Archive for Tag: Richard Firsten

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Explain THIS, Part 2

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author


Welcome back! In Part 1 we took a look at some lexical problems. I asked you to correct them and then, most importantly, think about how you would explain these corrections to your students in a clear, simple fashion. So here are my changes and explanations. Let’s see how similar our work is.

1.   (at a park)

A:  See Look at that bird! She’s feeding her chicks.

B: Where? I don’t look at see her.

Explanation: We use look at when we pay visual attention to something and we’re not focusing on any movement or action, but rather just the object of our attention. This is a voluntary action. We use see simply to mean what the eyes do when the eyelids open. This is an involuntary action. Person A wants Person B to pay visual attention to the bird; that’s why she should say “Look at that bird!” Person B uses see because his eyes simply can’t find that image.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Explain THIS. Part 1

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

Picture this: A teacher is standing in front of the class. A student asks a question. It suddenly dawns on the teacher that he/she doesn’t know the answer. It also goes through the teacher’s mind that it would be so much nicer if that student hadn’t shown up for class! So now what? All eyes are on the teacher, whose heart starts beating a tad faster and whose forehead is suddenly feeling quite moist. What to do? What to say?

I bet you’re grinning right now. You can relate to that scenario, can’t you? I know I certainly can! But it’s an unavoidable occurrence in our profession; an occupational hazard, as they say. We just can’t know everything about everything! So I’m going to start a mini-crusade of sorts. I’m going to dedicate a number of my pieces on “Teacher Talk” to help teachers avoid some of those uncomfortable moments like the one I’ve just portrayed.

I think the best way to approach this crusade of mine is to offer you some mini-dialogues and sentences to think about and ask you to come up with interpretations you’d give to your students. First, we’ll check out some individual words in the lexicon; later, we’ll deal with phrases, clauses, or sentences in which just one little word or one change in stress can change meaning tremendously, albeit subtly.

Each of these mini-dialogues or individual sentences will have errors. Find the errors, correct them as you see fit, and figure out how you would explain your corrections to your students. That’s the most important part: how to explain the differences in meaning and/or usage.

So let’s get started. Please have fun with these while you think about them – and DON’T use a dictionary. There isn’t going to be any fun in that!

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Keeping Our Eyes on the Testing Prize

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

All during our years of education and career training, one of the most important lessons driven home was that we need to stay focused, we need to keep our attention on what we’re doing, and we need to make sure not to get distracted. Nobody would disagree with any of this, right? Well, sometimes it’s not so easy to keep our eyes on that prize when it comes to testing.

One area where this became obvious to me in my early years of teaching ESOL was in testing listening comprehension. I realized that the tests I was given to use, created at various US universities and sold to schools like the ones I taught at, weren’t exclusively testing what they were supposed to be testing. Those tests almost always ended up inadvertently testing reading comprehension along with listening comprehension. Was that fair to my students? Not at all! If I want to test reading comp., I’ll test reading comp. But if I want to test listening comp., well, I shouldn’t be making my students read three or four sentences quickly and decide which written item reflects something they’ve just heard. I’m sure you see my point. For example . . .

The students hear: “There are quite a few students who have won scholarships this year.”

Then they quickly have to read the following and choose which sentence reflects what they’ve just heard:

  1. Many students won scholarships this year.
  2. Few students won scholarships this year.
  3. A relatively large number of students won scholarships this year.
  4. A few students got one scholarship this year.

The correct answer is 3, but it’s obvious that it wasn’t just listening comprehension that’s been tested; reading comprehension has been tested as well – and that’s just not fair.

So how do we overcome this problem of inadvertently testing reading when we really just want to test listening? It’s actually quite a challenge to accomplish because we need to rely on visuals, not reading, to avoid the problem. We need to come up with drawings, photos, and other kinds of graphic material that will reflect and not reflect each item that the students have heard. Here’s an example of what I mean.













The students hear the sentence and then look at the two pictures. They decide which one reflects accurately what they’ve just heard and that’s how they choose their answer. No need to inadvertently test reading comprehension, right?

Here are six more examples that I’d like to share with you.



















































So if you do test listening comprehension, do your best to find test items that will not accidentally test  reading as well. True, sometimes a small amount of reading can’t be avoided, such as in the “How much does it cost?” example  above, but I know you understand my point, and I hope you’ll be able to give your students fair listening comprehension tests if you decide to test them on this skill.

One other thing to keep in mind is the complexities of grading your students’ work in a writing class. How do you decide beforehand on how you’ll grade their work? Do you base your grading solely on their skill with the writing form you’ve just taught, e.g., a business letter or a basic composition, or do you grade them at the same time on the mechanics, such as punctuation and capitalization? And what about their grammar? Is it appropriate to judge them on their grammar in a writing class that focuses on forms of writing? Not such easy questions to answer, are they?

Well, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Let’s keep our eyes on the testing prize.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Survey Review: Grammar Faux Pas or Language Change?

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

I want to thank all of you who took the time and put in the effort to respond to my little survey. I really appreciate the help you gave me and the insights that I received from looking over your acceptances or rejections of certain items and your comments on things. By adding them to responses I’d gotten from others, some very interesting observations and conclusions emerged.

Let’s review the 15 items listed in the survey. I hope it’ll be interesting for you to compare what you decided to change or let stand as is and see what my thinking is about each item on the list. I’m sure you noticed that I deliberately placed the same kind of discrete point in different environments to see if you’d perceive a difference in accepting or rejecting it depending on where you came across it. That was very telling. In what follows, you’ll see that I’ve highlighted “grammatical issues” in red and put any changes I felt necessary in blue within brackets.

1. You never know what psychopaths look like. They can look like you or I [me].

It’s a standard rule of grammar that a noun phrase or personal pronoun following a preposition or verb is considered the object of that preposition

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Survey: Grammar Faux Pas or Language Change?

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

I’ve written a couple of pieces for “Teacher Talk” dealing with my observations on how more and more educated English speakers seem to be using the language these days. For the most part, I avoided judging what I listed; I just wanted to point things out and have you think seriously about whether or not the discrete points I focused on should be taught or at least mentioned to students at the appropriate level and time.

What I’d like to do now is offer a little survey to find out what you guys think about 15 items I’m going to list. Please read over each of the following sentences that are reproduced verbatim from what I observed educated English speakers saying on numerous occasions. Then decide whether each sentence sounds acceptable to you or unacceptable. (I know you’ll be honest!☺) Of course you can add any thoughts you have about each sentence or a particular part of each sentence. Your thoughts will be most welcome!

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Food isn’t Just for Eating

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

If you’re like I was in the classroom, you’re always looking for fun ways to teach something about English that your students need to recognize, understand, and internalize if they’re to master the language one of these fine days. It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching elementary school kids or adults; everybody wants to have fun while learning, just as we teachers want to have fun while teaching.

So let’s take a look at one of the most daunting items of English, the prepositions. “Oh, no! Not those!” you say with a shudder. “Anything but prepositions!” Yes, I know how confusing they can be and how exacting they can be.

Well, I’m here to tell you that there are indeed fun ways to introduce, demonstrate, and successfully teach English prepositions. The way I used to enjoy the most was teaching those little bugaboos with hands-on activities, one of which was preparing food. Sounds weird, eh? Well, not so weird. For the following lesson, the prepositions that I’m going to target are at, down, in, into, off, on top of, over, to, under, and up.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Language as a Reflection of Cultural Shifts, Part 1

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

A culture doesn’t remain stagnant. No matter how much a people may try to keep it from changing, their culture will inevitably change as time goes by. Even the ancient Egyptians, who passionately believed in the concept of ma’at, that the universe should remain stagnant and that their ways of doing things should never change, couldn’t stop that natural evolution from happening. Witness changes in their architecture, in their religion, and yes, in their language over the three millennia that their civilization lasted.

Being that cultural shifts are inevitable, we can see how English is reflecting some of these shifts. We don’t even need to be objective witnesses at a distance to recognize when these cultural shifts affect the language; we can be right in the midst of all the action. In fact, in just my lifetime I’ve noticed some rather interesting changes which seem to have become acceptable now, even though some of them weren’t acceptable when I was much younger. I’m not here to judge what’s going on, just to report on it, but this is the kind of thing that you as ELT professionals may choose to mention in order to teach language in the most accurate way possible.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

The Of-Genitive and Other Genitives: More Complexity

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

In my last piece for Teacher Talk (“The -S Genitive: A World of Complexity”), I outlined most of the complexities in meaning behind the use of that English grammatical form. I did so to help ELT professionals become more aware of why that form of the genitive is used in certain circumstances and how to explain any of those uses should the need arise if students raise questions. Now I’d like to focus on the of-genitive and on some other forms of the genitive as well.

Let’s begin by talking a little about each use of the of-genitive so we’ll have good explanations and examples for our students. Here are eight examples to show the varied uses for the of-genitive. Before you read further on after looking over the list, see if you can explain the meaning behind the use for of in each example. I hope you don’t find any head scratchers!

  1. the glow of moonlight
  2. the height of her fame
  3. the children of the man I hired to paint my house
  4. a pair of pants
  5. the leaves of a tree
  6. a bit of kindness
  7. a quart of milk
  8. the bulls of Pamplona

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The -S Genitive: A World of Complexity

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

Wouldn’t it be nice if every aspect of a language had a simple explanation? Yeah, right. Dream on! Well, sometimes what seems simple really isn’t, and the English –s genitive certainly fits that description. For instance, does the ’s in This is Archie’s car have the same meaning as the ’s in This is Archie’s chair at the dinner table? And what about Carmen’s salary vs. Carmen’s resignation? Does the ’s in each one of those phrases mean the same thing? What’s so important, I believe, is that if we ESOL teachers don’t clearly understand the uses of and meanings behind the –s genitive, how can we impart that knowledge to our students? Food for thought, eh?

Let’s talk a little about each use of the –s genitive (’s and s’ ) so that we can always come up with good explanations and examples for our students. Here are 14 examples to show the varied uses of the –s genitive. Before you read further on after looking over the list, see if you can explain the meaning behind the use of that ’s in each example. I hope you have fun with these!

1. Archie’s car

2. Carmen’s salary

3. Archie’s chair at the dinner table

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Brainstorming Vocabulary

Richard Firsten By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

I recently came to a difficult decision that it was time to retile most of the floors in my house. Where I live, very few people have carpeting in their homes. The climate is just too hot and much too humid most of the year. So, after 29 years of living with the same ceramic tile floors and watching them deteriorate more and more over those years, I took the plunge.

Just by coincidence a neighbor down the block whom I’ve known for a very long time had just finished having her house remodeled with all the work done (breaking down a couple of walls, adding a whole room to the house, retiling, etc.) by just one man and his uncle. I was so impressed at the work when the project was finished that I knew he and his uncle were the men for my project, so I hired them to retile my floors. But there was just one thing: They didn’t speak English, just Spanish.

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