Category Archives: For those new to teaching ESL

Discouraging Smartphones from Disrupting Students’ Focus in Class

smartphone

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

Research has found that students who multi-tasked with emails, text messages, and social media during class had lower scores on tests than students who did not multi-task.

I wanted to share that research with my Writing students, but, instead of just giving a lecture, I incorporated it in a fluency writing activity.  (I’ve described the step in a fluency writing activity in a previous posting Fluency writing: reading, speaking in triads, and listening culminating in a writing task. )  It involves reading, speaking, listening and writing.  In brief, students in groups of three, each having a different part of an article, read their part to their partners, and then, individually paraphrase the entire article.

I’m attaching the complete fluency activity about smartphones here in case you’d like to try it with your students.  Fluency Smartphones

A Smartphone Policy that Seems to Work for Students

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“Wow” is not Necessarily the Goal in Students’ Essays

Surprised

“Wow!” can be expected from professional writing not students’ writing.

An English Comp instructor told me that after reading a student’s essay, she wants to think, “Wow!  These are amazing ideas.”  I’ve also met ESL writing instructors who also looked at her students’ writing in a similar way.  She wanted them to write about “something significant.”  She wanted to be entertained.  She wanted to learn something new.

Actually, those are not what we are trying to accomplish in our ESL writing courses. And even if they were the goals, how could they ever be honestly evaluated?  I’ve witnessed a conversation between two instructors in which one of them was in total amazement about one of her student’s essays.  In it, the student, who was African, described how happy the people in her village were and how people there did not experience depression even though they were some of the poorest people on earth.  The other instructor yawned and said, “I already knew all that.”

After I read an essay, I might say, “Wow!” but it’s not because of the student’s profound ideas.  It’s because s/he used a technique in a way that really help explain his/her idea.

What were a looking for in essays is how well they are using writing techniques.  These are tools that we can teach students, that they can apply to other writing tasks, and that we can evaluate.

Needless to say, we don’t just list the techniques and expect students to apply them.  The art of teaching ESL is leading students to learning the techniques so they can have them available in their “tool box.”

Here a just a few of the writing techniques that we can teach our students:

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Introduction to Teaching Academic ESL Writing: A Proven Approach for Success (Part 1: Logical organization)

academic-writing

Academic writing

How to teach ESL writing

The ultimate goal of an academic ESL writing course is to help students develop the tools that they will be able to use in writing assignments in mainstream academic class like English composition, psychology, history, business etc.

The job of the ESL writing instructor is not, contrary to what some might think, to lead students to write deep or complex ideas.  That is what mainstream instructors will do.  Our job is to help them develop the tools or techniques that they can use to clearly organize and explain their ideas, no matter how simple or profound those ideas might be.

The success of this approach

At our college, we’ve based our academic ESL writing courses on teaching those tools.  To determine the effectiveness of our approach, we’ve track the success rate of students who have completed our academic ESL program.  Over the past 15 years, approximately 95% of those international students received an “A” or “B” in English 101.   In the years prior to using this approach, when the focus was on deep ideas and research papers rather than clarity of expression, only about 75% got an A or B.

What writing skills do students need?

The foundation of our writing courses is constructed on what skills mainstream instructors would like their in-coming (first-year) students to have. To find this out, I interviewed over 50 instructors at two universities and a community college.

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Introduction to Teaching Academic ESL Writing: A Proven Approach for Success (Part 2 Connecting ideas & Grammar)

Connecting ideas

In addition to having logical organization, the other two aspects of good academic writing are connecting ideas and having control of grammar.

A problem we sometimes see with ESL writing is that their paragraphs look like just a list of ideas.  In other words, their writing lacks coherence.

As writing instructors, we can teach them techniques for bridging sentences within a paragraph to show the reader how they are connected.  Two important techniques for doing this are:

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Introduction to Teaching ESL Conversation: Effective Pair/Group Activities

 

pair

Effective pair conversation

How to teach ESL conversation

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

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching a conversation class is that when you teach your ESL students conversation techniques, you get to hear them talk about their culture, their experiences, opinions and dreams.

A student-centered approach doesn’t mean the teacher just puts students in groups, gives them a topic and tells them to talk about it.  It doesn’t even mean that the students are put in pairs (Student A/Student B), given two different “information gap” papers and told to complete the exercise by talking.

A student-centered approach to conversation-skill development is much more than that.

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Introduction to Teaching ESL: Student-Centered Approach

Teaching ESL is teaching a skill.

Teaching ESL is teaching a skill.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “the student-centered lessons.”  Teachers who experience this type of approach for the first time will often say, “I don’t feel like I’m ‘teaching’” using air-quotes when they say “teaching.”  In their minds, a teacher stands in front of the class lecturing.

But in a student-centered approach, the teacher is more like a coach because teaching ESL is mostly about skills not about teaching content.

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