Most Stimulating and Engaging but Often Over-Looked Essay Mode

Definition Essay Korean

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

A frequent type comment by teachers, “I always look forward to reading these essays.  They often give me new insights into my students and their cultures.”

A frequent type comment by students, “When I heard that we would write a complete essay about one word, I thought it would be impossible.  But after I chose a good word, I really enjoyed writing this.”

Another frequent type comment by students, “This was the most challenging essay for me, but in the end, it was the most rewarding.”

Many ESL Writing books and instructors overlook this essay mode because they don’t realize its secret potential.  It’s the Definition Essay.  The potential lies in the type of words that the students write about.

Traditional Definition essays can be very unstimulating for the students to write and for the teachers to read.  There are two major reasons for this:

(1) The category of topics from which to choose provides little opportunity for ESL students to feel truly invested in it.
(2) The students are given few specific or poorly designed techniques which they can use.

The Dynamic Definition Essay: Category of Topics and Specific Techniques

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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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Reading Unit.  Science of Shopping

Excerpt

1 Sixty-five percent of men who take jeans into a fitting room of a store will buy them, but only 25% of women will do that.

2 Four percent of people shopping for computers on a Saturday morning will buy one, compared to 21% who will buy one after 5 p.m.

3 Eight percent of shoppers in a store that sells houseware use shopping baskets.  Also, 75% of the people who use a basket will, in fact, buy something, as opposed to 34% of the shoppers who don’t use a basket.

4 Information about customers’ shopping patterns like those that are described above can help store owners make decisions that improve the sales in their stores.

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

See  Reading Units: Reading for Insights (Introduction)for an introduction to these reading units.

Article & Study Guide for  Science of Shopping (and excerpts)

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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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Non-Credible Rationale for What Teachers Teach

non credible reason

“I just feel that this is what students need to learn.”
“When I was in college, we had to do that.”

After the second day of a term, a distraught colleague told me that her high-intermediate level writing-students were totally unprepared for her course.   Her course was supposed to build on what they had learned the previous level, but she discovered that the students had little awareness of what a thesis statement was or what topic sentences were.  Many had trouble writing cohesive sentences.

We asked their previous instructor if he had followed the curriculum and worked on these with the students.  He replied that he had decided to have them write a research paper instead.  His reason: “When I was in college, I had to write research papers, so I decide that it was important that they know how to do that.”

Another instructor who was supposed to teach discussion skills for students to use in small groups, instead spent half the term having the student do presentations.  Her reason: “I just felt that it was good for them to do this since they will probably have to do presentations in the future.”

Why these reasons have little or no credibility concerning what/how we should teach ESL

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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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