The owl and the hat
One of my students, Sebastian, told our Conversation class this experience: “I was on a hike in the Hundred Acre Woods (a forest near campus). It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining through the tree branches. Suddenly, I heard a wooshing sound near my head. Something attacked my head. And then my hat was gone. I looked up and notice an owl flying away with my hat.”
The Sebastian left the room, and Kenji came in and told this experience: “One day, I was walking in the Hundred Acre Woods. I had a small backpack with my lunch in it. I was wearing a jacket and a baseball hat. All of a sudden, I heard a sound near my head, and before I could look up, an owl took my hat and flew away with it.”
Which of these students, Sebastian or Kenji actually had this experience? Finding this out is the goal of this “Truth or Lie” game. The students love it.
Studying about the reasons for cultural differences
This post may sound like I am contradicting a previous post of March 13th, “Integrated vs Discrete Skills ESL Courses: Advantages of Discrete Skills” Despite my support for segregated skills in general, an integrated skills course with higher-level students who are more homogeneous in ability can be effective and practical.
For an integrated skills 1 course to be effective and engaging to the students, the subject should be something which is inherently appealing to the majority of the students. After all, the students will be spending the course time reading, writing, and talking about the subject.
One subject which has been enthusiastically received by both students and instructors is culture, and more specifically, differences in cultures and the reason for these differences.
Some examples of these are:
-Why are people in western cultures more likely than people from eastern cultures to smile at a stranger standing at a bus stop than?
-In a study of 4-year-olds, why did the Asian children spontaneously share their candy with another child but the American children only reluctantly share when asked.
After the first day of the term a few years ago, I noticed a long line of students outside our Academic ESL (English for Academic Purposes—EAP) director’s office. It was my first day teaching in this program, so, needless to say, I was curious. It turns out these students all felt that they were not in the right level.
I soon discovered that this was a common occurrence on the first day of each term. During that first term for me, we made a change to the format of the courses. After that, students rarely complained about being in the wrong level. And students’ skills improved substantially. Here is what we did.
An important ingredient for making pair work activities successful learning experiences would seem to be active involvement on the part of both members; and it seems obvious that certain tasks would produce more involvement than others. In fact, research has been conducted on the type of communication present when pairs are involved in one-way and two-way tasks.
Effective pair conversation
How to teach ESL conversation
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching a conversation class is that when you teach your ESL students conversation techniques, you get to hear them talk about their culture, their experiences, opinions and dreams.
A student-centered approach doesn’t mean the teacher just puts students in groups, gives them a topic and tells them to talk about it. It doesn’t even mean that the students are put in pairs (Student A/Student B), given two different “information gap” papers and told to complete the exercise by talking.
A student-centered approach to conversation-skill development is much more than that.
Grammar can be fun, like a puzzle.
During a teacher-training course that I was teaching for American college students who wanted to teach ESL, we were discussing where to put commas. Several of the students said that they decide according to their breath. As they are re-reading something that they had written, if they stop to take a breath, that’s where they put a comma.
Slow reading because of translating
The other day, Mari, an ESL student of mine, asked me if I could help her with an article that she had been assigned for one of her courses. I could see that the article would be quite challenging for her. And I couldn’t help but notice that she had covered the article with translations. It was obvious that she had little confidence that she’d be able to understand any of it unless she translated almost every word, even words she actually knew.
As mentioned in a previous posting (November 2nd ), if student know the purpose of a reading assignment, they tend to read faster because they don’t get bogged down in trying to understand unnecessary details and vocabulary. Also, they are more likely to become tolerant of ambiguity. Included in this posting is a unit (an article and study guide) that begins with a focus on the reason students would read the article.