Give your colleagues some brain pleasure. Ask them for help.

Cover Asking help Shot

One day, a colleague, Sarah, who was relatively new to the ESL teaching field, told me about two grammar questions that one of her students had presented to her. (*If you are curious, you can see the questions and my explanation at the end of this posting.) She said that after class, she had spent quite a bit of time searching for answers on the internet but to no avail. Finally, she decided to ask me.

It turned out to be a fun interaction and a kind of puzzle for me to solve. On my drive home after classes that day, I realized that I was feeling great, but I didn’t think that there was any specific reason for it. A while later, I happened to come across some research that perhaps explained my exuberant emotion. And it had nothing to do with it being a Friday.

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Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 6: Happiness Is Not the Same in the East and West

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:

  • Many of the Asian students were surprised at how much Westerners think about happiness.
  • They enjoyed comparing with their classmates what made them feel good, and they realized that they were often quite different.
  • Some students were surprised that some of their classmates actually were uncomfortable with the idea of feeling happy.

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 own experiences about the topic.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different questions in the form of Student A, B or C.

About Discussion Activity 6: Happiness Is Not the Same in the East and West (and the handout).

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Myth 1 about Teaching Grammar: Focusing on grammar will stifle students’ ability to write.  

Myths shot

A former ESL Writing student of mine was quite surprised by her English Comp class.  She told me that her instructor isn’t concerned about the grammar in his students’ essays. At the same time, a common complaint by academic instructors heard around the campus at that college was that their (American) students had many grammar mistakes in their academic papers. In fact, the grammar skills of the students coming out of the English Comp classes were so weak that the Business Department decided to offer business writing courses that would deal with these grammar issues.

I decided to pursue this further by interviewing several English Comp instructors. In response to my question, “Why don’t you work with grammar in your courses,” I heard this, “Focusing on grammar will stifle students’ ability to write.”  In a college newspaper, an instructor explained, “An exaggerated focus on grammar stops the development of engaging and complex ideas.”

That sounds like a straw man argument. Yes, if an instructor assigns a paper and tells students that they would write one draft and that their grade would be based on the quality of grammar in their paper, then students might overly focus on that rather than their ideas.  But what professional instructor would do that?

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4th Free ESL Reading Unit:  Handwashing and Motivation (Surprising pre-coronavirus research)

Handwashing

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

Several years ago, long before the coronavirus pandemic, researchers found that restaurant workers and hospital staff members were very negligent about washing their hands. This article discusses a clever study that was conducted to find a way to reverse this trend by comparing positive and negative messages.  The results from the study can give us some interesting insights into how we might best motivate people in general.

Excerpts from paragraphs 2 and 11

2 We expect doctors and nurses to be aware of how important it is to wash their hands after they have examined or helped a patient.  They understand that if they don’t, they could spread a disease from one patient to another.  Surprisingly though, a researcher found that only 39% of hospital workers washed their hands properly.  That is almost the same as the 38% of restaurant workers who do.

 11 In sum, the researchers found that using a positive approach with the electronic board was much more effective than the negative signs about spreading disease.  Every time the staff members washed their hands, they received immediate positive feedback.  This positive feedback triggered a pleasure signal in their brains which they enjoyed getting.  In other words, they tended to repeat this action in order to experience that pleasure signal.  After a while, it became a habit, and they continued to do it even after the electronic boards were removed.

Article & Study Guide for Handwashing and Motivation

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ESL Writing Workshop: Tremendous Benefits for Students and Teachers

Blog Workshop Cover Shot

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

In this YouTube video, I describe the Writing Workshop Approach to teaching ESL writing skills. This approach has been successfully used by a large number of teachers. Some of the many benefits include motivating students by giving them autonomy and allowing teachers to conference one-on-one with students during the class time rather than outside class.

Here is the link to the YouTube video:ESL Writing Workshop on YouTube

Here is a link to where you can read more about the steps in the workshop approach and find a specific model lesson plan with free downloadable exercises/activities.

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When Marking Only Half of a Student’s Essay Makes the Most Sense.

Editing student

I learned an important lesson from one of my Writing class students. I originally thought that AJ was a pretty good writer, but the grammar on her second essay was a disaster. In class the next day, I showed her paper to her with all the grammar mistakes coded and asked her if she was surprised by them. With a look of embarrassment on her face, she said she wasn’t surprised because she hadn’t taken enough time to edit her paper.

This story about AJ is connected to a common myth about marking grammar on students’ papers: Students will feel discouraged if they see that they have a lot of grammar mistakes. Contrary to this myth, when I’ve asked students, “Do you want me to mark every grammar mistake on your essay or only the most serious errors?” I have found everyone has responded, “I want you to mark them all.” 

(See Myth: Students Don’t Like to See Red Marks on Their Papers for more about my survey of students’ attitude.)

However, the idea of marking all the grammar mistakes can present a dilemma for us Writing teachers. Are we just enabling students like AJ by, in essence, becoming their personal editor when, in fact, they could have found the majority of those mistakes on their own had they taken the time to proofread the essay?

(See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills for more about marking students’ grammar mistakes more effectively.)

This is how my experience with AJ changed how I approach marking grammar on essays.

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