Archive for Tag: teaching tips

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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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Teaching Objectives or Learning Objectives?

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

One day long ago my student teaching practicum supervisor, the one with the fine-toothed comb, asked me “Why are you planning to start your lesson with this jazz chant?”  I replied “Because it will be fun!”  At that, she sighed… not out of relief, mind you, but out of discontent.

My answer revealed that I had not fully grasped one of the key points about learning objectives: that they must allow us to measure what the students have learned.   “Fun cannot function as an objective of learning,” my practicum supervisor continued.  “How would you measure that fun?”  “What would your students learn from that fun?”

As I began my teaching career, those key questions continued to swirl around in my head, and even though they seemed relatively easy to answer, formulating learning objectives which were both specific and practicable (unlike some larger instructional goals) was not an effortless task for me. Often, the objectives I devised sounded fine, but after a second look, they turned out to be flawed, partly because they were more about what the teacher wanted than about what the learner needed.  Here are some examples.

  • “Students will understand how to use possessive pronouns.”
  • “Students will know how to talk about their personal life.”
  • “Students will practice formal and informal greetings.”

Such objectives were decent and useful enough, I thought.  I wanted the students to understand this, to know that, and to practice those things, and I assumed that they would learn from the activities I had planned, but those activities were nowhere apparent in those objectives.  Worse, those objectives, as stated, were not measurable. How could I measure “understanding or knowing”?  What about “practicing”?  Was that measurable?

After some revision, those objectives became:

  • “Students will use possessive pronouns accurately.
  • “Students will answer correctly at least three questions about their personal life.”
  • “Students will demonstrate that they know the difference between formal and informal greetings.”

In these forms they seemed more exact, more task oriented, and, quite naturally, more measurable too.   

As the years passed, and I got better at orienting my objectives more toward learning than teaching, I created a strategy for deriving a learning objective from a “language carrot.”

A “language carrot” is a potential result of a lesson’s or week’s work, and a view to the details (perhaps rather, in keeping with the metaphor, composition) of that “carrot” can direct a teacher to a precise formulation of a learning objective.  The objective can, in turn, guide a teacher to exact instruction which results in measurable learning on the part of her students.

The first time I “dangled a language carrot,” it went like this…

I presented my students with a seven-sentence narrative in which all the sentences began with a grammatical subject, and beside it I placed a similar narrative including several sentences which began with present or past participle phrases.  (Enter the “carrot”…)  I then asked my students which narrative they preferred. To this, some responded “The one that’s not so boring!” but some also responded “The one that’s not so repetitive.”  At that point, I seized the moment and asked them “How would you like to learn the ‘tricks’ to writing the better one?”

The learning objective derived from that “language carrot” was:  By the end of this week’s unit, students will be able to write a narrative composed of five to seven sentences, at least three of which exhibit correct usage of present or past participle phrases before subjects.  

Have you had any adventures in developing your own learning objectives?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How Champagne Changed my Teaching

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

Two Tours in Champagne

Although neither my husband nor I are Champagne experts, we do like a glass of bubbly from time to time. So, over a recent long weekend, my husband and I drove to the Champagne region of France. Our first stop was at the famous Tattinger Champagne house in Reims. There, we took a tour of the caves lead by an English-speaking guide. We learned where the grapes for Champagne are grown, how the bottles are turned periodically, and how they get the bubbles into the bottle.

After our tasting, we left the city of Reims and began to drive along the touristic Champagne route described in our guidebook. It is a beautiful drive, peppered by plenty of smaller Champagne houses along the way. After passing a few of them, we decided to stop at the Bernard Chauvet et Fils Champagne house. Our experience was completely different at this Champagne house. The tour was shorter, the tasting was free, and the proprietor spoke no English whatsoever. The tour and demonstration was entirely in French.

Now, as you might know if you are a regular reader of this blog, I have sporadically been studying French. However, my vocabulary is certainly not technical enough that I would have been able to understand what the proprietor of the smaller Champagne house was saying had I not seen a similar demonstration at the Tattinger house earlier that day.

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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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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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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dare to Dictogloss!

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

If we step outside our ESL classrooms for a moment and think about the mode of language that we use most often in “real” life, we might say “speaking” by reflex, or we might pause and name one of the other three modes (listening, reading, and writing) after a second thought.

Research built up since the 1930s or so indicates that listening is actually number one.  Something like 45% of human language use amounts to listening.  Speaking comes in second at about 30% (Feyten 1991).  Keeping our ears pricked up appears to be key to daily human communication.

So how can we respect and use this in the classroom?  One typical classroom task that requires intensive, concentrated listening is dictation.  Here students listen not only for the gist, but rather for the entirety of the message, every word and sound.

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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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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speechless Lessons for Beginners

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

There was a full moon over us, a forested park before us, and an elfin presence all around us.  It was an ideal setting and a perfect atmosphere for watching a performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The scene was in the medieval Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov, and we, the audience, were waiting breathlessly in the castle park for the actors to appear beneath us and our revolving, open-air amphitheatre… and then they did appear, and they did play, but they did not speak.

We wondered, watched, and continued to listen, but not a word was spoken.

And then, soon enough, we realized who we were.  We were an audience of individuals, foreign tourists, who spoke some European language, Asian language, and other language as a first language, and many of us did not speak Czech, the language of Cesky Krumlov, and the players and the producers knew all that.

So, believe it or not, they performed a wordless version of Shakespeare’s play.

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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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