Archive for Tag: teaching tips

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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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Helping ESL Students Hear

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

The other day we had a CPD (continuing professional development) session at my school. The topic was Teaching Hearing Impaired students. At first, I was a bit skeptical that the session would be valuable for me, as I don’t have any hearing impaired students at the moment. Nonetheless, I am always up for learning something new and usually really enjoy the opportunity for professional development. As I have said many times before, when I am “finished” learning about how to be a better teacher, it is time to get out of the business!

Hearing Aids ≠ Perfect Hearing

Anyway, I was glad I went. I had never really thought about hearing impaired students before. To my shame, I cannot even say for certain that I have never had any in my class. I had always assumed that if one of my students had a hearing problem and wore a hearing aid that their hearing problem was “fixed” and I needn’t concern myself any further. Wrong! Apparently, a hearing aid can just help improve someone’s hearing,; it doesn’t remedy the problem completely. Students who wear hearing aids still run the risk of missing some sounds, particularly those from what the speaker kept referring to as “high frequency” range, like the /ð/, /ϴ/and /f/. Imagine the frustration for a student in a pronunciation class working on differentiating between the two “th” sounds when she/he can’t even hear either of them.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

How __________ (Much/Many) Practice do Students Need to Learn Quantifiers?

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

Even though many grammar series, including grammar guru Betty Azar’s, cover quantifiers from the beginning (Basic English Grammar) to the end (Understanding and Using English Grammar), my students seem to continuously struggle with using them correctly. They moan when we review them and moan when they get them wrong in their writing. Even my most advanced students appear to be mystified by the idiosyncrasies of English quantifiers.

Students Face Several __________ (Challenge/Challenges)

The problem, in my mind, seems to be twofold. First, students have to think about count and non-count nouns. At first glance, this distinction appears totally arbitrary when you consider that money is non-count, though clearly it is something we count all the time. Throw in irregular plurals (Seriously, person/people but fish/fish? How is that at all logical?) and you can have a frustrated class on your hands.

In addition to the perils of the count and non-count divide, students also have to choose from a confusing list of quantifiers full of linguistic booby traps. For example, consider the difference in meaning between “a little” and “little”. That tiny letter can mean the difference between being able to afford to buy a coffee and going thirsty. Another hidden quantifier trap lies in what Azar calls the “singular expressions of quantity”. There is almost nothing satisfactory a teacher can say to a student who asks why we say “each student” but “each of the students” when the meaning is essentially the same. It’s enough to turn a lovely group of students into a mob of pitchfork waving villagers!

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kneading your Way into the Passive Voice

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

Don’t you just love it when inspiration strikes in the middle of an activity and turns a so-so lesson into a great one? It doesn’t happen that often to me, actually. My “great” lessons are almost always the result of careful planning and hours spent cutting out little bits of paper, but once in a great while, it all comes together in a moment of glorious on-the-spot quick thinking.

My job at the British School of Brussels is to prepare and support my students for survival and success in their mainstream classes. I have had my eyes opened to the joys of content-based language learning, and, as a result, my lesson plans often veer away from pure grammar activities. For most of my students, the vocabulary they need for their chapter on Atoms and Elements in their Science classes supersedes their need to properly use the past perfect. However, I am always on the lookout for that perfect lesson that seamlessly blends grammar with content.

How to Make Bread

So, anyway, my “grammar and content unite” moment happened after several of my students had just begun their cooking classes. We’d done all the kitchen utensils and verbs associated with cooking to death, and I was trolling the internet for an idea that would allow me to revisit cooking in a new way. I came across a great video called How It’s Made: Bread. Now, the title alone might have got many of you thinking, “Aha! The passive!” Sadly, this did not happen to me. Not right away. After watching the video, I typed up several sentences that described the process step by step.

  • The ingredients are ground in a mill.
  • The ingredients are mixed together.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dictations Revisited

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

Dictations as the Wide Collars of Language Teaching?

I was recently chatting with a colleague about the disappearance of certain “old-fashioned” activities from the language learning classroom. Often, we are so swept up in encouraging communication that we forgo lessons that promote competency. One of the babies that long ago seemed to get thrown out with the grammar translation bath water is doing dictations. For years and years, maybe even as long as I have been teaching, it has been considered very uncool to subject students to the painful task of writing something verbatim. After all, it’s not a real-life communicative task. We very rarely find ourselves writing stories exactly as someone tells them, do we? So, why make our students do it?

The Redeeming Qualities of Dictations

Well, as it turns out, there are some very good reasons to include dictations in our language teaching repertoire. They can offer effective practice for decoding the sounds of English. Dictations can “reinforce the correlation between the spelling system and the sound system of a language.” (Alkire, 2002) They can also help students identify grammatical and pronunciation features, as “dictation activities where students compare their version of the text to the original can increase their ability to notice aspects of the language which are sometimes overlooked, as well as mistakes which they commonly make.” (Lightfoot, 2005) Finally, for the overworked teacher, dictations can provide a quick, useful lesson that requires just a little preparation, a benefit which, in today’s hectic working world, cannot be underestimated. Clearly, there are many pedagogically sound reasons to include dictations into our lessons.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Feel the (English) Burn

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

Boot Camp

I am not particularly athletic, but in order to counter my Belgian chocolate and french fry addictions, I have found that I need to exercise a whole lot. So, I recently signed up for a ‘boot camp’ type of class with several other expat women here in Brussels. On the first day, the instructor, a mild looking guy named Dan, had us doing hundreds (oh, I wish I were exaggerating) of lunges and these jumping jack/squat combinations that left my legs trembling. It was brutal. The next day and for days afterwards, my legs were so sore that climbing the stairs had me making little gasping noises and getting off the sofa involved my husband’s help.

So, as you might imagine, when I woke up on the morning of the second of these torture sessions, I was filled with more than a little dread. This time Dan had us alternating sprints up and down a long, cruel hill with planks and other contortions designed to do something called ‘engage the core’. About 2/3 of the way into the lesson, when Dan shouted that we needed to race up and down this hill yet again, I wanted to cry. I felt like I couldn’t face that hill again. As I lined up with the other ladies, I felt tired and sore and a bit sick. When Dan shouted, “Go!” I just wanted to go home. But, I ran. We all did. And, when we got to the bottom of the hill and Dan cheerfully told us that we would have a moment to rest and then run it again, I rested and ran again.

How does Dan do it?

As I was laboring up the hill, I couldn’t help but wonder at the fact that this young, kind, friendly guy was getting a bunch of women to run up and down a hill as fast as we could again and again. It was painful and awful, but we were doing it. How? How was he managing to motivate us to do this? Well, obviously there was a huge amount of self-motivation at play. We paid for the class and we were all there to counteract our own personal Belgian chocolate and french fry addictions. But, there was more than that. Dan did a couple of essential things to get us running and doing all those difficult core exercises that I think all good teachers do to motivate their students.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Conversation or Interrogation?

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

My husband, a wonderful man but not an English teacher, thinks that teaching private conversation lessons must be a breeze. In his mind, it’s just basically making conversation for an hour. He knows that I am a chatty person by nature, so how hard can that be?

Well, it IS hard! It IS really, really hard! Even on a good day when the teacher is feeling great and the student has eaten and slept well and they have all sorts of common interests, it can be one of the most demanding hours in the week of an English teacher. And that hour can seem like forever, as the teacher juggles the dual burdens of keeping the conversation flowing and focusing on accuracy at the same time. Sure, I can chat with just about anyone at a party, but when someone pays me for my time and expertise, I feel as though I need to step it up a notch.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Sorry I’m Late, But …

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

I am the kind of person who is usually on time, and I will move heaven and earth to be somewhere at the time I promised. I’ve even arrived early to things, which has resulted in flustered hostesses and long waits in dentist offices. What can I say? It’s just the way I am. However, I know that not everyone is like me. There are many people, and some of them are my students, who don’t make it places on time. Some of them are simply over-committed and running 15 minutes behind everything and some of them are just chronically late. In my social life and the office part of my work life, this doesn’t really bother me. I know who will be on time and who to expect a few minutes later and I adjust my schedule accordingly.

In the classroom, though, it can be a little more difficult to manage. In a perfect world, all students would be in their seats eager to learn at the stroke of the hour. The class could begin without fear of students missing vital information or much-needed review. In reality, however, when I taught adult students, inevitably one, two or more would come late, sidling in with apologetic faces. It can be difficult enough to manage big classes of multi-level learners without students coming in in staggered blocks of time. Over the years, though, I learned some tricks to dealing with late students that helped me manage the class and (to some extent) helped students get to class on time.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Some Lessons are MORE DIFFICULT to Plan than Others

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

Maybe we all have the same problem: that one grammar point that has us pulling out our hair when it comes time to plan the lesson.  For me, it’s the comparative and superlative.  The actual teaching of it is not the difficult part, really.  They are not hard concepts to understand and many other languages have similar structures.  Students get them pretty quickly; they just need practice to be able to use the comparative and superlative effortlessly, lots and lots of practice.  That’s where my hair pulling comes in.

Most grammar books provide gap fills and conversation and writing prompts.  They are fine.  But, let’s face it, comparing a student’s home country with the target language country again and again can get stale.  So can describing the children in a family or even the students in the class.  This problem is compounded by the fact that comparing and contrasting are key skills, and students encounter them repeatedly as they progress through grammar levels.  So, they get to compare the weather in their country with the weather where they are studying multiple times.  This repetition led me to search out some more interesting practice activities that help reinforce the comparative and superlative.  Here are four of my favorites.

Which Animal Runs Faster?

Shenanigames: Grammar-Focused Interactive ESL/EFL Activities and Games, by James Kealey and Donna Inness (Prolingua) contains some great practice activities, one of which is perfect for practicing both comparative forms of adjectives and adverbs.  This photocopiable resource has instructions for how to play the game, but I have adapted it to use in my classes a little differently.  The book provides a sheet of little cards (which I don’t bother cutting out) each with a comparison. For example, which animal runs faster, a cheetah or an antelope?  I put students into pairs and, after I read out the comparison, students have 1 minute (or more or less) to write a sentence, such as ‘A cheetah is faster than an antelope’.  The groups all read their sentences and then I read the answer.  Pairs get 1 point for every right answer, meaning the sentence has to be both factually accurate and grammatically correct.  Many of the comparisons are really challenging, which adds to the excitement level.  Admittedly, some of the comparisons are a bit dated, so I have also added some of my own, like which car is more expensive, the Bugatti Veyron or the Ferrari Enzo?  Google it to find out!

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Star Chart

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

Teaching Teenagers is a Whole New Ball Game

It is a bit of an understatement to say that there are some big differences between teaching adults and teaching teenagers. As I noted in a previous blog, this year I broke out of my teaching comfort zone and, after years (and years, and years) of teaching adults, I took a job teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL) to international teenagers who hope to matriculate to mainstream classes in a British private school here in Brussels. I had a lot to learn in a very short time. I even bought a book called “Your First Year as a High School Teacher, which made the History teachers on my floor laugh.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was learning how to manage my classroom. Unlike most adults, teenagers aren’t always in the class because they actually want to be. In addition, teens have that whole “center of the universe” thing going on, as well as hormonal changes, brain development, growth spurts and all sorts of physical and emotional issues that make them difficult to teach at times. Even though I really do love my students, I cannot deny that they cry and fight and manipulate in ways I was totally unequipped for. And, let’s face it, sometimes the last thing they want to do is answer questions about a reading on coffee growers in Bolivia or take notes on what Bill Nye the Science Guy has to say about how we see colors.

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