Tag Archives: handouts

Discouraging Smartphones from Disrupting Students’ Focus in Class


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

Research has found that students who multi-tasked with emails, text messages, and social media during class had lower scores on tests than students who did not multi-task.

I wanted to share that research with my Writing students, but, instead of just giving a lecture, I incorporated it in a fluency writing activity.  (I’ve described the step in a fluency writing activity in a previous posting Fluency writing: reading, speaking in triads, and listening culminating in a writing task. )  It involves reading, speaking, listening and writing.  In brief, students in groups of three, each having a different part of an article, read their part to their partners, and then, individually paraphrase the entire article.

I’m attaching the complete fluency activity about smartphones here in case you’d like to try it with your students.  Fluency Smartphones

A Smartphone Policy that Seems to Work for Students

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Amazing Technique to Customize Listening to Movies, Podcasts etc. for any Level of Ability


Lower-level adults understanding mature content

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

This amazingly simple technique revolutionized how I teach listening skills and completely liberated me.

After watching a good movie or a documentary on PBS or listening to an interesting segment on NPR or a TED Talk, I often thought, “My students would really like that.  Too bad their listening skills aren’t high enough.”   It was especially frustrating when I was teaching adult students because it was such a challenge to find mature content that they could understand.

Then I learned about this technique.  By using this, my students at almost any level can understand and enjoy any movie, documentary or program/podcast that I share with them.

I’ll explain more details about using the technique with movies, but here is a brief summary: Basically, the students are not trying to understand the narrator or actors.  Instead, they listen to their instructor tell them (at their listening level) what is being said or even describe in English what they just saw.  Every 10-30 seconds, the instructor stops the video/program, and explains what they had just heard or saw at a discourse level that they can understand.

For example, this came from an NPR segment about recycling.  This is what the students heard the person in the recording say, “They also gave the volunteers cans of soda and after the volunteers had drunk the soda, when the cans were intact, the cans went in the recycling.  But if the cans were dented or crushed in any way, the volunteers ended up putting those crushed cans in the trash.”

The instructor stopped the recording and told them what they had just heard at a level that they could understand, “The researchers gave some volunteers some cans of soda.  The volunteers drank the sodas.  After they finished drinking all of it, some of their cans looked new.  But some volunteers squeezed (instructor pantomimes squeezing the can) so it looked bad.  Do you understand?   Then the volunteers had to throw away their cans.  If the cans looked good or new, they threw them in a recycling bin.  But if the cans didn’t look new or looked bad, the volunteers threw them in the garbage.”  All this input is at their level.  And the information is probably new and interesting for the students.

Using videos for listening-skill development


1) The teacher writes key vocabulary on the board.

2) The teacher presents a segment of 5-10 minutes of a movie or documentary by stopping every 10-30 seconds.  S/he explains at a proper level for students’ comprehension what was said and/or what is happening in the video.  The teacher points to the key words on the board during this.  Students are not expected to understand what is said in the movie, only what the teacher says.

3) After listening to the teacher’s “presentation” of the segment, students are given a task to demonstrate comprehension(See tasks described below.)

4) After completing the task but before checking it, the students watch the segment again.  And they can ask the instructor to explain/paraphrase parts again.

5) Students can revise their answers on the task.

Types of tasks to do after a segment:

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Making the Perfect Mixture of Structure and Autonomy in Conversation Activities (Customizing Exercises)

conversation autonomy

Conversational Autonomy

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
Here is the link to the exercise handout:  Expressing opinions

“Ms. Brown, do we really have to do anything we want to do again today?”*  Ms. Brown is probably an extreme case of instructors who try to give their students autonomy because they believe students know best what they are interested in.

The chances are that you are from a different culture, different generation and/or different socio-economic group from your students.  You probably have a different marital status, different interests and/or different goals.  So how can you tap into what will be most stimulating for your students to talk about when they are practicing conversational techniques?  In other words, how can you customize the exercise for your current group of students?

A key phrase in the question is “conversational techniques.”  Students should be learning techniques that they can apply in conversational situations.  Some technique examples are: beginning a conversation, giving understanding responses, clarifying something, politely interrupting someone, rephrasing something, soliciting details, giving opinions, summarizing what was said, ending a conversation.

Let’s say Ms. Brown wants her students to practice giving opinions.  To customize the activity, she tells the students to think of topics that are interesting to them, get into groups and tell their opinions.  But, without any kind of structure, the students will probably just take turns monologuing, not actually engaging in a conversation.

The “perfect mix” of structure and customizing involves three parts:

Part 1) Introductory exercise
Students are introduced to the technique and briefly work with some examples of how it is used in conversational situations.  In other words, they don’t just mindlessly read some sample dialogs.

Part 2)  Structured exercise
Using questions or prompts, students practice in pairs/small groups.

Part 3) Customizing exercise
Using Steps 1 and Steps 2 as models, students in pairs write prompts or questions.  Then in new groups, they use these student-made items to further practice the technique.

To demonstrate this perfect mix, we’ll look at how Ms. Brown could have made her “giving-opinions” activity more productive and engaging.

The conversational techniques they will practice in this example are;
1) using natural statements to express an opinion;
2) using natural statements to agree;
3) using natural statements to disagree.

Here are samples of Parts 1-4.

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Playing Computer Games until 2 a.m. or Lack of Awareness (Subordination Part 2)

Computer games

My students at 2 a. m.?

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

“I like summer because it’s hot.”  Pretty simplistic, right?   The assignment was to write six sentences using subordinators as part of a review of them in my advanced class.  That sentence was the type that I got from some of my students.

My first impulse was to attribute this to a lack of motivation, or to staying up until 2 a.m. playing video games, or to immaturity.  I found out that I was wrong (or at least partial wrong).

A few of my “better” students would write more sophisticated sentences like, Because of the recent refugee crisis in Europe, some Europeans are starting to question their immigration policies.”   When I shared some of these advanced sentences with the “simple-style” students, they seemed quite surprised that they should have been trying to write like that.  They thought that just using a subordinator in sentence was enough to fulfill the assignment.  I realized that I hadn’t presented the challenge clearly enough.  Here is my remedy which completely turned these students around.

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Yes! Fun Learning Subordintion Inductively (Subordination Part 3)


It’s actually fun.

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

“Now, I finally think I get it,” an adult ESL student told me.  After years of trying to understand the terms of dependent clauses, independent clause and conjunctions and how they work (and don’t work) in a sentence, she seemed greatly relieved.

Instead of using a traditional approach of having students look at the rule and then trying to apply it, an inductive approach to grammar seems much more effective (and even fun) for students.  (This approach is especially affective with ear-learners.  See a previous posting Approaching Grammar with Generation 1.5 Students and Other Ear-Learners  )

To avoid overwhelming them, I have found that starting with just two subordinators “because” and “since” is easily manageable for even the most insecure student.  Once they understand how these work in sentences, it’s amazing how quickly they can apply the concept to other subordinators.

I’m attaching here a handout worksheet that I’ve used with lower-level students, and you are welcome to use too.  Intro to Subordinators Pt 3 Ex

Please see Subordination Part 1 (Part 1) and Part 2 (Part 2)for more about this most important concept.

I’d enjoy continuing this conversation with you about grammar, subordination and inductive lessons and hearing your perspectives and experiences.  Feel free to click on “Reply” at the top of this posting, and we can continue this discussion.

David Kehe

Writing Outstanding First Sentences on Essays (Applying Critical Think Techniques)

critical thinking

Critical Thinking

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

“I change my nickname each time I start a new term.”

“They live in the second poorest country in the world and have one of the shortest life-expectancy, but they rarely suffer from depression.”

“One night, while reading a book on his couch in the living room, James felt a sudden chill running through his bones.”

Needless to say, a unique first sentence in an essay like those above (which were written by my students) will not only make readers feel intrigued and interested in continuing to read, but it also can affect the impression that the readers will have about the writer’s skills.

Writing interesting first sentences is a technique that most writing teachers present to their students.  However, there are effective and ineffect approaches to doing this.

First, here is a common, ineffective approach.  In some writing books, students are shown several examples of remarkable first sentences.  Often these are at a level that is beyond most ESL students; sometimes they even come from professional writers.  Then they are told to try to write an interesting first sentence on their next essay.  Or, the more “enlightened” books include an exercise in which students are given some topics and directed to write interesting first sentences for practice.

There are some reasons why those are ineffective, especially with lower-level students.  First, students seem unable to apply the examples to their own writing.  And second, when they write a rather dry or uninteresting first sentence on an essay, they don’t realize it.

There is a proven, effective approach to helping students learn the technique of writing exceptional first sentences.  (Included is a handout that you can try out with your students, even lower-level ones.)

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Approaching Grammar with Generation 1.5 Students and Other Ear-Learners

Gen 1.5

Generation 1.5

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

In our college, there was a category of ESL students who stymied the instructors.  They were fluent speakers but continually struggled with basic the grammar on writing tasks.  Any ESL program that has immigrant students will probably have these types of students described as “ear-learners” or Generation 1.5.

Gen 1.5 students are sort of between first generation and second generation immigrant.  They immigrated with their family when they were elementary or high school age.

A growing number of these students indicate a goal of obtaining a college degree.  However, unfortunately, many of them struggle to make the transition from studying basic English skills in ESL courses to taking academic ESL and mainstream academic courses.

Among those who do apply to colleges, a considerable number do not meet the minimum standards for writing and are thus not accepted.

I, along with two colleagues, were able to get a grant a few years ago to study these students and to develop an approach to helping them learn grammar for writing by taking into consideration their special learning styles.

In this posting, I’ll describe these students and their learning styles.  I’ll also explain the type of materials and include examples that we used with them.  And finally, I’ll summarize the very positive results that we got from the study.

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