(This posting includes a POWERPOINT presentation and HANDOUTS which you are welcome to use with your students.)*
“I wish I had more chances to practice my English outside of class.”
“How can I meet some native-English speakers?”
“I went to a party last weekend. There were about 20 people there, but nobody seemed to want to talk to me. I just kind of stood in the corner looking at my cell phone. Why didn’t anyone talk to me?”
“I sat next to someone, and I wanted to talk to him, but I was afraid that I would be bothering him, or he wouldn’t say anything. What do you think?”
I’ve been asked these types of questions frequently by my students. Naturally, some of them were low-level students with little confidence in their skills, but surprisingly, often more fluent ones also asked me for advice.
For students from some cultures, starting a conversation with someone they don’t know might be a new concept to them. (See Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Part 2 of 4: Reading aspect) )
Exercises for starting-a-conversation skills Continue reading
One day a teaching intern asked me for some advice about a listening-skills class that she was struggling with. Her internship was for three-month, and she had been assigned to our ESL program. The lesson in the textbook for the class didn’t seem to address a skill that the students needed, but she had an idea for an exercise. However, she didn’t know if she should spend an hour or two or more developing a more relevant activity. Then she added this: “The professor in my TESL Methods class told us that we shouldn’t spend time writing exercises during our internship unless we know that we’ll be able to use them in the future.”
It made me want to cry.
The most obvious reason why this advice is so wrong is that none of us in the field of Teaching ESL can know when an exercise will come in handy in the future. But, besides that, there are more paramount reasons for teachers to write exercises.
The teacher was feeling a bit overwhelmed. He was assigned a Reading course in which summarizing was one of the goals. Where to start? A colleague suggested a rather arduous process of having students identifying and clarifying the topic of the passage. This would be followed by techniques for finding the most important point the author was making for each paragraph. Then they would practice how to identify supporting points. They would practice recognizing key word and practice paraphrasing those. And on and on.
All those steps above are totally unnecessary.
The easy summarizing-skill technique
Here is the basis for this technique: We always have a reason for summarizing specific information from an article. (In real life, and even mainstream academic courses, are we ever asked to just summarize everything in an article?)
Examples of the technique
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.