Category Archives: *For Those New to Teaching ESL

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

thumbs up woman success

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

Group Leader Cover Pt 2

(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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• Getting The Most Out of Information-Gap Chart Activities PART 2 (Vocabulary Reinforcement)

Cover info gap 2 shot

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

You can see my video discussing Part 1 & Part 2 here: VIDEO Getting The Most Out of ESL Information-Gap Activities: Six Recommendations

I have found these information-gap chart pair-activities to be a great go-to interactive activity when I’d like to review and reinforce vocabulary words and conversation strategies. And best of all, they are quite easy to make and customize.

In my previous posting, PART 1, I shared a chart in which the categories were:

Relationship         Personality         Birth Year

Cover Info Part 1 shot

See • Getting The Most Out of Information-Gap Chart Activities PART 1

I had made that one because I wanted to review vocabulary for relationships like cousin, nephew, niece, and aunt, and for personalities like serious, cool, and funny.  Later in the course after students had developed more vocabulary, I revised the chart to so that they could review:

Slide 1 less familiar

I’ve also made charts that included some of these categories:

Slide 2 categories

Here are two sites that have been helpful for the vocabulary in these categories:

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• Getting The Most Out of Information-Gap Chart Activities PART 1

Cover info Part 1 shot

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

You can see my video discussing Part 1 & Part 2 here: VIDEO Getting The Most Out of ESL Information-Gap Activities: Six Recommendations

At first glance, these activities can appear to be just a fun way for students to interact with each other. However, the more I’ve worked with and developed them, the more I realize what an effective skill-building tool they can be.

For this PART 1 posting, I’ll…
1) briefly review what an information gap activity is.
2) describe three important ways to make these most effective for students and the mistakes that teachers sometimes make with these.

In my next posting, PART 2, I’LL …
3) explain ways to customize them to review and reinforce vocabulary words and conversation strategies.
4) include more samples of these types of information-gap activities.

Here is an example of an information gap activity and a common mistake teachers make with them.

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