Tag Archives: small-group activity

 • 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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• Four-Part Series: Why, How And When to Teach ESL Integrated- and Discrete-Skills Courses. 

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

This posting expands on the discussion in the most visited posting on Common Sense Teaching ESL:   Integrated vs Discrete Skills ESL Courses: Advantages of Discrete Skills

In that posting, I explained the many advantages there are for both students and teachers when Conversation, Reading, Writing and Listening are taught in separate classes.

However, it may not be possible to teach them separately due to the structure of the ESL program. And on top of that, there is a situation in which integrating the skills around one subject or topic in one course has several important advantages for students.

YouTube To explore this more, I put together a four-part YouTube video series.

In PART 1, I discuss the best way to teach students in a LOW- or INTERMEDIATE-LEVEL class in which all four skills need to be taught in one class due to the program’s design. Here is the link to the videoTeach All ESL Skills in a Class But NOT Integrating Around a Topic-PART 1 Integrated/Discrete Skills

In PARTS 2, 3 & 4, I focus on ADVANCED-LEVEL classes. At this level, especially in Academic ESL programs, an integrated-skills course that revolves around a topic or subject area can best mirror the types of mainstream (non-ESL) college classes which student will be taking.

About PARTS 2, 3 and 4. (Including a link to two academic, integrated-ESL skills units for advanced levels which you can download for free to use with your students.)

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• Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 8: Impulse Control: Don’t Look at Social Media while Studying

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

 Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

1) They could relate to the two research studies about impulse control in the article.

2) They were interested to compare how they would have performed as subjects of the studies compared to their classmates.

3) They enjoyed sharing their experiences with controlling impulses and delaying gratifications in their everyday lives.

4) They were surprised by the effects the lack of impulse control can have on our lives and how it is affecting their classmates’ lives.

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

Here is the basis for this discussion: Researchers believe that a person’s ability to delay gratification can carry many advantages, including better scores in school, fewer behavior problems, and reduced chance to be overweight and being more successful in jobs.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.

Bonus writing activity. Included in the handout is a final writing activity to give students practice with paraphrasing and writing a reflection.

About Discussion Activity Activity 8: Impulse Control: Don’t Look at Social Media while Studying

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