Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

It’s almost that time of year again!  That special, exciting time of year when all ESL/EFL teachers’ minds turn to thoughts of … conferences!  Well, maybe it’s just me.  I have to confess, I just love attending teaching conferences, both big and small.  Lucky for me, the conference season is just around the corner.  TESOL is holding their annual conference in Toronto, Canada on the 25th to 28th of March, and, for those of us on the other side of the pond, the IATEFL Conference is scheduled for April 11th to 14th in Manchester, UK.  There are also heaps of local offerings, as well, over the next few months; this means that almost everyone will have the opportunity to access professional development in the near future.

I know what you are thinking.  Conferences can be expensive to attend, especially the big, international ones, what with transportation, accommodation and the conference fees.  Many programs are facing budget cuts and there may not be money to fund all those who want to attend.  I can relate.  In fact, in the past 14 years, since I first attended a TESOL conference in St Louis, Read more »

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lights! Camera! Action!

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

Okay, so maybe I have been accused of being a bit of a drama queen from time to time (ha ha!), but I also think using skits in my ESL classes can be a great way to encourage students to practice target language and have a little fun.


Incorporating short skits into our lessons plans can check a number of pedagogical boxes. First, they give students more practice using target language. After all, our students aren’t studying grammar just so they can know English grammar rules; they actually want to be able to use the grammar they have learned. Keith Folse makes an excellent point In “The Art of Teaching Speaking” when he says, “When people – including our learners – refer to “second language ability,” their primary goal seems to be speaking. … Almost all of my ESL/EFL students dream of the day when they can finally say, ‘I speak English well.’” (Folse, 2006, page 3-4) The only way our students can become proficient English speakers is with a lot of practice.

The kind of practice our students benefit from is targeted in that is prompts a specific target structure or target vocabulary that the students have already learned. Also, a good practice speaking activity allows time for students to plan their speech. Read more »

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Adjective Clause Lesson that was Really Great

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

Being able to adeptly use adjective clauses in speaking and writing is useful for upper level English learners. According to Folse, “adjective clauses – whether ‘full’ or ‘reduced’ – are very common in English” (Folse, 2009, page 193), so students need to be able to understand them when they see them or hear them. Moreover, advanced ESL and EFL students often struggle to bring complexity to their speaking and writing, and adjective clauses can be a great way to do this.

However, students often make these common mistakes when using adjective clauses (Folse, 2009).

  • They may use the wrong relative pronoun. (The teacher which is from Canada is my grammar teacher.)
  • They may leave out the relative pronoun entirely.  (The teacher is from Canada is my grammar teacher.)
  • They may include an object pronoun after the verb (The teacher who I like her is from Canada.).
  • And they may forget they need to omit both the relative pronoun and the verb be in a reduction (The grammar book that written by Azar is great.).

Fortunately, there are some easy and fun ways to help students avoid these common adjective clause errors! Read more »

Thursday, January 15, 2015

“We Shall Overcome” – A Song Activity

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

In recent interviews, iconic American singer Tony Bennett has been critical of today’s songs for not having “lasting quality.” He might be right; only time will tell. I admit I have brought flash-in-the-pan songs into my classroom, knowing full well that they will probably not hold up well over time. But if, like Tony Bennett, I am still practicing my craft at age 88(!), there is one song I’m quite certain I will continue to share with students. That song is “We Shall Overcome.”

“We Shall Overcome” is a chameleon of a song. It was perhaps originally a folk work song, then a hymn, then a protest song during the tobacco workers’ strike in South Carolina in 1945, and finally the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The song is sung around the world during times of political turmoil, sometimes in English and sometimes in translation. For example, hundreds of thousands of people sang it in Prague during the weeks of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, and it was an anthem of the apartheid movement in South Africa. Read more »

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can you Hear me Now?

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

“Throat Shoat”?

Recently, I decided to give Bikram yoga a try. A colleague credited the hot version of yoga for her youthful glow and svelte shape, and, one Groupon later, I found myself in a sweltering room twisting my body into pretzel-like shapes. I’m not a beginner to yoga, but doing it in a 104 degree room (that’s 40 degrees for the rest of the world) made me nervous. Plus, a great many of the positions the rest of the class seemed so adept at twisting themselves into were new to me. I was really out of my element.

As we were holding the poses, the teacher was walking around the room and checking our form. She was calling out instructions, but because of the fan and the fact that her back was occasionally to me as she adjusted people’s bodies, I had a really hard time Read more »

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Roll Your Way to Grammar Fun: A Board Game

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

Would your students enjoy working on editing skills via a board game? Are you interested in an activity that takes just minutes to prepare? Here’s a lively and collaborative activity that works with any of the Check your knowledge exercises found in all three levels of the Azar-Hagen Grammar series.

Materials: A game board and dice.

1. Choose any Check your knowledge exercise from the text you are working in. These exercises are usually toward the end of the chapter.

2. Students work in groups of three or four. You need a game board and one die for each group.

3. To prepare the board, randomly write the number for the sentences (not the sentence) in the blank squares. If there are 12 sentences, you will have 12 marked squares. Skip the example sentences. (You can mark one board and then make photocopies, or make each board different for every group.)

4. Each student needs his/her own token: a coin, a paper clip, etc. Read more »

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Teacher is (Check one) __ Poor / __ Good / __ Excellent

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

Although it’s been years since I’ve had to steel myself to read student evaluations (teenagers evaluate on a daily basis with grateful smiles or withering stares) a recent report on NPR, Student Course Evaluations Get An ‘F’, has had my email in-box bursting with reactions from university professor friends. According to a couple of studies, those student evaluations that many higher education establishments rely on for rating their teachers aren’t as dependable as university administrators would like to believe.

Well, We Already Knew THAT, but Why?

Okay, we all know that you can’t make all of the students happy all of the time. But, what are the real failings of student evaluations? Philip Stark at the University of California, Berkeley discusses three  main reasons why they aren’t to be trusted:

(1) low response rates (Less than half registered students usually complete the evaluation.), Read more »

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Singing in the Classroom — When Less is More

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

Not long ago, I was flipping through radio stations in my car when I came across an oldies station playing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” the song that accompanied the iconic scene in the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I began to sing along, a little surprised that I knew the words. But the bigger surprise was that I wasn’t singing in English — I was singing in German. Ach, du lieber Himmel! Where did that come from? I had probably memorized the lyrics when I was teaching German in the early 1970s. There they were, pretty much intact, over four decades later.

Language learners and teachers know that singing popular songs in the target language and memorizing their lyrics can be a powerful learning technique. However, if you teach beginners, as I do, your attempts at having students sing along with recordings may have had mixed results. For the activity to work, the planets have to be perfectly aligned: The song’s lyrics have to be simple, the tempo not too fast, the rhythm predictable, and the melody universally appealing. That’s a pretty tall order.

After several disappointing experiences with sing-alongs in my beginning class, I had pretty much abandoned the activity. Then came the “Ah ha!” moment — Read more »

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Singing the Way to Paraphrasing Success

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

ARGH! Summarizing!

Students rarely find anything more difficult to do. There are just so many steps and potential pitfalls. First students have to understand the primary text. Then, they have to identify the key points. Finally, in order to avoid copying, they have to use synonyms to restate the main points and shift those words around to form grammatical constructions that differ from the original. Any one of these steps is difficult on its own. Doing them all together is enough to make even the coolest secondary school student break into a sweat.

Right now, some of my students at the British School of Brussels are studying for the IGCSE E2L exam, which they will take next year. One of the sections of the test is a summarizing component in which the students must read and summarize an academic passage. The students struggle with this part of the exam more than the other readings and writings they have to do. Having the vocabulary to understand and restate the key ideas from the passage is a huge challenge for them. But, more than anything, they have trouble transforming the structure of the original sentences. Read more »

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Howling Good Cause and Effect Lesson

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

Did you know that wolves can actually change rivers?

I didn’t, until I came across a great “Sustainable Man” video clip that one of my friends had posted on Facebook. According to the video, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after having been absent for some 70 years. Since there had been no wolves to control the population of deer, it had pretty much exploded and the deer had eaten a great deal of the vegetation in the park. When the wolves were reintroduced, they killed some of the deer and pushed many of the others out of valleys and gorges.

Predictably, with some of the deer gone, the vegetation grew back in those areas, which attracted animals such as beavers, whose dams create habitats for other animals. Also, the wolves hunted the coyotes. When their numbers diminished, the species that they feed on also returned. As a result, the eagles, hawks and bears had more food and returned in greater numbers, too.

But, the most amazing result of the wolves’ return to Yellowstone National Park has been (and this is where the narrator gets really excited) that the trees have regrown along the banks of the rivers and Read more »