Tag Archives: activities

Conversation Technique: Don’t Kill the Conversation. What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say.

kill the conversation

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

There a fewer better ways to kill a conversation than to do one of these after being asked a question:

  • Say nothing for a long time while trying to think about what to say.
  • Say, “Ummmmmm. Ahhhhh” for a long time while trying to think.
  • Just say, “I don’t know.”

It’s quite common for ESL students to be in situations like this.  They are asked a fairly common question like, “What will you do this weekend?”  Then their brains have to imagine what their plans are and how to explain those plans often using their limited vocabulary and grammar knowledge.  That process can take time.  In the meantime, knowing that the questioner is waiting for an answer to a question that would be easy to answer in his/her own language, the student is feeling pressure to answer quickly, feeling embarrassed that it is taking so long and feeling stress from appearing foolish.

In the meantime, the person who asked the question can often feel impatient or frustrated while waiting for a response.  The questioner will wonder if the students didn’t understand the question or if they don’t know what to say or if they just aren’t interested.

Too often in situations like this, the conversation dies and the questioner moves on to talk to someone else, and the students is left feeling foolish and abandoned.

This activity will lead students to learn a technique that completely prevents that from happening. It’s called, “Don’t kill the conversation.”

Here is how it works and here is a link to the activity handout.

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Simple Technique ESL Students can use to Impress Their Academic Instructors

 

impressed instructor

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

Imagine that you are mainstream instructor (e.g. Psychology, English Comp, Economic), and as students enter the classroom, some stop to talk to you.

First, Josh approaches you and says, “That article you told us to read was so boring.”

Later, Ryan mentions to you,  “I found some interesting information in that article you told us to read.”

Of course you want your students to give their honest opinion, but it’s only natural that you’ll probably have a better impression of Ryan than Josh.  That positive impression could even have a favorable outcome for him when you are assigning grades.

This post is about a writing technique that our ESL students can use in their mainstream (academic) classes which can make a positive impression on their instructors.

Most instructors in any field think that their subject area is very interesting. For example, psychology, history, economics, English lit and engineering instructors often think that their subjects are the most interesting and important ones in the world. Needless to say, they love to hear their students say that they also think their classes are fascinating. Thus, our students can use this insight to stand out in the minds of their instructors.  And it could affect their grade in a positive way.

In addition, it involves good critical thinking.

Here is how it works and a handout activity to practice it.

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Conversation Activity: Getting Students to Say More Than the Minimum

shy

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

 We might think that the students who say little in a conversation are lazy or just quiet by nature.  That’s not necessarily the case.  Some students have told us that they are trying to be polite and let others talk.  Others just don’t know what to say, so they say the minimum.  And some just aren’t aware that they should speak more.

This activity is designed to help these types of students. It “gives permission” to the polite students to talk more.  It “requires” the lazy or quiet ones to contribute to the conversation.  And it “pushes” everyone to think of something, anything, to say.

The activity is call Responding with Details. In groups of three, students ask each other the supplied questions (in a Student A, B, C format).  Every time the members respond, they have to answer with “and, but, so, because or with two sentences.

Example

  1. Marit: Where was the best place you ever lived?
  2. Lucien: I like warm weather, so I really loved living in California. (Answered with “so”.)
  3. Marit: When did you live there?
  4. Lucien: When I was in high school.  We moved there when I was 16 and stayed for three years. (Answered with two sentences and “and.”)

Steps in the activity (and the handout)

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Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 1: Which Is More Effective– I’m Calm or I’m Excited?

Discussion triads

 

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

Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

1) They were surprised that they were currently feeling different emotions on that day.
2) They seemed interested to hear about different ways they coped with stress.
3) They were surprised by the findings of the research in the article and how they could apply that to their future.
4) They enjoyed comparing experiences giving speeches or performing.

Here is the basis for this discussion: Researchers have found that when we are in a stressful situation, we will be better at handling it if we say to ourselves that we are excited rather than try to calm ourselves down.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.
5) Optional writing reflection activity.

About Discussion Activity 1: Which Is More Effective–I’m Calm or I’m Excited? and the handout.

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Another Conversation Activity: Listen to Partner and Ask Questions to Complete Information-Gap Chart 

image schedule chart

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

At first, this pair-work activity looks like it’s about getting students to talk a lot by filling information in a chart.  But that’s not the most important value of it.

Yes, students will talk a lot during this.  But by including a short pre-exercise, they will see how they should ask clarification questions when they need more information or if they didn’t understand.  Asking clarification questions is the strategy that they can use in future conversation situations in and outside the classroom.

In this activity, the students will be filling in information about a class schedule.  They’ll need to listen to their partners tell them the name of courses, days, times and room numbers.  They’ll have many chances to ask questions, especially if they don’t understand.

There are three steps in this activity:

  • Step 1: Brief work with a model showing how to do Step 2.
  • Step 2: Pair activity (Student A/ Student B)
  • Step 3:  Exercise to do if they finish before other pairs have finished.

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The Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates

Corn flakes

Include information from your country or culture.

An American student writes in his essay, “Every morning, I eat corn flakes for breakfast.”

His English Comp instructor thinks, “Boring.  Many Americans eat corn flakes.”

An ESL student from China writes on her essay, “Every morning, I eat corn flakes for breakfast.”

Her English Comp instructor thinks, “Wow! That’s interesting!   They eat corn flakes for breakfast in China too. as we do!”

(This posting includes this handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)  Giving information about your country.

It can be liberating to ESL students to realize that almost anything that they can include in their essays/papers about their culture and country will probably be interesting to their American instructors.  This is a great advantage that they have over their American classmates.

However, just encouraging them to include this kind of information in their essays often results in paragraphs like this one from an essay about raising children:

     Sometimes even the most obedient child will misbehave and will need to be disciplined. Some people will spank their children in order to get their attention and redirect them.  However, in my country, parents very rarely do this.

The writer of the above paragraph did include information from his country, but he missed an opportunity to dig deeper in this cultural custom and describe something more specific.  After being challenged to include an example or some details, the writer continued the paragraph:

However, in my country, parents very rarely do this.  Instead, if a child refuses to listen to his mother or throws a tantrum, his mother will tell him to stand outside the house. The worse thing that can happen to someone in my culture is to be excluded from the group, so this type of punishment can be very effective.

An Inductive Approach to Teaching this Technique

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Taking TPR to Another Level of Engagement: Two Fun Lower-Level Activities (Part 2: Movie Directors)

Excerpt from directors’ script:

Movie Director script

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

This activity is not only great for skill building, but also offers an opportunity for students to be creative.  It’s also very entertaining and a complete change from other activities that students usually do in class.

After students have done the TPR (Total Physical Response) activity which I had describe in Part 1 , Taking TPR to Another Level of Involvement: Two Fun Lower-Level Activities (Part 1: Triads) they’ll be prepared for this one, “Movie Directors.”

In brief, these are the steps and the handout.

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