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.
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.
I love teaching conversation in the ESL classroom. Part of it must be that because the students able to “converse” in English are
better able to demonstrate their personalities, preferences, thoughts… and therefore, I get to know them better. Often it is simply hilarious to see the range of answers students feel free to share in a comfortable environment.
If you’re a conversation teacher in an English as a Second Language classroom, there may be times when you feel as though you want fresh ideas, a change in routine or some way to remain slightly unpredictable so your students remain curious as to what tricks you have up your sleeves.
Always remember to keep in mind your students’ unique personalities and language learning journey, and never underestimate how engaged they can become with the right activity!
Here is a list of 26 fresh ESL Conversation Starters to move your class!
- Me, Only Better – Have each student name one thing they would love to change about themselves – either physical “I want a nose job”; a personality trait “I want to be more patient.”; or any other thing they concoct.
- Top Chef – Give your students a list of 3-5 ingredients, from tame to strange, and ask them what they would cook with them, using all the ingredients. How would they prepare it? Who do you think in the class would win top chef?
- Time Capsule – What would you want the people in the year 2200 to know about life on Earth right now? What objects best represent who we are as people, our accomplishments, our joys and sorrows? What would your students include? A good group activity where everyone has to make a suggestion and then explain their reasons why they feel it is important. If they found a time capsule from 1900, what do they think would be in it? Change the year to see how the contents of the time capsule change.
- Horoscopes – Print out the horoscopes from the day’s newspaper and everyone takes turns reading their horoscope. Does it seem to match what is happening in their life? Perhaps you could then have them write the horoscope they would love to see printed!
- What colour are you? – Everyone has to write down which colour best represents them and take turns describing why. Go around the circle naming things that are that colour until the group gets stuck. Change colours.
- If I won the lottery… – They should write down two of the things they would do first if they won the lottery. What does this tell us about who they are, if anything? A good intro for teaching conditionals.
- What is your dream job? – People take turns describing their dream job. Why don’t they take the steps to achieve it? How would their life be different if they were in their dream job?
- Biggest Fear – People share the thing they’re most afraid of. This can be fun and superficial, or can get quite serious and personal.
- Genie in a Bottle – Three wishes granted! What would they choose?
- Numerology – If you’re born on September 21, 1983, your number would be calculated as follows: 9 (Sept) + 2 +1 +1 +9 +8 +3 =33 … 3+3 = 6. Your number would be 6. Print out the numerology meanings of the different numbers and have the students see if they feel they’re a match to their number.
- “The worst thing I NEVER did” – People love to feel they did the right thing, so have your students talk about a time when they were tempted to do a bad thing but in the end remained virtuous. Can be quite funny, and range from tame to outrageous.
- Call me Pharaoh – If you were going to be buried like a pharaoh, what would you want included in your tomb? Depending on the size of your group, you may need to limit the items to 5 or less.
- Bucket List – A list of things they want to do before “kicking the bucket,” or in other words, before they die. Again, you may need to have everyone go around and start with the first thing, then second round the second thing… keeps people talking. Engage listeners to raise their hand if they would do it, touch their nose if they wouldn’t, etc.
- Ask me a Question – Everyone gets to ask the teacher one question that should be answered honestly (well, as honestly as you feel you should professionally). Be prepared, students love this!
- Name three things in your Bedroom/Bathroom/On your desk – Make it even harder by not allowing them to repeat something that another person has already said.
- Going on a Picnic – What would you bring to our imaginary picnic? One of my favourite answers ever received for this one.. “a string quartet” Yes! You’re invited! 🙂
- What is your favourite _________? – This blank can be filled in by almost anything! …movie, actor/actress, hobby, thing to do before going to bed, subject in school, food, thing to share… And don’t forget to give reasons.
- What was your last purchase? What was the last thing each student bought before class started? Have every student ask a question about each other’s purchases.
- Maestro, If You Please – Play a piece of classical or world music, without words preferably so students can concentrate on how the music moves them. Have them write down answers to the 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where, Why. For example: Where is this music taking place? Students share and discuss their answers. It’s really interesting to see the diversity of answers.
- Guilty Pleasure – Have your students “fess up” and share one of their guilty pleasures… Okay, mine is eating raw cookie dough! I just can’t help it!
- Desert Island – If you were to become stranded on a desert island in the middle of the ocean, what would you want to have with you? Have students try to narrow down the items to 6 and then 3 and then only 1! Interesting to see who chooses for comfort and who chooses for survival – or is this the same thing? 🙂 If there were only one other person they could bring on the island with them, who would it be?
- Grandma’s Words – Your students should pretend they’re giving their best piece of advice for a younger generation. Have each person share their own personal wisdom and then perhaps share it as a group.
- “You should have been there!” – Have students describe the best, most fun day of their life and tell us why we should have been there! Who would have liked to share in that day and why? Who wouldn’t?
- I Never – A game that never gets tiring. Students take turns saying something they’ve never done, for example “I’ve never ridden a horse” or “I’ve never driven a bus,” and anyone who has actually done these things has to tell a story about it.
- Whodunnit? – Everyone writes down one amazing thing they’ve done that seems outrageous or surprising. All the ideas go into a hat and people take turns pulling ideas out and guessing who has done the amazing thing.
- Things – I love this game! Who has played it? Choose a topic…such as “Things you shouldn’t say to your mailman” or “Things you should eat while driving” and have students write down answers on slips of paper. Put them in a hat and take turns drawing answers (make sure to have them hide their pens!) Who wrote which answer? This is a favourite cottage game with my friends and I…
And if that’s not enough, The Internet TESOL Journal
has about a thousand additional questions to get your conversation class started!
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post – 25 Challenging Vocabulary Words from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina – I’ve undertaken a Literacy Project with a couple of my advanced ESL students who were interested in joining me in reading books from the Modern Library’s 100 Best Books List.
This extra-curricular reading project was inspired when, after browsing the list and realizing I had only read a mere 17 on the list of 100, I felt quite embarrassed with myself! Since then I’ve read two more to up my count to 19 – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was fantastic, poetic, quick and wonderful that I read it in two short days (keeping in mind that I’m a working mom to a toddler, I felt this was a great feat! ^^).
I wonder how many of the books from this list you’ve read? What’s your count? How literary are today’s English teachers? If you don’t mind sharing your answer, please leave a comment. This could be interesting! Again, the link is here.
While on the topic, I thought I’d throw in a couple of helpful links I’ve found for teachers on…
PROMOTING LITERACY in the ESL CLASSROOM
Adult ESL Literacy Survival Guide for Instructors – By Janet Massaro for ELSAnet
Literacy Connections – Promoting Literacy and a Love for Reading
BC Ministry of Education – Resources for Teachers: Improving Literacy
Hello, eh! Native English speaking Canadians may have the best pronunciation amongst ESL Teachers worldwide. Whether or not you agree, Canadians do have a crisp, clear way of speaking and can often be good listeners, a skill ever so important in conversation.
So how does an aspiring student of English learn to speak like a Canadian?
- Seek out a Canadian conversation tutor who you can spend time talking with, picking up their style of speech, idiomatic expressions and pronunciation.
- Listen to CBC Radio Podcasts on your mp3 player when walking through town or riding the bus. Try to imitate how they’re speaking. They have quite a selection of available podcasts, but the Radio 1 is my favourite.
- Watch Canadian films and TV programs – yes, we make movies and TV shows, too.
- Find a pen pal that you can have Skype conversations with! If you’re interested in this opportunity, please let me know.
If you have experience with Canadian ESL teachers, tutors or friends – please leave a comment below and tell us what you think of their English!
There are many reputable (and some less reputable) study guide books available in multiple languages, aimed at helping students better prepare for their TOEFL test. With so many books to choose from, you want to find the one or two that will really help you achieve TOEFL success.
When you’re choosing a study guide book one of the first things you’ll want to do is be sure to consider the type of TOEFL test you need to prepare for. Not many places still offer the written test, so you’re more likely to write a computer-based test (CBT) or an internet-based test (iBT). Also, look for a current edition.
ETS (Educational Testing Service) is the company that manages and creates the TOEFL tests, and so naturally their study guides are really popular.
Look for guide books that have CD’s to help with listening comprehension and audio exercises. Sample tests should also be included, preferrably with answer keys. I find the student planners included in some books help my students reach their study objectives in an organized manner.
The essay-writing section of the book should be clear and with many examples and opportunities to write your own. Practice drills of all aspects of the TOEFL test are key to success.
If the study guide your considering doesn’t meet the above recommendations, keep looking! And remember, this is a challenging test and there is no “magic book” that will magically prepare you for your TOEFL test. You’ll need to study hard, work with an ESL Teacher or Tutor who specializes in TOEFL test prep and find opportunities to practice the language.
For those serious about learning English I suggest using what I’ve coined the “triple threat” learning approach to language studies. A stool needs three legs before you can sit on it, and learning a language requires a multi-disciplined approach.
Take an academic English program/course. Finding a reputable school or academy with a program that matches your learning objectives is the first step to language learning success. They should be able to provide quality learning materials, samples of student’s work before and after their program, an itinerary and ample opportunity to put the material your learning into action. Looked for TESOL based education programs that understand the process of how people learn second languages.
Work with a Tutor to target problem areas. The next step is finding a tutor who can meet with you one-on-one to target the areas you’re having problems with at the academy. They should be able to guide you to the point where you do the homework yourself, clarify any lessons you didn’t understand, polish your grammar, and hone your communication skills. Before going with anyone advertising themselves as a tutor, be sure to ask for their teaching credentials and experience, and references. If they can’t give you a quality reference, keep looking!
Find a language exchange partner, preferably a native speaker whom you can practice with. Practice makes perfect is especially true with language learning. They help you with pronunciation, gently correct your mistakes, teach you natural spoken English, slang and expressions. Try to find a language exchange partner that will either help you out of the kindness of their heart or one that you actually have to pay. To find a suitable companion who you can engage as a language exchange partner, consider: joining church groups, finding free language programs offered by immigration and government services, joining sports teams and other social groups; as well as placing ads in local newspapers and online. (When using the online approach, make sure to always meet in a coffee shop or other busy setting and never give away your address or personal information!)
For students in Seoul, South Korea, please see my schedules or contact me for available classes, tutoring and language exchange opportunities.
In the competitive Korean job market of today, being fluent in English is a big advantage to those looking to land good jobs. Most students who want to get ahead of the competition will study abroad, travelling to the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the UK. They want to perfect their English and become experts in their field of study at the same time.
For Koreans to study abroad in the top 100 Universities and Colleges in the US, they need to take the TOEFL test. There are over 8,000 educational institutions worldwide that accept your TOEFL test score as a basis of entrance. You can see a list of all the schools that accept TOEFL. In short, if you want to study abroad, travel the world and improve your chances of landing a career job in Korea, TOEFL success is a very important step in the right direction.
Some of my students have taken the TOEFL test and gone on to study in the US and Canada. I help students succeed at TOEFL. If you’d like to prepare to take the TOEFL test, please contact me.
Welcome! You’ve reached a meeting place where I can share my teaching skills, interact with students and provide resources to learners of English as a Second Language (ESL).
I’m in Canada right now, busy preparing lesson plans and daydreaming about my new classroom in Mok-Dong, Seoul. Very exciting!
Students can contact me to reserve a space for my group classes or for individualized study partnerships starting in September, 2011. Learn more about me as well as my available teaching services and schedules.
Yours In Learning,