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.
ESL students and teachers alike are often concerned with how to improve vocabulary, and for good reason. Words are the building blocks of any language. The more vocabulary you know, the more you can use and understand. Some studies show that students need to understand about 98% of the vocabulary in an academic reading passage to understand it. Standardized tests often use vocabulary as a measurement stick. Needless to say, if you’re an ESL teacher, you will always be integrating some type of vocabulary-building into your classes.
But once students have a solid foundation of vocabulary, how can you make it even better? This post is written with a very specific demographic in mind: ESL students who are entering or are already studying at American universities. A lot of these tips and ideas might apply to classes, but I wanted to focus on this specific group because sometimes it’s so hard to find practical ways to improve their vocabulary. At times, they seem to know it all already.
But then, of course, they don’t. And that’s why they need you.
This time, I’m looking at Fluent Forever, a book by Gabriel Wyner, who was an opera singer before he became a polyglot and language hacker.
Like the first two I reviewed, this book is aimed at adults who are thinking about learning a foreign language. And again, I’m going to be reversing the point of view and looking at how it can be applied to teaching English as a foreign language.
So let’s take a look at the aspects of this book that are useful for ESL teachers.
I recently finished Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis. As a teacher of language, I’m interested in books that claim to have tips, tricks, and yes, even “language hacks” that can help people learn a language quickly.
This book, on the surface, looks quite different than the last book I reviewed. Becoming Fluent was written by a Foreign Service Officer in the US Department of State and a professor of psychology at a major university. What are Benny Lewis’s credentials? Well, just take a look:
Pretty impressive, right? So, what are his methods?
Actually, what he writes in Fluent in 3 Months isn’t too different from some of the content in Becoming Fluent, with some basic language learning/teaching tips thrown in.
And while I believe that it really is possible to become very good (“fluent” is tricky to define) in just three months, I don’t think we language teachers are in danger of losing our jobs due to a sudden rise in language autodidacticism.
You’ve got a new tutoring gig helping some eager student improve their score on a standardized test. You did well on the test yourself and know the material you’re teaching.
But you’ve never tutored anyone in how to take this test before. Your student isn’t going to learn how to take this test by simply soaking in your test-taking genius aura. What should you actually do in your class?
I’m a learner of three languages: Spanish, Korean, and German. In each of these languages, I can verbally put some sentences together and describe my day. And sometimes I do just that – to no one in particular. Either when I’m in the car alone or lying in my bed just before falling asleep, I’ll start rambling on…
Heute habe ich etwas spannendes getan…
Mañana voy a ver mi amigo…
I’ve talked to a few other people who are at similar phases of learning languages, and some of them say they do the same thing.
I really think it helps keep the language fresh in my mind. It keeps me fluent. And it’s just fun to see how long I can go.
I made the connection with this kind of practice (what should we call it? is there an academic name for it yet? how about “unrestrained solipsistic L2 vocalizations”?) when I recently re-watched a favorite YouTube video of mine.
When I start my pronunciation unit on the “th” sounds, half of my class sounds like snakes and bees.
That’s because many languages don’t have theta (/θ/) or eth (/ð/) sounds, so those sounds come out as /s/ and /z/ respectively. If you do a speaking exercise with a lot of words with “th”, you’re going to hear “sssss” and “zzzzz” until you start helping certain students improve their pronunciation.
Since both of these sounds are represented with a “th” in English writing, you can teach your students the symbols – θ for unvoiced, and ð for voiced (these are real letters, just not in English. You’ll find θ in modern Greek and ð in modern Icelandic – pretty cool!)
For Arabic speakers learning English, this will make sense to them since they have two different letters for these two sounds:
ث = θ (unvoiced) and ذ = ð (voiced)
Arabic speakers will have no problem pronouncing these sounds since they have them in their language. But they might have trouble choosing which sound to use when they see a “th” in writing, so they can still get something out of a lesson on these two sounds.
Let’s consider a few more things when you’re teaching the “th” sounds.
As language teachers, we want our students to produce unscripted language. It’s great if students can fill in the blanks on a grammar test or match definitions to vocabulary words. Those kinds of assessments show clearly whether or not students are acquiring certain bits of language. But in the real world, those bits of language have to come together to form something meaningful, whether that’s in the form of a conversation, a speech, a report, an essay, etc.
So we should assess those “real” things. OK – how? The common answer is the rubric.
Many teachers hate these dang things. They take a little while to make and they’re never as accurate as you think. Or you spend too much time trying to be accurate and you waste half an hour trying to decide if your student should get an 8 or an 8.5 out of 10 for their second body paragraph (here’s a hint – it all evens out in the long run. Just pick one)
This post will talk specifically about ESL writing rubrics – I’ll write about speaking rubrics later. I’ve got two kinds of writing rubrics I use in my classes, and I’ll explain when and why to use each.