Tag Archives: handouts

• Starting and Ending a Conversation (Includes a Group Mixer Activity)

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(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) )

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 • A More Sophisticated Technique Than Just Saying, “What did you say?” and “I don’t understand.”

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

Spoiler alert: You will hear quite a bit of laughing when students are doing the activity in pairs. 😁

Here is how I introduce this technique to intermediate-level ESL students:

If I say to you, “My cousin gave me a jigsaw puzzle,” and you say, “Pardon?” I’ll know you didn’t understand. But I won’t know which word you didn’t understand. It will help me if you let me know specifically which word you didn’t understand, so you might ask, “Your cousin gave you a what?” Then I know you didn’t understand “jigsaw puzzle.” Or you might ask, “Who gave you a puzzle?” Then I know you didn’t understand that I had said “my cousin.” This unit will give you practice in asking questions about specific information which you did not understand.

The practice for this technique involves a brief introductory exercise and a 3-step pair work activity.  (You can find the complete set of exercise to download and use with your students in the link below.)

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• ESL Students Won’t Progress In Conversation Skills Without This Technique.

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YouTube This posting is discussed on my YouTube video YouTube ESL Students Won’t Progress In Conversation Skills Without This Technique

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

In her book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers,  Amy Sutherland describes how “progressive” animal trainers help animals who may feel nervous about anything new or that they are not accustomed to. One way is called desensitizing. She explains, “When you counter-condition, you take a negative experience and make it a positive one by pairing it with something good.”

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She gives the example of a cavy, which is a South American rodent, who was terrified of the humans at the animal training school. Anytime that it needed vet care, it had to be caught, which meant chasing it around its cage, and this made it even more terrified of humans. The animal trainer set up a counter-conditioning. Each day she would enter the cavy’s cage and move just an inch closer. If the cagy didn’t hide behind a bush, the trainer would reward it with an alfalfa pellet. Overtime, the cavy allowed the trainer to come closer and closer, until one day the animal ate some pellets right out of the trainer’s hand.

I realized that desensitizing our ESL students to a “negative experience” could help them become more open to using an important technique, just as it helped the cavy.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.”

For many language learners, it seems so hard to say this or a similar phrase. For some, it can be embarrassing to appear less proficient than others (e.g. classmates) seem to be. Some don’t have confidence that they’ll understand even if their interlocutor repeats slower or rephrases what was said. Others don’t want to take up the other person’s time having to explain or simplify what they had just said.

I, myself even as an adult, was like this when I was trying to navigate my way around France or Japan. If the situation wasn’t dire, I usually just nodded like I understood and thanked them. But at times, when I really needed the information, I put aside my ego when I couldn’t understand and said in French or Japanese, “Excuse me. Could you repeat that?”  To my amazement, nine out of ten times, the people adjusted their speech by speaking more slowly, and/or used easier vocabulary, pantomimed, and sometimes even used some English. Over time, I became desensitized to those negative emotions I had felt about saying, “I didn’t understand.”

Classroom activities to make it easier and natural to ask for clarification. (Handout included.)

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• If You Want To Really Motivate Your ESL Students, This Will Do It.

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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.

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