How to Make a Syllabus (when you’re freaking out)

My first teaching job was stressful. I was working in South Korea as the native speaker English teacher at a middle school. About a day before classes started, I asked one of my Korean co-teachers,

So, um…What should I teach?

At that point, I had never had any substantial teacher training and I hadn’t even been given a textbook to work from. Needless to say, I was looking for a little guidance.

Her response?

It doesn’t matter. Teach whatever you want. We just want you to try hard.

The next few months were a little difficult.

And when I say “a little difficult,” I mean agonizing. I spent several school nights staying up until two or three in the morning combing the internet for standalone lessons that would work with classes of 30-35 middle school students of varied proficiency. I’ve been teaching for several years since then and I think I’d still find that situation challenging.

At the time, I was desperately in need of some structure and order to ease my cognitive load. The solution would have been to create a syllabus. But that’s easier said than done, especially for a novice teacher without any guidance. I wouldn’t have known where to start.

Since that period of chaos, I’ve created different syllabi for the various teaching situations I’ve found myself in. In this post, I’ll talk about a few of those situations and how to create an appropriate syllabus for each of them.

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3 Magic Moments in Language Learning (and why ESL teachers need to learn languages too)

Like most ESL teachers, I love learning languages just as much as I love teaching my mother tongue. Most of my colleagues are similar: I haven’t met too many monolingual ESL teachers.

Spanish has been my most recent language learning pursuit. I have a little background in the language from four years of high school and a semester in college, but I’m not fluent by any means. So for the past few months, I’ve been teaching myself. It’s been challenging and fun.

But it’s also given me the chance to go through the language learning experience again, the same experience all my students are going through. In this article, I’ll describe three specific language learning moments, and what they taught me to remember as a language teacher.

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What to Put on Your Student Questionnaire

The beginning of the semester is a busy time for teachers, so I’ll give you the good stuff right away. Below is the student questionnaire I’ll be using for my classes this coming semester. I kept it in Word so you can edit to your heart’s content.

Some quick background: I teach an adult ESL writing class at an intensive English program at an American university.

Now, if you’re interested in why student questionnaires are so important and want to know what to include in a student questionnaire for your own class, then keep reading!

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Teaching in Tegucigalpa: An Interview With Juan Jose Reyes, EFL coordinator

12696924_10207589351846080_7544691585711756894_oJuan Jose (JJ) Reyes is from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He is the Coordinator of the EFL program for TECVOC, a Vocational Technical degree at UNITEC (Universidad Tecnologica Centroamericana).

I met him in the MATESL program at the University of Illinois and he’s remained a close friend. I was excited to interview him about his job in Honduras, and he didn’t disappoint.

There are a lot of interesting topics covered here: ESL versus EFL, academic contexts versus vocational contexts, perceptions of non-native teachers in ESL contexts, insights from his experience as a program coordinator, and of course, some travel tips.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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5 Minimal Pairs Activities for Your ESL Pronunciation Class

Minimal pairs are one of the most helpful tools for any pronunciation teacher. They have been proven to help significantly with the perception of unfamiliar phonemes. And since perception of a phoneme is required before production can occur, minimal pairs can also help students when they are ready to speak.

Before you dive into minimal pair training, you should have first done some kind of needs analysis of your students. This could be a done with diagnostic test, or something as informal as listening to the phonemes that your students mispronounce. It’s also possible to predict what types of phonemes your students will have problems with based on their native language – Arabic speakers will often have difficulty with the /p/ phoneme, Japanese speakers will often struggle with /l/ and /r/, etc.

Once you’ve identified phonemes that you want to practice with your class, then you’ll want to either create or find lists of minimal pairs. Here are a few different sources:

I like to gather pairs from different lists for my classes and it’s best if you can incorporate vocabulary that students are already learning.

So once you have your needs analyzed and have some good lists of pairs for the relevant phonemes, it’s time to start practicing. Here are my favorite minimal pairs activities.

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How to Use Blogs in Your ESL Class

For writing teachers, blogging is a great teaching tool. But since it’s a newer technology and not everyone is familiar with it, some teachers might avoid using blogs in their classrooms. If you’re one of those teachers, don’t worry. They’re easier to use than you might think, and they offer some advantages you can’t get from traditional writing exercises.

This post will show you the benefits of blogging for ESL students and get you started on incorporating it into your classroom.

Note: To incorporate blogging into your classes, you will need access to a computer lab for at least one day, or an in-class computer with internet access that all your students can see (with a monitor or projector). Your students will need access to computers connected to the internet outside of the classroom (either at home, at a library, at school, etc.). For very low-tech situations, using blogs might be very difficult.

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