Category Archives: Motivating ESL students and teachers

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

A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More

 

Reading while eating

Reading every chance you get.

An international student, Emily, was really struggling with the grammar in her writing assignments.  Even though she worked with a tutor, she was continuously making basic mistakes.  Last fall, we reluctantly promoted her to my higher-level Writing course.  She started out as the third lowest in grammar-in-writing skills out of 17 students.  Ten weeks later, she was the second best.  I was totally amazed!

At the end of the Fall term, she passed my class and then took English Comp (English 101) during the Winter term.  She got an A.

I had a chance to talk to her about her remarkable turn-around.  What she did is not beyond what other students can do.  After that opportunity that I had to talk to her, every term, I share with all my students her story.  Here is the PowerPoint that I use to do this in case you’d like to tell your students about how a peer of theirs was able to improve the grammar in her writing in a relatively short time.  True story about improving grammar in writing thru reading

I’ll summarize what she had done below.

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For Large-Class Conversation Instructors, You Can “See” if Students are Using Techniques

Pair Conversation

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

You,the conversation teacher, are happy because the noise level in the room is high.  That means that the 12 pairs of students (24 total) are engaged in the conversation activity.   At the start of the next class, you want to give them feedback on their performance today, especially because you want to give positive comments to those who are very active.  There are also a couple of pairs who need some “re-direction.”

Needless to say, you’re not going to be able to give each student specific feedback specifically on what they said because you can’t actually hear them above all the talking.  But you can actually see whether or not they are using conversational techniques.  (See previous posts of two important techniques Conversation magic: Two most important conversation techniques (Part 1) and Conversation magic: Two most important techniques. (Part 2)

Even if you can’t hear them, you can see if they are engaging in a natural conversation; it looks like ping-pong, in which they are reacting to each other, asking follow-up questions and giving understanding responses.  You can also see if they are more like bowling, in which one monologs for a while while the other “zones out,” then the other monologs.  You can see if someone is dominating and if someone is very passive.  Interestingly, you can even see if they have switch from English to their native language; often when they do this, their voices lower and their faces aren’t as animated perhaps to “hide” from the instructor.

If you suspect that a pair isn’t using natural conversation techniques or isn’t speaking in English, there are things that you can do.

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Pleasures of “Marking” a Stack of Essays (Flow)

Joy

Feeling euphoria from flow

Early in my career, I had a whisper conversation with two of my novice colleagues.  We had often heard several of our other colleague lament the fact that they had just picked up a set of essays and would have to spend several hours marking them.  To them, it seemed drudgery, and they assumed all of us felt the same.  In private, the two novice colleagues and I were a bit surprised and relieved to find that we actually enjoyed the process of marking our students essays and giving them feedback.  We weren’t weird for feeling this way.   Over 35 years later, I still find this a rewarding experience.  One of the reasons is that it allows me an opportunity to experience flow.

A well-known research psychologist, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (he has humorously explained that his name is pronounced “chicks send me high”) has described this state as having several characteristics.  Amazingly, in our job as ESL instructors, we often get to experience this.

Look at what happens when we are checking a set of essays and how that activity can lead to the euphoric experience of flow:

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Discouraging Smartphones from Disrupting Students’ Focus in Class

smartphone

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

Research has found that students who multi-tasked with emails, text messages, and social media during class had lower scores on tests than students who did not multi-task.

I wanted to share that research with my Writing students, but, instead of just giving a lecture, I incorporated it in a fluency writing activity.  (I’ve described the step in a fluency writing activity in a previous posting Fluency writing: reading, speaking in triads, and listening culminating in a writing task. )  It involves reading, speaking, listening and writing.  In brief, students in groups of three, each having a different part of an article, read their part to their partners, and then, individually paraphrase the entire article.

I’m attaching the complete fluency activity about smartphones here in case you’d like to try it with your students.  Fluency Smartphones

A Smartphone Policy that Seems to Work for Students

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Advice to a Student Who Needs to Repeat a Course (Using Peer Examples)

Advice

Peer advice

He was making bad decisions all term long, which resulted in failing the course.  In order for Edward to pass my advanced academic ESL course and move on to English Comp, he would need to repeat the course.  He would also need to change his habits such as coming late and forgetting assignments or doing them with little effort.

After he found out that he failed, I emailed him to let him know that I could give him advice about how he could pass next time.  To my surprise, he asked for it.

My first impulse was to make a list of all the things that he needed to change in his study habits.  Then I realized that there was a more positive approach that I could take to giving this advice.

I have found that students seem to be more affected by what other students do in a class than what an instructor tells them to do.

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Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Part 2 of 4: Reading aspect)

party shy

Feeling shy in social situations

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

Why do Asians often seem so shy in social situations compared to westerners?

To illustrate how the subject of cultural differences is the best subject, I’ll include a reading passage about this followed by discussion and writing activities related to this.

This “shyness” topic is an effective one for demonstrating the important aspects of this “best” subject:

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Integrated vs Discrete Skills ESL Courses: Advantages of Discrete Skills

Startup Stock Photos

After the first day at a college I had previously taught at, I noticed a long line of students outside our EAP (English for Academic Purposes) director’s office.  It was my first day teaching in this program, so, needless to say, I was curious.  It turns out these students all felt that they had not been placed in the right level.

I soon discovered that this was a common occurrence on the first day of each term in that program.

The courses in that EAP program were organized around integrated skills, so each student was placed into one of five levels for all five hours of instruction. 1 By the end of the first day, students were quick to notice that some of their classmates were weaker than they were in some skills (e.g. speaking) but higher in others (e.g. reading).  They also were aware that some of the activities during the course of the day, depending on the skill, were right at their level, but others were above or below.

It’s not too surprising that this would happen.  New students had been given a placement exam that tested multiple skills: reading, writing, speaking, listening and grammar.  The exam resulted in one score, and their level was determined by that one score.  That seemed to be the crux of the problem. 

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