Tag Archives: engaging students

Taking TPR to Another Level of Involvement: Two Fun Lower-Level Activities (Part 1)


Image St A soup

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

This activity will show how TPR (Total Physical Response) can be more student-centered than the traditional teacher-directed approach.  Also, it is a pre-step to the TPR activity “Movie Directors,” which I’ll share in the next posting.

In this activity, students are put in groups of three (Students A, B, C).  Each member is given a paper with different “commands.”  They read their commands to their partners, who listen and do the actions.

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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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Personalized Vocabulary Exercise

Personalize Voc Image

Which of these two sentences below would be more fun for you to answer?

1) What is one significant event that happened in the world this past year?

2) What is one significant event that happened to you this past year?

Which of those two sentences would be more fun for you to hear your friend answer?

Which of those two sentences would be more likely to help you internalize the word “significant”?

It seems that the second one tends to be much more stimulating for students to answer.  And, on top of that, it seems be the type of question which will help students retain the meaning of the word.

A few years ago, I started to add an additional vocabulary exercise titled “Applied Vocabulary” to the more traditional ones that I was assigning my students.  In this, each new vocabulary word is embedded in a personal question about the students’ lives and experiences.  For example:

-With whom did you interact before you came to class today?

-When you were in high school, did your parents give you a lot of autonomy? Explain.

– Smoking cigarettes is prohibited in most high schools. What is something else that is prohibited in high schools in your country?

-With whom have you had a conflict recently (e.g., parents, boss, a girlfriend,a roommate)? __________________ Briefly tell what the conflict was about.

-Choose the things that seem inconceivable to you:
___ There will be no more wars in the world.
___ I will live in a foreign country for most of my life.
___ I will get married.
___ I will be rich enough to own several homes.
___ I will have a lot of children.
___ I will retire from work before I am 50 years old.
___ I will be a performer in a movie.
___ (Write one more thing about your future that is inconceivable to you.)

-Do you think that the method that your parents used to raise you is consistent with how you would raise your own children? _______ Explain.

-Complete this sentence: Recently, I feel insecure about _________________________ .
a) my financial situation
b) my grade in this course
c) my future
d) other: ___________________________________

Although I can’t prove empirically that this type of personalized exercise improves students retention of a word’s meaning, I have noticed an improvement in the average score on vocabulary quizzes.  (Perhaps the quality of student entering my class is just higher than previous terms, and thus, their scores were higher.)

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Innovative Approach to Writing: Introduce a new Unit with a Listening Activity

Best Friend Surprised Image

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

It can seem like our students have about a 20-second attention span.  So we try to squeeze in introductions to new Writing units during that period of time before they start thinking about text messages, their lunch, tonight’s date, last night’s date …

There is an effective and stimulating method for getting students to immediately interact with a new Writing unit through a listening activity.  We want them to feel engaged as they focus on the format and techniques that they will use when they eventually write an essay in this mode.  This approach does it in a user-friendly, enjoyable way.  Also, a side benefit is that students internalize some new sentence styles and new vocabulary.

First example of this approach

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Most Important Tool for Classroom Management (Case two and Caveat)

Classroom management

“David, Please report to the Director’s office as soon as your class finishes.  He needs to talk to you.”  A program assistant handed me a note with those sentences on it.  Gulp!

In the early 1980s, my wife and I, without much thought, accepted teaching positions on the Greek island of Lesbos.  It was a Greek island, so what could possible go wrong?

It was a prep school that high school students attended in the late afternoons/evenings after high school to study English.  Shortly after arriving, we met one of the teachers whom we were replacing.  He told us that the school had a lot of discipline problems because many of the students didn’t want to be there.  He said that the teacher-turnover was quite high as a result.  In fact, a couple of teacher had just disappeared a few months earlier.

On the first day of class, as we walked down the hallway, we could see students literally chasing each other around the class rooms and jumping on the desks.  My first class was with 16 tenth-grade students.  Although most of the students paid little attention to me but instead continued to chat as I started the lesson, there were three female students sitting in the front row appearing eager to begin.  Those three became the focus of my attention.  Gradually, most of the others started to engage in the lesson, while a couple slept or doodled or looked out the window.

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Most Important Tool for Classroom Management (First Case)


African classroom

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

This “tool” has helped me remain calm in many stressful teaching situations.  Without this, I probably would have changed careers many years ago.  I discovered this tool during my first month of teaching ESL when I was in Africa in the Peace Corps.

Here is what happened that first time in Africa.  One day early in the term, I was conducting a lesson in a class of 35 students.  Sitting in the front row were two popular students, Kato (the class president) and his best friend, Abdula.  They were have a good time privately whispering and laughing while I was explaining the lesson.  I could tell the other students had noticed them, so I knew I had to do something before the other students would start talking and I’d lose control of the class.  Because Kato and Abdula were popular, I knew that I could alienate the other students if I didn’t handle this situation delicately.  I could feel my stomach churning and blood pressure rising.   Probably many teachers would have the same initial inclination that I had which would be to just tell them to stop talking.  But what if I did that, and they continued talking?  Then what could I do?   I decided to not say anything right then and to think about it after class.

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Writing Class Person Description Activity: Fun, Lively and Productive



Describe classmate image

This is a paragraph that a student secretly wrote to describe one of her classmates.  All the students are circulating around the periphery of the room, reading description hanging on the wall with no names on and trying to determine who is being described in the paragraphs.  Each student seems very focused on reading the descriptions, searching for the classmate who is the object of the description but also looking out of the corner of their eyes to see what kind of reaction others are having to the description that they secretly wrote just an hour earlier.  There is energy in the room, a lot of interacting and a lot of laughing.

Describe your classmate activity

In brief, the steps for this activity are:

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