Category Archives: *Applied Psychology in Teaching ESL

Give your colleagues some brain pleasure. Ask them for help.

Cover Asking help Shot

One day, a colleague, Sarah, who was relatively new to the ESL teaching field, told me about two grammar questions that one of her students had presented to her. (*If you are curious, you can see the questions and my explanation at the end of this posting.) She said that after class, she had spent quite a bit of time searching for answers on the internet but to no avail. Finally, she decided to ask me.

It turned out to be a fun interaction and a kind of puzzle for me to solve. On my drive home after classes that day, I realized that I was feeling great, but I didn’t think that there was any specific reason for it. A while later, I happened to come across some research that perhaps explained my exuberant emotion. And it had nothing to do with it being a Friday.

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Conversation Technique for Lighting Up the Pleasure Centers in Your Students’ Brains

Maybe this is why students tend to love their ESL classes.

We can actually include something in our lessons that will fire up the reward brain circuits in our students’ brains.  However, there can be a downside to this.

Neuroscientists at Harvard found that people’s brain reward circuits lit up when they were talking about themselves.  Amazingly, doing this can trigger the same sensations of pleasure in the brain as food, money or sex.

In other words, talking about ourselves feels good.  In fact, it feels so good that participants in a study were willing to accept 25% less money if it meant that they could talk about themselves rather than talk about someone else.

This research has interesting implications for our ESL classes.

We now know how to help our students enjoy conversation activities, and that’s good.  However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Apparently, some students like the brain pleasure they feel so much that they can’t stop themselves from dominating conversations talking about themselves.

Techniques to encourage conversations/discussions but that keep students from dominating the activities.

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Whole Class Conversation Mixer Activity: Good for Students’ Skills, Brains and More

conversation standing

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

Develop techniques, bond with classmates, improve cognitive performance all in one activity!

The first time I used this type of activity, I was a relatively new ESL Conversation teacher and just wanted something to get my students talking.  Over the years, I’ve developed it more to involve additional conversational techniques.  And from cognitive psychology, I discovered why students are so energized by it.

You may be familiar with a simple version of this activity called “Find someone who” in which students are given a list of items and directed to talk to their classmates and find someone who has that item or has done that activity.  For example, find someone who has a pet or has lived in Europe or has gone backpacking.  However, that simple version has limited value.

A much improved version of this type of activity with great benefits (and handout)

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Surprising Insight: Avoiding Eye-Contact can Improve Comprehension

eye contact

A good reason not to be upset if students don’t look directly at you during a lesson or conversation.

If you need to have an important conversation with someone like a friend or co-worker, your discussion could be deeper if you go for a walk together rather than sit face to face.  And the reason for this isn’t connected to physical exercise.  It’s about eye-contact and thinking.

If someone doesn’t look at us during a conversation, we may think that they are not interested in what we are saying, or that they are feeling embarrassed, or they are hiding something or lying.  If students are not looking directly at a teacher, the teacher might think that they are not paying attention.  Actually, there could be a completely different reason why someone is not making eye-contact.

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