Author Archives: commonsenseesl

Myth 1 about Teaching Grammar: Focusing on grammar will stifle students’ ability to write.  

Myths shot

A former ESL Writing student of mine was quite surprised by her English Comp class.  She told me that her instructor isn’t concerned about the grammar in his students’ essays. At the same time, a common complaint by academic instructors heard around the campus at that college was that their (American) students had many grammar mistakes in their academic papers. In fact, the grammar skills of the students coming out of the English Comp classes were so weak that the Business Department decided to offer business writing courses that would deal with these grammar issues.

I decided to pursue this further by interviewing several English Comp instructors. In response to my question, “Why don’t you work with grammar in your courses,” I heard this, “Focusing on grammar will stifle students’ ability to write.”  In a college newspaper, an instructor explained, “An exaggerated focus on grammar stops the development of engaging and complex ideas.”

That sounds like a straw man argument. Yes, if an instructor assigns a paper and tells students that they would write one draft and that their grade would be based on the quality of grammar in their paper, then students might overly focus on that rather than their ideas.  But what professional instructor would do that?

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4th Free ESL Reading Unit:  Handwashing and Motivation (Surprising pre-coronavirus research)


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

Several years ago, long before the coronavirus pandemic, researchers found that restaurant workers and hospital staff members were very negligent about washing their hands. This article discusses a clever study that was conducted to find a way to reverse this trend by comparing positive and negative messages.  The results from the study can give us some interesting insights into how we might best motivate people in general.

Excerpts from paragraphs 2 and 11

2 We expect doctors and nurses to be aware of how important it is to wash their hands after they have examined or helped a patient.  They understand that if they don’t, they could spread a disease from one patient to another.  Surprisingly though, a researcher found that only 39% of hospital workers washed their hands properly.  That is almost the same as the 38% of restaurant workers who do.

 11 In sum, the researchers found that using a positive approach with the electronic board was much more effective than the negative signs about spreading disease.  Every time the staff members washed their hands, they received immediate positive feedback.  This positive feedback triggered a pleasure signal in their brains which they enjoyed getting.  In other words, they tended to repeat this action in order to experience that pleasure signal.  After a while, it became a habit, and they continued to do it even after the electronic boards were removed.

Article & Study Guide for Handwashing and Motivation

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ESL Writing Workshop: Tremendous Benefits for Students and Teachers

Blog Workshop Cover Shot

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

In this YouTube video, I describe the Writing Workshop Approach to teaching ESL writing skills. This approach has been successfully used by a large number of teachers. Some of the many benefits include motivating students by giving them autonomy and allowing teachers to conference one-on-one with students during the class time rather than outside class.

Here is the link to the YouTube video:ESL Writing Workshop on YouTube

Here is a link to where you can read more about the steps in the workshop approach and find a specific model lesson plan with free downloadable exercises/activities.

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