Archive for Tag: vocabulary

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Do You Get It?

Kristine Fielding teaches ESOL at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas.

The word “get” is hard to get.

It does not have a set definition. It frequently embraces new meanings as technology requires, expanding and enveloping to absorb new semantical shapes, much like a boneless sea creature manipulating its form to acquire a new source of food.

Its ubiquitous use proves how flexible the word is. Not only does the word “get” have multiple meanings by itself, it is also used in a variety of phrasal verbs. An ESL/EFL student trying to communicate with native speakers in authentic settings can become confused when native speakers use “get” instead of solid verbs, or those with firm meanings.

As usual, this post is prompted by a recent discussion with a student. The student specifically requested help on how to use the word “get.” Since she was in a low level class, shape-shifter words like “get” were not covered. I told her I would compile some information for her, and we would discuss the material after class.

I realized “get” has at least three possible definitions, not counting phrasal verbs (which I was not going to address since phrasal verbs are like the fantastical Kraken—a beast of its own nature). This is what I came up with. *Disclaimer: I am not saying these are the only definitions, just the ones I gave my student.

Get: Acquire. Perhaps one of its most elementary usage since we often ask “Did you get my email?” I

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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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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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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tools for Talking about Natural Disasters

Kristine Fielding teaches ESOL at Lone Star College in Houston, TX.

When 2017 began 10 months ago, I doubt many people predicted this year would be plagued by so many natural disasters. Daily news broadcasts report tragedies and upheaval that many of us thought unimaginable. Because of these calamities, people around the globe have found ways to help those affected, whether the victims are local or international.

We know that vocabulary acquisition is more successful if the words are meaningful to students. Even if our students were not personally affected by any natural disaster this year, it is easy for students to sympathize with others. Students may also have had past experiences that may relate to this year’s turmoils.

Below is a list of 65 terms that give students the building blocks to express themselves. I gleaned these terms from various news reports over the last few months.

aide
aftermath
avalanche
crisis
communicable diseases
contaminate
contribution
damage
debris
demolish
desperate
destroy
devastate
donate
earthquake
epicenter
epidemic
evacuate
FEMA
flash flood
government agencies
hail
heroic efforts
housing
hurricane
insurance
intervention
landslide
loot
needed supplies
pollute
posttraumatic stress syndrome
potable water
precaution
rebuild
recovery
refugee
relief
rescue efforts
resilience
restore
restrict
Richter scale
risk
rubble
search and rescue
severe damage
shelter
short-term aid
sinkholes
supplies
support
survivor
tornado
tremor
tragedy
trauma
tropical storm
tsunami
victim
volunteer
warn
wildfire
wind speed

As you discuss terms with students, it may be helpful to use graphic organizers to compare and contrast vocabulary words for different catastrophic events. For example, “wind speed” may not but used with earthquakes like it is with hurricanes, but “aftermath” could be used for both. The word “victim” can be used for anyone negatively affected by any situation, regardless if the event is natural or man-made. Word maps may also help students connect already-known words to new ones.

Sentence stems provide shape for students’ thoughts. Below I have included 8 sentence stems or stem groups that may be springboards for class discussion or journal entries.

I experienced a/an ____ (natural disaster). First, ___. Then ____. Finally, ____ (student describes her experience).

Before the ___, I was ____.
During the ____, I ____.
After the ____, I ____.

When I heard about the ____ (natural disaster), I felt _____ (emotion).

I saw pictures of the ____ (natural disaster) on the news. I saw ____ (specific details).

In ___ (year), there was a ____ (natural disaster) in _____ (place). This caused ____(results).

I wonder if…

I can prepare for a/an ___ (natural disaster) by…

I can help the people in ___ (place) by…

As I mentioned before, natural disasters may bring out the worst in Mother Nature, but they bring out the best in people. Below are two NPR reports of how people performed small acts of service that had huge impacts. Listening to these with your students may provide a chance to discuss human resilience and offer a hopeful note to an otherwise dismal topic.

Nick Fountain tells of Mexican teenagers delivering supplies on their bicycles after the earthquakes: http://www.npr.org/2017/09/23/553204495/packs-of-teens-on-bikes-join-volunteer-effort-after-mexico-earthquake

Kelly McEvers, host of NPR’s Around the Nation, reports how amateur ham radio operators were able to help Puerto Ricans who could not reach relatives in the United States: http://www.npr.org/2017/09/29/554600989/amateur-radio-operators-stepped-in-to-help-communications-with-puerto-rico

In an ideal world, we would never need to cover these topics in our classrooms. However, we live on a planet rife with dramatic events, natural or otherwise. We can help our students increase their abilities to communicate their ideas and experiences if we give them the tools.

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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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

English Spelling: Making Sense of the Chaos (Part 3)

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

The “rules” of English spelling can appear to be so random and unreliable, they drive students (and at least one teacher) to distraction. Since I’ve started teaching an intermediate-level spelling class, I’ve had to re-learn some of these “rules” in order to help my students make sense of the chaos that is English orthography. I don’t call them “rules” in my class, though. When I did, my students were very quick to complain that with so many exceptions, they were hardly “rules.” Instead, we refer to them as “tips.” That just seemed to make everyone a lot happier.

So, in a previous blog post, I shared some ‘lessons learned” about teaching spelling. Here, I want to share some of the things I think ESL/EFL students need to know to be strong spellers.

Tip #1 – Some Consonant Sounds have Wacky Spellings
Sometimes consonant sounds are easy to spell. For instance, /m/ is usually spelled with an “m” or sometimes an “mm.” But, some consonant sounds are trickier. Students need to learn that /f/ can be spelled “f,” “ff,” “ph” and

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Monday, June 13, 2016

English Spelling: Making Sense of the Chaos (Part 2)

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

Teaching English spelling can be almost as daunting as learning it. Since I’ve started teaching an intermediate-level spelling class, I’ve learned a lot about how to teach spelling to international students.

Lesson #1 – Students Need to Know Why
Students whose L1 has a more regular sound-spelling correspondence are baffled about why English spelling is such a nightmare of random letter combinations and exceptions to the rules. They often seem to want the teacher to make sense of it all, for us to provide them with a tidy reason that will help them sort it all out. So, the short answer to the question “Why?” is: History. There is a great video on YouTube called “Why is English Spelling so Weird?”  It’s a pretty fast-paced lecture, but my intermediate students seemed to really enjoy learning that there is a logic behind English spelling peculiarities, even if it is buried deep in British history. In short, English spelling is a product of foreign invasions and changing English pronunciation. In my experience, once students learned this, they could stop asking “Why?” and could focus on the task at hand, learning to spell.

Lesson #2 – Students Need to Hear the Sounds
Duh, right? But, I hadn’t realized just how much of a challenge this would be for my students until I was trying to cover all the spelling patterns for the /iy/ sound and the students couldn’t even differentiate between /ɛ/ and /iy/.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Amazing Adjectives

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

Descriptive adjectives can make students’ speaking and writing richer and more interesting. However, my students tend to rely on the same, worn out adjectives time and time again: good, fine, nice. You might have heard responses like this before if you also teach English and/or have teenagers.

Azar’s Basic English Grammar does a great job of introducing students to adjectives in a couple of places. In Chapter 1, Using BE, there is a section in which students are introduced to the “be + adjective” combo and in Chapter 14, students get more practice with the syntax associated with English adjectives. However, some students need to spend a little more time experimenting with using adjectives in order to use them accurately.

A Lot of Adjectives

For many students at all levels, using a wide variety of adjectives in speaking or writing is less of a grammar problem and more of a vocabulary problem. In other words, once students learn the words old and young as beginners, they may not be motivated to learn substitutions like ancient, elderly or mature and youthful, juvenile and fresh. After all, there are so many words to learn in English, why waste time learning synonyms when the original word will do?

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A, E, I, O, U, … Y Teach Vowel Sounds? – Part 2

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

The Trouble with Teaching Vowels

In last week’s post, I described why vowel sounds are so difficult to teach – they are hard to describe, there may be differing phonemic symbols for a single sound, and there are just so many of them in English. But, I also acknowledged that, even though they are daunting, we should cover them in all of our ESL and EFL classes because they are essential to communication. Specifically, the stressed vowel in a focus word needs to be pronounced comprehensibly or speakers risk obscuring the entire thought group. This is even more important for conversations between non-proficient English speakers who, research shows, rely more heavily on the sounds articulated than on the context for making sense of an utterance. I concluded the post with a promise for practical and painless suggestions for teaching vowel 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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