• Discussion: Student-Centered Approach to Teaching ESOL Writing Skills

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During the week of March 6-10, I was interviewed online (in written form) about teaching writing skills in the LINCS’ “English Acquisition” Discussion Group.

LINCS (Literacy Information and Communication System) is a division of the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to discussion groups, it contains many resources for teachers.

Each day of the week, the interview was focus on a different aspect about teaching writing to ESOL students, including how to motivate students and how to provide meaningful feedback.

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• Recommended Treasure Chest for Writing Your Own ESL Materials

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I wanted to encourage my Writing students to include information from their own country to support their ideas in their essays. If done well, this kind of information can be very enthralling for anyone who reads their papers. (See • The Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates )

The problem was that, when they tried to do this, the information was often too general, which made it sound kind of trite. So, I decided to write an exercise in which they would see how effective detailed information could be.

For the exercise, I wanted to juxtapose weak short paragraphs with few details to strong ones with more , and then have students identify each type. The challenge for me was to come up with stimulating content for these short paragraphs.

Fortunately, I had a treasure chest filled with interesting content that I could draw from. And as I’ll demonstrate below, this treasure chest has been my go-to place when writing materials for all the other skills too.

Here is what is in my treasure chest.

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•ESL Student-Presentations (Part 1): Questioning the Reasons for Doing Them

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Our ESL program faced a mystery. For a couple of terms, students going from Conversation Level 3 (intermediate) to Level 4 (high-intermediate) were struggling with demonstrating basic conversation skills and some needed to repeat the course.

To analyze the problem, the Level 4 teacher recorded students in pairs and triads during an activity in which they were supposed to discuss a topic like “weekend plans,” “having kids in the future,” “social media,” and “emotions.” Then she showed the recordings to a small group of teachers, and we all noticed the same thing: the students weren’t actually interacting by asking a question, answering with some details, giving understanding responses or asking for clarifications and asking follow-up questions. Those are the skills that were supposed to have been introduced in Level 2 and reinforced in Level 3. Instead, those students tended to read from their paper a question which the partner(s) responded to briefly before reading the next question.

We asked the Level 3 teacher if he was surprised by his former students’ performance on these recordings. He said that he wasn’t too surprised because he had only spent half the term working on those skills, and during the other half of the term, he had them prepare and give presentations. His reasons, he told us, were based on his assumptions about the importance of doing presentations and also from some internet and YouTube sites promoting them.

This situation gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate our course goals and the basis for those. During our discussion, we examined the common assumptions for why teachers assign student-presentations.

Assumption 1: Presentations are an essential part of preparing ESL students to succeed in college course.  They are useful since students will surely have to make presentations in other classes, in college, and/or in their future jobs. In other words, ESL students should experience giving presentations because in 5 or 6 months from now when they are in mainstream classes, it is assumed that they’ll be giving presentations.

Response: To find out how true this assumption is, it’s helpful to learn what college actually instructors say.

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• IMPROVING Six Popular ESL Activities: Making Them More Than Just Talking PART 2

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In this Part 2 of IMPROVING Six Popular ESL Activities, I’ll discuss how three popular activities are traditionally used and ways that they can be made more stimulating and conducive to conversation-skills development. Here is the link to Part 1. How to IMPROVE Six Popular ESL Activities: Making Them More Than Just Talking PART 1

 Activity 4: Desert Island

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RECOMMENDATION: It’s helpful to tell students a day or two in advance that they will be doing this activity so that they have time to think about the items that they would want to take in their cars.

Her is a link to a short video where you can see a demonstration of how this “better” activity works and more explanation about its many improvements over traditional Desert Island: A Better Way to do Desert Island

Activity 5: Ask a Partner Questions

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