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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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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!

Experiential Learning for the ESL Classroom – Philosophy and Activities

20 Apr

I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.

Confucious

There has been a lot popping out at me on reflective teaching practices these days, like a hint that’s perhaps telling me to learn more about this topic and to make more time for professional reflection, and among other thoughts, it’s brought to mind the important role that reflection plays in experiential learning.

Experiential learning is not only for learning within L1 classrooms, it can be applied in the ESL Classroom because it builds on the principles that when students are cooperatively engaged in a motivating project, task or experience, and then reflective or mindful of the results and how to further apply them, they are actively participating in the learning (and self-teaching) process.

More than field trips to museums, ponds and post-offices – this is a method of learning with practices that can successfully be applied in the ESL classroom.

A Touch of Experiential Philosophy

Experience-based, task-based and project-based learning becomes experiential when elements of reflection, support and transfer are present after the learning experience (Knutsen, 2003).

In the early 1980’s, educational psychologists Mezirow, Friere and others “stressed that the heart of all learning lies in the way we process experience, in particular, our critical reflection of experience.”   They thought of learning as a cycle that begins with an experience, continues with reflection and ends with action (Rogers, 1996).  And while thereseem to be some discrepancies in the phases of teaching (or facilitating – a word I prefer) experiential learning, I think the heart of the philosophy is satisfied with the four: Exposure, participation, internalization and dissemination.

Experiential learning begins with EXPOSURE, experiencing something, either first hand or through simulation, that is of interest to the learner and is perhaps something the desire knowing about or become interested in during the process.  The educator has introduced the topic, task or project, selling students on it and highlighting expectations.

Through PARTICIPATION, the learner cooperatively participates in an experience using ESL which typically involves group work, and therefore – communication, peer-guidance, taking on roles, responsibilities and following time-lines.

Next comes the critical process termed INTERNALIZATION, where  the educator facilitates reflection on the experience and encourages students to draw attention to how they participated in the process, and their feelings about it.   The importance of this part of experiential learning process can’t be undervalued and it can take careful consideration and experience for an ESL educator to get students thinking and talking here.  Reflection is how the student will come to learn about themselves – how they participated, what roles they assumed, what they found difficult or easy about the task/project, the challenges of group work (especially in some cultures where individual success tends to be the primary focus..ahem..South Korea).

Finally, a process termed DISSEMINATION occurs where what has been learned in the classroom is brought into the real-world.  It’s hoped that the learner successfully transfers the newly acquired knowledge or assumptions from the experience into future actions and opportunities for learning.

Experiential Learning Activities for the ESL Classroom

Sounds good.  A realistic experience, motivation, reflection…key words that resonate  and a process that makes sense to my senses, exciting me as an educator.  Great, so what types of activities would exemplify experiential learning?

Keeping in mind that the ESL educator needs to provide the situation and structure for the experience, but also facilitation for students’ reflection on the process and even on the cultural difficulties of teamwork (thinking Korean students here^^;), the lesson plan needs to reflect this.  The educator can adapt lessons to suite beginner to advanced ESL learners.

Think – do my students have a need/desire to learn this?  Are they interested in this?  How can I pull their personal skills and experience into the project/task?  How can I get their feelings invested into this?  How can we reflect on it without my pushing them uncomfortably?  And of course, as you may have guessed, do we have the time and tools to invest in a project/task such as this?

This list is not extensive – just something to get us thinking.  Please add some of your own ideas by commenting to this blog post!  ^^

  • Making  a poster
  • Making a PowerPoint presentation
  • Conducting an interview
  • “Re-Branding” a commonly used product
  • Dramatizations
  • Role-plays
  • Journaling
  • Making a video
  • Situational English – bringing the world to the classroom (restaurant, airport, etc.)
  • Making a music video
  • Creating a gameshow
  • Making a mock job or travel fair where each group represents a different profession or country
  • Making a trip itinerary
  • Creating a survival English booklet
  • Debates
  • Re-writing and illustrating fairy tales
  • Making or joining a book club
  • Creating a class website
  • Making a social etiquette book to help travelers or business people new to their country
  • Writing a research paper
  • “Teach a class”  – where they design and implement an English lesson, teaching it to the class.
  • Create a treasure hunt using clues (or even QR codes?)
  • Organizing a Fundraiser
  • Making a comic book
  • Doing a magic show
  • Puppet show

Examples of Experiential Learning in Action:

  • An adult ESL learner and business professional, participates in a classroom simulation – he’s bringing an important new client to a restaurant for small talk and a casual meeting.  The students have key topics they’ll need to discuss, but mostly the conversation is unprompted.  The teacher has set up a mock restaurant scene in the classroom to help them feel they’re really in the scene.  They’ll video-record the simulation, watch it, and reflect upon the process with the facilitation of the teacher.  They’ll hand in one page of reflective writing to the teacher next class.
  • A class of university students has been divided into small groups that have each been given a profession to explore and research – lawyer, doctor, anthropologist..  The class is going to give a mock job fair, with each group creating a small dramatic presentation on why others should choose their professional career upon graduation.  As part of their preparation, each group is encouraged to interview someone who is really in the profession they’ve been given (the professor has already prepared the contacts with industry professionals ahead of time, who in fact, also speak English^^).  Individually, each student is responsible for  journaling about the process as they go along.  The mock job fair day has all the groups presenting.  Afterwards, the professor does a great job of facilitating the reflection process and getting the students to discuss their experiences.  Many students realized that working in groups was more difficult than they expected, and some were surprised to find themselves in a leadership role.    A female student who was first aggrieved to learn their group had chosen CEO when in fact she wanted Artist, came to realize she learned a lot about being a CEO and was now more keenly interested in business.  They’ll journal about their personal reflections and hand in their journals to the professor.

—–

Kelly, C. (1997). David Kolb, the theory of experiential education and ESL.  Japan: The Internet TESL Journal, v.3, no. 9.  Found online at http://iteslj.org/Articles/Kelly-Experiential/

Knutsen, S.  (2003).  Experiential learning in second-language classrooms.  Canada: TESL  Canada Journal, v. 20, no. 2.

Rogers, A.  (1996).  Teaching adults (2nd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Pre

Developing ESL Vocabulary with Clusters

30 Jan

There are many strategies to consider when wanting to teach or learn vocabulary.

Hands-on vocabulary learning seems to be the most effective that I’ve found, as having students use multiple senses when learning a new word seems to increase retention.  Although, with this method the word gain is slow and it’s not always practical in the common classroom setting.  Instead, I often try teaching vocabulary that is related to eachother, together – clusters!

Clustering, or using semantic clusters, basically means learning words around one theme  or idea.  These themes or ideas can be quite large such as “the world” (learn: countries, ocean, continent, to discover …) or can be more focused such as “coffee” (steam, espresso, to roast …).

A few ideas on how to teach using clusters:

  • use theme-based ESL lessons instead of grammar-based.  Grammar can be “snuck” into the lessons along with vocabulary that is related on a particular theme.
  • use brainstorming charts where one word branches to another with visible cluster-like appearance.
  • challenge students to find appropriate synonyms (words that have the same meaning).
  • play Scattergories or Scrabble with a theme.
  • If teaching reading, try to use a variety of resources – news articles, journals, dialogues, stories, podcasts – but with the same theme.  This will increase the kinds of vocabulary that students are exposed to (expressive vs. written, for example).
Take advantage of some online resources! ^^

Cluster/Cloud Graphic Organizers and more Vocabulary graphic organizers – free printables

Teaching and Developing Vocabulary article by Houghton-Mifflin Reading.

Dictionary.com Word of the Day to help you increase your own vocabulary.

 

Advice for Learning How to Give Advice

5 Dec

Knowing how to politely give advice is not only an excellent tool for making small talk, but helps ESL students establish friendships with native English speakers, engaging with them in a meaningful, friendly way.

I could probably conjecture that most Koreans are eager to make friends with an English-speaking foreigner so they can practice their English, share cultures, have an interesting time, and from my experience, perhaps because they genuinely want to show you “their Korea.”  And from my experience meeting new Korean friends, there is always a lot of advice sharing.  I hadn’t realized how often we native English speakers offer our thoughts and suggestions to others, especially to co-workers or friends.

I always make sure to include a good lesson or three on how ESL students can give advice.

A few of the difficulties I’ve noticed when teaching “Giving Advice”:

  • Advice is cultural and may not always be polite or practical when transferred to the listener’s culture.  Real life example:  Me – My stomach hurts today. Friend:  You should try making a big dung. 
  • It’s better to give advice that is closer to neutral rather than politically, emotionally or otherwise “fired up.”   In other words, suggesting solutions that are too strange can feel awkward and create distance between the speaker and listener. Real life example: Person 1 – I am tired of riding the bus.  Person 2 – Well, riding the bus saves the environment, so you should be happy about doing it.  
  • Being polite is not easy in a second language, even with the best intentions.  Native English speakers can often take offense easily (and here I’m speaking as a polite, “I’m sorry” loving Canadian).  Real life example:  Me – I’m feeling sick.  Co-workers – You ought to come to work anyways like other Koreans do.
Some resources for getting starting in planning your lesson on giving advice or for learning how to give advice:
Boggles ESL – Giving Advice printable and problem cards for Adult ESL learners.
MyEnglishPages – Asking for and giving advice.
ESLhq – Giving advice board game.
AuthorStream – Here’s a Powerpoint presentation that can be used in the classroom.
Try my Giving Advice Flashcards (pdf) – which can be downloaded and used in your ESL Classroom freely!  (FYI – the “star” symbol represents VERB with my students and I). Enjoy^^

The ESL Conversation Classic – “20 Questions” Printable Cards

1 Nov

I often find shy students who are proficient in English much more challenging to teach than early beginners who are brave in the face of learning a new language.   Trying to warm students up and get them feeling comfortable is an important task that every ESL Teacher should be or become expert at.  It will make your teaching life easier and more enjoyable.  Simply diving into a lesson without a group of smiling, engaged faces may prevent the not-so-social students from contributing during class.

In addition to being shy, I find quiet students are always the least likely to ask questions.  Having a “free-talking” class where I’m asking all the questions and they’re doing all the answering, isn’t exactly conversation.  So, here’s where the 20 Questions game is a perfect activity to bring together small groups into laughter and discussion, as well as to get students asking questions.

Here it is!  Feel free to download myJennifer Teacher – 20 Questions that includes instructions and the printable cards.

I also suggest you check out my list of amazing Classroom Conversation Starters and warm-ups that get students talking.

Using Music in the ESL Classroom

2 Oct

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE to sing.  I sing, hum, whistle and work my vocal chords through any song of any pitch from morning to evening, silently or aloud.   It hasn’t always been this way, although I’ve always loved singing.  But, mostly this singing fiesta started when I became pregnant with our little daughter.  Knowing the growing soul and mind inside of me was listening and feeling the vibrations of my voice, I sang.  Now, she’s a toddler and sings along with me.  It’s great!

Here are some creative ways to use song and music in the ESL Classroom.  Please feel free to add a comment with your ideas.

Ways to use music in the ESL classroom:

  • Create atmosphere – Help make your students more engaged in a lesson with music that compliments the theme of your lessons.  For example, if you’re learning about a particular culture, play some of that music.
  • Cloze activities – Create your own or find some online to your favourite songs.  The Beatles are always popular in my classes, because enough people have heard their songs to know a few words or at least hum along.
  • Play the guitar – Playing a musical instrument in class is one of the BEST ways to engage your students, motivate them to participate or generally just make them laugh.  I’m not a stellar guitar player although I can work my way through a few songs, but that doesn’t matter to my students who appreciate that their “foreigner teacher” is a little more “human.”  Even just a little bit of strumming in the background of a lesson or while students are free-talking and you’re walking around definitely makes for a more comfortable space.
  • Teach about music – Teach your ESL students the real-life, practical vocabulary for music such as the different kinds of music, musical instruments, expressions about enjoying or not enjoying music, etc.  This can be very helpful for those interested in socializing with those who speak the language they’re learning, English.
  • Translating songs – This can be a difficult task, but having students translate simpler songs such as nursery rhymes from their native language into English could be an interesting group activity for them.
  • Teach about culture – Traditional music, musical instruments, song and stories can all be taught through music in an interesting way.
  • Teaching syllables – Have students drum beat the syllables in a word: music = (mu)(sic)! Good for beginners and young students.
  • Free Writing – This was a popular activity for some of my adult students… I played two or three different kinds of music (especially without lyrics) and had them just write down anything that came to their mind about how the music made them feel.   For example, for a classical baroque song some students would write sunshine, bright, cheerful, beach, party, meeting friends, and so on.  When the music was finished they could share some of their thoughts if they felt comfortable doing so.
  • Discussing a song – Using a song as a starting point of a lesson on a specific grammar point used in a song, vocabulary or topic.
  • Arranging the song – Print out the song lyrics in strips and have students organize them as they listen to the song.  Great for listening and a good group activity.
Hope this inspires you and your students to sing, sing… sing~! ^^

Learn to use Word EMPHASIS for English Fluency

14 Sep

I can’t emphasis enough how the proper use of  ’emphasis’ helps the ESL learner to sound more fluent when speaking English.  Learning how to use emphasis properly is helpful not only in preparing for English proficiency exams such as the TOEFL, IELTS or the TOEIC Speaking Test, but is equally important for academic and business situations.

Emphasis is the word in a sentence which is spoken with emphasis, in other words usually at a higher pitch and/or accompanied by a pause in speech.  There are a variety of reasons why emphasis is used.  Look at this list below for some reasons.

WHEN IS EMPHASIS USED?

  • the speaker wants to call to attention what is most important.  This is common when expressing opinions.
  • the speaker wants to imply or infer something without saying it directly.
  • the speaker is being accusatory.
  • the speaker is disagreeing with something said.
  • the speaker is being argumentative or sarcastic (emphasis is used liberally in arguing) ^^
  • the speaker has used inversion – in other words, changed the order of a sentence by adding a prepositional phrase at the beginning (example: SUDDENLY, the cat jumped up and scratched his face.)
  • the speaker wants to affirm or deny some action.  (example:  John DIDN’T go to school yesterday.)

LEARNING TO UNDERSTAND EMPHASIS

This is no easy task.  Becoming fluent in English is all about practice, exposure and time.  My husband is Korean and although is English is great, he still has difficulty with emphasis.  In fact, our conversation today inspired this blog post.  He said that when I speak Korean I add in English-style emphasis, when instead, I should learn to use proper Korean emphasis in all cases.  I suppose I had thought emphasis to be a more universal language tool… I was wrong.  There’s my ‘English-centric’ point of view creeping in again! 🙂

Since I’ve found that giving good examples is often the easiest way to “explain” something to my students, take a look below.  This is excerpted from a printable worksheet I created earlier which is in a matching activity for students. You can download it here: Jennifer Teacher – Using Emphasis

Take a look at the following examples, where the bolded words are emphasized.  Say them aloud and notice how the meaning, intention, inference or implication of the sentence changes.

a)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Someone else said it.

b)  did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Disputatious denial; Argumentative.

c)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Disputatious denial; Argumentative.

d)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  You stole something else.

e)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Someone else stole it.

f)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You did something else with the bandanna, not steal it.

g)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You stole someone elses’ bandanna.

h)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You stole one of a different colour.

i)    I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   I “implied/wrote/suggested” you stole it, not “said.”

TEST YOUR UNDERSTANDING!

Do these examples help you to understand the proper use of emphasis?   If so, try explaining the meanings of the following three sentences (leave a comment with your answers):

Q1)  Did you happen to get me a coffee, too?

Q2) What time are we supposed to meet on Saturday?

Q3) Why are you studying English?

MORE RESOURCES

If you feel you need some more help, try these external resources.  There aren’t many available on this unique subject, but here are a couple I’d recommend:

About.com: Learning to use Emphasis in English

Prof. Argenis A. Zapata: Ways of Expressing Emphasis in English

Transitional Words and Phrases for Essay Writing

16 Aug

Transitional words and phrases are very important when writing papers for academia, business or English proficiency exams.

Transitions help the reader to follow along with what you’re writing,  to make the points of your essay flow, and to show the relationship of your ideas to one another.  Transitions can go at the beginning ( Therefore, we ate at a restaurant.) or in the middle (We ate at a restaurant instead of at home) of a sentence.  When used properly, transitions can showcase your command of the written English language and get you top marks!

I’ve compiled a list of good transitions for you to use in your essays.  One of my favourite places to look for ‘transition inspiration’ is at Smart Words, have a look if you’d like.

Remember – not all transitions can be used in each instance.  You need to find the correct transition to express what it is you’re trying to say.  For example, you cannot use  “On the other hand, …” when you’re trying to compare two things that are similar as this phrase is for things that are contrasting or dissimilar.

When adding a thought or point:

  • also, moreover, as well as, in addition, furthermore, often, similarly, likewise, as expected, then, next, along these lines
When contrasting and comparing:
  • in comparison, instead, instead of, on the other hand, consequently, therefore, in contrast, similarly, yet, but, with this in mind, instead of, in place of, rather than, as a result, comparatively, likewise, correspondingly, however, still, rather, opposite, besides, conversely, on one hand
When giving examples:
  • for example, for instance, as you can see, as expected, namely, in this case, basically, often
When generalizing:
  • generally, often, typically, usually, in general, basically, mostly, in essence, at this time, nearly all
When outlining consequences:
  • consequently, therefore, finally, otherwise, so then, as a result, accordingly,
When sequencing your thoughts and points:
  • also, next, in addition, while, at first, first of all, next, soon, then, later, in time,
When restating a thought:
  • as mentioned, namely, that is to say, basically, as mentioned, to restate, in other words
When giving emphasis to a thought or point:
  • especially, particularly, above all, singularly, most importantly, primarily, as outlined, nearly all
When summarizing:
  • in conclusion, in essence, finally, in summary, on the whole, all things considered, to conclude

OTHER RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT:

Smart Words – List of transitional words for writing

Study Guides and Strategies – Transitional sentences

Writer’s Web – Transitional words and phrases

Does poetry help ESL students learn English?

29 Jul

Poems are expressions of how the writer sees the world around them.  They’re rhymes and cadence, tongue-twists and lyrics.  They can be haiku, stanzas, plays or songs.  Poetry is so many inspiring and motivating things, that if you’re not using poetry to learn English as a second language, you’re not embracing the culture from English-speaking countries.

Poems are temporal – they describe the poet’s feelings and their environment in which they live, looking at the world through their own eyes.  And one’s view of the world is influenced by the culture.

I love including poems into my ESL Classroom.  They’re so FLEXIBLE!  You can use poems with any other topic of discussion.

How can I use poetry to learn English

Whether you’re learning English by yourself or taking classes, it’s good to challenge yourself once in a while.  There are countless ways to learn English through poetry.  Any good TESOL teacher would already be employing many different ways to incorporate poetry into learning.   Importantly, you want to feel comfortable when with poems.  Remember, there really are no rules!  Just try to have fun and enjoy the challenge of learning.  Don’t be discouraged.

Try these suggestions yourself or with your ESL Teacher:

  • Do poetry theater, having students act out short plays.
  • Introduce children’s books.  You’ll find rhymes and rhythms, the words often sound pleasing and sing-song when read aloud by parents and educators.  This is a perfect approach for ESL Learners!  Of course, you don’t want to insult adult learners with children’s books, but bringing these concepts into the classroom through the pondering of poetry is a wonderful way to promote language learning and literacy.
  • Song clozes.  These can be of any kind of music and with varying degrees of difficulty.  A great cross lesson for learning slang.
  • Write haiku style poems about the weather or class.
  • Teach rhymes, riddles and tongue twisters and then have the students make their own.
  • Write a poem together as a class on a topic you’re learning about. Include key vocabulary.
Please leave a comment for discussion!
Have you tried some of these suggestions?  Which one was your favorite?  Thanks for sharing.
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