Tag Archives: teaching techniques

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

movies

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

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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:

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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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Great Self-Study Conversation Technique: Not an Oxymoron

transcribing

Self-study conversation technique

When I was living in Japan and in Africa, I occasionally met a non-native English speaker who spoke almost fluent English with clear pronunciation, natural intonation and mature vocabulary and had great listening skills.  Naturally, I assumed that they must have spent time in an English-speaking country or had English-speaking friends or a tutor, but all of them told me that they had never left their country and had little contact with English speakers.  However, I soon learned that all of them had one thing in common: each of them had developed their oral skills through one fairly simple technique.

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Conversation magic: Two most important conversation techniques (Part 1)

"That's interesting!" Photo by alvesgaspar

“That’s interesting!” Photo by Alvesgaspar

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

Making conversation magic happen

After a colleague used these techniques, she told me with wonder in her eyes, “I saw magic happen in my class today.  My students suddenly became very animated, their voiced rose, and they were laughing!” 

Then she wondered if it was some kind of set up.  In other words, by using these techniques, students have no choice but to feel like someone is interested in what they are saying.

In a sense, she is right.  But isn’t that what we hope our students will experience? These are the two techniques:

1) Use rejoinders to show that they understand what the other has said by giving understanding responses.

2) Ask follow-up questions to maintain the conversation and to show interest in each other..

When someone uses these in a conversation, their interlocutor can’t help but feel like someone thinks they are interesting to talk to.

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Introduction to Teaching ESL Conversation: Effective Pair/Group Activities

 

pair

Effective pair conversation

How to teach ESL conversation

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

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching a conversation class is that when you teach your ESL students conversation techniques, you get to hear them talk about their culture, their experiences, opinions and dreams.

A student-centered approach doesn’t mean the teacher just puts students in groups, gives them a topic and tells them to talk about it.  It doesn’t even mean that the students are put in pairs (Student A/Student B), given two different “information gap” papers and told to complete the exercise by talking.

A student-centered approach to conversation-skill development is much more than that.

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Purposeful reading: Students read faster if they know what they are looking for.

 

Having a purpose.

Having a purpose.

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

One reason that ESL students often take so much time reading a passage is because they think that they need to understand all the information.  As a result, many of them tend to cover a text in translation of every word that they are not familiar with.  We have often heard of international students staying up until 2 a.m. trying to complete reading assignments in their academic courses.

This can change if they know in advance the purpose of the reading assignment.

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