Author Archives: commonsenseesl

Pleasure of teaching ESL (Part 1)

Leipzig, Herder-Institut, Gaststudenten

Three experiences in the past week that reminded me about why teaching ESL is such an entertaining job.

First experience:  After class, I was reading a passage in which one of my Vietnamese students had written.  She was describing a time when she had a close call while driving.  “Suddenly, a car which was coming toward me crossed over into my lane.  It scared the hell out of me!

Second experience:  A few weeks into the term, one of my more out-going Indonesian students entered the room and said, “Wassup!”

Third experience: I was handing back some homework to my students before class started.  As I gave one of my Taiwan female students her paper in which there were some mistakes marked, she looked at it and said, “What the fu!”  Then she smiled and asked me, “Is it OK if I say that to a teacher?”  I asked her if she knew what that meant, and she said she didn’t, but she had heard someone say it in a movie and thought it would be fun to try out.

To many people in the outside world, our job for teaching ESL looks like a lot of fun.  People have told me, “It must be so interesting working with students from different countries and cultures every day.”  And most of us would agree.  But what they are imagining is only a tiny part of what makes this such a great job.  We can never predict what our students will come up with next as they learn and try out the language.

David Kehe

A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More

 

Reading while eating

Reading every chance you get.

An international student, Emily, was really struggling with the grammar in her writing assignments.  Even though she worked with a tutor, she was continuously making basic mistakes.  Last fall, we reluctantly promoted her to my higher-level Writing course.  She started out as the third lowest in grammar-in-writing skills out of 17 students.  Ten weeks later, she was the second best.  I was totally amazed!

At the end of the Fall term, she passed my class and then took English Comp (English 101) during the Winter term.  She got an A.

I had a chance to talk to her about her remarkable turn-around.  What she did is not beyond what other students can do.  After that opportunity that I had to talk to her, every term, I share with all my students her story.  Here is the PowerPoint that I use to do this in case you’d like to tell your students about how a peer of theirs was able to improve the grammar in her writing in a relatively short time.  True story about improving grammar in writing thru reading

I’ll summarize what she had done below.

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For Large-Class Conversation Instructors, You Can “See” if Students are Using Techniques

Pair Conversation

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

You,the conversation teacher, are happy because the noise level in the room is high.  That means that the 12 pairs of students (24 total) are engaged in the conversation activity.   At the start of the next class, you want to give them feedback on their performance today, especially because you want to give positive comments to those who are very active.  There are also a couple of pairs who need some “re-direction.”

Needless to say, you’re not going to be able to give each student specific feedback specifically on what they said because you can’t actually hear them above all the talking.  But you can actually see whether or not they are using conversational techniques.  (See previous posts of two important techniques Conversation magic: Two most important conversation techniques (Part 1) and Conversation magic: Two most important techniques. (Part 2)

Even if you can’t hear them, you can see if they are engaging in a natural conversation; it looks like ping-pong, in which they are reacting to each other, asking follow-up questions and giving understanding responses.  You can also see if they are more like bowling, in which one monologs for a while while the other “zones out,” then the other monologs.  You can see if someone is dominating and if someone is very passive.  Interestingly, you can even see if they have switch from English to their native language; often when they do this, their voices lower and their faces aren’t as animated perhaps to “hide” from the instructor.

If you suspect that a pair isn’t using natural conversation techniques or isn’t speaking in English, there are things that you can do.

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Give the Writer not the Editor Control during Peer Editing in Writing Class

Writer peer editor

Writer has control during peer editing

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

After a peer-editing session, a student said, “My peer editor was kind of rude.  He was too critical and told me to change my grammar in places that were not wrong.  He also told me to change my thesis statement.  But I think I already had a good one.”

Another students said, “My peer editor read my essay and filled out the checklist.  She said she found nothing that needed to be improved.  I was surprised because I think some parts were weak.”

There is a peer-editing process which can alleviate the problem of the over-critical editor and under-involved one.  In this process, the peer-editor is NOT expected to find places to improve; instead the writer solicits specific advice.  In other words, the writer has control.

The peer editing activity below involves critical thinking on the part of the writer.  Unlike the common peer-editing format of the instructor providing questions /checklists for the peer to complete while reading their partner’s essay, in the approach described below, the writers themselves decide what advice/help they would like from their peers.

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Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 1)

talking passive

Not just listening

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

There are techniques which guarantee that all students will be engaged in a discussion.  In other words, the discussion will look like a game of table tennsi, in which students react and respond to what their group members have said.  It doesn’t look like bowling, in which one member tell his/her opinion, followed by a second member, then by a third etc., without necessarily even listening to the other members.

Some of the techniques that compel students to listen to each other and actively interact are:

  • asking follow-up questions
  • seeking and giving clarification
  • using comprehension checks
  • soliciting more details from others
  • interrupting others during a discussion
  • helping the leader of a discussion

A great technique to practice early in a discussion course is “seeking and giving clarifications.”  This involves using expressions such “Did you say …?”  “I didn’t understand …”  “Can you explain … more?”

After students have used the two attached handout-activities, they usually find the technique to be a “tool” that they can use not only in group discussions but also when interacting with teachers and others outside the classroom.

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Pleasures of “Marking” a Stack of Essays (Flow)

Joy

Feeling euphoria from flow

Early in my career, I had a whisper conversation with two of my novice colleagues.  We had often heard several of our other colleague lament the fact that they had just picked up a set of essays and would have to spend several hours marking them.  To them, it seemed drudgery, and they assumed all of us felt the same.  In private, the two novice colleagues and I were a bit surprised and relieved to find that we actually enjoyed the process of marking our students essays and giving them feedback.  We weren’t weird for feeling this way.   Over 35 years later, I still find this a rewarding experience.  One of the reasons is that it allows me an opportunity to experience flow.

A well-known research psychologist, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (he has humorously explained that his name is pronounced “chicks send me high”) has described this state as having several characteristics.  Amazingly, in our job as ESL instructors, we often get to experience this.

Look at what happens when we are checking a set of essays and how that activity can lead to the euphoric experience of flow:

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Discouraging Smartphones from Disrupting Students’ Focus in Class

smartphone

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

Research has found that students who multi-tasked with emails, text messages, and social media during class had lower scores on tests than students who did not multi-task.

I wanted to share that research with my Writing students, but, instead of just giving a lecture, I incorporated it in a fluency writing activity.  (I’ve described the step in a fluency writing activity in a previous posting Fluency writing: reading, speaking in triads, and listening culminating in a writing task. )  It involves reading, speaking, listening and writing.  In brief, students in groups of three, each having a different part of an article, read their part to their partners, and then, individually paraphrase the entire article.

I’m attaching the complete fluency activity about smartphones here in case you’d like to try it with your students.  Fluency Smartphones

A Smartphone Policy that Seems to Work for Students

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