Thursday, June 07 2012
I have taught ESL for four years and in a variety of settings. During this time, I have immensely enjoyed expanding the horizons of the young people that I have taught. Although I had no formal training in teaching English to non-native speakers before taking my first teaching job, I got through my assignments largely through trial and error, overplanning, and a healthy dose of what I thought was "common sense". And I was so busy focusing on staying afloat that I neglected to grow as a "professional" ESL Teacher. Even though I was often able to adapt class lessons to fit my own needs as an ESL teacher, I knew within myself that I could benefit more from ongoing training and development.
To remedy this, I made it a goal to engage in some sort of development on a regular basis. So, I joined a local professional organization of ESL teachers. We would meet on a regular basis and share techniques and strategies with one another. We found that we were able to help one another find many ways to enrich and enhance the delivery of our lessons for our students.
Some of my more experienced colleagues did not share my enthusiasm for the training sessions; nor did they partake in any professional development presentations conducted by our local professional organization. They felt this "training" was remedial and did not serve a practical purpose for them in their teaching of the students. This is an attitude that I have found is somewhat common in the world of teaching ESL, but one which I could never subscribe to. It is always my priority to develop into the best teacher I can be for both myself and my students.
Last year, I enrolled in the LinguaEdge online TESOL Teaching Certificate course at the urging of my principal. At first I was hesitant due to my already full schedule of extra-curricular student activities after school. The training quickly proved to be invaluable. I learned new ways to teach my lessons, to correctly write my lesson plans, to implement new behavior modification strategies, and to utilize new time management skills. More importantly, it gave me a whole new vocabulary I could use to expand my development once the course was over.
The addition of formal training really gave my career a boost. Implementing so many new learning practices and components in the delivery of my lessons really made me a much more effective teacher. It impressed my colleagues so much that they suggested to the principal that I be placed in charge of professional development for our department.
My recommendation to all ESL teachers, even those with "years of experience", is to get as much ongoing training as possible. In addition to possibly enhancing your pay rate, it will reveal new ways for you to enjoy teaching even more to take you and your students to a whole new level. It wasn't until I used the many new teaching techniques and tried out new teaching methods from my training sessions that I became a true believer in what I always tell my students: learning never ends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monday, November 21 2011
Aim: Students will be able to use adjectives to describe objects, focusing on using adjectives to clarify or specify meaning.
Time: 50-60 minutes
1. Open with the question, "Have you ever forgotten a word just as you were about to say it? Other than remembering it, how did you finish expressing your thought?"
2. Students relate the fact that we tend to describe it by relationships or Adjectives.
3. Elicit students to define an adjective. Note that phrases can be used as Adjectives. Emphasize that these words help explain what something is without actually stating what it is.
4. Tell the class they will be performing an activity based on this idea. The teacher will give at least two examples to begin with. If they cannot remember a word in English, this will help their ability to communicate around that. Use the following two examples or create your own (Item 5 is an object described only by Adjectives, Item 6 is a series of Adjectives meant to identify an object).
5. Object: Snowball. Adjectives: Round, Small, Frozen, White (hopefully), Soft, Throwable, Hand-Made, Tasteless, Odorless
6. Object: Desk. Adjectives: Flat, Four-Legged, Wooden/Metal/Plastic (use a desk in the room as an example), Brown, Large, Soundless or Creaky (again, use a desk in the room)
7. It will be very likely that other objects can fall into this category (such as a chair for Item 5). Discuss what this means about Adjectives in the English language. Specifically, focus on the fact that nouns give a great idea what something is, but there is a lot of variation in what a "desk" could be. A lot of adjectives put together can still apply to more than one object. To exemplify this fact, ask the class to list as many adjectives of a desk or chair as they can think of, collectively, and see if those adjectives still apply to both objects.
8. Finish the Present portion by discussing why the language has both parts of speech and why using both will make communication clearer.
1. You will require note-cards with several words written on them (4-6). One note-card will be used per group. The note-cards should have the names of common objects on them. If the ESL class is made of students who speak a common language other than English, and of a beginner level, the cards should have the names in the students' common language. You might try: Soccer Ball, Dog, Tree, Pencil, Lamp, House, Baseball, Phone, Book.
2. Split students into groups of 2-4. Give each group a note-card.
3. Ask the students to take turns thinking of an object, or using an example from the card, then describing that object to the group using only adjectives. Each student should keep track of the objects he or she used and how many adjectives it took before someone guessed the correct object.
4. This activity should be limited to 15-20 minutes, but classes requiring larger groups or those that love to participate can be given up to 30. At the end of the activity, ask each group to determine what the most difficult or most interesting object to guess was, then list at least 6 adjectives for the object
1. The test to see how well students can use adjectives comes in two parts. The first part is a competition between groups (Items 2-3b), and the second is a worksheet created by the students (Items 4-8).
2. Each group was asked at the end of Practice to pick one object they tried to guess. Each group will take a turn going around the class using adjectives to describe their mystery object. It is preferable at this point to ask the group members to write their adjectives on the board.
3a. At this point, if time is short, limit each group to the 6 adjectives asked for in Practice. Then, the other groups should work amongst themselves to guess the object, writing down their guesses in the order of groups. After all of the groups have gone, they will go around the room in the same order revealing their mystery objects. This can be made into a competition by offering extra credit or prizes to the group(s) that guess the most correctly.
3b. If time is not a concern, as each group is required to give adjectives for its mystery object, members will write adjectives on the board one word at a time. The other groups will have the opportunity to guess the object aloud. To preserve classroom order, each group should only get one guess per object. Adjectives should continue to be listed until a correct guess is made. Alternatively, an upper limit may be given in case the object is not commonly known (a good upper limit here is 15, though many groups have struggled in the past to go past 11 or 12, ESL or English as Primary Language).
4. Students will be given Part 2 of Produce as either homework or an end of class activity. This is the last exercise meant to cement the lesson, both through writing and another day of practice.
5. Each individual will spend the rest of the class session or that night's homework time thinking of one object and several adjectives for it (between 6 and 8, but the class must receive a set number). If the student comes to the required number of adjectives, but he or she feels like the adjectives can describe more than one object, all possible objects should be written down (like the desk/chair option above, "table" may also work).
6. The responses will be collected as homework, either at the end of class or at the beginning of the next day.
7. The teacher will compile all responses and create a worksheet consisting of only the adjectives for each response.
8. The students will receive copies of the worksheet as homework. Their assignment will be to determine what the adjectives describe. If this is a beginner level class, the objects to choose from could be attached to the worksheet as a word bank.
If Item 5 in the production stage is assigned as homework, this means there will be a class session between turning in the work and getting the worksheet (unless the teacher is a really fast at typing and copying). If this is the case, the extra class session should be used covering Adjectives in a different approach. Rather than thinking of Adjectives and Nouns as different ideas, students could discuss readings that are full of adjectives and readings lacking much description. Passages should be primarily narrative prose, as Adjectives promote a sense of realism and clarity. Try to find examples that overuse modifiers as much as ones that lack them, in order to give a good feel for technique.
Good examples of narratives lacking adjectives are news writings. The basic, important information is there, but news articles rarely aim for a reader to be 100% immersed in the writing. Narratives with more than enough adjectives (and other modifiers) tend to be suspense, horror, and mystery works. Finding the "right" mix is difficult and subjective, but students can take time discussing the extremes, trying to find a comfortable middle.
Sunday, August 21 2011
Being an ESL teacher can seem daunting and impossible for someone who has little or no experience in this field. Most newcomers believe a teaching degree is required to be an effective teacher. This is not true. While I would argue that a TESOL teaching certificate course will provide the training, what makes a good ESL teacher is a combination of several things.
First and foremost, the teacher will have a native or near-native grasp on the English language. As you will be giving information, answering questions, and correcting mistakes, it is important for the teacher to demonstrate a knowledge of the different language systems. This doesn't mean that you have to know the name of every grammar term. You should, however, be able to explain language concepts in terms your students can understand. After all, you don't want to have to resort to explaining something with "English is strange like that"; or "That's just the way it is." Remarks like this will leave your students frustrated and their confidence in you severely eroded.
Just because a teacher is a native or near-native speaker doesn't mean she will automatically be a great ESL teacher. Other qualities must be found if she is to make an impact on her students.
ESL students are typically quite nervous about their English skills and lack the confidence to use them. Although many of them have previous English studies and knowledge or currently use English for work or other activities, students tend to lack confidence that they can communicate in English. A good ESL teacher, then, must have the ability to encourage and build confidence in his students. Giving encouragement, praise and showing the willingness to point out areas of improvement are hallmarks of an effective teacher.
An ESL teacher also must have a bit of a creative streak. Most ESL students, especially those who are older, are not interested in spending hours pouring over grammar exercises and documents. Studies have shown, and my own teaching and learning experience has confirmed, that this is not the best way to learn a language. A language is best learned through use--that is, speaking about many things in many different situations. Therefore, a good ESL teacher must be able to think of creative methods for teaching and learning. Some ideas might include reading and discussing articles of interest to the student, practicing role-plays, or performing actual activities using English.
A good ESL teacher knows that he is not to do the majority of talking. Instead, he quickly assesses what makes each student tick and how each student responds and then begins to ask many open-ended questions. The goal of the ESL teacher is to get the student to speak and express in whatever way possible. A student who does not speak cannot make mistakes, be corrected, or improve. A good ESL teacher draws the student out into a place of being able to express willingly and, later on, confidently.
In the end, anyone who truly has the desire to help others learn, as well as a basic knowledge of the language and teaching fundamentals, can be an effective English teacher.
Thursday, April 28 2011
Dictation exercises can be useful for low level ESL students by enhancing fluency and accuracy in the four areas of language learning: listening, speaking, reading and writing. However, traditional dictation can also increase boredom and lack of motivation in students, as these exercises are usually more traditional and teacher-centered. As a way to improve fluency and accuracy in the four areas of language learning, and to avoid boredom and increase motivation, this lesson is designed as a series of student-centered exercises. Additionally, the level of the language being used will be of a simple and practical nature, fostering a sense of success as the students master some basic vocabulary. If implemented properly and with varying (and, over time, decreasing) levels of support, students should begin to develop mastery in all four areas of language learning.
Initially, students should be grouped in pairs. Each student will need paper, a writing instrument, and a set of flashcards. 20 cards can be divided between the two students. Each card should be double-sided, with the vocabulary word printed on one side and a picture representing that word on the opposite side. Each set of cards should be related by subject matter, e.g. foods, sports, body parts, etc. Students should take turns reading and writing. The reader must determine the word being used, with support from the instructor, using the picture clue on the back. The reader then reads the word, and the writer records what is read. For scaffolding, the writer can also look to the picture clue on the back of the card to assist with comprehension. As the writer achieves more mastery, this picture clue can be removed. For the sake of practice and consistency, the reader should dictate several cards to the writer. Pairs of students can begin be reading two in a row, then five, then all ten. Students can also trade stacks of cards when the first sets have been mastered. Additionally, the number of cards that each student dictates can be increased, again depending on the level of mastery. After each student has read and written, responses can be checked against the cards, corrections being made as needed.
As students begin to increase vocabulary, the cards can be made to reflect simple phrases using previously mastered words. For example, "apple" can be adjusted to the simple phrase "I like apples." The complexity of the phrases can also be adjusted. This exercise can begin as a focal point of a language lesson, then be adapted to a warm-up or review exercise over time, depending on the level of mastery achieved by the students.
The student giving the dictation will develop reading and speaking skills, while the student taking the dictation will develop writing and listening skills. The teamwork involved in the exercise will increase student motivation and confidence, while the student-centered nature of the activity will enable the teacher to provide more support during the exercise.
Friday, January 14 2011
One thing that surprised me the most about my experiences teaching English in China is just how willing the Chinese people are to learn the language. English is spoken all over the world, and as China begins to emerge as a global economic giant, the workforce there realizes just how important it is to know English to compete internationally.
Don't get me wrong, it was a challenging transition, but it was made a little easier by the fact that people there were so eager to learn from a natural born speaker like myself. I am a fair-haired Midwesterner from the United States, so the students really enjoyed learning from a "foreign looking" teacher. Working in the classroom was fun.
I didn't expect to end up in a small town, but I enjoyed the quiet environment and people. They were very accepting of myself, as well as very patient with my poor Mandarin skills.
Teaching was challenging but rewarding. I had large classes and a lot of young students to help, so my skills as an instructor were really put to the test.
The accommodations were not what I was used to in the United States, but still comfortable. I ended up rooming with another person, which was good, though at times I wished I were living on my own. If you were to travel to China there are several options available, so I'm sure you would be able to find something that works for you. I also made sure to pack extra medication, just in case something happened I knew I wouldn't have quick access to more.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience. I feel like I was granted an inside look at a foreign country, and gained the respect of my students half a world away. The experience had its bumps, but with the proper research beforehand, I was able to get everything I wanted from my trip.
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.
Wednesday, April 07 2010
TESOL (or TEFL) is steadily growing more popular, and you can find jobs advertised for native English speakers in almost every country of the world, which gives you the opportunity to not only travel, but to discover a culture that is likely vastly different to your own. The largest market is currently in Asia (China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand), but if the Asian market doesn’t appeal to you, then you are able to find jobs advertised for positions in Central and South America, most parts of Europe and also in the Middle East.
Working overseas teaching English is the opportunity of a lifetime, but if you don’t do your research, it could turn into quite an adventure. Before agreeing to any position, make sure to research the school. There are many horror stories of westerners turning up expecting to find a job and accommodation lined up for them, only to arrive and find out that they are going to be farmed out to the highest bidder, or subcontracted out to different schools every day, giving no job stability.
There are a myriad of sites that you can use to investigate the legitimacy of the organization proposing the contract. Many of the websites that provide job vacancy lists also have a school review area, making it easy to see how other teachers have fared at a particular establishment.
In addition to checking the internet for reviews of particular schools, it is also crucial to ask the organization for the contact email addresses or phone numbers of previous and current foreign teachers. If they refuse, this is a definite red flag, as any legitimate institution will be more than happy to give you this information. Chances are that if you don’t find any scathing reviews on the internet, and any previous teachers don’t tell you to turn tail and run, then you’re fairly safe in accepting the job.
Once you have decided on a school, with undertaking any new job, you need to make sure you understand and agree with everything in your contract. If there’s something you don’t agree with, or understand, contact the appropriate person and get it sorted out before you arrive. There’s no point turning up with the idea that you can change something once you’re there.
Deciding where to teach will also have a huge impact on your time overseas. You need to consider your financial situation, as the wage and benefits vary from country to country. What sort of living conditions can you abide by? Are you able to accept spending time in a patriarchal society, or do you require a more liberal culture? Will you be able to survive in a country where the temperature drops to below –30, or do you hate the weather when it consistently reaches above 25?
You also need to decide what style of teaching is going to best suit you. Do you have lots of energy and love kids? Then teaching kindergarten or primary classes is probably for you.
If your idea of job fulfillment doesn’t include running, jumping and rolling around miming actions and playing high energy games, then a position in a high school or university is probably going to be more suitable.
It is vitally important that you realize that the conditions of your housing and workplace are likely going to be extremely different to what you’re used to. Moving to a country where you have no grasp of the unfamiliar customs or language has it challenges, and culture shock affects many people during the first three months in another country.
While offering challenges, both personally and professionally, teaching is also very rewarding. If you’re the type of person who can go with the moment, and adapt to any situation, as long as you’ve done the research, your time overseas will be a time to remember, for all the right reasons.
Thursday, January 28 2010
Our TESOL tutors get lots of questions from candidates taking our TESOL Teaching Certificate courses. Here are two such questions:
"Every time I present a new word, my students look up the translation in their electronic dictionaries. How can I get them not to use this as their first option to 'understand' the meaning of a word."
-Frustrated in Two Languages, South Korea
Dear Frustrated in Two Languages:
Pictures and objects are excellent for introducing new words. Students can see the picture, and you can lead them to associate it with a new English word before they feel a need to use a dictionary. When you introduce a word by using a picture, ask your students "what is this?" before you give them the answer. When students give a correct answer, this will reinforce their learning. Finally, before you write a new word on your board, you should ask your students a "concept check" question. For example, if the new word is "aspirin" you might ask, "When would you want to take aspirin?". These activities and questions should keep your students' attention better than a dictionary can.
"Whenever I give students a task to do, they spend time translating my instructions in their native language."
-Why Doesn't Anyone Understand Me?, Bulgaria
Dear Why Doesn't Anyone Understand Me:
You should be sure to plan ahead and see that your instructions are simple enough for the level of students you are teaching. Write out your instructions, and see if you are using words that you wouldn't expect your students to know. It is usually helpful to demonstrate or act out whatever it is that you want the students to do. After you give clear, simple instructions and a demonstration, you may want to ask a "concept check" question, to be sure they understand. For example, if you have asked them to introduce themselves in English, you may ask, "What words do you use to introduce yourself?" Their answers to specific questions will let you know if they are ready to begin the activity.