Category Archives: Motivating ESL students and teachers

These posting include techniques for motivating ESL students and perspectives for motivating teachers.

Most Stimulating and Engaging but Often Over-Looked Essay Mode

Definition Essay Korean

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

A frequent type comment by teachers, “I always look forward to reading these essays.  They often give me new insights into my students and their cultures.”

A frequent type comment by students, “When I heard that we would write a complete essay about one word, I thought it would be impossible.  But after I chose a good word, I really enjoyed writing this.”

Another frequent type comment by students, “This was the most challenging essay for me, but in the end, it was the most rewarding.”

Many ESL Writing books and instructors overlook this essay mode because they don’t realize its secret potential.  It’s the Definition Essay.  The potential lies in the type of words that the students write about.

Traditional Definition essays can be very unstimulating for the students to write and for the teachers to read.  There are two major reasons for this:

(1) The category of topics from which to choose provides little opportunity for ESL students to feel truly invested in it.
(2) The students are given few specific or poorly designed techniques which they can use.

The Dynamic Definition Essay: Category of Topics and Specific Techniques

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Most Important Process that You can do for Yourself, Your Students, Your Program (Part 1)

interview

This process will give you, your colleagues, administrators, and most of all, your students great confidence in what you and your colleagues are teaching your students.  It will serve as a legitimate basis for the goals and outcomes of your courses.

This empowering process is called a needs analysis.  It is one of the most important things I have ever done as a professional, and I’ve done this everywhere I’ve taught.

And on top of all that, it can be stimulating and rewarding to do.

In brief, a needs analysis in an ESL context means finding out what skills students will need in order to be successful in the future.  The future can be the following term when they will be in the next level of a program; it can be when they finish their ESL instruction and will be in college courses (e..g. English Comp); it can be when they are traveling abroad; it can be when they enter the workforce.

These range from simple surveys of a small group of former students to more involved interviews with college instructors.

How to find out what skills students need to know once they leave our course or our program

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Non-Credible Rationale for What Teachers Teach

non credible reason

“I just feel that this is what students need to learn.”
“When I was in college, we had to do that.”

After the second day of a term, a distraught colleague told me that her high-intermediate level writing-students were totally unprepared for her course.   Her course was supposed to build on what they had learned the previous level, but she discovered that the students had little awareness of what a thesis statement was or what topic sentences were.  Many had trouble writing cohesive sentences.

We asked their previous instructor if he had followed the curriculum and worked on these with the students.  He replied that he had decided to have them write a research paper instead.  His reason: “When I was in college, I had to write research papers, so I decide that it was important that they know how to do that.”

Another instructor who was supposed to teach discussion skills for students to use in small groups, instead spent half the term having the student do presentations.  Her reason: “I just felt that it was good for them to do this since they will probably have to do presentations in the future.”

Why these reasons have little or no credibility concerning what/how we should teach ESL

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Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique

success

          “I feel proud of myself when I see these.”

         “They are helpful because I feel that you are encouraging me and understand                 what I’m writing.”

These are two of the comments students wrote in response to my survey question: “On your essays, I underline in GREEN words, expressions, sentences, ideas, details and examples that were good.  Are these GREEN underlines helpful to you?”

Most Writing instructors like to give students positive feedback on their essays in addition to indications of where they have grammar mistakes or where they have content problems.  These positive comments often are in the form of a message at the end of the essay.  However, there are a few problems with giving feedback in this end-of-the-essay manner.

First, it takes time and extra mental energy to write these in a style that will be meaningful to students.

Second, they are usually too general to be of much use for students to apply to future writing assignments.

And third, it requires the teacher to write with clear handwriting, something that many of us don’t have a talent for.

In one program, on their essay rubrics, they now “include a section where students can earn points for successful language use rather than being strictly penalized for only misuses.”  This is admirable, but it (1) involves extra work and calculations for the teacher and (2) doesn’t specify exactly what the student did successfully in the essay.

The technique of using green underlines is very user-friendly time-wise and energy-wise for the teacher to use. 

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Challenge Your Teaching Assumptions: Become an L2 Student for a Few Hours

 

Adult students-teachers

Like most ESL teachers, I feel like I have a pretty good idea about what my students are thinking during my lessons.   However, during four hours of being a second language student, I discovered that I had some significant gaps in my understanding of what my students were actually experiencing.  Sitting in a student’s seat was an enlightening experience for me.

To give my colleagues and me a chance to become L2 students, a fellow-teacher, Susan, who was fluent in Farsi, offered to give us four hours of instruction in it.  Eight of us (all experienced ESL teachers) met for two hours on consecutive days.  During the lessons, she incorporated both teacher-fronted and pair exercises and used a variety of techniques, just as many of us do in our ESL lessons.

We did not start with greetings and opening lines of a conversation, but instead, jumped right into learning some nouns, verbs and prepositions and a few basic sentence structures that could be practiced using in a variety of activities.

Although I only teach advanced-level academic ESL these days, these beginning-level Farsi language lesson transformed how I look at my students in the higher levels.

The insights this experience gave me as a teacher

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Personalized Vocabulary Exercise

Personalize Voc Image

Which of these two sentences below would be more fun for you to answer?

1) What is one significant event that happened in the world this past year?

2) What is one significant event that happened to you this past year?

Which of those two sentences would be more fun for you to hear your friend answer?

Which of those two sentences would be more likely to help you internalize the word “significant”?

It seems that the second one tends to be much more stimulating for students to answer.  And, on top of that, it seems be the type of question which will help students retain the meaning of the word.

A few years ago, I started to add an additional vocabulary exercise titled “Applied Vocabulary” to the more traditional ones that I was assigning my students.  In this, each new vocabulary word is embedded in a personal question about the students’ lives and experiences.  For example:

-With whom did you interact before you came to class today?

-When you were in high school, did your parents give you a lot of autonomy? Explain.

– Smoking cigarettes is prohibited in most high schools. What is something else that is prohibited in high schools in your country?

-With whom have you had a conflict recently (e.g., parents, boss, a girlfriend,a roommate)? __________________ Briefly tell what the conflict was about.

-Choose the things that seem inconceivable to you:
___ There will be no more wars in the world.
___ I will live in a foreign country for most of my life.
___ I will get married.
___ I will be rich enough to own several homes.
___ I will have a lot of children.
___ I will retire from work before I am 50 years old.
___ I will be a performer in a movie.
___ (Write one more thing about your future that is inconceivable to you.)

-Do you think that the method that your parents used to raise you is consistent with how you would raise your own children? _______ Explain.

-Complete this sentence: Recently, I feel insecure about _________________________ .
a) my financial situation
b) my grade in this course
c) my future
d) other: ___________________________________

Although I can’t prove empirically that this type of personalized exercise improves students retention of a word’s meaning, I have noticed an improvement in the average score on vocabulary quizzes.  (Perhaps the quality of student entering my class is just higher than previous terms, and thus, their scores were higher.)

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Innovative Approach to Writing: Introduce a new Unit with a Listening Activity

Best Friend Surprised Image

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

It can seem like our students have about a 20-second attention span.  So we try to squeeze in introductions to new Writing units during that period of time before they start thinking about text messages, their lunch, tonight’s date, last night’s date …

There is an effective and stimulating method for getting students to immediately interact with a new Writing unit through a listening activity.  We want them to feel engaged as they focus on the format and techniques that they will use when they eventually write an essay in this mode.  This approach does it in a user-friendly, enjoyable way.  Also, a side benefit is that students internalize some new sentence styles and new vocabulary.

First example of this approach

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