One problem for ESL teachers is that we can become complacent and start to take shortcuts. One day, part way through my career, I realized that this was happening to me.
I was teaching a TESL methods course to American university students who wanted to teach ESL. During one class, a student asked me what to do if some students aren’t doing the assignments or not doing them seriously. I told them that the most important motivator is to always introduce an assignment with an explanation of its purpose is and how this assignment will help them in the short- or long-term future. WAIT! I suddenly realized that I had become lax in doing that in my own ESL classes.
For a dozen years, I had had the good fortune of teaching at colleges in Asia. For the most part, the students there were diligent about doing whatever I assigned without question. I soon fell in the habit of just tell them what the assignment was when I introduced it.
For example, in a Writing class, I might say, “We are going to do some practice with dramatic introductions. Look at pages 17-19. There are eight introductions. Two of them are dramatic. After you read each, you will identify which are dramatic.”
Or for a grammar exercise, I might say, “We are going to practice the most common places to use commas in sentence. Look at page 194. Let’s do the first exercise together.”
Or for a conversation activity, I would say, “Today, you will work with a partner and give directions to each other to find places on a map.”
Explaining the big picture purpose of an exercise: how it will help them in future.
Sometimes I get the feeling that some of my ESL students (including advanced ones) believe that there are a limited number of “who” and “which” out there, and they are afraid of using them all up before they die.
The problem happens when students are trying to write more advanced styles with a dependent and independent clause in a sentence.
Mistake: The people are walking their dogs should keep them on a leash.
Correction: The people WHO are walking their dogs should keep them on a leash.
Mistake: I try to give money to charities help homeless people.
Correction: I try to give money to charities WHICH help homeless people. *
I’ve also notice that this mistake often happens when students start a sentence with “there”.
Mistake: There was an accident happened near my house.
Correction: There was an accident WHICH happened near my house. *
* We could substitute the word THAT for WHICH in these sentences.
Solution: Helping students with this. (Handout included.)
A former ESL student of mine, Teddy, came to my office for a chat. I asked him how his classes were going, and he showed me the mid-term exam grade from his intermediate-level speaking class that his teacher had just given him. I asked him how he felt about it. He said that he was feeling discouraged because he really tries to be active in conversation, not only telling his ideas and opinions but also responding to and including other. So he felt that he deserved a much better score than a 72%, which was a failing grade.
Then I asked him, from looking at this grade form, what he thinks he’ll need to do to improve his grade.
He felt confident that he could ask more questions and try to respond to others more with rejoinders.
But about the pronunciation and grammar grades, he said that he wasn’t sure.
He imagined that he might have some problems with “L” and “R” sounds. And he thought that the grammar score was low because he always makes mistakes with prepositions. So he planned to think more carefully about those when talking.
The problem and the fix
This posting is directed specifically to teachers in these categories:
- You have experience teaching ESL Writing, but you have been assigned to teach a new level.
- You have just been hired to teach in an ESL program and are assigned a Writing class.
- You have been teaching an ESL Writing class for a few terms, but this term you have some students who have “unusual” writing characteristics.
Imagine that it’s the third week of the term. You just picked up your students’ first writing sample (e.g. a paragraph or essay) and are starting to mark/evaluate them. (See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills)
You start with Adey’s essay and soon some questions come to your mind:
Next, you read Naomi’s essay and wonder about this:
- She uses complex sentences, but sometimes her grammar breaks down, especially word forms. Would these kinds of mistakes disqualify her from passing to the next level? How “perfect” must a students’ grammar be to pass?
Another student, Dante had this characteristic:
- His ideas seemed quite simplistic; he doesn’t develop them with enough details. What is the expectation for students passing to the next level concerning idea development?
Help is on the way!