Tag Archives: teaching techniques

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

Cover SIM shot

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

YouTube This posting is discussed on my YouTube video:   Perfect Mixture Structure and Autonomy

“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)

Cover Rejoinders SHOT

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

YouTube This posting is discussed on my YouTube video The Two Most Important Conversation Techniques to Teach ESL Students (Part 1)

Making conversation magic happen

After a colleague used these exercises with her students, 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.

Use rejoinders and make your interlocutor feel good.

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