Archive for Tag: Tamara Jones

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Importance of Critical Reflection

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

Last week, I taught a class that was a bit of a train wreck.

This semester, every Monday and Wednesday morning, I teach an ESL class of Pre-beginners. I have 14 wonderful students who speak very limited English. They come from all over the world – Iran, China, Syria, El Salvador, Guatemala, Korea and Venezuela – and range in age from 17 to 76. They are truly the most lovely group of students a teacher could ever hope for, and I really enjoy being in the classroom with them.

However, teaching this very (very, very) beginning level is somewhat of a new challenge for me. (My teaching sweet-spot is really high intermediate level classes.) Fall 2017 was my first semester teaching a class of zero-English speakers. This spring, I am teaching the class again, but the “B” section, which means even though it’s the same class, I am using a different text book. So, I am in the middle of another semester of new prep and another semester of wrestling with materials that are not quite low enough in level. (I suspect the experienced teachers out there know exactly what I’m talking about!) This is all to say that this class is somewhat new for me, and there are bound to be hiccups along the way.

The Worst Wednesday Morning Ever

Well, last Wednesday was one gigantic hiccup. The book work was a bit dry and I didn’t create as many opportunities for interaction as I should have done. Also, the students appeared to know their numbers (a change from the class last semester), so I quickly decided to ditch a number review I had planned and leapt right into the collaborative writing activity that was next on my “practice” list. The plan was to give

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Three Things I Like about my Teacher

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

I really hate getting up early in the morning to exercise. When my alarm goes off, I curse my love of buttered bread and cheese and begin the (sometimes 15 minute long) process of talking myself into lurching out of bed. On Friday morning, my internal discussion is a little easier because I really like the new teacher in my early morning Total Body Workout class.

I’ve given some thought to why I like her so much. (After all lunges are so much less awful when I have something else to think about!) There are things I certainly don’t love about the class. I often don’t care for the music she chooses. She’s not the perkiest instructor I’ve ever had. The workout is hard and I absolutely loathe the cardio stuff she has us do. The gym is hot. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. So, I really had to think about exactly what it is about her that appeals to me so strongly that I don’t mind getting up on a cold Friday morning and going to the gym. In the end, it really boils down to 3 (pretty mundane) things.

1. She starts the class on time.

It’s a small thing, but, as it turns out, it makes a big difference to students like me. I’ve been going to this particular class for a few years, and in that time, we’ve had several different instructors. They all started the class on time the first few weeks, but as the students trickled in later and later, they often delayed starting the work out until a majority of the students came in.

Even though I am occasionally one of the latecomers, this really irritates me. First of all, it’s disrespectful of the students who actually made the (sometimes superhuman) effort to actually get to the class on time. Second, it shortens the length of the class time. And, third, it doesn’t encourage any of the chronic latecomers to make an effort to come to class on time.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Using Corpus Linguistics

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

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might know that I am a conference junkie. While there are plenty of great local and national conferences for me to choose from, I love going to the TESOL International Convention the best. I love flipping through the program, attending the sessions, wandering through the publishers’ exhibits, and seeing colleagues from all over the world. Every year, I try to choose to attend at least one session on a topic about which I know absolutely nothing. Sometimes I don’t even know the key words in the description.

Corpus What?

This was the case many years ago, at my first ever TESOL Conference, when I attended a session on Corpus Linguistics. The speaker was Victoria Clark, and at the risk of being overly dramatic, it was life changing. Or, at least, it was work changing. She talked about how text books (back in those days, anyways) rarely contained language that reflected how people really use language. She gave the example of the most basic and common of turns, “Thank you.” and “You’re welcome.” Nothing too controversial, right? Except, when we use Corpus Linguistics research to analyze what we actually say in response to “Thank you”, we learn that we are more likely to say things like “No problem.” “Have a good day.” and “Sure.” In fact, “You’re welcome.” is really low on the list, even below “no response”! As I walked out of the session, I resolved to start to think more critically about language and whether or not what I think I say is actually what I say.

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