(This posting includes handouts which you are welcome to use with your students.)
When written with enough details by students, a person description can be fascinating for teachers to read and can give them great insight into their students’ lives.
And, best of all, after they have learned some specific tools, these can be a lot of fun for students to write.
Needless to say, when we talk about a person-description writing assignment, most people first think about physical appearance. However, that is only one aspect of a person that students can include in their papers. There are several other characteristics that they can describe, for example, habits, routines, plans, likes, and dislikes.
Teaching These Tools Inductively
For some strange reason, some ESL instructors think they can improve any activity by making it as some kind of competition between students or between groups. Unfortunately, doing this can be counterproductive and actually discourage the most serious students.
To illustrate, consider an information-gap activity like the one from the March 1st posting Another Conversation Activity: Listen to Partner and Ask Questions to Complete Information-Gap Chart . In this, pairs of students fill in missing information in a schedule by talking, asking questions, and using clarification strategies.
Imagine the teacher tells the students that he will give a prize to the pair who finishes the schedule first. This is what will happen and how students will miss out on the skills that the activity is meant to develop.
I conducted a survey of 26 students to find out how they felt about getting red marks, which indicated grammar mistakes, on their writing assignments. I was motivated to do this after some colleagues had told me students get upset or dejected when they see these, so they only marked a few mistakes, and one even changed to a different color, thinking that, like her, students associated red marks with something negative.
Three types of marks on students papers
When I give students feedback on their writing assignments, I want them to notice three things:
- Good writing points. These are ideas, details, examples, expressions, sentence styles, grammar that they did well. I underline these in GREEN to indicate good. (See Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique for more details.)
- Weak grammar points. These are grammar mistakes or wordings that they should revise to improve their papers. I try to indicate these in a way that seem like a puzzle that can be stimulating for students to discover. I use RED to indicate these. (See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills for more details.)
- Places to improve content. These are places where students could improve their papers by adding details and/or including examples. I use BLUE to indicate these. (See “Wow” is not Necessarily the Goal in Students’ Essays and The Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates for more details.)
The survey question to students: If you could only have one type of mark on your papers, which one would you choose?
If those colleagues who thought students were upset by red marks (grammar mistakes) were right, then it would seem that the students would not choose that option, and in fact, probably prefer the Green (good parts) option. Spoiler Alert: that didn’t happen.
I recently got emails from some of you that you had clicked on “Follow this Blog” and entered your email address but haven’t been getting notifications of new postings.
I asked WordPress about this, and they said that they always send a verification email to everyone who signs up to follow the blog, and these recipients need to click reply to the email to confirm this. Sometimes the verification email goes to Spam, so they recommended that I mention this to followers: please check you Spam.
Thank you all who have contacted me.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
At first, this pair-work activity looks like it’s about getting students to talk a lot by filling information in a chart. But that’s not the most important value of it.
Yes, students will talk a lot during this. But by including a short pre-exercise, they will see how they should ask clarification questions when they need more information or if they didn’t understand. Asking clarification questions is the strategy that they can use in future conversation situations in and outside the classroom.
In this activity, the students will be filling in information about a class schedule. They’ll need to listen to their partners tell them the name of courses, days, times and room numbers. They’ll have many chances to ask questions, especially if they don’t understand.
There are three steps in this activity:
- Step 1: Brief work with a model showing how to do Step 2.
- Step 2: Pair activity (Student A/ Student B)
- Step 3: Exercise to do if they finish before other pairs have finished.
Everything that we say to our students can have a big impact. For us ESL instructors that can be exhilarating, but it’s also a big responsibility. Unfortunately, without realizing it, some instructors are sending the wrong message to students with “innocent” comments. These are four statements that are in this category.
1) Teacher’s statement: Just before handing out the quiz, she says, “This quiz will be easy.”
Message that students get: If a student starts the quiz and notices that it isn’t easy, he’s likely to think, “Wow! I must be stupid. This quiz is supposed to be easy. My classmates probably know all this.”
What the message should be: “This quiz will help us see how well you’ve developed your skills so far and what we’ll need to practice more.”
2) Teacher’s statement: “You have all worked so hard this week, so I won’t give you any homework. I want you all to just enjoy your weekend.”
Message that students get: “Homework is painful. It just interferes with free time. It’s best if we can avoid it.”
What the message should be: “I’ve prepared a homework assignment that will lead you to developing your skills more. It’s going to help you do well on our assignments next week and in the class that you will be in next term.”
This posting includes sample lessons that give students a lot of autonomy.
The most important ingredient for motivating students is autonomy. 1 The sense of being autonomous can produce a very positive effect on students’ attitude, focus and their performance. Best of all, it’s very effective and quite easy to include this in ESL classes.
Having autonomy doesn’t mean that students decide what is taught in a lesson. Instead, students can experience autonomy if the lesson is set up so that they can individually choose which exercise to do first, second etc., how fast to work, when to ask the teacher a question or for help and even when to take a break.
A lesson plan template that gives students autonomy (Writing Workshop)
Teachers can organize their lesson in a Writing Workshop using many different types of materials, but it works best when using inductive exercises. That is because inductive exercises require little or no time taken up with teacher lectures.
These are General Steps for a Writing Workshop and Sample Specific Lesson with handouts