Category Archives: *Applied psychology in teaching ESL

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.

Continue reading

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)

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Teachers: How To Sleep Well After a Class With a Couple of Troublesome Students

Classroom management

Why teachers’ brains tend to dwell on the  “disruptive” students rather than on the “attentive” students after class.  And what we can do about it.

I can have a class composed of 14 engaged students and two or three inattentive ones and guess whose faces I’ll see when I go to bed at night.  Right, the “slackers.”

I was interested to discover that I’m not the only teacher who has this happen to them.  This led me to try to understand the reason and investigate what to do about (in order to get a good night’s sleep.)

Why we tend to dwell on the troublesome ones and what to do about it.

Continue reading

Simple Technique ESL Students can use to Impress Their Academic Instructors

 

impressed instructor

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

Imagine that you are mainstream instructor (e.g. Psychology, English Comp, Economic), and as students enter the classroom, some stop to talk to you.

First, Josh approaches you and says, “That article you told us to read was so boring.”

Later, Ryan mentions to you,  “I found some interesting information in that article you told us to read.”

Of course you want your students to give their honest opinion, but it’s only natural that you’ll probably have a better impression of Ryan than Josh.  That positive impression could even have a favorable outcome for him when you are assigning grades.

This post is about a writing technique that our ESL students can use in their mainstream (academic) classes which can make a positive impression on their instructors.

Most instructors in any field think that their subject area is very interesting. For example, psychology, history, economics, English lit and engineering instructors often think that their subjects are the most interesting and important ones in the world. Needless to say, they love to hear their students say that they also think their classes are fascinating. Thus, our students can use this insight to stand out in the minds of their instructors.  And it could affect their grade in a positive way.

In addition, it involves good critical thinking.

Here is how it works and a handout activity to practice it.

Continue reading

The Eyes Have It: Keeping Students Focused During Group Work

Eyes image

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

I once had a colleague who was feeling distraught because her students didn’t seem to take group work seriously.  Her students tended to chat instead of doing the task and often finished early without completing it.  She asked me to observer her class to see if I could come up with any suggestions.

Within a few minutes of observing her class, I was reminded of a social psychology study that seemed related to her situation.  As you read the summary of the study below, you may wonder how this could be connected to ESL students working in groups.  Bear with me.

The study

The Psychology Department at Newcastle University conducted this interesting study using their coffee station.  There was a sign above the coffee station:

Smaller coffee station screenshot

As you can see, it operates on an honor system.  For the 10-week study, researchers taped a picture of flowers for a week over the coffee station and then switched to a picture of a pair of staring eyes for a week.  They continued to alternate these pictures each week.

This is where it gets interesting

During the weeks that the poster of the eyes was staring, coffee and tea drinkers contributed almost three times as much money as in the weeks that the flower picture was on the wall.  What’s so amazing is that it was just a PICTURE of eyes, not an actual person, which seemed to make people more honest.

The researchers conducted a similar study to see if the flowers or eyes pictures could motivate people to clean up after their meals.  In that study, the number of people who cleaned up doubled when the eye picture was present compared to when the flower picture was.

How this social psychological study is connected to teaching ESL

Continue reading

One of the Worst Mistakes Conversation Teachers Make

race competition

For some strange reason, some ESL instructors think they can improve any activity by making it as some kind of competition between students or between groups.  Unfortunately, doing this can be counterproductive and actually discourage the most serious students.

To illustrate, consider an information-gap activity like the one from the March 1st posting Another Conversation Activity: Listen to Partner and Ask Questions to Complete Information-Gap Chart .  In this, pairs of students fill in missing information in a schedule by talking, asking questions, and using clarification strategies.

Imagine the teacher tells the students that he will give a prize to the pair who finishes the schedule first.  This is what will happen and how students will miss out on the skills that the activity is meant to develop.

Continue reading