Category Archives: *ESL Grammar

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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• Standardized (In-House) ESL Proficiency Tests Can Be Effective and Liberating

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I had always sworn that I would quit teaching before ever taking a position in a program that used standardized test results as the criteria for promoting students.

However, about half way through my teaching career, I found myself in just such a situation. Reflecting back on those three years in that program, I came to see that much of the anxiety caused by my assumptions to be baseless; in fact, I found that standardized proficiency tests* can have a liberating effect on teachers and can carry several positive aspects for programs and staff members.

(*In this discussion, I will be referring to standardized proficiency tests used to determine whether students have the skills necessary to be promoted to the next Reading-level class, Listening-level class, and Grammar-level class, but NOT Speaking or Writing classes. The tests can be commercially-made or in-house-made. Also here, I’m referring to discrete-skills programs as opposed to integrated ones. (See • Integrated vs Discrete Skills ESL Courses: Advantages of Discrete Skills

My assumptions about standardized proficiency tests. I had always assumed that using standardized tests would interfere with the creativity of teaching and restrict how and what teachers taught. I had imagined students refusing to engage in any activity that did not appear to be directly related to their need to pass the test. And I visualized having to “teach for the test.”

Advantages of standardized proficiency tests.

  • The teachers at the next level can feel confident that all their students have met the same standard and have the same general ability. The conflicts that can arise when some teachers are seen as “easy graders” and others as “hard graders” can be eliminated.
  • The focus is on developing proficiency, not on the amount of homework papers a student submits or how much effort they seem to be making.
  • The teachers need to seriously evaluate now effective each lesson is in developing the skill.
  • There is no issue concerning cheating on homework or quizzes during the term as these have no impact on students’ promotion.
  • Teachers don’t have to keep detailed records of scores on homework and quizzes in order to justify passing/failing a student.
  • The personality factor is eliminated. We don’t have to deal with situations in which students complain that they failed because the teacher didn’t like them.
  • Teacher do not have to involved in the emotional situations of students begging for a passing grade or arguing about a grade given.
  • Students tend to take an active role in their education as they are doing work for their own benefit, not to impress the teacher.
  • After passing the test, students have expressed a sense of accomplishment in that they have met a standard.

Making it work: four ways.

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• An Effective Technique for Analyzing Students’ Grammar Skills in a Writing Context

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Here is typical exchange that I’ve often heard between teachers who were evaluating a student’s writing together.

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It’s relatively easy to evaluate the content in students’ writing. We can usually agree about how well it is organized, how clear the ideas are presented and how deep the support is. The challenge comes when trying to gage the students’ level of grammar in a writing context. It involves more than just counting grammar mistakes. We need to consider a couple of aspects, and one of them is the seriousness of the errors. For example, look at these two sentences:

(Student A) One day, a young bride 1 name Jane packed her stuff and tried to leave her hotel.

(Student B) One day, a young bride packed her stuff, 1 she tried to leave her hotel.

They both have one error, but it would be a mistake to assume that they are at the same level. Student A’s mistake could easily be just an editing error. On the other hand, Student B’s is a run-on and could indicate that the student is still struggling with sentence boundaries.

When analyzing grammar mistakes, we also need to consider the complexity of the students’ sentence style.

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• Easy Editing-Awareness Technique for ESL Students

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This can drive a teacher crazy. You remind students to proof-read their paper before turning them in. However, after class, as you read them, you continually see basic grammar mistakes that you are sure they should have been able to have caught.

It’s quite common for ESL students to have a distorted view of their writing skills. They think that they can adequately edit their papers as they are writing, and thus, feel little need to re-read them before turning them in.  Little do they realize that a plethora of simple grammar and spelling mistakes on a paper can give the reader/teacher a lower opinion of the students’ skills.

I have found that the following little requirement has greatly transformed students into much more diligent self-editors.

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