Author Archives: commonsenseesl

Common Teacher Myth: Students Don’t Like to See Red Marks on Their Papers.

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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?

Color code survey

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.

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Did you sign up to follow Common Sense ESL but are not getting notifications of new postings??

 

WHY

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.

David Kehe

Another Conversation Activity: Listen to Partner and Ask Questions to Complete Information-Gap Chart 

image schedule chart

(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.

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Advice: Don’t Say These 4 Things to Your Students

Cheating

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.”

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Most Important Motivator of Students: How You Can Use It

autonomy

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

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Conversation Activity: Stimulating Students to Listen and Respond to Each Other

 

conversation listen respond

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

Students are going to make the most progress in their conversation skills if they get into the habit of doing two things:
(1) Listen carefully to what the other person is saying and
(2) Respond to what was said.

This information-gap activity is great practice for a couple of reasons.  First, students will immediately know if they hadn’t understood clearly what their partner had said.  And second, it provides an example of  how to respond to what the partner had said.

There are three exercises in this activity.

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“Finally I now Understand What Nouns, Subjects and Verbs are.” (And it took only 30 minutes to learn inductively.)

Is beautiful today.

We the soccer match on TV.

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

Ellie immigrated to the U.S. with limited English skills after she had graduated from college in her country.  As with many ear-learners, she gradually picked up English from talking, listening to the media and reading.  In other words, she had no formal training in English.

Here in the U.S., she has a good job in family counseling, but in order to be promoted, she needs to improve her writing skills, so she enrolled in an adult education class.  Unfortunately, the “direct” approach the instructors took of presenting rules and assigning exercises was not effective for her.  After months of studying, she became frustrated and embarrassed when she couldn’t even identify mistakes with subjects and verbs.

When she entered my academic ESL class, she demonstrated an advanced style of writing and vocabulary but had some breakdowns with basic grammar and struggled to fix these.  For example, she once started a paragraph with this sentence:

            People are social beings who has a need to be connected to other beings.

To help her edit her paragraph, I told her that there was a verb mistake in the first sentence.  She looked embarrassed and uncomfortable and after about 20 seconds of starring at the paper asked me to remind her of what a verb was.  In her next two sentences, she wrote:

            Individuals cannot be isolated for too long.  Through our brains, have the ability to connect with other’s emotions and develop empathy.

I pointed out that in the last sentence, she was missing a subject.  Again, with a pained look on her face she said she couldn’t remember was subjects were.

I realized that for me to be able to lead her to her mistakes and not just tell her what they were and how to change them, she needed to first be able to identify subjects and verbs.  So I gave her these three worksheets : Inductive exercises for nouns ; Inductive exercises for subjects ;  Inductive exercises for verbs . I should point out that I didn’t spend any time talking to her about subject and verbs or about how to do the worksheet.  (Feel free to download and use those exercises with your students.)

The results

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