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Monday, December 03 2012


We’ve all been there: “I’ll just print something off the web and wing it.”

Our students will never be able to tell the difference, right?


Even if your students are too concerned with their own language skills, they will quickly notice that something is amiss when their English doesn’t improve. Let's remember that your students are paying good money to learn from you. They trust you not to cheat them of their time or cash. After all, printing off an article and blithely declaring, “Discuss this!” isn’t much of a lesson plan. Nor is handing out pages filled with exercises from one of the myriad of materials for tired and lazy teacher websites. After all, just because your students' language skills in English are not as developed as yours doesn't mean they can't go to the same web sites you do. And if they can, then what is the point of having you as their teacher. 

No one is saying the internet is bad. The web’s a fantastic resource for teachers and it would be shortsighted not to make the most of it. My message here, however, is to tell you not to rely on it too much - use the web to enhance your lessons rather than make them for you.

Here are some things I keep in mind when I prepare supplementary materials:

1) Discover your students’ strengths and weaknesses so you can teach at a level that is appropriate but challenging for them. Keep brief notes on each student to help you remember their particular needs. Now you can tailor your classes to suit them. The web’s great, but it has no idea about Amalie’s confusion with the /p/ and /b/ phonemes, Hans’ overuse of the present perfect tense, or how Momoko reaches for her electronic translator at the sight of every new word. Search the internet to find something that will be relevant AND useful to your students.

2) It’s your job to make sure your students learn something new in every class. Pick a clear teaching point for each lesson. Now search the web with that specific goal in mind, rather than trawling through random ESL websites.

3) Make a lesson plan. It will help you control your time and make sure you stick to your teaching point. The web has some great ideas, but remember to always keep your own students in mind. Browse lesson plans online to get ideas to create your own plan rather than printing out a generic one and dashing off to class.

4) Thinking about your class ahead of time also allows you to see if there’s a problem – too much new vocab to take in, or too many repetitive exercises. Use the internet to locate different exercises or games to mix things up a bit, or find some pictures to make memory aids or flashcards. You get to be creative here. Use your imagination.

5) Move around. Students sit hunched over a book when they study at home. Make class fun for them. Use internet dialogues to practice reading skills, but then ask the students to stand up and use the dialogue as a basis for role play. You could even print out some pictures to use as props.

Finally, always remember that the internet isn’t the teacher; you are.

Posted by: A. Lee AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, April 04 2012
One of the major differences between a native student and an ESL student in a classroom is simply one lives and breathes English while the other one struggles to learn it. Therefore, teacher-centered instruction that espouses vocabulary and grammatical rules does not make significant progress with ESL students. In order for a student learning English to begin to use the language, he or she must be forced to speak it in the classroom. Therefore, role-playing is one of the best ways for ESL students to master the English language. It also takes some preparation to set students up for success. Here are some tips to ensuring that your roleplay is appropriate and effective:

1) Provide the Context of the a Real Life Situation Through A Story or Dialogue

Start with a real life situation that the students might encounter. Read a story or a dialogue between two people that deals with the situation. Through the narrative or dialogue, the students will hear how questions are phrased and answered. For example, a story involving getting lost would have questions that ask for directions. This is the piece in which the student will model after during the role-play.

2) Go Over New Vocabulary Relevant to Situation

Vocabulary is an extremely important for ESL learners. This is precisely what they have to build, so introduce new words constantly and give them a context to be used. After the students listen to the story or dialogue, they should be explicitly taught all new words that have been presented. This means that a definition should be first given to the student that is succinct and easy to understand. Then its usage should be demonstrated with a sentence. For example, if one of the new terms is library, a simple definition such as “a place that keeps books” will suffice. You can then proceed with a sentence “I like to read books in the library.” Having students practice using the word after you have given an example is also helpful. Afterwards, the students will be expected to use the new vocabulary during role-play.

3) Leading Role-play Through Prompts

It is often quite difficult for ESL students to initiate conversations in English out of the blue. That is why prompts are very useful in guiding the students. The prompts should first be written clearly and then discussed and practiced with the students. For example, a prompt might look like this: “where is the…?” The students are expected to use the prompt in a complete sentence. Ask different students to try it out so that you can be sure that they understand the meaning and the way it is being used. This will make it easier when they engage in role-play with each other.

4) Develop Dialogues Through Role-play

Once the prompts are practiced as a class, the students are ready to partner up for role-playing. They will then take on different roles and use the model piece, vocabulary and prompts as guide. For example, in the context of being lost, one person can ask for directions while the other answers. This is one of the most effective ways to develop oral skills quickly.
Posted by: G. Rice AT 08:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, January 03 2012

For generations, language teachers have set students tasks to complete. However, these tasks did not always reflect communication needs in the real-world. Task-based learning (TBL) is an approach to language education which aims to address this issue. If students are given effective tasks, they see a clear connection between the need to communicate and the successful completion of a realistic task. For some teachers, the use of a TBL approach in classes can be a daunting shift from their familiar methods. Using these guidelines can help to make TBL part of any teacher’s classroom expertise.

Pre-task stage

Here, teachers engage the students’ interest in the task ahead with related topics and themes. Images, video, or real-world objects can generate interest. During this short stage, the teaching of course content is avoided.


Language complexity

Gauging the task level to the students’ language ability takes experience. Changing the language demands means that tasks can easily be adapted according to student level. For example, at lower levels, students can look at a financial problem and rank possible solutions. At higher levels, students can look at the financial problem and hypothesize about possible solutions themselves.


Task demands

Language is just one element that makes a task easier or more difficult. Teachers can manipulate a range of factors to change task demands. These factors include time limits, topic choice, group numbers, and the amount of support material.


Errors during the task

During the task, the teacher’s role is to listen, quietly make notes, and offer minimal support. The notes are used later in the lesson during the feedback and input stages. With time, students learn to trust this method as they know that clear language teaching will take place after the task. While working on the task, students need to draw on their available language resources by themselves.


Public forum

Following the task, students remain in groups and plan to present their task conclusions to the class. Here, students need time to prepare these presentations for the public arena. Students naturally focus more on accuracy and formality as they are motivated to create a positive impression before the rest of the class.


Targeted feedback

Students will make lots of errors during the task stage. It is not possible to deal with all of them at one time. Focussing on common errors will benefit the majority of learners. Teachers should aim to work on a targeted number of language areas rather than, for example, looking at many verb tenses. Also, teachers must avoid naming students when discussing errors. Students need to have the confidence of knowing that they will not be publicly shamed for making mistakes.


Task-based learning can make an effective addition to any teacher’s classroom toolkit. Giving students a model answer to the task at the end will round off the cycle well. Students enjoy comparing their conclusions with the model task. They will also benefit from the exposure to effective language in the task area. In short, task-based learning can offer students and teachers a valuable means of developing language proficiency.

Posted by: D. Lesho AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, August 14 2010

ESL students will make mistakes. Making mistakes is a natural, and necessary, part of learning a new language. And choosing just how frequently to correct msitakes is typically a new teacher’s first tactical decision. Do I make sure everyone says everything correctly all the time? The simple answer is "no". Progress will be slow, if at all; students will have little confidence in their ability; and the class will most certainly be dull beyond belief. Yes, what the students say will be correct, but the chances of them saying anything outside the classroom are slim. Why? They have no confidence and the teacher is not there to tell them they are correct. Additionally, any desire they have to speak will be beaten out of them because in the class, everything they say is "wrong".

So, should the teacher not correct anything, letting the students just talk and talk? If so, then what is the point of the teacher's being in front of the class? The teacher’s job is to teach or guide the students, and if no error correction happens, then why do students even need a teacher?

The best path is somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. Learning English is a long journey, one that takes years. Every mistake can't be fixed in an hour-long class. It is best for the teacher to keep that in mind when planning an error correction strategy. For beginning students, it can be good to do some heavy lifting, stop the class, and correct their grammar mistakes or pronunciation slips or incorrect word choice. However, once the class starts to have some proficiency, it is best to make corrections in a more subtle manner. This is where one's TESOL training comes into play.

Some teachers like to take notes during the class and correct mistakes anonymously at the end of class, perhaps the last 5-10 minutes. This kind of "delayed correction" can be effective, but students can forget if they were the ones who said that or not, and it’s easy to forget the correction on the way out the door. Another popular way is to repeat the mistake back to the student, but say it correctly. Student: “I go to my friend’s house yesterday night.” Teacher: “Oh, you went to your friend’s house last night?” This "echo correction" is a gentle reminder of the right thing to say. Or the teacher could say just “went” as a way of reminding the student of the correct verb tense, or simply say “not yesterday night, last night.” These last two techniques are more immediate, reminding students of what they should say, encouraging them to repeat what they said but correctly. I will not correct everything they say, and I do let many mistakes pass. This allows them to hear the correct way of saying something, gives them the chance to say it correctly, yet does little to interrupt the flow of the class. After all, the bottom line of any lesson is to ensure that students "produce". This is best done without the teacher interrupting to correct every little mistake.

Posted by: G. Ribeiro AT 12:14 am   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email

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