Category Archives: *For Those New to Teaching ESL

• Taking On Phrasal Verbs

Cover phrasal verbs screen shot

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

YouTube This posting is discussed on my YouTube video Big Mistake ESL Teachers Make With Phrasal Verbs:

Ernesto was looking unusually pale when he walked into my class. I asked him if he was feeling all right, and he said that his stomach was hurting. Then I asked him:

“Do you feel like you are going to throw up?”

He just kind of looked at me, not knowing what to say. I realized that he didn’t understand the phrasal verb, “throw up,” and I was sure that he wouldn’t understand “vomit,” so my only recourse was to pantomime someone throwing up.  Then he got it.

According to The Grammar Book by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, outside Germanic languages (English, German, Dutch and the Scandiavian languages), few languages have phrasal verbs. “Thus most ESL/EFL students will find such verbs strange and difficult. Yet they are such an important part of colloquial English that no one can … understand conversational English easily without a knowledge” of them.

About once a term at my college, we invited a guest speaker to give a talk to all the international students, from beginning-skill levels to advance. For example, a policeman talked about how to stay safe on and off campus; a counselor discussed common misunderstandings students have with plagiarism; a student leader provided information about campus clubs and activities.  Even though the speakers were making an effort to make their talks comprehensible to non-native speakers, they couldn’t help but continually peppered their speech with phrasal verbs. Some examples:

Policeman: If you drink and drive, you could end up at the police station.

Counselor: One reason students copy from a classmate is because they’ve taken on too many courses.

Student leader: We hope you’ll help us put forward some ideas for improving our clubs.

Imagine substituting these phrasal verbs with phrase blah-blah.  This is kind of what many of the students heard:

     “… you could blah-blah at the police station”
     “…they’ve blah-blah too many courses.”
     “…help us blah-blah some ideas.”

No wonder so many of students had blank looks on their faces.

Working on phrasal verbs. Where to start, knowing that there are over 10,000 of them.

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• Helping Our Students Who Feel Invisible

triads

In the documentary, Becoming, about Michele Obama, Michele is asked about feeling invisible. Her description made me think more about how many of our ESL/International students probably feel invisible in classes, on campus and in society, and how we can help them.

My personal experiences with feeling invisible are quite trivial compared to what some of our students experience, but a recent episodes gave me a bit of a taste of how it feels.

I was talking to a colleague (we’ll say his name was Ben) outside the library when a young woman whom I didn’t know walked up to us with a smile on her face. The two of them obviously knew each other and started talking animatedly, without Ben introducing us. After a couple of minutes, they walked off together across campus.

That experience had little effect on me other than feeling a tad off balance or slightly irritated momentarily. But for International and minority students, being treated as invisible can be quite disheartening.

One young man described it this way, “The problem is that to many people, I am simply invisible. Nobody says ‘hello’ to me. Nobody nods to me. Nobody recognizes me as a person with something to say. Nobody listens to me. People make assumptions about me on the basis of my color and where I come from…But I am a person and have something to say — both as an individual and on the basis of my distinctive experience.”

In our classrooms, we can see the students who are probably feeling invisible. They are the ones who are not greeted by others who look past them and start talking to more familiar friends. Or the ones overlooked when their classmates are told to find a partner for an activity. Or the ones who sit silently seemingly unnoticed in group discussions.

How to help our ESL students feel visible.

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• User-Friendly Writing Panel Process: Time and Energy Efficient And Effective (bonus November posting)

This post is related to the previous post: This Process Contains Huge Benefits For Writing Teachers, Students and Programs.

Here is how you can make your Writing class students’ and fellow Writing-Course colleagues feel satisfied at the end of a term. And here is how you can save yourself a large amount of time, energy and reduce stress.

The final class of the term has just finished. You look at your Level 4 Writing class roster and choose which students whom you are not sure if they have the writing skills necessary to be successful at the next level. Let’s say that out of your 16 students, six are in this “borderline” category. (You are confident in your decision to pass the other eight students and fail two.) You organize a file with writing samples for each of these six students.1 You give this file to the teacher at the next level, Level 5. That teacher reads your six students’ writings, and the next day meets with you. She tells you that she is confident that three of the students look ready for Level 5. You spend  about 15-20 minutes talking about the other three students, reading parts of their essays together (sometime aloud) and analyzing their work.2  For students whom you both are still unsure about, you can look at more samples of their writing.  In the end, the two of you decide one of them could pass and two should repeat Level 4. You feel assured that your students will be in the right level the next term and that you can explain to any student who might wonder why they failed what they need to work on in order to pass the next term. 3

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• This Process Contains Huge Benefits For Writing Teachers, Students and Programs.

Writing three drafts

The reason why this process is so powerful is that it resolves all these troublesome situations:

Situation 1) Teachers are disappointed by the writing skills of students being promoted to their classes.
A Level 4 teacher has discovered early in a term that some of the students in the Writing class who were promoted by a teacher at a lower level (Level 3) do not have the necessary writing skills to perform well at that level. Often it results in a tense conversation like this:

Level 4 Teacher: “I have one of your students from last term, Fidi, in my Level 4 class.  His writing is very weak. I wonder how he was able to pass your class.”
Level 3 Teacher: “Yes, I know he’s not really good. When he came to my class from Level 2, his skills weren’t very good. But he did all the assignments and tried very hard. So I didn’t feel like I could justify failing him.”

Situation 2) Students feel they weren’t treated fairly because the teacher didn’t like them.
A student who failed his Writing course complains to the director that the reason why he failed was because the teacher didn’t like him, not because he had poor writing skills.

Situation 3) Teachers burn out from teaching Writing classes due to excessive record keeping.
Writing teachers readily accept the fact that these courses involve reading/marking a lot of papers. However, what often overwhelms them the most is having to count up points for every assignment and keep records of these.

Situation 4) Students quibble with the teacher over points on a writing assignment.
A student receives 83 out of 100 points on an essay and argues with the teacher that he should have gotten 86 points. 

Situation 5) Students who fail the Writing class beg the teachers to change their grade because of the personal hardships failing would cause them.
Student: “Could you please, please let me pass this class? My parents don’t have a lot of money, and I might have to leave this school if I fail. I’ll work hard at the next level. I know I can do well in it.”

Here is the process that is the remedy for all those situations.

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