Archive for Tag: Tamara Jones

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

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

I always felt cheated as a child because my mother would never follow the advice of that lovely nanny, Mary Poppins. (She also refused to fly, too, to my great irritation.) In the movie, Mary Poppins has asked her charges to clean their room. The boys don’t want to, but she convinces them that a little fun can make a dull task palatable by singing that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Well, I am no flying nanny, but I can certainly appreciate Ms. Poppins’ message now that I am teaching young learners.

Grammar?!? Again?!?
After years of teaching adults who masochistically yearn for the pain of English verb tenses and the passive voice, I assumed that everyone cared as deeply about grammar. Not so! Have you ever tried to convince tired tweens and teens that the answer to their prayers lay in memorizing the simple past form of irregular verbs? Let me tell you, it is easier said than done. I tried everything from practice worksheets to tests to flashcards and more. Nothing could make these students learn their lists of irregular verbs. Nothing, that is, until I broke out the dice and the markers. Apparently the nanny was right all along; turning grammar into a game makes learning easier. The trick is to make the games as easy on the teacher as possible; no one wants to be cutting flashcards at 3:00 in the morning, that’s for sure! Following are some of the easiest games I know that have tricked my students into learning grammar again and again.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

The Joys of YouTube

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

After many years of teaching without access to the internet, I am overjoyed to finally be able to take advantage of some of the great teaching resources on the great ole World Wide Web, particularly those on YouTube. Because of my late start with this resource, I understand that I am behind the curve, so forgive me if some of my enthusiasm seems a bit out of date. There is just so much great stuff out there, if you look hard enough! In addition, the clips are generally bite-sized, so they are perfect for a bit of English practice.

I teach young learners, and I can personally vouch for the sedative quality that video clips seem to have. Nothing quiets my students down faster than the promise of a video activity. The key is to make the video more than just the video. There always has to be a purpose, even if the kids are too busy watching the clip to notice.

Kramer and the Past Tense
I was having a hard time coming up with fun activities for my students to practice the simple past tense. They need so much review to help them remember the irregular forms, but that repetition can get boring fast. So, I showed them a clip from Seinfeld available on YouTube. In it, Jerry is going out for the day and Kramer is in his apartment. The next 1 ½ minutes shows Kramer doing crazy things like riding a bike, putting out a fire, starting a fight, and hosting a party. You get the idea. At the end of the day, Kramer is asleep on the sofa when Jerry comes home and gets irritated because Kramer had not used a coaster.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Students are not the Same

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

After about a million years teaching adults, I have gone over to the dark side. In September, I started a new job as the English as an Additional Language Immersion instructor at a private British school in Belgium. This means that now I spend my days with students who are 11 to 16 years old. What’s the big deal? Teaching English is teaching English is teaching English, right? At least I had thought so, since so many of the evening adjunct instructors in my college in the USA had been public school teachers by day. I was about to find out how wrong I had been.

Thirteen is not the New Thirty!

Teaching children is not the same as teaching adults. For starters, kids cry all the time. Just last week, a boy cried because I gave him a (much deserved) 20 minute detention. Another boy cried because I took away his cell phone in the class. And another boy cried because he got in a dispute with another student and he felt I wasn’t listening to his side of the story.

At first, I took each incident of bawling seriously. After all, if an adult cried in my class (on the rare time it happened in my 16 years of teaching) it was a big deal. But, kids, especially pre-teens (are they called “tweens” now?) and teenagers are hormone-filled, emotional messes much of the time, and after a bit of sobbing, everything returns to normal remarkably quickly.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What’s the Brain Got to Do With It?

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

The Magic of Flying

I am not a nervous flyer, but I really have no idea how a plane actually manages to stay in the air. I mean, if you drop a rock, if falls. So, how on earth does an airplane, which weighs so much more than a stone, even manage to take off from the ground? Of course, there is a scientific explanation for this, but as I strap myself into my tiny little seat on the plane, I am just glad that I can get from my home in Belgium to my mother in Western Canada in hours rather than days.

Similarly, for a long time, I was content with being ignorant as to how learning physically happens in the brain. Just like I can fly all over the planet without understanding exactly why I am able to do so, I had been comfortable teaching without understanding exactly what was happening in students’ brains as they were learning (or not). However, in recent years, I have come to learn that this learning isn’t something opaque or magical. It is physical, and it can now be seen with a microscope because, “[t]hanks to neuroimaging, scientists can now see inside a living, thinking brain.” (Zadina, 2008) How exciting is that!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Breaking the Ice on Day One

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

First Day Fears

I don’t know about you, but even though I have been teaching for 15 years, I still get nervous on the first day of class. Once the students get to know each other, the tension tends to drop and the class takes on a personality of its own. But, those first few moments of the first lesson are silent, awkward and nerve-racking. Luckily, I learned early on in my teaching career the importance of lowering the affective filter. Krashen defines the affective filter as “a mental block, caused by affective factors … that prevents input from reaching the language acquisition device” (Krashen, 1985, page 100). More simply put, nervous students may not learn as well as relaxed students. For this very reason, I always spend time in the first lesson of the semester doing an ice-breaker activity. I also do it for my own sanity. I hate the look of fear and panic that first-day students tend to have, so I try to get them smiling as early in the semester as possible.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Warming Up Your English Muscles

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

When I go for a run, I don’t leap out my front door and sprint straight up the hill to the forest. Instead, I walk briskly for a few minutes (or at least until I get up that darn hill) before I break into a jog. Likewise, I don’t start off my English classes by plunging directly into a lesson. I prefer a gentler approach of easing my students into what might be their first English thoughts of the day. So, I start every class with a warm-up activity. I would never dream of running without warming up my leg muscles first, so why would I ask students to start a lesson without warming up their English muscles first?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Confusion in Conversation

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I was visiting some friends in Madrid last weekend. A few years ago, I used to teach a class of women who got exceptionally close over the semester. Since then, we have all kept in touch, going out for dinner and emailing often. When two of our group moved back to Spain, it was logical for us to plan a weekend away to visit them.

So, there I was in the back seat of the van with my Polish and Greek friends. Our two Spanish friends were busy driving and navigating in the front seat. To make conversation with my back-seat-mates, I asked them, “What time did you get to bed last night?” (I need my beauty sleep, so I always went to be long before they did.) My question was met with looks of complete confusion. Let me be clear; these are high-intermediate speakers of English. My question wasn’t grammatically complex and the vocabulary was simple. Even a high-beginner could probably comprehend the question if it was part of a lesson. So, why the bewilderment, even after I repeated the question?

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaching Strategies for Impoliteness?

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I was recently able to attend the IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Conference this year in Brighton, UK. Among the many wonderful sessions I attended, one really made an impact. So much so, in fact, that I have been thinking about it ever since.

Martin Warters gave a presentation called “There is (no) need for that!” In his speech, he explored “the appropriacy and need for the explicit teaching of impoliteness in the second-language classroom in a UK setting.” When I read the session description, I was intrigued. Teaching impoliteness to our students? I wasn’t sure how I felt. I don’t feel comfortable teaching students how to swear in English (they can get that from most Hollywood movies, thank you very much) and I kind of feel that the world doesn’t need more abusive individuals in our shops, our restaurants, and our motorways.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Perfectly Pleasant Presentations

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I Have to do What?!?

From all the groaning and writhing that was taking place in my class, you would think I just told them they would have to spend several hours at the dentist getting all sorts of uncomfortable procedures done. In fact, I had just informed my students that the following week they would be delivering a short presentation in front of the class.

This is consistently one of the least popular lessons in my classes; students really seem to hate public speaking. This reaction, though, isn’t really a surprise. In fact, in some surveys, the fear of public speaking (glossophobia) ranks higher than the fear of death (necrophobia). Add to the mix the fact that students need to do this in a language that is not their first, and you can see why this is a terrifying prospect to many language learners. In fact, one of my students used to get so scared before her presentations, she actually became pale and sickly looking and shook like a leaf.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Do a Zoologist and a Teacher Have in Common?

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I was reading an article in the January 2011 edition of O Magazine recently about a zoologist, Laurie Marker, who is working in Namibia to help save the cheetah from extinction. You might wonder what a zoologist in Africa could possibly have in common with an English teacher in Belgium. Well, not much, really. But, one thing that she said in the article really resonated with me. She was talking about how she came to this place in her profession, and she concluded by saying, “I don’t take what I do lightly.”

I don’t take what I do lightly.

Those words have stuck with me for weeks now. I believe they perfectly summarize how I feel about my profession and my career. However, I spent some time thinking about exactly how I demonstrate that I don’t take what I do lightly. What have I done and what do I do to show my dedication to English Language Teaching?

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