Archive for Tag: Tamara Jones

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A, E, I, O, U, … Y Teach Vowel Sounds? – Part 1

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

Why are Vowel Sounds so Hard to Teach and Learn?

I have a terrible confession to make. Even though I have taught pronunciation for more years than I care to count, I avoided teaching vowel sounds whenever I could. They were just so hard to teach; inevitably we would all wind up frustrated.

First, describing how we make vowel sounds is just hard. One of the first hurdles teachers encounter is that there is no contact of the articulators like there is when we make consonant sounds. In other words, we don’t touch our tongue, teeth, tooth ridge or lips when we articulate vowel sounds. So, when, for example, we teach the /θ/ and /ð/ sounds, we can tell students to stick their tongues between their teeth. But, when we teach vowel sounds, there is no such easy description of what students should be doing with their mouths.

Another problem is that all vowel sounds are voiced, so there is not that easy distinction the way there is with consonant sounds, like the differentiation between /v/ (voiced) and /f/ (voiceless) for instance. Similarly, when we are making all of the vowel sounds, we don’t block the airflow the way we do with some consonant sounds, such as /p/. In short, the way we differentiate between and describe vowel sounds is much less concrete and easily understood than the way we talk about consonant sounds.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Repeat After Me

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

How much choral repetition do your students do in your lessons? What percent of the class time is devoted to having your students repeat words and phrases in unison? If your pedagogical approach tends to be more or less along the lines of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), your answer is probably, “Not too much.” In fact, you might even be reading this with a little grin as you think, “Well, none, of course. Choral repetition is boring and not very communicative at all. Why bother?”

That certainly was my response for many years. I felt like every moment I spent on choral repetition was time the students did not have to learn new things or communicate with each other. Besides, choral repetition is an inherently teacher-fronted activity. It’s boring, demands nothing from the students but mindlessly repeating after the teacher and brings a creepy, robotic quality to the classroom. Right?

As it turns out, no.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Music has Meaning – Part II

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

The Functions of Focus

Recently, I shared the research of Reed (2015) in which she sheds light on the disconnect between what speakers mean and what students may actually hear. Specifically, when proficient English speakers shift the pitch change from the end of a thought group in order to communicate a specific meaning. For instance, when a speaker says, “My boss said he’d fix the problem” many English learners may assume that the problem had been or would be fixed. Conversely, proficient English speakers would understand that the pitch change on the word “said” implied that, in fact, the problem probably hadn’t been resolved at all.

Not hearing or failing to understand the meaning that is communicated by these pitch changes on focus or prominent words can put our students at a major disadvantage. They end up missing out on key information that their peers will have gotten and they are often incapable of making the predictions that help good listeners follow a conversation.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Music has Meaning – Part I

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

Two Very Different Conversations

Imagine the following conversation: A student approaches a teacher after a lecture. The student says, “I am very busy this week. I know the paper is due on Friday, but can I hand it in on Monday instead?” The professor responds, “You can.”

In your imagination, was the student an English learner or a proficient English speaker? What the student understood about the conversation could be wildly different depending on his/her level of English. In fact, if you visualized an English learner, most likely the student understood the professor’s words, the locution. He/she would have left feeling content in the understanding that it was perfectly okay to submit the assignment late.

However, a proficient English speaker would have subconsciously understood that when the professor stressed the word “can,” he/she was communicating an additional message, in this case a contrary one.  As noted by Wells, the speaker typically states one thing but implies something further (Wells, 2006).  The proficient English speaking student would have probably felt much less confident that the teacher was okay with a late submission than the other student because he/she would have heard the illocutionary force of the message.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

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

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,

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lights! Camera! Action!

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

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.

Backstage

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.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Adjective Clause Lesson that was Really Great

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

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!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can you Hear me Now?

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

“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

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Monday, November 10, 2014

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

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

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.),

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Singing the Way to Paraphrasing Success

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

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.

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