Category Archives: *Teacher/tutor training

The Eyes Have It: Keeping Students Focused During Group Work

Eyes image

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

I once had a colleague who was feeling distraught because her students didn’t seem to take group work seriously.  Her students tended to chat instead of doing the task and often finished early without completing it.  She asked me to observer her class to see if I could come up with any suggestions.

Within a few minutes of observing her class, I was reminded of a social psychology study that seemed related to her situation.  As you read the summary of the study below, you may wonder how this could be connected to ESL students working in groups.  Bear with me.

The study

The Psychology Department at Newcastle University conducted this interesting study using their coffee station.  There was a sign above the coffee station:

Smaller coffee station screenshot

As you can see, it operates on an honor system.  For the 10-week study, researchers taped a picture of flowers for a week over the coffee station and then switched to a picture of a pair of staring eyes for a week.  They continued to alternate these pictures each week.

This is where it gets interesting

During the weeks that the poster of the eyes was staring, coffee and tea drinkers contributed almost three times as much money as in the weeks that the flower picture was on the wall.  What’s so amazing is that it was just a PICTURE of eyes, not an actual person, which seemed to make people more honest.

The researchers conducted a similar study to see if the flowers or eyes pictures could motivate people to clean up after their meals.  In that study, the number of people who cleaned up doubled when the eye picture was present compared to when the flower picture was.

How this social psychological study is connected to teaching ESL

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A Question From a Reader: “Mario is supposed to study.” What is the Verb? Is “to study” an Infinitive?

Questions

Somehow, I managed to teach ESL for over 10 years before I learned what this is.  The expression “is supposed to” is called a semi-auxiliary verb.  In the sentence in the title, “study” is the main verb.

The expressions below are all called semi-auxiliary verbs.  They are followed by the main verb.

  •  (have) to
  •  (be) supposed to
  •  (be) able to
  •  (be) going to

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One of Best Uses of an ESL Program’s Funds—And a Giant Help to Teachers.

Reading Journals

This is one of the best things we’ve implemented in programs where I’ve taught for three reasons:

1. It has helped students improve their reading and writing skills, and grammar, and vocabulary.
2. It adds NO EXTRA WORK for teachers.
3. It costs relatively little money.

As most teachers in the field already know, one of the best ways for students to improve their skills is to do more reading.  (See A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More a detailed example).  However, adding more reading assignments usually means more work for the teacher—in the form of worksheets or quizzes or  feedback in some way—because students need to be held accountable for actually doing the assignments.

Here is the Perfect Solution

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EASY Needs Analysis for What ESL Teachers Should Teach (Needs Analysis) Part 2

Interview 2 students

In general, teachers can lose credibility in the eyes of their students by asking them what they want to learn.  The teacher is the professional in the room and should know what the students should study.

However, there are situations in which former students’ insights can be valuable.  Surveying these students about what would have been helpful for them to have learned in our classes from their new perspective can give us an awareness of students’ needs beyond our classrooms.

Example of needs-analysis surveys of former students

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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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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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