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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Juan 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.
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.
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.
My last post gave a run-down of how I teach listening in class.
I wrote briefly about authentic listening material and why it’s so important. This post is a collection of different sources and examples of listening materials that I think work the best for in ESL classes.
First, I’ll go through examples of listening materials I use in class.
Then we’ll look at resources that you can use to give your students outside of class listening homework.
Finally, I’ll talk about my favorite listening textbooks out of the ones I’ve used.
Let’s get started