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Listening to Stories While You Read Them: Supporting ELL’s

17 Mar

Supporting English Language Learners through their comprehension and engagement in a text is vital if they are to come to a love of reading in English.betty white

In preparing for a presentation on Supporting the ELL’s in our Ontario Classrooms, I was looking for current Canadian resources teachers can easily incorporate into their language arts curriculum for ESL students.  One such resource I wanted to share right away was StorylineOnline.   Storyline Online is a fabulous website that has popular English children’s picture books being read aloud by celebrities!  How interesting.  Not only can children experience a range of pronunciations by listening to books read aloud, they can increase their engagement in a text either in the class on the computer or at home.

I recommend choosing a text with a student and doing a “picture walk” with them through the book.  Discussing the pictures helps students to make predictions, and it activates the schema they already have for the topic making learning more meaningful.  You may want to ask them to share any experiences they have with the topic either orally or in writing.  Go over any challenging or new vocabulary, idioms, slang, and cultural references in the book.  Next, read it along with the student and let them have some time alone to read through it at their own pace if they’re able to do this.  You can then pull up this resource Storyline Online and have them listen to the book alongside reading it.  They may wish to do this a few times.  Finally, choose a consolidation activity you feel will best match their learning goals and needs.  This could be drawing pictures and describing their favourite part.  Identifying parts of the story such as the main characters, plot, setting, etc.  And one of my favourites is to have them change one of these parts and re-tell the story aloud.

Definitely check out this free online resource and let me know your thoughts! 🙂

One of my favourites?  Harry the Dirty Dog ready by Betty White

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Speaking Journals: A Step-by-Step Guide

9 Dec

An advanced ESL student asked me this week about how she can polish her speaking (and listening) skills while studying solo.  Her goal is near fluency, and I think it’s quite achievable for her – and quite formidable since she’s only ever lived in Seoul.

Already, she listens to American dramas and reviews the content with a script she’s purchased.  She also plugs into English radio while she’s working or studying, keeping a notepad handy for any new words or phrases.  Yet, she wants more practice speaking!   The few hours a week we have together is fantastic, she admits, but eagerly wants more chance to talk.

What are my suggestions?   I wanted to pinpoint ways she can speak outside of our lesson time, and learn from it  – by using a speaking journal.

A SPEAKING JOURNAL – This is great for smartphone users, who already have (or can download easily) an app for voice recording.  I suggested for her that instead of writing a journal, which she has done extensively in the past, she should “speak a journal.”  And to keep it interesting – don’t just make it about what you’ve done today or plan to do tomorrow, even though that is very great practice.  Because of her advanced English functioning, I suggested she change the topics – which focuses vocabulary, expressions, context, tone and so forth.

Here’s a step-by-step plan to get started with an ESL Speaking Journal:

  1. Find the app on your smartphone, or get one – iphone or android.   I have an android phone which came with a voice recorder, but you may want find one with more functionality.
  2. Try recording a small clip – introduce yourself – and see if you can email it to yourself.  The voice files should be able to be sent using a variety of social media popular in your country.  In South Korea, my students and I send and receive voice recorded files using email, SMS, and KakaoTalk.
  3. Now, prepare to speak!  Daily.  I recommend 5 minutes of continuous talking with only minor pauses in speech.  Pushing yourself to speak without stopping is a great way to strive for ESL fluency.  Think fast! 🙂  For the first time, talk about whatever comes to mind – about your day, what you’re doing, plans for dinner, etc.   Try to flow from the past to the future, which ensures you use at least a few verb tenses.
  4. Grab a companion journal (or a few pages from your current ESL Writing Journal^^) to write in.  In this journal, start a list of potential topics to discuss, so that you can refer to it on days when you don’t know what to talk about.  This is also a great place to add new vocabulary and expressions that comes up with this activity.
  5. Day 2 – First, speak about  a topic that interests you, for 5 minutes continuously, little pause in speech.  For example, I love tea, so I could talk about tea for 5 minutes.  In a second language that may be difficult because there is a lot of topic-specific vocabulary.  Great!  Along with speaking practice, “rounding out” your ESL repertoire is what you’re striving for.
  6. Day 2 – Second, listen to yesterday’s speaking journal recording.  By reviewing each recording a day later, it gives you some time to separate from what you’ve talked about so you can listen with a more objective ear.   With pen and companion journal in hand: Listen for errors in grammar;  Look up vocabulary words that would have been good to use; Write down expressions you liked using or would have liked to say;  Think of, or look up, some idiomatic expressions on the topic that you could have used.
  7. Once you’ve been actively keeping a journal for a week, ask your ESL Teacher if you can send her a file for a listen.  She or he may be able to give a listen and offer some advice!
  8. And most importantly, have fun.  Learning a language is difficult, takes time, and there is no point in time where you can say “I made it!”  Keep ESL a learning adventure and you’re bound to enjoy yourself.

If you have been keeping a Speaking journal, have tried it in the past or are eager to give it a whorl – please leave your advice and comments below!

Thinking in a Foreign Language

20 Oct

It’s often said that thinking or even dreaming in a foreign language is THE marker of genuine fluency, but is this actually true?  Cogito ergo sum.  Je pense donc je suis.  I think, therefore I am.   Descartes sure thought so, but how does this apply to thinking in additional languages?

Answering this question requires getting to the absolute basis of what makes up a language.  Are words merely symbols or labels which we affix meaning too – replacing one set of labels for another repeatedly until our neo-cortex finally chooses one over another automatically?  Or is language an alternate reality one steps into and out of, imbued with culture and context?  I pulled this interesting comment from an online discussion on a similar topic:

What makes language exciting is that each one divides up the world into sometimes overlapping categories or concepts but there are different “seams” and “patches” to every quilt — you can say things in German which cannot be said in English.    -Unknown

What a beautiful thought – the world as one big cozy quilt of overlapping language patches, each filling in where another falls short.  French is the language of lovers, Japanese for sound effects and English for sarcastic, utilitarian purposes?  But seriously..

Learning a new language is not just about rote memorization of vocabulary and phrases.  One has to memorize and intuit new sets of labels and labeling systems for everything around and within them.   Effective teachers use miming, images or symbols to illustrate the meanings of new words rather than offering handouts and translations into their native language – attaching a new word to a image or movement makes it easier to think of, rather than translate from.  Many language learning resources take advantage of this (consider Rosetta Stone for example).

Linguists suggest that dreaming and thinking in another language is a goal of language learning.  There isn’t a set amount of time that one has to study for before being able to do this.  What matters is the amount of time and consistent effort a person puts into learning the desired language and immersing themselves in language and culture of the language that counts.   Within a few months (to years.. ahem..) of learning a new language, a person may start to notice some of their inner dialogues are in the new language rather than thinking in their native language and then speaking the translations.

Learning a new language takes time, effort and motivation.  Every person will experience language learning differently and there is no one formula for fluency.

So, as they say in Korea… 화이팅! (Fighting!)^^

 

 

3 Steps to Improving your TOEFL Essay

26 Aug

The essay component, otherwise known as the Independent Writing component of the TOEFL test is a major contributor to your overall score and is often cited by my students as a difficult part to improve on.  Of the 50 minutes for the Writing Section of the TOEFL iBT test, 30 minutes are giving for writing a 4-5 paragraph, 300-350 word essay.  You write your essay in response to a given writing topic. 

Three steps to Improving your TOEFL Essay:

Focus on the first step and then move on to the second, and finally the third.  In other words, the steps are sequential and one should be mastered before focusing on the next. 

Step 1 – Concentrate on Content and Form.  Is the structure of your essay correct?  Is there a clear introduction, thesis statement and conclusion? Do your ‘body’ paragraphs each have one clear point and supporting details?  Is your essay accurately answering the question given and reflecting the writing sample provided (ie: is it logical)? Have you given examples where necessary?  Are your topic statements clear and is your writing concise?  Do your paragraphs flow from one to the other? Here’s an Essay Sequence Planner and Flow Chart to consider.

Step 2 – Focus on Accuracy.   Clean up the grammar, spelling and punctuation that all work to polish an essay and make it more pleasing for the evaluator to read.  Have you used a variety of sentence structures? Consider peer-editing with another student or friend.  Often editing another person’s work helps you learn more about your own areas of weakness.

Step 3 – Work on your Speed.  Now you want to try to get your polished essay done as quickly as you can.  If you spend 30 minutes, four times a week, that’s 4 essays a week you’d be writing.  Of course, while speed is the final step in polishing your essay-writing skills if you lack clean form, content and accuracy, then your essay is not going to score well.

If you’re looking for free online sample questions and essays, here’s a few places to start:

Happy TOEFL essay writing everyone!

The Best Ways to Learn English

8 May

Students eager to add English to their language fluency repertoire often find themselves trying a variety of learning methods and materials looking for the magic key that will instantly make them good at English.

Films, TV programs, radio, books, music, private tutoring or even travelling overseas to participate in an intensive language experience and education program are all great ways to learn ESL with good results, depending on the sincere efforts of the learner.    I’ve had students employ some or all of these methods as part of their English-learning adventure, and while I can’t attest wholly to their individual effectiveness as this would truly depend on a list of nameable factors, I can pass along my suggestions as to what methods seem to be the most enjoyable and popular among my avid-ESL-learning students here in busy Seoul.

WHAT I THINK:  

Sift, sift… What, then, is the BEST way to learn English?  Permit me to offer my humble opinions and then let’s take a closer look at this eye-popping Kaplan International Colleges infographic to see what results they’ve surveyed.

Learning English, or any language for that matter, is a fluid, ebb and flow process of learning, assessing, reflecting, forgetting, re-learning, focusing, taking time off for things that come up in life, re-strategizing, studying…. In other words, it is a human process.  We are each unique learners and bring our own lives to the process of language learning.  It isn’t easy and there isn’t a magic key.

  • A comprehensive approach with lessons and activities planned around the interests and needs of student is what I think is the path to successful, confident second-language use.
  • A focus on conversation/experience with a native speaker – either in group classes, 1-1 tutoring, or by travelling to an English Speaking country like the USA or Canada to infuse yourself into culture and language.

And now the bright and sparkly Kaplan International Colleges Infographic titled “How to Learn English”:

 After Thoughts: 

Only 8% of people think of Canada as an English study destination?  How sad…

Many of my students LOVE to study with the TV Program “Friends,” and find it applicable to real-life casual conversation.  Other popular ones, as this infographic demonstrates are CSI and Gossip Girl.

Films, yes, but I don’t know many who prefer using them over studying with a native speaker or using TV programs which are shorter and more manageable. Yet, they’re popular.  There are some difficulties for the educator to use movies as a basis for lesson planning for the classroom, but do-able.

Using music and song is a great way to learn idiomatic expressions and slang, therefore making it good for informal, everyday conversation and listening practice.  Especially great for the audio-linguistic learner.

Comics are popular in Korea, and after reading some inspiring ones, I love seeing younger students get really involved and creative making their own comics with imagination and spontaneous ENGLISH!

Great work Kaplan! ^^

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