These postings include conversation activities, teaching techniques, strategies for groupings and evaluations.

• Meeting A Conversation Course Challenge: Three Levels of Students, One Classroom, One Teacher

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Having three levels of students in one classroom can be overwhelming. But for a reading-skills or writing-skills course, it seems relatively do-able because students can work individually on the reading or writing tasks.

However, for a conversation course in which students need to be interacting with classmates, it’s impossible right? No, it’s definitely possible.

Here is how it has been done successfully with a user-friendly approach for the teacher and with students developing their skills as they would in a single-level class.

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• The Power of Listening Input for Language Learners

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(True story.) It’s the September of 1985, the year that Stevie Wonder released an international hit song. I’m on campus in Japan and happen to run into a couple of my students from spring term, Yuki and Hana.

“How was your summer?” I ask.

“Wonderful! I went to Europe with my family,” Yuki says.

“That’s great! How about you Hana?”

“Interesting. I had a part-time lover,” Hana answers.

Both Yuki and I look astonished and laughingly ask simultaneously, “You had a what?!!”

“I had a part-time lover. … Oh, no, I mean I had a part-time job!” Hana replies with some embarrassment when she realizes what she had said.

She then explains how she had often heard Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover” during the summer.

Hana’s automatic response to my question demonstrated the power of listening input. Since then, I’ve found ways to tap into it’s potential in helping student internalize grammar concepts and new vocabulary, and even how to write paragraphs and essays.

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• ESL Student-Presentations (Part 2): An Effective, Modified Presentation Activity

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

In Part 1, I analyzed the assumptions teachers have made about having students do class-presentations. (See •ESL Student-Presentations (Part 1): Questioning the Reasons for Doing Them)

As I concluded in that post, there seems to be weak support for having students do class presentations. However, many ESL teachers would like to give each student the experience of speaking to a small group of classmates. These are the challenges:

  • The students should clearly understand how to carry out the activity.
  • The activity shouldn’t take up a lot of class time preparing.
  • What the “presenters” talk about should be of high interest.
  • The activity shouldn’t give the “presenters” increased levels of stress, but rather help them develop confidence and let them experience success.
  • The “presenters” should receive natural feedback on how well they were understood, but at the same time, the “audience” classmates should not be expected to be evaluators.
  • The “audience” classmates should not be merely passive listeners. They need to be motivated to be engaged during the activity.

And here is an activity that does all that.

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•ESL Student-Presentations (Part 1): Questioning the Reasons for Doing Them

Ink Cover presentation whole class

Our ESL program faced a mystery. For a couple of terms, students going from Conversation Level 3 (intermediate) to Level 4 (high-intermediate) were struggling with demonstrating basic conversation skills and some needed to repeat the course.

To analyze the problem, the Level 4 teacher recorded students in pairs and triads during an activity in which they were supposed to discuss a topic like “weekend plans,” “having kids in the future,” “social media,” and “emotions.” Then she showed the recordings to a small group of teachers, and we all noticed the same thing: the students weren’t actually interacting by asking a question, answering with some details, giving understanding responses or asking for clarifications and asking follow-up questions. Those are the skills that were supposed to have been introduced in Level 2 and reinforced in Level 3. Instead, those students tended to read from their paper a question which the partner(s) responded to briefly before reading the next question.

We asked the Level 3 teacher if he was surprised by his former students’ performance on these recordings. He said that he wasn’t too surprised because he had only spent half the term working on those skills, and during the other half of the term, he had them prepare and give presentations. His reasons, he told us, were based on his assumptions about the importance of doing presentations and also from some internet and YouTube sites promoting them.

This situation gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate our course goals and the basis for those. During our discussion, we examined the common assumptions for why teachers assign student-presentations.

Assumption 1: Presentations are an essential part of preparing ESL students to succeed in college course.  They are useful since students will surely have to make presentations in other classes, in college, and/or in their future jobs. In other words, ESL students should experience giving presentations because in 5 or 6 months from now when they are in mainstream classes, it is assumed that they’ll be giving presentations.

Response: To find out how true this assumption is, it’s helpful to learn what college actually instructors say.

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