lots of mistakes. But, that’s how we learn, right? And, even though I am admittedly not an expert in this area at all, I wanted to share some of my observations about the differences between teaching true beginners and teaching higher level students. Read more »

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Do You Do or Don’t You?

Kristine Fielding teaches ESOL at Lone Star College in Houston, TX.

If you have taught English for any length of time, you have heard frustrated students bemoan the cornucopia of grammar exceptions to the rules. Their frustration is easy to understand. After all, when students first start studying English grammar, the patterns are simple. As students progress, the rules become tangled until they seem to be upside down and inside out. However, if we remind students to look at grammar as a function of communication, they will have an easier time as they advance in their studies.

One example of a confusing rule is the do-insertion before action verbs in statements. This occurs when we want to stress an action by inserting do (or its forms) before a verb. For example, if you said, “Maria doesn’t want to go to the movies with us,” but Maria hears you and insists this isn’t true by saying, “Yes, I do want to go with you,” the do-insertion emphasizes that she wants to go.

Many grammar books omit the do-insertion because it would be easy for students to assume do + base verb is used all the time. We often see this when students use did + base verb for every positive simple past tense verb, alleviating any need to learn the past participles (until students advance to using past participles as adjectives). The do-insertion may also be overused since do is the auxiliary verb for yes/no questions, which leads to do as the verb for the short answer, “Do you want to discuss grammar phenomena over coffee?” “Yes, I do.”

I don’t usually teach the do-insertion to basic or low intermediate students so as not to confuse them and to prevent bad grammar habits. When I teach this concept to high intermediate or advanced students, I give the example of being reproached for not doing a required task at work or school since either of these situations are relatable. I use the example of my being required to turn in grades by a certain date. If my program director told me, “You did not turn in your grades on time,” but I know I did, I would say, “I did turn them,” to emphasize that I completed the task. Read more »

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What Modifications Would You Make for ELLs in Mainstream Classrooms? – Part 3

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

In my last 2 blog posts, I told you that one of my best friends asked me for some advice about supporting English Language learners (ELLs) in a mainstream primary school class. In addition to working as an adult ESL administrator and instructor, one night a week I teach in a local MATESOL program. So, I got pretty excited when she asked about this topic.

Her question was: What modifications and adaptations would you make for ELLs in your classroom?

In Part 1 of this blog post, I shared my thoughts on teaching vocabulary. In Part 2, I discussed the importance of knowing my learners. I had 1 other piece of advice for her as well.

Balancing BICS and CALP

Jim Cummins (1989) came up with the terms BICS and CALP to differentiate between the different kinds of language students need to master. BICS refers to Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills. It’s basically conversational language and it develops in 6 months to 2 years, in general. CALP, is Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. It’s typically learned through formal instruction and relies on vocabulary and grammar that may not be used in everyday language. It takes (get this!!) 5 to 7 years to develop, and for SLIFE, it can take up to 10 years! The problem is that ELLs develop BICS and then are considered English proficient; however, they may not have developed the CALP they need to succeed with content area learning. It’s this discrepancy that has led to the proliferation of LTELs in US public schools. Read more »

Thursday, June 28, 2018

What Modifications Would You Make for ELLs in Mainstream Classes? – Part 2

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

In my last blog post, I told you that one of my best friends asked me for some advice about supporting English Language learners (ELLs) in her mainstream primary school class. In addition to working as an adult ESL administrator and instructor, one night a week I teach in a local MATESOL program. So, I got pretty excited when she asked about this topic.

Her question was: What modifications and adaptations would you make for ELLs in your classroom?

In Part 1 of this blog post, I shared my thoughts on teaching vocabulary. I had two other pieces of advice for her. Here is one of them:

Know your Learners

Educators who are unfamiliar with ELLs might often think that they are one fairly homogeneous group. Even though they might speak different L1s, they all are English learners, right? ESOL professionals, however, know differently. In fact, there are many different kinds of ELLs with many different kinds of needs (Freeman, Freeman & Mercuri, 2002). It should be said here that although I am specifically speaking about public schools in the USA, I suspect that the situation in many other countries is similar.

Educated ELLs

Some students may come from countries with solid, reliable education systems. This was certainly the situation for me when I taught middle school English as an Additional Language (EAL) at the British School of Brussels in Belgium several years ago. My ELLs generally came from well-off families, and their parents were not only literate in their L1, but also often proficient English speakers. In many instances, the topics my students were learning about in their content classes, they had already learned about in school in Japan or Korea or France. So, they could concentrate on learning the English for the topic. They were usually well-supported by their parents at home, too. One of my students’ fathers told me that he had sat with his daughter every night and brushed up on electricity or animal adaptation or the water cycle in Japanese just so he could help his daughter learn the content in English. Read more »

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What Modifications Would You Make for ELLs in Mainstream Classes? – Part 1

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

One of my best friends in the whole world recently sent me a message asking for some help with a job application she is putting together. She is a mainstream teacher; her work experience has always been with “regular” primary school classes in English-speaking countries. However, interestingly, one of the application questions she was asking about was a distinctly ESOLy question. I suspect that is because the make-up of public school classrooms in North America is changing and teachers, even mainstream content teachers, are increasingly expected to adjust their lessons to accommodate and include English Language Learners, or ELLs.

Her question was: What modifications and adaptations would you make for ELLs in your classroom?

This question really got me excited. Although my day job is as an administrator and teacher in an English language program for adult students at Howard Community College, for fun, I teach in the MA TESOL program at Notre Dame of Maryland University one night a week. My MA students are usually public school teachers who want to specialize in ESOL or who are seeing more and more international students in their classrooms and want to learn how to best support them. So, yeah, I had some ideas to share with my bestie on the topic of accommodating ELLs in mainstream classes.

Here is my first piece of advice:

Words! Words! Words! Read more »

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Should Students Use Word’s Spellchecker and Grammar Checker?

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Publisher, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

I’m old enough to have learned to type on a typewriter, not a word processor. Personal computers arrived as I was leaving college; I got my first Macintosh my senior year. Oh, the glory! Saving! Cutting and pasting! Spellcheck! Wonderful tools.

Of course, like all wonderful tools, these need to be used with some care; and there are other tools available to writers that are not wonderful at all.

A spellchecker is a writer’s friend. It catches your typing mistakes as well as the mistakes you make because you honestly don’t know how to spell a word. It can’t catch everything – if you mean you’re but write your, the mistake will not be fixed. To find that kind of mistake, you still need a good understanding of English, and to reread your papers carefully to make sure you wrote what you meant.

Still, though, spellcheckers catch a lot. I advise students to spellcheck every paper before turning it in; I also advise them to spellcheck emails sent to professors, staff, supervisors, coworkers, clients – in short, anyone with whom they have a formal relationship.

The grammar checker, though … ah, that is another story. It would be wonderful, I know, to have an automated way to fix your grammar, or even just to point out where things were wrong. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll get one. But we don’t have it yet. The grammar checker is one tool I advise students not to use. Ever. And I’m going to show you why.

The examples in this column, all screen shots from my grammar checker, come from novels written by Russell Blake, a well-known writer of thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. He’s a native English speaker and a good writer. Like most professional writers, after carefully checking his own work (he does three complete drafts on his own), he sends the manuscript to an editor (me).

I do some light fact-checking (if a man runs into the subway in Prague at 4:00 am to escape an assassin, I check to make sure that the subway is open and running then), I watch for words used too often, I make sure the love interest’s eye color doesn’t change between chapters, I make sure phrases in a foreign language and international place names are spelled correctly. And I check his grammar, for both accuracy and variety. Read more »

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Fresh Take on Teaching Point of View

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

I had the good fortune to be able to attend the TESOL 2018 Conference in Chicago back in March. Even though I have been teaching for 25ish years, I always learn something new whenever I attend conferences like TESOL or IATEFL. This past spring was no exception; I left with several great ideas and renewed enthusiasm for teaching.

As I perused the conference program, I was excited to see a session called Shifting Student Paradigms: Beyond Main Ideas and Five Paragraph Essays. So often, ESL instructors teach students to write through the five paragraph essay format, and yet, when you really think about it, when was the last time you actually wrote a five paragraph essay in real life? Sure, it could be argued that the five paragraph essay is a microcosm of longer academic writing. My Master’s dissertation and Doctoral thesis do contain the skeletons of five paragraph essays. And, it could also be argued that students need to learn academic writing and the five paragraph essay is merely a common, familiar vehicle for the practice of it. However, I am also always intrigued when teachers want to look beyond the five paragraph essay to other genres. (For more on this, see my blog post describing Nigel Caplan’s outstanding workshop on Genre Writing.) Anyway, I was intrigued.

And was I ever glad I put a star beside this particular session! Among other ELT ideas, the presenters, Chui and Fujiwara, described a great activity for teaching students to consider point of view when writing. This is an important skill for our learners because, “an active exploration of this writer/reader interaction can lead students to realize and internalize the idea that what they write becomes another person’s reading and must therefore anticipate a reader’s needs and meet a reader’s expectations” (Spack, 1985, 706). However, L2 readers and writers may need extra support when considering issues of point of view. In addition to this being something important for writers to keep in mind, it can be a useful skill for critical readers as well. Being able to recognize an author’s implied point of view is an essential step toward identifying bias in a text. And, we could all bring a little more of that to what we read, right? Read more »