Category Archives: *Motivating ESL Students and Teachers

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

• Helping Our Students Who Feel Invisible

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In the documentary, Becoming, about Michele Obama, Michele is asked about feeling invisible. Her description made me think more about how many of our ESL/International students probably feel invisible in classes, on campus and in society, and how we can help them.

My personal experiences with feeling invisible are quite trivial compared to what some of our students experience, but a recent episodes gave me a bit of a taste of how it feels.

I was talking to a colleague (we’ll say his name was Ben) outside the library when a young woman whom I didn’t know walked up to us with a smile on her face. The two of them obviously knew each other and started talking animatedly, without Ben introducing us. After a couple of minutes, they walked off together across campus.

That experience had little effect on me other than feeling a tad off balance or slightly irritated momentarily. But for International and minority students, being treated as invisible can be quite disheartening.

One young man described it this way, “The problem is that to many people, I am simply invisible. Nobody says ‘hello’ to me. Nobody nods to me. Nobody recognizes me as a person with something to say. Nobody listens to me. People make assumptions about me on the basis of my color and where I come from…But I am a person and have something to say — both as an individual and on the basis of my distinctive experience.”

In our classrooms, we can see the students who are probably feeling invisible. They are the ones who are not greeted by others who look past them and start talking to more familiar friends. Or the ones overlooked when their classmates are told to find a partner for an activity. Or the ones who sit silently seemingly unnoticed in group discussions.

How to help our ESL students feel visible.

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• Avoiding Writing-Teacher Burnout: Save Your Time And Energy With This Effective Method For Giving Specific Feedback.

Many teachers mistakenly believe that spending their precious time and energy writing long comments at the end of students’ papers is what Writing teachers should do.  As one instructor wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “I am an English professor, and responding to student writing is what we English professors do…For 25 years, I have diligently, thoughtfully, and fastidiously written comments on my students’ essays. In my neatest hand, I’ve inscribed a running commentary down the margin of page after page, and at an essay’s conclusion I’ve summarized my thoughts in a paragraph or more.”

This instructor decided to stop writing comments on her students’ paper after she came to this realization: “Most students seemed to spend little time taking in my comments on their papers. They quickly skimmed, looking for the grade, and then shoved the papers into their bags.” Her solution: Instead of writing comments, she decided to meet in her office to discuss her students’ papers one-on-one.

For most ESL Writing instructors, meeting with students in their offices is not a realistic option. At the same time, writing long comments at the end of papers is often a waste of time and energy, just as that professor discovered.

It seems that there are two approaches to giving feedback to each student

General Feedback Approach

Part of problem with giving general feedback at the end of an essay is that the comments tend to be so generalized that there is little for students to apply to future writing assignments.  For example, here is what one teacher wrote:

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• Enjoyable and Effective Awareness Activity for Changing ESL Students Classroom Behavior

Cover skits Shot

Most ESL students don’t do goofy things just to irritate the teacher. Usually, they are unaware of how they are coming across or not aware that they are acting differently from the other students or even what is expected of them.  These are some of the habits students tend to bring to our classes:

  • Chronically arriving to class late
  • Text messaging during class
  • Not paying attention
  • Chatting with classmate
  • Not participating in a group
  • Calling out answer before others get a chance
  • Sitting in the back of the room day-dreaming
  • No eye contact to teacher or classmates in a group
  • Speaking own language in a group
  • And more

To circumvent these habits and help students develop an awareness of expectations, in the two most recent ESL programs that I’ve taught in, we included some skits during our orientation of new students or during a workshop for students after the term had started. Not only did the students seem to enjoy them, but also we noticed far fewer students coming to our classes with these behaviors.

Here is how we did it.

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• ESL Writing Workshop: Tremendous Benefits for Students and Teachers

Blog Workshop Cover Shot

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

In this YouTube video, I describe the Writing Workshop Approach to teaching ESL writing skills. This approach has been successfully used by a large number of teachers. Some of the many benefits include motivating students by giving them autonomy and allowing teachers to conference one-on-one with students during the class time rather than outside class.

Here is the link to the YouTube video:ESL Writing Workshop on YouTube

Here is a link to where you can read more about the steps in the workshop approach and find a specific model lesson plan with free downloadable exercises/activities.

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