“Radiance,” “strike a deal,” “gorgeous” “ecosystem.” In my 40 years of teaching academic ESL, I’ve probably seen these word in a reading passage at most only once or twice. And I’ve never seen a student use them in a writing task. And yet, these words were included in several vocabulary exercises in a textbook, and students were asked to write sentences with them. Because the words were in a reading passage, the author of the textbook, for some reason, decided that these were important words for students to study and try to internalize.
I think most of us would agree that spending time on a words so rarely used as “radiance” or “strike a deal” is probably not the best use of students’ precious time and mental energy if our true goal is to help them develop their reading skills. At the same time, many of us who have studied a foreign language would agree that reading comprehension is enhanced by knowledge of a lot of vocabulary words.
At this point, two questions come to mind: (1) How do learners increase their vocabulary, and (2) which vocabulary words would perhaps be beneficial to study through exercises?
This is a paragraph that a student secretly wrote to describe one of her classmates. All the students are circulating around the periphery of the room, reading description hanging on the wall with no names on and trying to determine who is being described in the paragraphs. Each student seems very focused on reading the descriptions, searching for the classmate who is the object of the description but also looking out of the corner of their eyes to see what kind of reaction others are having to the description that they secretly wrote just an hour earlier. There is energy in the room, a lot of interacting and a lot of laughing.
Describe your classmate activity
In brief, the steps for this activity are:
Imagine this situation: During a quiz, you notice a student glancing at another student’s paper. You feel that you need to take some action.
Surprisingly, there was a social psychology study conducted in a hospital setting that can help us know an effective way to approach this student.
For many of us, our first inclination is to confront the student tell him that if he continues to cheat, he will fail the quiz. However, in his book The Originals, Adam Grant shows that explaining how someone’s behavior will negatively affect him or her is less effective than describing how their action will affect other people.
In the “hospital” study, to encourage doctors and nurses to wash their hands more often the researchers posted one of two signs near the soap dispensers in patients’ rooms. One said, “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.” The other said, “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.” (Emphasis added.) Over the next two weeks, a member of the hospital unit covertly counted the number of times the staff members washed their hands and a researcher measure the amount of soap used.
Interestingly, the first sign (“…prevents you…”) had no effect. The second sign (“…prevents patients…”) had a significant impact on hand washing; it resulted in a 10% increase in hand-washing and 45% more soap usage.
How we can apply this study to ESL students who cheat on a test
Here is what seems to be some well-kept secrets about reading classes. The teacher doesn’t have to be the center of attention. The teacher doesn’t have to “act” like a teacher, standing up front talking.
And most of all, students will not be bored or waste time if they are reading individually during class.
What students need from the reading teacher is someone who can help each individual student develop their reading comprehension skills. A student doesn’t need to listen to a teacher explain to the class parts of a passage he/she already understands but that a classmate doesn’t.
Students can get the maximum benefits from a reading class and from a reading teacher through a reading workshop. This workshop approach has proven effective at all levels and with students from over 40 countries.
One of the greatest advantages is that each student’s individual needs are addressed by the teacher during the class. Another advantage is that students are working on reading by actually reading. Also, they don’t have to wait for classmates to finish reading a passage or feel pressure to read faster to keep up with them.
Here is how a Reading Workshop can be effectively organized.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.) Essay Evaluation Form
Imagine that you read Mari’s essay in which she developed her ideas exactly the way that you had hoped she would. But her grammar was very weak and even caused some confusion. You are torn about what grade to give her. You know that her grammar skills are not strong enough to succeed at the next level, so you don’t want to mislead her. But you also don’t want to discourage her since her content was so good.
What grade should you give Mari?
Learning to be a self-editor
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
Some student’s reactions to this technique that teachers use to mark their assignments:
“I like this technique because it helps me apply what I learn to future writing.”
“This technique makes correcting essays like a puzzle. It’s actually fun.”
“I’m not stressed when I see red marks. I know that it’s going to be an interesting challenge.”
Because this technique gives students a chance to discover their grammar errors, we have found students have greatly improved their self-editing skills. And self-editing skills will be of great value to them as move beyond ESL courses.
Here is a description of the technique along with a handout exercise that will introduce students to it.
Three experiences in the past week that reminded me about why teaching ESL is such an entertaining job.
First experience: After class, I was reading a passage in which one of my Vietnamese students had written. She was describing a time when she had a close call while driving. “Suddenly, a car which was coming toward me crossed over into my lane. It scared the hell out of me!”
Second experience: A few weeks into the term, one of my more out-going Indonesian students entered the room and said, “Wassup!”
Third experience: I was handing back some homework to my students before class started. As I gave one of my Taiwan female students her paper in which there were some mistakes marked, she looked at it and said, “What the fu!” Then she smiled and asked me, “Is it OK if I say that to a teacher?” I asked her if she knew what that meant, and she said she didn’t, but she had heard someone say it in a movie and thought it would be fun to try out.
To many people in the outside world, our job for teaching ESL looks like a lot of fun. People have told me, “It must be so interesting working with students from different countries and cultures every day.” And most of us would agree. But what they are imagining is only a tiny part of what makes this such a great job. We can never predict what our students will come up with next as they learn and try out the language.