Conversation Technique: Don’t Kill the Conversation. What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say.

kill the conversation

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

There a fewer better ways to kill a conversation than to do one of these after being asked a question:

  • Say nothing for a long time while trying to think about what to say.
  • Say, “Ummmmmm. Ahhhhh” for a long time while trying to think.
  • Just say, “I don’t know.”

It’s quite common for ESL students to be in situations like this.  They are asked a fairly common question like, “What will you do this weekend?”  Then their brains have to imagine what their plans are and how to explain those plans often using their limited vocabulary and grammar knowledge.  That process can take time.  In the meantime, knowing that the questioner is waiting for an answer to a question that would be easy to answer in his/her own language, the student is feeling pressure to answer quickly, feeling embarrassed that it is taking so long and feeling stress from appearing foolish.

In the meantime, the person who asked the question can often feel impatient or frustrated while waiting for a response.  The questioner will wonder if the students didn’t understand the question or if they don’t know what to say or if they just aren’t interested.

Too often in situations like this, the conversation dies and the questioner moves on to talk to someone else, and the students is left feeling foolish and abandoned.

This activity will lead students to learn a technique that completely prevents that from happening. It’s called, “Don’t kill the conversation.”

Here is how it works and here is a link to the activity handout.

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Simple Technique ESL Students can use to Impress Their Academic Instructors

 

impressed instructor

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Imagine that you are mainstream instructor (e.g. Psychology, English Comp, Economic), and as students enter the classroom, some stop to talk to you.

First, Josh approaches you and says, “That article you told us to read was so boring.”

Later, Ryan mentions to you,  “I found some interesting information in that article you told us to read.”

Of course you want your students to give their honest opinion, but it’s only natural that you’ll probably have a better impression of Ryan than Josh.  That positive impression could even have a favorable outcome for him when you are assigning grades.

This post is about a writing technique that our ESL students can use in their mainstream (academic) classes which can make a positive impression on their instructors.

Most instructors in any field think that their subject area is very interesting. For example, psychology, history, economics, English lit and engineering instructors often think that their subjects are the most interesting and important ones in the world. Needless to say, they love to hear their students say that they also think their classes are fascinating. Thus, our students can use this insight to stand out in the minds of their instructors.  And it could affect their grade in a positive way.

In addition, it involves good critical thinking.

Here is how it works and a handout activity to practice it.

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Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 3: “Does Social Media Make People Sadder?”

Discussion triads

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

  1. They were interested to hear how their classmates used social media.
  2. They thought it was funny how they tended to post positive events in their lives rather than negative.
  3.  The article stimulated them to be “honest” about their reactions to the effects of social media.
  4. They discovered that some of their classmates have stopped using social media.

Here is the basis for this discussion: In an episode of NPR’s “Hidden Brain,” Shanker Vedantam explores the effects that social media can have on people. He shares examples of people who found themselves feeling dissatisfied with their lives after comparing themselves with others.  After reading the one-page article that I drew from that episode, my students were eager to share their experiences with their classmates.  The ideas in the article seemed to resonate with them.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.

About Discussion Activity 3: Does Social Media Make People Sadder? and the handout.

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The Eyes Have It: Keeping Students Focused During Group Work

Eyes image

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

I once had a colleague who was feeling distraught because her students didn’t seem to take group work seriously.  Her students tended to chat instead of doing the task and often finished early without completing it.  She asked me to observer her class to see if I could come up with any suggestions.

Within a few minutes of observing her class, I was reminded of a social psychology study that seemed related to her situation.  As you read the summary of the study below, you may wonder how this could be connected to ESL students working in groups.  Bear with me.

The study

The Psychology Department at Newcastle University conducted this interesting study using their coffee station.  There was a sign above the coffee station:

Smaller coffee station screenshot

As you can see, it operates on an honor system.  For the 10-week study, researchers taped a picture of flowers for a week over the coffee station and then switched to a picture of a pair of staring eyes for a week.  They continued to alternate these pictures each week.

This is where it gets interesting

During the weeks that the poster of the eyes was staring, coffee and tea drinkers contributed almost three times as much money as in the weeks that the flower picture was on the wall.  What’s so amazing is that it was just a PICTURE of eyes, not an actual person, which seemed to make people more honest.

The researchers conducted a similar study to see if the flowers or eyes pictures could motivate people to clean up after their meals.  In that study, the number of people who cleaned up doubled when the eye picture was present compared to when the flower picture was.

How this social psychological study is connected to teaching ESL

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A Question From a Reader: “Mario is supposed to study.” What is the Verb? Is “to study” an Infinitive?

Questions

Somehow, I managed to teach ESL for over 10 years before I learned what this is.  The expression “is supposed to” is called a semi-auxiliary verb.  In the sentence in the title, “study” is the main verb.

The expressions below are all called semi-auxiliary verbs.  They are followed by the main verb.

  •  (have) to
  •  (be) supposed to
  •  (be) able to
  •  (be) going to

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One of Best Uses of an ESL Program’s Funds—And a Giant Help to Teachers.

Reading Journals

This is one of the best things we’ve implemented in programs where I’ve taught for three reasons:

1. It has helped students improve their reading and writing skills, and grammar, and vocabulary.
2. It adds NO EXTRA WORK for teachers.
3. It costs relatively little money.

As most teachers in the field already know, one of the best ways for students to improve their skills is to do more reading.  (See A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More a detailed example).  However, adding more reading assignments usually means more work for the teacher—in the form of worksheets or quizzes or  feedback in some way—because students need to be held accountable for actually doing the assignments.

Here is the Perfect Solution

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Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 2: Loneliness Might Not Be What You Think

Discussion triads

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

1) Since almost all the students were living away from home, they were able to relate to the challenge of connecting to new people.
2) They seemed interested in hearing how their classmates were coping with living away from home: some loved it and some felt lonely.
3) They enjoyed discussing how social media is both helpful and harmful especially concerning making connections to people.
4) They seemed surprised that some of their classmates are not especially connected to their family members.

Here is the basis for this discussion: According to research, loneliness has little connection to how many people are around us.  In his book,  Lost Connections,  Jonathan Hari explains that loneliness is caused by a loss of connection to others. To end loneliness, according Hari, we need two things: other people and a feeling that we are sharing something meaningful or something we care about with another person or other people.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.

About Discussion Activity 2: Loneliness Might Not Be What You Think and the handout.

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