7 Quotes from My Writing Class this Semester

Finals just finished, grades are in, and break begins at the end of the week. It’s time to look back at the semester and reminisce.

I always enjoy teaching writing, and I had another semester full of fond memories with my most recent class. Interestingly, my writing classes usually have plenty of lively discussion. It’s a subject that a lot of students really care about, but it’s also a medium that allows them to express their ideas more completely. In a second language, it’s often more difficult to keep up with the pace of a conversation, but writing provides more time to gather and construct your ideas (of course, this is true for many native speakers too, myself included).

So without further ado, here are some memorable things my students have said or written this semester and why they’re significant.

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3 ESL Valentine’s Day Activities (Compare/Contrast Focus)

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is a part of American culture. If you’re teaching ESL in America, your students will want to learn about it.

At the moment, I’m teaching compare/contrast essays in my writing class, so the following activities combine information about Valentine’s Day with language for compare/contrast. However, you can adapt most of these ideas for different units and subject areas.

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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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Teaching Hedging for ESL Writing (Worksheet included)

Here’s my worksheet if you want the good stuff right away: Practicing Hedging.
Read on for more good stuff about hedging.

Students who have gone through an English-speaking education system usually pick up on how to write in a “proper” or “academic” way. They gradually learn the sentence, paragraph, and essay structure from their teachers and classes. Their vocabulary improves through contextualized exposure in reading. Gradually, these students learn what “sounds right” when writing.

But learners of English often need to be explicitly taught what “sounds right,” “sounds wrong,” and why.

One writing skill that is often used in academic writing is hedging. Many native English speakers do it fairly naturally in speaking and writing, but for newer learners of English, especially those who are thrown into the deep end of academic writing without much previous exposure to English, this skill needs special attention in ESL classes.

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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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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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Teaching Academic Vocabulary

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.

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5 ESL Story Ideas

Computer brains use ones and zeros to organize and process information. But human brains use stories.

Don’t believe me? Read The Storytelling Animal for an entertaining and insightful look at this phenomenon; read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World if you want a mind-blowing novel on the same topic.

If you teach English as a second language, you should be using stories in your classes. Not only are they the ideal information-delivery mechanism for the brain, they’re also fun and interesting. And we all know English learners need to be entertained.

In this article, I’ll list a few activities that can be done in class to incorporate stories. I’ll explain how to do the activity, what materials you should use, and why it’s beneficial for learning.

Let’s get started.

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Writing rubrics: save time and grade effectively

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.

Let’s get started.

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