Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 1

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I feel like I should start this post with a disclaimer. I love to talk. I love telling a funny story to a rapt group of listeners. I love the feeling of being the center of attention. For this very reason, I struggle with reigning in my Teacher Talk Time (TTT) in the classroom. After all, there is almost nothing more enticing to a gabber like me than a captive audience of students who laugh appreciatively in (mostly) the right places and appear to hang on my every word. So, because I can really get carried away, I have to work hard to avoid turning every lesson into “The Tamara Show.” That’s why, when I was given the opportunity to facilitate a professional development session for the Montgomery County Coalition for Adult English Literacy, I leapt at the opportunity to learn a bit more about strategies for keeping TTT in check.

A Bit of Background

In the literature I encountered, there seemed to be two camps when it comes to TTT. Opponents of TTT rightly point out that too much TTT discourages authentic communication. Teachers “speak more, more often, control the topic of conversation, rarely ask questions for which they do not have the answers, and appear to understand absolutely everything the students say, sometimes before they even say it” (Musumeci, 1996, p. 314). Does that sound familiar? It does to me. Read more »

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Grammar Teacher’s Rant

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I had a disturbing conversation with another teacher a few days ago, and it’s been bouncing around in my head ever since. It’s been a bit frustrating because, at the time, I just couldn’t think of a diplomatic way of responding to her. So I just nodded and smiled like an idiot, while inside my head I was screaming and tearing out my hair. Maybe you’ve had a similar kind of experience?

The Wind Blow or Blows?

Anyway, when this conversation happened, I was delivering a professional development session for some local teachers. In the session, I provided the participants with a variety of scenarios containing excessive teacher talk time (TTT) and asked them to come up with suggestions for reducing the TTT. (Incidentally, when I was doing research on reducing TTT, I came across some interesting theories and teaching tips that I hope to share in a future blog post. Stay tuned!) Read more »

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Mirroring Project

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In a recent post, I wrote about The Mirroring Project I had my students do at the end of our high intermediate pronunciation class. Since that time, I received an email asking for more details about it, so I thought I would break it down a little and describe what we did, step by step.

The goal of the Mirroring Project is for students to apply all the pronunciation skills they had learned throughout the semester. In our upper level class, we focus on suprasegmentals, specifically word stress, focus, intonation, connected speech and speech rhythm, with a smattering of segmentals highlighted as necessary. So, when the students work on their Mirroring Projects, they try to bring together all those elements. Read more »

Monday, November 30, 2015

Collaborative Writing, Courtesy of Nigel Caplan

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In my most recent blog post, I wrote about the workshop Nigel Caplan recently delivered for teachers at my school. He introduced us to the concept of genre writing, and suggested that in order to help students become the best writers they can be, we follow the steps in the Teaching Learning Cycle as described in Martin (2009) and Rothery (1996).

teacher-learner-cycleDeconstruction

The first part of the Teaching Learning Cycle is to provide students with good models of different genres to prepare them for the wide variety of writing they may do outside the ESL or EFL classroom. Read more »

Monday, November 23, 2015

Genre Writing, Courtesy of Nigel Caplan

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

How great is it to be an ESL/EFL teacher? To me, it’s absolutely amazing to have worked in a field for as many years as I have and to still be learning new things. I suspect you might feel that way too, no matter how long you’ve been teaching, because you are reading this blog. Anyway, a few weeks ago, there I was in a professional development workshop organized by my school, listening to the dynamic and engaging presenter Nigel Caplan talk about writing, and becoming giddy about learning something new.

Now, these days I don’t teach many writing classes, but I found what he had to say really interesting and potentially applicable to other skills. My two big “take-aways” from Nigel’s presentation were related to (1) genre writing and (2) collaborative writing. Today, I’ll share what I learned about genre writing. Read more »

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teaching Vocabulary to Beginners: Research and Resources

Stacy1By Stacy Hagen
Co-Author, Azar-Hagen Grammar Series

Teaching vocabulary to beginners is definitely challenging! In terms of research, Betty and I have a few resources to recommend:

Keith Folse has an excellent book: Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching. Here’s a link to a summary of the eight myths: http://esl.fis.edu/teachers/support/folse.htm

Paul Nation has done extensive research on teaching vocabulary. His article on teaching beginners is short and to the point. His website may also be useful, including download links for free graded readers.

Both Folse and Nation advocate some use of the L1 to teach vocabulary.

American English at State posts short, user-friendly vocabulary lessons on their Facebook page (though I couldn’t find these lessons on their website.) If your students are on Facebook, they might enjoy these.

American English at State also offers a free app for learning English. If you are interested in other English language learning apps, here is a helpful review. At the beginning level, these programs seem to emphasize vocabulary.

Good luck! We hope these resources are helpful.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A-MAZE-ing Activities are a BALL

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Don’t you just love those professional development sessions when great teachers sit around and share practical teaching ideas? I always walk away with ideas for fresh ways to prompt student practice. Even better, instructors often remind me of old activities I used to use but now lie moldering in a file somewhere, and they often suggest ways to tweak these old activities for use in other lessons. That happened to me recently when I was at a PD session for instructors at the English Language Center at Howard Community College, where I work, and I walked out with one new idea and one resurrected idea.

One of the teachers talked about a way she promotes class involvement when reviewing grammatical forms. Now, I have experimented with using a ball in class before, but her take on this practice was fresh, at least to me. She bought a big cheap ball (in my mind, this would work very well with an inflatable beach ball), which she wrote target grammar prompts all over. She was working on forming questions with her class, so she had written question words on the ball. In the lesson, she had the class stand up in a circle and she tossed the ball to a random student. When the student caught the ball, she had her make a question with the question word that her thumbs were touching or closest to. So, if a student caught the ball like this, Read more »

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Place for the L1?

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

If there is anyone out there who reads this blog regularly, you might know that after several years of living in Belgium, I returned last fall to the USA. When I was in Belgium, I taught EAL (English as an Additional Language) in the Secondary School Immersion program at the British School of Brussels (BSB). Now, I am an ESL program coordinator and instructor at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland. As I have readjusted to life in North America, I’ve noticed so many differences between my life in Europe and my life here. Some things here are great, like being able buy groceries on a Sunday and free soda refills at restaurants. On the other hand, I miss some things from Belgium, including long, slow meals out and being able to drive to a completely different country in a few hours.

Mother Tongue …

One of the things I’ve noticed as being a little different in my professional life is how teachers seem to feel about the role of the L1 in their classrooms. I first heard the term “mother tongue” while I was teaching at the BSB. Basically, as you might easily guess, the phrase refers to a person’s first language. My mother tongue is English; however, my mother was born in Canada but in a Russian-speaking community, so her mother tongue, the first language she spoke, is Russian, even though her English is much stronger than her Russian. Read more »

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Helping Students Listen to Learn

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

If you walked into a lecture hall in almost any university or college in North America, you would most likely see and hear a very diverse student body. In fact, The Wall Street Journal (Jordan, 2015) recently reported that there are more international students in US classes than ever before. While this increase is beneficial for post-secondary educational institutions for many reasons, not least of which is financial, it does present a unique set of challenges for our mainstream colleagues.

When faced with a class full of international learners, college and university instructors are often unsure how to help the ESL students who seem to be struggling in their classes. Although occasionally instructors responded to this changing study body with frustration (“Why are they in my class if they can’t speak / read / write in English?”), more frequently teachers genuinely want to help these students to be successful. They tend to realize that, just because students have finished the ESL program at our college, it does not necessarily mean that these international students are the same as the native English speakers in the class. In fact, more and more, instructors of science, math, nursing, and business at the college and university level are finding that their students benefit from differentiation and specialized support. Read more »

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Amazing Adjectives

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Descriptive adjectives can make students’ speaking and writing richer and more interesting. However, my students tend to rely on the same, worn out adjectives time and time again: good, fine, nice. You might have heard responses like this before if you also teach English and/or have teenagers.

Azar’s Basic English Grammar does a great job of introducing students to adjectives in a couple of places. In Chapter 1, Using BE, there is a section in which students are introduced to the “be + adjective” combo and in Chapter 14, students get more practice with the syntax associated with English adjectives. However, some students need to spend a little more time experimenting with using adjectives in order to use them accurately.

A Lot of Adjectives

For many students at all levels, using a wide variety of adjectives in speaking or writing is less of a grammar problem and more of a vocabulary problem. In other words, once students learn the words old and young as beginners, they may not be motivated to learn substitutions like ancient, elderly or mature and youthful, juvenile and fresh. After all, there are so many words to learn in English, why waste time learning synonyms when the original word will do? Read more »