Author Archives: commonsenseesl

Innovative Approach to Writing: Introduce a new Unit with a Listening Activity

Best Friend Surprised Image

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

It can seem like our students have about a 20-second attention span.  So we try to squeeze in introductions to new Writing units during that period of time before they start thinking about text messages, their lunch, tonight’s date, last night’s date …

There is an effective and stimulating method for getting students to immediately interact with a new Writing unit through a listening activity.  We want them to feel engaged as they focus on the format and techniques that they will use when they eventually write an essay in this mode.  This approach does it in a user-friendly, enjoyable way.  Also, a side benefit is that students internalize some new sentence styles and new vocabulary.

First example of this approach

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Grammar point: “Before going to sleep, I always check under my bed for monsters.”  What is “going”?


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

One of the most common grammar questions I’ve been asked by students or tutors whom I’ve trained or new teachers whom I’ve mentored concerns sentences like:

“While eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.” [Subordinator (While) + Verb-ing (eating).]

Question: Grammatically speaking, what is “eating”?

It’s called a reduced form.  The writer is reducing an adverb clause to a phrase.
Original sentence: While we were eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.
      Reduced form: While eating our dinner, we enjoyed the sunset.

We can use these with subordinators like before, after, while and since.

This phrase can come at the beginning of a sentence as in the example above and in the title of this post or in the middle of a sentence:
     She bumped into a chair while she was looking at her smartphone.
      She bumped into a chair while looking at her smartphone.

Two points that students need to know

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Customized Speaking/Listening “Game” (Actually, more than just a game.)

Odd Man Out image

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

While the students were in engaged in this activity in triads, I was standing on the perimeter.  I could overhear the list that Vy read, but couldn’t think of anything special about the four names except the obvious one that Julie was the only non-Asian.  A minute later, I heard the sudden explosion of laughter and talking from them.  I realized that they had shared an inside joke.

The basis of this game (Odd Man Out) might sound familiar to many of you.  But by exploiting it more, it turns into a great interactive activity that is not only fun but also a chance to internalize many useful expressions and produce a lot of conversation.  And students are intent on listening to each other.

In its simplest format, student read a list of four words to their partners.  The partners have to choose which word is strange or odd or special and explain why.  For example:
cat, lion, dog, fish

Most of us would probably identify “fish” as being odd because it is the only one that lives in water.  However, another choice could be “lion,” since the others are common pets.

Making this a good learning tool and customizing it

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2nd Free Reading Unit.  Reading for Insight: The Candy Test: Controlling Impulses

Candy Test image

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

See FREE Reading Units: Reading for Insights (Introduction)  for an introduction to these reading units.

Article & Study Guide for The Candy Test: Controlling Impulses (and excerpts)

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Most Important Tool for Classroom Management (Case two and Caveat)

Classroom management

“David, Please report to the Director’s office as soon as your class finishes.  He needs to talk to you.”  A program assistant handed me a note with those sentences on it.  Gulp!

In the early 1980s, my wife and I, without much thought, accepted teaching positions on the Greek island of Lesbos.  It was a Greek island, so what could possible go wrong?

It was a prep school that high school students attended in the late afternoons/evenings after high school to study English.  Shortly after arriving, we met one of the teachers whom we were replacing.  He told us that the school had a lot of discipline problems because many of the students didn’t want to be there.  He said that the teacher-turnover was quite high as a result.  In fact, a couple of teacher had just disappeared a few months earlier.

On the first day of class, as we walked down the hallway, we could see students literally chasing each other around the class rooms and jumping on the desks.  My first class was with 16 tenth-grade students.  Although most of the students paid little attention to me but instead continued to chat as I started the lesson, there were three female students sitting in the front row appearing eager to begin.  Those three became the focus of my attention.  Gradually, most of the others started to engage in the lesson, while a couple slept or doodled or looked out the window.

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Most Important Tool for Classroom Management (First Case)


African classroom

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

This “tool” has helped me remain calm in many stressful teaching situations.  Without this, I probably would have changed careers many years ago.  I discovered this tool during my first month of teaching ESL when I was in Africa in the Peace Corps.

Here is what happened that first time in Africa.  One day early in the term, I was conducting a lesson in a class of 35 students.  Sitting in the front row were two popular students, Kato (the class president) and his best friend, Abdula.  They were have a good time privately whispering and laughing while I was explaining the lesson.  I could tell the other students had noticed them, so I knew I had to do something before the other students would start talking and I’d lose control of the class.  Because Kato and Abdula were popular, I knew that I could alienate the other students if I didn’t handle this situation delicately.  I could feel my stomach churning and blood pressure rising.   Probably many teachers would have the same initial inclination that I had which would be to just tell them to stop talking.  But what if I did that, and they continued talking?  Then what could I do?   I decided to not say anything right then and to think about it after class.

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