The 8 a.m. Class

5:30. The chiming bell alarm on your phone goes off.

You hit snooze and reach over your head to turn on the reading lamp. A bluish-white glow fills the pitch black room. You roll over and sleep for eight more minutes.

At 5:38 the bells start again and you hit snooze one more time and turn on your back. Your mind is almost awake now and already it’s wondering if Junwei will remember to print his essay and turn it in at 10 o’clock today. There are a few more moments of quiet and at 5:46 the alarm goes off again.

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Analyzing Arrival: The Linguistics Behind the Film

This week’s post is something new for this blog: a movie review. Movies involving language learning are rare, so I had to write about Arrival. It’s best to read this post after seeing the movie; it’s a “car ride home from the theater” type of rant and might not make sense if you haven’t seen it yet.

Arrival has an unlikely hero. Amy Adams plays Louise, a professor who hears that aliens have touched down on earth during a lecture on Portuguese. She’s soon recruited by the government to figure out what these visitors want. Since she’s a skilled translator and speaks several very different languages (Farsi, Chinese, Sanskrit, and it’s implied that she’s fluent in several others), Forest Whitaker’s character believes she’s the person who will be able to learn the aliens’ language and communicate with them.

Louise is a cool character. She’s an insanely talented polyglot who learns an alien language, sees the future, and saves the world. It’s not every day that a linguist gets to do that in a Hollywood movie.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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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4 Reasons to Teach the 5 Paragraph Essay (and 1 Reason Why You Shouldn’t)

Love it or hate it, the five paragraph essay is a core part of writing curriculum in the United States. There are many arguments against it, but for most teachers and students, it’s here to stay. And while some people like to grumble about it, there are some solid benefits to writing in this style for both students and teachers.

So here’s my thesis statement: there are four reasons why teachers should teach the five paragraph essays, and one reason why they shouldn’t.

Not repulsed yet? Read on.

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How to Kill Creativity in the Classroom

Have you ever found yourself thinking these thoughts?

I wish my students would take fewer risks.

My students should really stop coming up with new ideas.

I need to structure my classes to reduce creativity.

If you have, then you’re on your way to becoming a good teacher. Every teacher should try to find ways to kill creativity in the classroom before it becomes a problem.

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