Author Archives: commonsenseesl

• ESL Student-Presentations (Part 2): An Effective, Modified Presentation Activity

Group Leader Cover Pt 2

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

In Part 1, I analyzed the assumptions teachers have made about having students do class-presentations. (See •ESL Student-Presentations (Part 1): Questioning the Reasons for Doing Them)

As I concluded in that post, there seems to be weak support for having students do class presentations. However, many ESL teachers would like to give each student the experience of speaking to a small group of classmates. These are the challenges:

  • The students should clearly understand how to carry out the activity.
  • The activity shouldn’t take up a lot of class time preparing.
  • What the “presenters” talk about should be of high interest.
  • The activity shouldn’t give the “presenters” increased levels of stress, but rather help them develop confidence and let them experience success.
  • The “presenters” should receive natural feedback on how well they were understood, but at the same time, the “audience” classmates should not be expected to be evaluators.
  • The “audience” classmates should not be merely passive listeners. They need to be motivated to be engaged during the activity.

And here is an activity that does all that.

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•ESL Student-Presentations (Part 1): Questioning the Reasons for Doing Them

Ink Cover presentation whole class

Our ESL program faced a mystery. For a couple of terms, students going from Conversation Level 3 (intermediate) to Level 4 (high-intermediate) were struggling with demonstrating basic conversation skills and some needed to repeat the course.

To analyze the problem, the Level 4 teacher recorded students in pairs and triads during an activity in which they were supposed to discuss a topic like “weekend plans,” “having kids in the future,” “social media,” and “emotions.” Then she showed the recordings to a small group of teachers, and we all noticed the same thing: the students weren’t actually interacting by asking a question, answering with some details, giving understanding responses or asking for clarifications and asking follow-up questions. Those are the skills that were supposed to have been introduced in Level 2 and reinforced in Level 3. Instead, those students tended to read from their paper a question which the partner(s) responded to briefly before reading the next question.

We asked the Level 3 teacher if he was surprised by his former students’ performance on these recordings. He said that he wasn’t too surprised because he had only spent half the term working on those skills, and during the other half of the term, he had them prepare and give presentations. His reasons, he told us, were based on his assumptions about the importance of doing presentations and also from some internet and YouTube sites promoting them.

This situation gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate our course goals and the basis for those. During our discussion, we examined the common assumptions for why teachers assign student-presentations.

Assumption 1: Presentations are an essential part of preparing ESL students to succeed in college course.  They are useful since students will surely have to make presentations in other classes, in college, and/or in their future jobs. In other words, ESL students should experience giving presentations because in 5 or 6 months from now when they are in mainstream classes, it is assumed that they’ll be giving presentations.

Response: To find out how true this assumption is, it’s helpful to learn what college actually instructors say.

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• Myth #2 about Teaching ESL Grammar: Teaching Grammar Doesn’t Improve Students’ Writing.

Cover Myths shot

I’ve always been perplexed by this claim by some teachers: Teaching grammar doesn’t improve students’ writing.  A problem with it is that it doesn’t define what is meant by “teaching grammar” nor what is meant by “improve students’ writing.”  It seems to imply that they have looked at every conceivable way that grammar could be taught and worked with, and they found that none were effective.

When I questioned their basis for this belief, I was often directed to some studies in the 1970s and 80s. Typically, these studies started with students writing a paper. Then for a period of time, they worked on diagramming sentences, doing sentence-combination exercises, identifying parts of speech and completing some grammar worksheets. After this, they wrote another paper, and surprise, surprise, the writing in their essays hadn’t improved. From this, they concluded: teaching grammar doesn’t improve students’ writing.

On top of that, one researcher claimed that his students’ writing got worse, and somehow, he even knew that it was because the students had become obsessed “with avoiding error at all costs, to the point where fluency, content, and reasoning lost their importance.” *

Some teachers have pointed to this “research” as support for their justification to not work with grammar in their writing courses. Their philosophy tends to be: students improve their writing by writing.

How Working with Grammar Can Improve Students Writing

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• ESL Students Can Increase Positive Emotions in Readers/Teachers with This Writing Technique

smiling teacher

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

After reading Curry’s essays, I often came away feeling especially good. This kind of surprised me because she wasn’t among the top writers in my class. Her grammar tended to breakdown at times, and her sentence style could be a bit simple. And yet, there was something special about her papers.

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