How to Forge Ahead After Midterms

The weeks after midterms are a depressing time of the year for teachers in the United States. Some teachers even have a name for it: DEVOLSON: Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November.

The beginning of the semester seems like a lifetime ago. The freshness and excitement of August and September have worn off a long time ago. Students are becoming more tired and apathetic. Winter is right around the corner and yet the end of the semester is nowhere in sight.

The time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving break is the longest stretch without a break in most schools’ calendars. It truly is a test of endurance. As the days drag on, sometimes you just want to curl up and shut the world out for a few days. Of course, for teachers, that’s not an option. We have to be leaders and drag students, sometimes kicking, sometimes screaming, through the remaining classes of the semester.

Teachers can do a few things to help them make it through and come out on the other end less frazzled, if not all rosy. Here’s how I get through these most difficult months.

Continue reading

How to Help Your Class Review for a Big Test

Midterm examinations are upon us here in the United States. My classes have their midterms this week. Since the exams are cumulative, we’ve been reviewing everything that we’ve studied so far this semester.

I have a different method of review for each class – my grammar class’s review looks nothing like the review we do in my speaking class – but I always try to consider a few key principles.

Continue reading

Input Junkies: Can Teachers Infiltrate Social Media?

The illustrious Stephen Krashen was the guest speaker at the MIDTESOL conference this past weekend. Since I follow him on Twitter and know of his inclination to retweet Bill Murray, I was able to predict the opening salvo of jokes, which was actually pretty funny. The rest of his speech was eye-opening (see page 46/48 for his presentation notes). The main focus was on literacy, specifically the connection between the mere presence of books and the ability to read well. And it doesn’t matter what kind of books: Krashen encouraged the attendees to check out comic books and graphic novels and see for ourselves how compelling they are.

His argument was related to a past article in which he argues for the benefits of “junk reading,” meaning reading that isn’t considered “quality.” Pleasure reading, regardless of what language it’s in,  has the potential to put readers in a “flow state,” which can in turn lead to getting readers hooked on reading.

But why does this matter for college-age ESL students? When do they ever read for pleasure, even in their own language?

Continue reading

Creating Attractive, Effective, and Adaptable Worksheets

EDIT: Here is the handout I used for my presentation if you want a printable version of my key points.

Was that title catchy enough? I hope so. It’s also the title of my presentation at the MIDTESOL conference this weekend. And, lucky you, this blog post has all of the nuggets of wisdom I’ll be dispensing.

Even if it’s just a list of questions typed up in Word’s default Calibri 11 pt font, almost every teacher has created some type of document. I learned very early on in my teacher career that worksheets are important to have in classes. They help students stay focused on the task. They’re something to interact with, a place to write down answers and ideas. If they’re done right, they exercise the brain muscles much more than listening to a lecture.

But teachers are busy. Creating worksheets can take just as much brain power and time as filling them out. That’s why I use the same tried and true kinds of worksheets again and again. With a couple of modifications, these worksheets can be used for in almost any type of ESL class.

Continue reading

Grade Less Homework

I’ve never met a teacher who hasn’t bemoaned the amount of grading they have to do at one point or another. For many teachers, grading takes up just as much time as lesson planning and actual teaching, and for some teachers it takes even more.

The number of hours spent on grading vary from teacher to teacher and program to program. Sometimes there’s nothing a teacher can do. Certain curricula demand certain assignments and assessments that require tons of grading and there’s no way to get out of it.

But if you’re designing your own class and curriculum, you get to call the shots about how much you’re going to grade.

There are ways to lessen the amount of time spent on grading assessments, but this post is going to focus on grading assignments and homework.

And the answer isn’t to give students less homework. It’s to make them responsible for their own work.

Continue reading

Teaching in Vietnam: An Interview with Amy Jammeh, former ELF

aaeaaqaaaaaaaab_aaaajdkyodcwztlkltu5nzktndq5ny04ngvjlthmnwfknwjkogezywIn this interview, I speak with Amy Jammeh, who was selected to participate in a U.S. State Department program (English Language Fellow) in Vinh, Vietnam. She is currently an instructor and my colleague in the Center for English Language Learning (CELL) at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

She is one of my favorite teachers to work with – energetic, passionate, and incredibly fun (for proof, skip to the video at the end of the post).  We talked about Vietnamese students and class culture, her roles as an ELF (English Language Fellow), and of course some travel tips. I had a great time chatting with Amy and I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.

Continue reading

How to Build Rapport in the Classroom

Teachers often talk about the stuff that’s on paper. Grading, assessments, textbooks, the syllabus, and so on.

But it’s also important to talk about the soft skills. What does your class feel like? What’s the mood? How is everyone getting along?

David Bunker’s recent post got me thinking about rapport, not just between the teacher and students, but among everyone in the class. Rapport is essential. The perfect syllabus and materials are useless if the students hate each other and don’t encourage each other to do their best work.

Despite the various backgrounds of the students and the obvious barriers to communication, I’ve found ESL classrooms to be surprisingly easy places to build rapport. Something about learning a language as an outsider in a culture often causes people to form quick friendships.

As a teacher, you don’t want to leave that process to chance. You want to create situations that foster rapport building among everyone in the class – teacher to students and student to student.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading