Category Archives: *For those new to teaching ESL

Recommendation: Ask these important questions when you are interviewing for an ESL teaching position.  (Spoiler alert: these are not about logistics and pay.)

Ask

 I once interviewed for an ESL teaching position at a school in Switzerland. I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic place to live and teach for a couple of years. The type of courses and the type of students that I would teach seemed like a good fit for me.  On top of that, it included free housing.

Fortunately, during the interview, I asked a question, and after hearing their response, I immediately knew that teaching there would have been a disaster for me.

During the interview, I answered the typical questions that they asked.  Then near the end of it, the interviewer (director) asked me if I had any questions, so I asked, “What are you most proud of about your program?”

The interviewer answered, “We believe that one of the greatest features of our program is how much time students get to spend with their teachers.  The teachers’ housing is right next to the student dorms, so there are lots of chances for students to interact with teachers outside class and in their homes. The housing location also makes it easier for teachers to supervise students outside class.”

I enjoy interacting with my students in class and when I run into them outside of it, but I was certain that I would quickly burn out under those conditions. The next day, I withdrew my name for consideration.

A positive impression I got after hearing the answer to that same question

During an interview at a different program at a college, I asked the same question, “What are you most proud of about your program?” That time, I was very impressed by the response.  The interviewer said that ESL program is considered an integral part of the college.  In other words, unlike ESL programs on many other campuses, this one is not separate from the rest of the campus.  In fact, the ESL instructors are even encouraged to serve on college committees.” That clinched my decision to accept the position when it was offered to me.

Two more important questions to ask when you are being interviewed

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“What would you say if you were interviewing for an ESL teaching position?” (A question from a reader)

job interview

When I’m on a search committee, while we are interviewing an applicant, I can’t help but start thinking about how I would answer the interview questions myself.  It’s actually a good values clarification exercise (although perhaps best not to mentally practice it while interviewing someone).  So I appreciate Kevin’s question.

Instead of writing out a script of what I would say, I’ll explain what I would include, in general, in my response to some of the more commonly asked interview questions.

Question 1: What is your philosophy of language teaching and learning?

Everything that I do in my classroom is based on the premise that language learning is about skill development. Speaking, writing and reading a second language involve using skills. And just like learning other skills, for example, driving a car, playing tennis, or learning a musical instrument, ESL students need focused practice to develop their language skills.

The teacher’s role in helping students develop their skills is to find or produce activities that will engage students and that are at the right level of challenge for them.  The teacher is like a coach, setting up and introducing the practice session and then stepping back and being ready to offer support and guidance.

Also, just like when developing any skill, when learning a language, students should be given opportunities to make mistakes and to learn from them in a non-threatening environment.  This means that the teacher needs to relinquish being the center of attention.
(For more about this, see Introduction to Teaching ESL: Student-Centered Approach)

Question 2: What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing ESL teachers?

I think ESL teachers often have an image problem.  Their image of a teacher is someone who stands in front of the class talking to the students and conducting the lesson with all the students’ eyes on him or her.  In fact, I recently heard a teacher say that she felt like she wasn’t earning her pay if she wasn’t in front conducting the class.  So the challenge is to break this image and realize that our job is to engage students in developing their language skills and for this to happen, the teacher has to stop being the center of attention.  Teachers are doing their jobs when their students are learning how to write better by actually writing in Writing class, or read better by reading in Reading class and by speaking in Conversation class. Students will actually progress faster when the teachers are on the sidelines giving support.

This doesn’t mean that teachers should never talk to the class as a whole. But we should realize that we are still good teachers even when, or especially when, we are not talking and when students are engaged in an activity.

Question 3A: Let’s talk about how you teach conversation skills.  What is your approach?

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Common Grammar Mistake: “She hopes him to get a haircut.” 

Questions

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

I recently put my students in small groups, gave them a list of sentences and asked them to identify which were incorrect and to correct those. Several of the groups either thought that this sentence was correct or believed that there was something wrong with it but couldn’t correct it:

  • She doubted him to go to the party on Friday.

Surprisingly, these were advanced-level students who were stymied by this. In fact, when they asked me to explain the problem, some of them asked me, “Are you sure it’s wrong? It sounds right to me.” I imagine that the reason for their confusion is because they are familiar with the pattern of Subject + Verb + Object:

Actually, this is not a difficult grammar structure for students to learn, even lower level students. Basically, I tell them that after certain verbs, they should write “that” + subject + verb.  (Technically, the word “that” is optional, but to keep it simple, I tell them to write “that.”)  Although the formal term of this structure is “noun clauses,” I don’t expect them to remember that. If they can remember which verbs are followed by this structure, they’ll be fine.

These are some examples of this kind of mistake:

Mistake: She doubted him to go to the party on Friday.
Correct: She doubted that he would go to the party on Friday.

Mistake: His parents worry their kids to get into an accident.
Correct: His parents worry that their kids will get into an accident.

Avoiding unnecessarily complicated explanations (and handout exercises)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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