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CONTENTS 3-4 MUST READ: ESL Teacher’s Meltdown: Problems & Solutions 5


a New ESL Teacher

17-18 BACK TO SCHOOL: Break the Back-toMUST READ: Too Tired School Ice! 10 Fun to Teach? 7 Tips Icebreakers for the to Detox, De-stress and Beginning of the Year Regain Your Energy 19 TECHNOLOGY: MUST READ: When Where There Is no Things Go Awry: Smartphone: Ways Problem-Solving to De-Technologize on Your Feet your EFL Lessons


MUST READ: 7 Most Common ESL Problems and How to Solve Them

20-21 COLLEAGUES: Make Your Life Easier: 10 Steps to Good Co-teacher Relations


LAST-MINUTE TIPS: ESL Nightmare! What to Do If You’re Called to Teach a Class at the Last Minute

22-23 COMPREHENSION: Why You Should Never Ask ‘Do You Understand’: 6 Tips to Help You Check Comprehension

10 PROBLEM STUDENTS: 4 Types of Problem Students and Strategies to Manage Them 11 PROBLEM STUDENTS: ESL SOS! 7 Most Common Behavior Problems and How to Deal with Them 12 PROBLEM STUDENTS: Top 10 Tips to Deal With Indiscipline in the Classroom 13 PROBLEM STUDENTS: Keep Your Cool: Tips for Handling Difficult Students 14-15 NEW TEACHER: New Kid on the Block: 10 Tips for the Brand New ESL Teacher 16 NEW TEACHER: Do This, Not That: 5 Mistakes to Avoid as

24-25 SPEAKING: Get Them Talking: 3 Activities That Motivate Students to Speak

Learn: 3 Essentials in Teaching Illiterate Kids 33-34 READING: Dyslexia in the ESL Classroom – 5 Ways to beat it! 35-36 WRITING: I Have Nothing to Say on This Topic: Sure-Fire Ways to Turn Your Students on to Writing 37 WRITING: I Have to Teach Writing: Now What? Where to Start with Your First Writing Class 38-39 WRITING: FAQ for Writing Teachers 40-41 LISTENING: What Do We Even Do All Term (or All Day)?: How to Structure the Curriculum for ESL Listening 42 LISTENING: FAQ for Listening Teacher

26 VISUAL AIDS: Make it visual: Kick start your students’ creativity with these 9 tips for using images

43 TIME MANAGEMENT: ESL Lesson Pace: 5 Tips for Class Time Management You’ll Thank Us For

27 COMMUNITY: From Distance to Sharing to Critique to Feedback: Creating an Effective Learning Community

44 ASSESSMENT: Assessment in the ESL Classroom: 6 Important Things You Need to Know

29 READING: This is Boring, and Besides, I Don’t Understand It: Sure-Fire Ways to Turn Your Students on to Reading

45 RAPPORT: 5 Ways to Use Your Cultural Differences to Relate to Your Students

30-31 READING: FAQ for Reading Teachers 32 READING: They Can’t Read but They Can


This is often brought on when the daily challenges that create a positive amount of stress all accumulate at once, and the pressure becomes too much. There are days when many ESL teachers just want to scream and explode in a fit of rage due to the pent up frustrations of a long day where nothing just seem to go the way it should. This article will examine some of the leading problems in the ESL workplace and try to find a solution.




Always in the number one spot for ESL teaching gripes. Some schools offer appalling salaries to decent teachers who always put the effort into classes. Unfortunately, ESL teaching isn’t one of the highest-paid professions out there, but in many cases, the wages do not suit the job. Simply compare the different wages throughout different countries. A first-time ESL teacher at a language centre in Jakarta, Indonesia makes around US$750 a month, a teacher in Korea would be on over US$2000. Additionally, with most jobs out there, the rate of pay will go up with inflation: not in ESL teaching. After a little snooping around, teachers will generally find that the wages have been the same for almost eight years in many cases. This is a cause of great concern to many teachers. Solution - Asides from Prozac and living frugally, one of the best ways to deal with the low pay is to get out there and find some extra teaching work. Pick up a few privates here and there, or look into teaching on the in-

ternet. But do it on the sly, and don’t let your employer find out as there may be harsh contractual implications for any outside work.



Yup, we’ve all been there. The harmonious nature of the staff room that was present when you first arrived at the school has all but fizzled out. It started with one person, then a few weeks there were three people whinging and moaning. All of a sudden, a month later the entire staff room is infected with it and there just seems no way out. This low morale has an impact on everything, the way that staff members view their job, their employer, and even the country that they have grown to love has turned into a cesspool of bitter hatred. Solution – Discreetly bring the matter up with your academic manager or HR go-to person. They have been working in ESL teaching long enough, and sure enough, the low-morale issue is a common occurrence that probably happens at even the best of language centres. Your HR manager or Academic Coordinator should provide you with some good advice, while acting on your concerns by putting an end to the bad vibes in the staff room. Once you begin to notice the negativity beginning to show, try to separate yourself from it and do your lesson planning in a classroom or simply go outside and take a walk. Falling victim to the low morale is something that can easily happen to us all.



Always another chief complaint from teachers that often arises is the issue of management. The reason for this is management are ultimately the ones who are in charge. Whether or not they’re right or wrong, the management are the ones who have the power to make the decisions. In many cases, language centre management has their eyes firmly fixated on one

thing – the almighty dollar. This is true in most cases, and often this immense focus on money will have an impact on you directly. For example, a student wants to study IELTS. They can barely string a sentence together, but they are insistent on doing an IELTS course and will not settle for any other course. You are the lucky chosen one who is dealt this cruel hand of teaching this stubborn student for 60 hours when she can’t answer the question ‘how are you?’ Other areas which management have a controlling hand over are contract negotiations, marketing and course material. Solution - Take it easy, it isn’t your problem. Give the student what they want, that’s what they paid for. Be honest with the student and tell them they are not suited for the class, and maybe, just maybe the student will listen to you. But otherwise, just sit back, dish out the work, and don’t let the right or wrong decisions of others get to you.



This one doesn’t usually bother me, but seems to bother some teachers immensely. Lazy students can become a real pain in the backside, especially after you have gone through the painstaking effort to plan a class that is fun, while educational at the same time. Nothing can be more frustrating than this, especially when it takes places on the busiest day of the week, a Sunday. Solution - Two solutions, the first – let them be, it will be their own demise. The second, bargain with them. Take away certain privileges for laziness, while rewarding them with activities and other treats for completing the work.



Sure, we’ve all worked with them. They are the type of people who


speak in he Queen’s English and proper British accent, who talk to their colleagues in an identical manner as they would address a misbehaving student. You must look out for these people, as generally they walk around with an inflated sense of self-importance. These are the people who discipline a teacher because a student left a paper in the room. These are the worst people to deal with in ESL teaching that can really make your blood boil, especially when they talk to you in a condescending manner as if you were a child. Solution - Take a note of each of the encounters and think of the reasons why you personally felt it was offensive, for example, he spoke in a way that showed total disrespect, or he lectured you in front of a student. Make a note of when the incidents occurred and some details, and pass it on to the Academic Coordinator. It is their job to address your concerns directly with the arrogant sod, taking his ego down a few notches.



Ah, it’s the time of the week when everyone crowds around as if it were the lottery. There’s a certain sense of dread and excitement at the same time. After having a number of classes finished this week, you know that either the classes will be immediately replaced with more, or you could, by some stroke of luck, have a relatively easy week where you can slip off early and catch a film. But, you know what? It’s a lot worse than that. A teacher’s contract has finished, and it’s your job to teach a morning class from 9am to 11am, and a new evening class as well! A split shift! Jeez, I’m a teacher, not a bloody chef! Solution - The golden rule... If you signed the contract that states that you would work those hours, there’s more chance of that dream wedding with Britney Spears than getting the schedules changed. But, if your weekly hours exceed the contracted hours, make sure that you are adequately compensated for the additional work.



A favourite complaint by ESL teachers from over 160 countries, across five continents throughout the world.


There is nothing more annoying than looking for your ‘Introduction to Academic Book Volume 3’, only to discover that the serial hoarder has stashed it away with 17 other of the schools frequently used textbooks. And the worst part, he’s not around to unlock his freakin’ locker. Solution - Make your life easier and photocopy the books yourself. That way you can draw in the books, fill in the answers, draw funny little moustaches on the people - whatever, really! The second option is to discretely bring the better to the Academic Manager who will quickly bring about an end to the hoarder’s textbook stash.

AFTER A TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE, MANY ESL TEACHERS THINK THAT THEY WOULD RATHER BE DOING ANYTHING ELSE THAN TEACHING. However, after the end of a day like this, a new day will bring a completely new set of challenges, some good, and some bad. Teaching isn’t the only career that boasts stresses, but every job in every field has their its benefits and disadvantages – while many are a lot worse than teaching.

Too Tired to Teach? 7 Tips to Detox, De-stress and Regain Your Energy THE ALARM GOES OFF, AND YOU GROAN. Getting out of bed is a feat of sheer will. You love teaching, and you enjoy the time you spend with your ESL students – most of the time. But they are not the problem. The problem is that you are so tired. Maybe it’s because you work 40+ hours a week, or you have a whole other set of responsibilities in addition to your classes, but hey, it happens to the best of us! Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to get out of that energy slump. But first, let’s think about why it’s important for you destress and regain your energy.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO DE-STRESS A stressed out human being is a ticking time bomb. The running from one class to the next, combined with personal and family responsibilities, not to mention things like the economic crisis, fear of losing your job, poor eating habits, few hours of sleep, etc. is one deadly cocktail. You cannot simply force yourself to go on. Sooner or later your health – physical, mental and emotional – will suffer for it. So, now that we all agree that it is indeed very important to take the time to detox and de-stress, let’s take a look at the steps. Set aside a complete weekend (a long weekend is better, and a week off will give you the best results).




Turn off your cell and computer, and leave these and any other technological devices off for the duration of your detox period, ideally. If it’s not possible choose one time during the day for you to check in, like first thing in the morning for a few minutes, and then disconnect yourself. This may be difficult, but it will be well worth it. Remember what it was like when we were little and had nothing better to do than sit on the porch and watch birds fly from tree to tree? Go back to the basics – enjoy time with your family, long walks or

a cup of coffee with a friend.



Allow yourself to sleep in. Indulge in a mid-afternoon nap. Or just lie on your comfiest sofa and look out the window. Let your entire body relax and enjoy the feeling that there is no rush, no place you have to run to right now. If you haven’t been getting enough hours of sleep, catch up on your zzzs. When your students see you again, they’ll notice the difference.



Read some of your most inspiring authors. Read magazines as you lounge on your favorite chair. But don’t read stuff for work. Read things that will take you back to a more relaxed, carefree place.



With our hectic schedules and busy life, it’s far too common for ESL teachers to grab a quick bite instead of sitting down to lunch, or chow down on whatever we can find first once we get home. So, during your detox period, eat good, nutritious food. And take your time. Savor it and enjoy the flavors. Yummy, delicious food does wonders to our mood.





As an ESL teacher you need to keep your students on their toes. You need to provide activities that are challenging, but not too difficult for their level. You need to complete the coursework and help your students meet language goals, but also keep your students’ individual needs and learning styles in mind. This takes a lot of mental work! During your detox period, take the time to quiet your mind. A meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and freeing your mind from all of the clutter, or it can be guided step by step. Find a quiet spot, free of any distractions and close your eyes. Breathe in and out. Let the tempestuous sea of ideas, problems and issues fizzle out till it’s nothing but a calm ocean of opportunities. If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, the Meditation Society of America ( offers some wonderful resources and techniques.


The person who stands before his or her ESL students every day is a combination of heart, soul and mind, and these working together as a whole are the source of what makes you unique and special as a teacher. Do take care of that.

It’s no big news that most of us don’t drink enough water. But few are aware that dehydration causes headaches, false hunger pangs and food cravings, among other symptoms. To find out how much you should drink in liters, simply multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.033. So, if you weigh 60 kg, that works out to about 2 liters of water a day.



Running from class to class does not qualify as good “exercise”. It’s stressful. Take the time to really enjoy some stress-free physical activity. Go jogging, walking, hiking, canoeing, rollerblading or anything you really enjoy doing outdoors.


When Things Go Awry: Problem-Solving on Your Feet AS TEACHERS, WE KNOW POSSIBLY BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE THAT WHEN THINGS GO WRONG, THEY CAN REALLY GO WRONG. Being able to solve problems on your feet is one of the most valuable skills a teacher can have. There are so many variables as to what can go awry in a classroom that generally luck would have it, many things tend to go wrong at the same time. Face problems head on with these tips, and you will be able to handle the worst of classroom disasters!




It may seem obvious, but when a situation goes wrong in the classroom, the number one element that will serve you best is to simply, stay cool. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Problems that arise in the classroom can be embarrassing, mentally taxing, and downright excruciating. If you stay calm though, it will only help you to see the picture in front of you clearly, and also discover what the solution is. For example, if an activity is not going according to plan and is failing the objectives you had set for it, if you were to get worked up, you may just add to the problem. With a clear head, look at what the students are doing, and then examine what you assigned them to do. If the two don’t come close to matching, the next thing to do is to find the disconnect. Perhaps students weren’t clear on their directives, or they took it upon themselves to change the activity once they got into it. Don’t get upset with the class, but definitely intervene and rectify the situation.



Some classroom difficulties are easier to rectify than others. If you come across a particularly unsettling situation, like having technical difficulties, try to intersperse some humor.


Perform any solution you can think of to fix the problem while making fun of either yourself or the technical problem itself. It does wonders to lighten the mood, takes the pressure off, and gives you time to really assess the problem. Students are generally understanding when a technical or computer issue arises. Engage the class with a joke or funny story while you are working on fixing the issue. This way, the students’ attention will remain on you, and it won’t be an excuse for them to start side conversations, begin texting, or worse, become unruly or out of hand! Show them that you can handle the situation and if you can’t fix the problem, all is not lost.



There are all kinds of problems that can happen when you are not prepared or when you are not prepared enough. If, for example, you are trying out a brand new activity and are uncertain as to how it will go, prepare yourself that it may not go as well as you hope and it may not take as long as you think it will. Try to troubleshoot new activities by noticing any gaps or things that may not be clear for students. Estimate the time to be less and if it goes longer, then you be prepared for that as well. If it falls short, falls flat, or is just plain bad you can try a couple of things. If it falls short, you want to have enough planned so that you are not left struggling to fill the class time. Always have an arsenal of quick games or activities that you can whip up if something falls short. If your objective is lost to the students, and they don’t jump in to the activity, you can try re-explaining it or asking what questions they have about what they should be doing. Give the activity a second chance to launch and see if there is anything that you can quickly tweak to make it more palatable. If you need to abandon an activity, do it in a way that the students will respect. Either admit that it didn’t go well and ask them for their feedback, or tell that you have other things planned for the day and that

time is running low. You don’t have to prepare yourself in advance for things to flop necessarily, but you do want to make sure to always well-equipped to deal with equipment failures, student distractions, or logistics gone wrong.



If things don’t go quite as you had planned, flexibility is a great trait to develop. Don’t take it personally that your activity flopped or that students were particularly uncooperative. Allow yourself and the class to move forward without getting stuck in the bad juju of a situation that went wrong. It is really important to be their guiding light in all situations, but particularly during a storm. If you display flexibility and can switch gears it can be a remarkable example and learning moment for students.



There is no harm in asking a student or another teacher for help. Often with technical problems, your students may be just as savvy as you are, and you can enlist their help while you manage the class. If there are other teachers close by you could possibly send a student out to locate and bring back help. You will no doubt learn how to fix the problem, and never forget it. There is no harm in asking for or requesting help as long as it isn’t a weekly occurrence.

DON’T LET ONE GLITCH (OR SEVERAL) GET YOU DOWN. Teachers are resourceful beings and we always find a way to rescue ourselves and our students from painful situations. Don’t beat yourself up, and if all else fails, cut yourself a break, have a good laugh and trust that you pulled out the best possible solution in that particular scenario!

7 Most Common ESL Problems and How to Solve Them AS FAR AS YOUR ESL CLASS IS CONCERNED, YOU COULD FACE A MULTITUDE OR PROBLEMS – OR NONE AT ALL. A typical ESL class, anywhere in the world, has its own set of typical problems and challenges. Is there any way to avoid them? Not likely. Is there any way to prepare for them? Absolutely! And here are the 7 most typical problems you’ll face as an ESL teacher, each one followed by some ways to deal with them.



STUDENTS SPEAK MORE OF THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGE THAN ENGLISH The lower the students’ level or ages, the more probable it is that they will speak their native language most of the time. Some will even chat in pairs or small groups, completely oblivious to what is going on in class. Solution: Now, each ESL class is different, and they all have different goals, but no matter what their age or level, students must understand that they must at the very least try to speak as much English as they can, even if it is for simple greetings, requests or statements. For younger students, turn it into a game. Create a chart with the students’ names and give those who did not speak their native language throughout the class a star. Or create a point penalty system. Once a student reaches a certain number of points, they must do something in front of the class, like tell a story or answer questions from classmates. These might not work for older students. But they will certainly try to communicate in English if you pretend you don’t speak their native language.



You’ve probably seen this happen. A

student comes into class all excited about something that’s happened and dying to tell everyone. They get everyone else excited about the topic and before you know it you have a group of students who’ve completely taken over. Another common situation, particularly with youngsters, is when they propose all sorts of changes and/or improvements to an activity you’ve set out for them. Solution: Take control back. In the first case, firmly, yet kindly, let your students know that you have to get the lesson underway. Tell them that if they finish their work, they can have a few minutes at the end of the class to talk about whatever has them so excited. In the second case, firmly tell them that you have already planned the lesson/activity, but that you will certainly include their ideas next time. Don’t forget to thank them for sharing or providing feedback!


ONE STUDENT IN PARTICULAR DOMINATES THE LESSON This is the type of student I like to call the “eager beaver”: they always raise their hands first or just blurt out the answer with absolutely no regard for the other students in the class. They are often competitive and like to win. Solution: Never call out an eager beaver in front of the class. This enthusiasm should not be squashed: it should simply be channeled in the right direction. Say, “I know you know the answer, Juan, but I’d love to hear from someone else”. Also try this: let the eager student be your helper for the day. Tell him/her the job is to help classmates find the right answers or help those who are having trouble completing an exercise.



The other side of the coin is when you have students who constantly seek your help. They may ask you to help

them complete an exercise or just blurt out they can’t/don’t know how to do something on their own. Solution: It’s very important to empower students and help them feel that they can indeed do it. Say you give them an exercise in which they have to decide which article to use, “a” or “an”. Look at the first item “apple” and ask your student, “Is it a apple or an apple? What sounds right to you?” Once they give you the correct answer, tell them to try the next one. And the next one. “See you CAN do it! Good job!” Sometimes students feel overwhelmed by the blanks, and all they need is a little nudge.



Students eyes are glazed over, and you blame the boring coursebook or the Future Perfect. Solution: It’s a hard truth, but the reason your students are bored is YOU. It is your responsibility to engage students and keep the lesson interesting – no matter what you are teaching. Teaching the Future Continuous tense? There are ways to make the topic more engaging. Talking about business? There are ways to make the topic more fun.



A cell phone rings, while a latecomer joins the class. You barely say two words and another student shows up. And the interruptions go on and are worse in larger groups. Solution: Set the classroom rules from the start. Ask students to turn off cell phones and other technological devices at the start of class. Give your students a five to ten- minute grace period for arriving, but tell them they won’t be able to join the class after that.




Some students never do homework or any work outside the classroom. This is often the case with adults who say they never have time. Solution: Young learners and teens have no choice. They must do their homework and if they don’t, simply notify the parents that the student is not completing tasks to satisfaction. As for adults, give them options. Tell them to do at least one five-minute exercise a day (or a week). Ask them how much they can commit to. Be clear in communicating that that may fall behind and not meet their language learning goals.



What to Do If You’re Called to Teach a Class at the Last Minute You’re sipping tea in front of the TV hoping to catch up on some of your favorite shows. You’ve already taught your lessons for the day and have the rest of the afternoon off – or so you thought. Suddenly, you receive a frantic call from your headmaster/instructional supervisor/insert person who assigns lessons here who is in desperate need for a substitute teacher. So, you set your cup of tea aside and say yes. You’ll do it. After all, you can always use the extra cash. But then you realize the lesson you must teach is in less than two hours, and you have zero time to prepare. In less than five minutes, you go from peaceful and relaxed, to a nervous wreck! Although you can never tell when you will be asked to sub for another teacher, you can always be prepared ahead of time, for each and every case. Here’s how you can prepare:



Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to teach a group of students you have never met before. The first thing you will have to do is find out as much as you can about them: •

Students’ ages

English proficiency level

Books and materials they are using

Any recommendations/suggestions? Or special cases? (Maybe there’s a foreign student who does not speak the group’s native language.)

Do not assume you will be given this information up front. Your supervisor may be too busy or flustered, dealing with several other problems, and may only tell you what time the lesson is. Be sure to ask these questions and ask for any other information you deem necessary. Grab a pen and write all of this down.



In the big unknown that is a surprise lesson, this is obviously the most es-

sential piece of the puzzle: what exactly will you do with them? There are two basic options: you can either teach them according to plan or you can review what was previously taught to let the regular teacher pick up where he/ she left off. For obvious reasons, the second option is the ideal one, and the one that most schools accept. However, you may be asked to continue with the lesson as planned.



Say you are told you have to continue with the lesson as planned. You should expect to be given either the teacher’s lesson plan/notes or be told where to start the lesson, i.e., Chapter 10, Unit 2. In any case, your lesson will never truly be like the regular teacher’s because he/she most likely has a series of habits in place. Don’t be afraid to make this lesson your own. You don’t have to be exactly like the regular teacher: you don’t have to imitate him/her. Don’t be afraid to bring your own personality and teaching style to the class. Now that this is clear, try this. Find out what the main learning goals are for this lesson in particular. For example, a quick glance at the book tells you that the main goal for Unit 2 of Chapter 10 is to talk about plans for the future. So, as long as you meet this lesson goal, everything that you do in class, i.e., the activities you propose or the games you play, will be carried out to meet this main goal. When the regular teacher returns, he/she can be satisfied his/her students practiced and learned what they were supposed to.



Say you are told not to introduce anything new and just review what they previously learned. Do not mistake this as babysitting. Yes, you can play lots of different games and do plenty of fun activities, but these should not be meant to simply pass the time. Take the book and find out what some of the

previous learning goals have been. For example, you might see they learned to talk about events in the past just a couple of units ago. It stands to reason they could use a review of the simple past of irregular verbs. This should narrow down the kinds of games you can play and the types of activities you could use.



Every ESL teacher should have a Super Set of Teaching Materials, a box or bag of items that will help you teach anything, any day, any time, whether you’re teaching something new or reviewing. In my box, I typically have: •

Board markers, in an assortment of colors

At least one pair of dice

A basic board game with colored or numbered boxes, with no writing in it

A few rubber balls, in different sizes

A set of index cards with verbs (just the verb in its base form, no tenses), two sets are better than one

A set of blank index cards

And this is just the starter’s kit! The more experience you gain, the more you’ll add to your set. Be sure to include items that can be adapted to any language point or verb tense, like the basic board game. You change the rules to suit any group at any level. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst? But what is the worst that could happen? The students won’t “like you” because you’re not their teacher? They won’t want to do the activities you propose? They won’t behave because you have “no authority”? If these scenarios are the worst that could happen, are they really that bad?



4 Types of Problem Students and Strategies to Manage Them AS WITH ANY CLASSROOM SETTING YOU MAY ENCOUNTER PROBLEM STUDENTS IN ESL CLASSES. Problem students are challenging because they may disrupt the learning environment, make your job more difficult than it has to be or just plain frustrate you and the other students. We’ve outlined four types of problem students and provided several strategies to deal with them. You will be able to spot these personality types from a mile away!

THE FOUR TYPES OF PROBLEM STUDENTS It’s pretty easy to identify the prospective problem student from the get-go. Always go with your gut and diagnose the issue as early on as you can. That is half the battle. The sooner you recognize the problem student the sooner you can begin working on your strategies to alleviate the issue and get the student on track.



Some students are overzealous, rambunctious, loud talkers or just plain annoying. This is usually the student who may be above his classmates in speaking ability, but not necessarily in overall language skills. They tend to display helpful nature, but may chronically interrupt, talk way too much or for two long, and in extreme cases may try to challenge you in front of the class. The best way to deal with this type of student is to provide appropriate times where he or she can be the leader, but set very firm boundaries. You need to make it clear to them that you are facilitator which basically means you are running the show. They can have their forum occasionally and often have a lot of good ideas and questions to contribute. You don’t want to shut them down completely. I’ve found that if you can disengage them in the class when they are getting off topic or stealing the spotlight, they generally get the hint. Other times it may take a private conversation. That conversation needs to be treated delicately as this type of student usually gets a bruised ego pretty easily. Give them guidelines for how long they


are allowed to have the floor, and show them each and every time that you are the decision-maker in the class.



If anyone has worked in Asia or has Asian students, we have all encountered this student. They are usually female, afraid to speak, won’t make eye contact, and generally want someone to translate for them. This is a delicate situation and it takes some grace and humor to reach them and pull them out of their shell. Give them time and take baby steps. If everyone is asking and answering questions, expect that they will do almost nothing until they reach a certain comfort level. Don’t pressure them too much, but try to get them to at least repeat after you and praise anything that they do contribute. The other trick to this personality is to use her classmates to break through. They will instinctively try to help, so let them. Students like this are more apt to start sharing with someone from their own country or someone very similar to themselves. Put her in pairs with someone who will be gentle, and chances are that student will reach her. You can also try to approach something that will get a reaction out of the student. Maybe she really likes to eat sweets. Try a little bribery. Or maybe she is very close to her family, so the lesson on family may get her to respond. Keep trying and don’t give up. Persistence is key with this one, and the student will eventually come around.



I’ve encountered this guy way too many times for my taste. This is the guy who is taking an English class to try to get a date either with other students or with the teacher. It is usually a man, but some women can also be inappropriately flirtatious in the class as well. First do not engage this behavior. A few times you may be able to laugh it off, but with this type of problem student, you are going to have to tell them what is appropriate (and not) for the classroom. You may have to disengage the behavior a few times publicly, and then

take him or her aside and give them the boundaries talk. In some cases the student doesn’t realize why their actions are inappropriate. One tactic may be to teach a lesson on body language, pickup lines, or relationships. That way are able to approach the sensitive topics as a group and get some dialogue happening.



The refuser is different from the painfully shy. The refuser never wants to participate and feels that they don’t have to do the same level of work as everyone else. Often they don’t do their homework, will clam up during activities, and also may challenge you in front of the class because they are unprepared. This type of student can be really frustrating as you start wondering why they are in the class in the first place. One way to reach them may be soft public humiliation, meaning that you put him or her on the spot when they should be prepared and see what happens. With younger learners just being called out and not being ready is often enough for them to start applying themselves. You can also apply some discipline. Give the student double the amount of homework and follow through. Ask them if they need extra help and pair them with a student who can be a good role model. You can also try and set goals for this student. For every three days in a row that you participate you get 5 minutes extra of break time. The incentive should be small but meaningful and should also be applied to the whole class not just the problem student.

GENERALLY THE ESL CLASSROOM IS A JOY TO TEACH IN BECAUSE STUDENTS HAVE A REAL NEED AND DESIRE TO BE THERE. Occasionally though, you may come across one of these problem students. Always be sure to keep your cool, apply patience instead of pressure and realize that you have the facilities to solve student issues.

7 Most Common Behavior Problems and How to Deal with Them ESL STUDENTS COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES. They come into your classroom with varying degrees of motivation and even different skill levels. Most are well-behaved. And some are terribly ill-behaved. As an ESL teacher, you can handle students that are less motivated than most, even those that need a little extra help from you to get that particular task done. But we all know that handling unacceptable behavior is hard and can take its toll if it is something you have to deal with on a daily basis. The way we handle the dayto-day problems will determine whether the same problems will keep cropping up. So here are the most common behavior problems in the ESL class and how you can effectively nip them in the bud.




EXAMPLE: You’re having an animated discussion about ways to help the environment and a student gets up to look out the window. Always give clear instructions, and make sure everyone understands and is engaged in the task. As soon as a student gets up to do something completely unrelated, walk over to the child, gently take their hand and walk them back to their seat – without interrupting the lesson. If this behavior continues, talk to them about the importance of paying attention, participating in the activity at hand and controlling the urge to do something else.



EXAMPLE: Students are quietly completing a worksheet about parts of the body when you see a student playing with a doll. Gently take the toy, and place it on your desk or a shelf. Tell the child that they can share it with the others during the break. Make it a habit of encouraging them to bring toys related to something you’re talking about in class (like animals). If there are certain things they

are allowed to bring, they might not feel tempted to bring other toys.

wait their turn to speak, you will hear them perfectly.




EXAMPLE: You’re playing Bingo when you hear a student call a redheaded child “Carrot Top”. Stop what you’re doing and have the child that has called out the offending name tell the class what the other student’s name actually is. Discuss with the class the importance of treating each other with respect and kindness and why name calling is unacceptable in your classroom and everywhere else, for that matter.



EXAMPLE: You have two students who can’t say two words to each other without starting a fight. Class began five minutes ago, and they’re already at each other’s throats. Make sure the students who don’t get along are sitting as far apart as possible. Discuss with the class the importance of ignoring teasing remarks. Talk about how arguing all the time is tiresome, and we should accept differences in points of view. On the other hand, stress the importance of being considerate towards each other and listening to what the other has to say.



EXAMPLE: You’re writing something on the whiteboard and a pencil flies across the room. Tell the student that this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable. Go over the possible dangers of tossing objects around. Find out if they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and redirect their efforts to the task at hand.



EXAMPLE: You ask Tom a question, and Lucy yells out the answer. Tell the student that they’re not being courteous – they did not give the other student a chance to answer. Remind students they should raise their hands if they want to speak. On the other hand, remind them that it is not necessary to yell – if they


EXAMPLE: You’re asking students comprehension questions about a text they’ve just read, and you see three students in the back of the class holding a conversation. Ask the students if they are talking about the task at hand. Ask them to share their interesting conversation with the rest of the class, or tell them they can tell the others all about it during the break. Discuss why it is not appropriate to have conversations during class.

WHEN TO TALK TO PARENTS As a good rule of thumb, I recommend contacting parents when a specific problem seems to be recurring (happens every day or several times a week). Depending on the gravity of the matter, you can either send a note or schedule a meeting. I’d save meetings for things that put the children’s well-being at risk, for instance violent behavior, verbal abuse or bullying. There’s a line between being mischievous and being outright malicious, and we can tell the difference. You can deal with mischievous behavior in class – malicious behavior should be discussed with parents.

PREVENTION IS THE BEST MEDICINE Most of these problems will be avoided if you set clear rules from the start. Work together to establish your rules based on how you all want to be treated. Discuss the importance of treating others with respect, as well as the fact there is a time and place for everything and that some things simply can’t be done in class. Don’t forget to establish what rewards they will receive for good behavior, as well as the consequences of inappropriate behavior. Don’t yell, scream or shout. The best way to teach students to behave nicely is to lead by example.


Top 10 Tips to Deal With Indiscipline in the Classroom It happens to every teacher at some point. Sometimes it is with the first class. Other times a teacher gets a few good years under his or her belt before it hits. Sometimes it seems like it happens in class after class. The problem that all too often rears its ugly head is lack of discipline. Every teacher experiences it, and no teacher likes it. The good news is that there are ways to handle indiscipline in the classroom. Here are some tips to try with your students.




Set expectations early in the year. The old adage that a good teacher does not smile until after Christmas may or may not be true, but it is easier to lighten your leadership style as the year goes on rather than get stricter after being lenient. If it is too late to start the year off with a firm hand, you can always make a new start – with either a new calendar year or a new month or a new unit. Make sure your class knows that your are wiping the slate and that your expectations of them will no longer be compromised!



Let kids be involved in making the rules. Before dictating a set of classroom rules, ask your students how they would like their peers to behave. Have them discuss what kind of an environment they would like to have in class. By directing a class discussion, your students will define a set of rules that meet both their criteria and your own. Because they have set the expectations, they are more likely to follow the rules and to keep one another in check, freeing you to do things that are more important.



Depending on where you teach and where your students come from, their parents may be an unexpected support when it comes to good behavior in the classroom. Often American parents will side with the child when it comes to conflicts in school, but if you teach students from other cultures, and it is very likely that you do, your students’ parents will not automatically take their children’s side of things. In fact in many cultures,


parents will automatically side with the teacher against their own child if there is a discipline issue. That is not to say that you should take advantage of either your students or their parents, just do not be afraid to approach your kids’ parents if the situation necessitates it. Be warned, though, you may not want the child to act as interpretor if one is necessary.



Depending on the age of your students, you may even choose to ask parents into the classroom as volunteers for a day. Children may behave better if their parents are in the classroom with them. Not only that, if your parents interact with each other, the stories of how a certain child may behave in class could get back to mom and dad through other channels ultimately saving you an awkward and unpleasant conversation!



Trading teachers could be helpful in your quest for a composed classroom. If your students have gotten used to the way you operate class and what behavior you may let slide, having a different teacher for one or more periods of the day may spur them to act a little more restrained. Not only can the atmosphere of class change, your students will benefit from listening to another voice and another style of speech when another teacher stands in front of the class.



Think about the reason behind the rudeness. Is it possible that your ESL students may be acting up to make up for a self-perceived inadequacy in their language abilities? If there is even the slightest possibility that insecurity may be behind classroom misbehavior, try to look past it and address the real issue. Does your student need confidence? Does she need a feeling of success? Does he need to feel equal to his peers? By addressing the issue rather than the symptoms, you will have a healthier and better-behaved set of students.



It is also possible that a misbehaving student is bored with class because he is a quick learner. Though it may seem counterintuitive, putting that child in a leadership role may give him the

extra challenge he needs to engage in the classroom activities. He will not only not be bored: he will have some investment in making sure the other students in class behave.



Remembering the attention span of children can also help you keep your calm when kids act up in class. As a rule, estimate a child’s attention span to be one minute for every year of his age. That means a seven year old will max out on attention at seven minutes. Keep the pace moving in class without spending too much time sitting in one place. Let your kids move around, go outside or work independently to keep the (stir) crazy bugs from biting.



It is extremely important for teachers to remember to respond and not react. There is a big difference between the two. A person who reacts acts impulsively and out of emotion. The person who responds, on the other hand, takes more time before acting and separates his or her emotions from the decisions he makes. It is a good rule to follow in all areas of life, but it is especially important to remember when your class is just plain getting on your nerves. Do not let your emotions get the better of you but instead stay calm and make logical and intentional responses.



Still, moments will come and days will come when one or more of your students will misbehave. The best way to address the situation is quickly and with as little disruption as possible. Refrain from disciplining any child in front of the class. Choose instead to have those conversations in private. If you respect your students, they are more likely to respect you.

ULTIMATELY, NO CLASSROOM IS PERFECT. YOUR KIDS WILL HAVE GOOD AND BAD DAYS, AND YOU WILL, TOO. Do your best to keep your cool when your students start getting out of control. Tomorrow will be a new day with limitless potential and it may just be the right day to get off to a new start!

Keep Your Cool: Tips for Handling Difficult Students IMAGINE THIS: YOU ARE TRYING TO GIVE A LESSON ON THE PAST PROGRESSIVE TENSE. You stand up at the white board talking about agreement between the subject and the helping verb and that this tense is used to describe a continuous action that was happening at a specific point in the past. While most students are listening and concentrating, a child in the back taps his pencil, kicks his feet against the desk, leans back in his chair and then falls over on to the ground. With the clatter from the back come laughs from the front of the classroom, an end zone style dance from the student in question and a complete loss of concentration about any facet of English grammar. What is an ESL teacher to do? Almost every teacher has had a difficult student in one class or another, and some of us are lucky enough to have one in every class. Though we want to be good teachers and be sensitive to our students, having a difficult student in class is confusing and frustrating for us. We want to give our student the best education that we can, but we do not want to condone misbehavior and disruption. If you find yourself in this situation now or in the future, take heart. Here are some tips for handling difficult students that will help you teach better and enable them learn better at the same time.

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU Though it may be a tough thing to hear, the first step is to remember it is not about you. As a teacher, you are there to educate, guide and help your students. You are not there to have a captive audience hanging on your every word. We teachers sometimes have to shift our focus and remember why we started teaching in the first place. It is so easy to be caught up in our natural patterns as a teacher, especially when they have been effective up until this point. Having difficult students reminds us that we, too, need challenges and changes in our teaching style. If you can germinate the attitude in yourself that you can always improve, always learn, always find some

way to be a better teacher, teaching a challenging student becomes an opportunity rather than a chore. Use the situation to your advantage to refine and deepen your craft as a teacher. All of your students, both current and future, will benefit from it.

TAKE A CLOSER LOOK Ann, a special education teacher, gives this advice when dealing with a difficult student. “Read your students.” What she means is to pay attention to facial expression and body language as you teach. Challenge yourself to spend more time facing your students than you do the white board. Look at them and notice the difficulty coming before it hits you and your classroom in full force. As you do this, pay attention to why the misbehavior is beginning. Sometimes students are not challenged. They may be a quick learner and find themselves bored before the lesson is over. They may be a struggling student who has not understood previous lessons and is giving up on this one as well. There may be a learning disability coming into play. If you suspect this, talk to an expert on the signs of and solutions for different learning disabilities. Another reason they may be acting up is because of a cultural issue of which you may not be aware. All of these situations and more can make class hard to handle for both you and your student. Take heart, teacher. There are things you can do to make things easier on you both.

CHANGE IT UP Group work can be the most effective way of engaging under and over performing students. Pair your most advanced students with those who are struggling. In this, your advanced student will become more of a teacher, challenging her to explain and learn the material better. Your struggling student gets individual attention and, perhaps, a different explanation of the concept being taught. Sometimes, too, a student with the same native language as the one who is challenging may be able to explain something in way in which it is easier for the challenging student to un-

derstand. Though you are the teacher, you do not have to make all the learning happen solely by your hand. Use the resources you have in other students to reach the ones you are having difficulty reaching. You can also change things up by breaking out of your curriculum when necessary to challenge students who are beyond what today’s schedule says to teach. There is nothing wrong with assigning special projects to advanced students or letting them work at their own pace even if it is beyond where the class is. When a student is not challenged in class, it is not uncommon for that student to exhibit behavioral problems. A student who is challenged, on the other hand, will be more cooperative and tolerant when the class is studying something he understood long before that time. Getting physical is another great way to help students who have difficulty sitting and paying attention to a whole lesson. When a student starts fidgeting, it is time to get your students up and moving. If you can, relate some physical action to whatever you are teaching. Use Simon Says to teach the grammar of commands. Have a student follow your instructions and move about the room. Do partnering activities where students must move their desks or walk to another area of the room. Anything you can do to engage the body with the mind will help these students be more attentive and absorbent to what you are teaching. Even if you cannot relate something physical to what you are teaching, take a seventh inning stretch to make the final part of the lesson more accessible.


refuse to engage because they do not want to learn. If you can find the underlying issue behind the disruptive behavior, you can tailor your lessons or assignments to best meet your students’ needs. As a teacher, you do not always have to do things by the book. In fact, the best teachers are often the ones who do not.


New Kid on the Block: 10 Tips for the Brand New ESL Teacher STARTING YOUR FIRST JOB AS AN ESL TEACHER?

Don’t know where to begin? Worry no more: this article will give you 10 tips to put your mind at ease, whether you are about to stand in front of a classroom of thirty children or begin a series of seminars for teaching English at a workplace. Everyone has to start somewhere, and with these 10 tips, you will be ready to go!




It is very important to establish routines in your classroom for a variety of reasons. First of all, it will help your classroom to run more smoothly. Secondly, your students will be exposed to the language involved in the routines over and over again. This set of vocabulary or phrases will likely seem second nature to them after a while. Ideally, they would then be able to use those terms outside of those routines as well. These routines could be anything from your greetings to them (and them to you), attendance, or a review of the alphabet, for example. The key is to use the same terms over and over so that they know what to expect and begin to use the vocabulary themselves.



Let your students speak aloud as much as possible. This helps them on so many levels. It puts the language in their hands, and helps them to take ownership of it. The more they speak aloud, the more confident they feel in doing so. In a beginner’s class, oral communication may start out as the students repeating what the teacher says. In time, students will try it out on their own. It all starts with your encouragement. It is so important that you support them as they begin


to grow in the language. If they feel secure, they will take risks and begin speaking.



Bring yourself into the class — your likes, your dislikes, your family, bring the students’ lives into the class as well (at least as much as they feel comfortable). This will not only foster relationships among you all which encourages risk taking, but it will make for higher interest levels as well. A student will always be more invested when talking about something he/she enjoys. Have a day where everyone brings in a picture or shows one on their phone, so they can describe the people there and the setting. The emotional connection the student has with the photo may help him/her to feel comfortable when speaking.



Be sure to have students work in pairs or groups frequently. This also encourages communication. Students who are reluctant to speak in front of the whole group may be fine with speaking in front of two or three of their peers. They will be less selfconscious. Without a doubt, students will learn from each other when in cooperative groups. If it seems possible, assign one student as the leader of the group. The leader will make sure everyone gets a chance to talk and be heard. Working in groups is also relationship building among the students. As that comfort level rises, the reluctant students will be more likely to take a risk and speak aloud.



Unless you have a class with a very similar make-up, you most likely will have students coming to your class with many different English abilities. In the beginning, you will need to get a general idea of the students’ levels. After that, it is up to you and/or the director of your program as to how much

you cater to individual levels, and how much you teach “to the middle.” You may want to break them up into small groups to address their needs individually. If you have volunteers in your program, this would be a good way to use them. Some teachers teach a general lesson to the whole group, and then break off into groups with ability by level for reinforcement. How you do this will be up to you, unless you are told how to handle it by your supervisor. Start with the class as a whole, get to know them, and you will feel what is right to do as time goes on.



You may think your lesson is going well, but how do you really know as you are in the middle of it? It is necessary to check for understanding as you are teaching your ESL lesson. You can do this in several ways. You can ask your students if what you said is clear. Usually, they will let you know. If they say that it is not clear, then you need to show it in another way. You can try a hands-on activity to show what you mean. You can role play with another student who does understand the concept. There are many different ways you can present the same material.



In an ESL classroom, you need to convey your message in a language that most of the students know very little of. What is the best way to do this? One tip to remember is to involve as many of the five senses in your lesson as possible. For example, if you are doing a lesson on food, you could bring in the food to see, touch, smell and taste. The multisensory experience is bound to help students remember the vocabulary and the lesson as a whole better. It will also increase the comfort level of most, which makes them even more comfortable speaking English.



Another way to get students talking is to do current events. You will need to supply the information to them initially, such as some very simple articles with lots of pictures. You can read the article to them, and then they can discuss it. As time goes on, they may even bring in their own articles. It is always great if you can get an article that would affect them personally either in their current home or in their country of origin. Again, if they are highly interested in the material, they are more likely to want to speak. It’s all about getting in that comfort zone for English.



It is important to cover the traditions and holidays that the students may not be familiar with. Again, this can be done with videos and props. Make sure the students get a multisensory experience. You may even want to bring in some food and music, and recreate the type of celebration that would usually take place. This would certainly make the lesson more memorable for the students who hopefully will remember and be able to use the vocabulary.



Show your students who you are and how you understand their struggles to learn English. If you know any of their native language, speak it, no matter how poorly. Your students will appreciate your effort to enter their world, and they will see that everyone struggles while learning a second language, just like them. Don’t be afraid to use some humor as well. Laughter certainly is the best medicine.


The greatest part of teaching is reaching that untapped mind and helping them believe that they can do it, that it was inside of them all along. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and be the great ESL teacher that you are!


Do This, Not That: 5 Mistakes to Avoid as a New ESL Teacher We’ve all been there. Every ESL teacher has to start somewhere, and there are usually a few bumps in the road before the path becomes smooth. Most of us, despite our best intentions at the beginning, do things very differently now that we have a little experience under our belts. If you’re a new teacher, you’ll need to learn some things through experience, but here are some things to do your best to avoid when you set foot in the classroom for the first time.




Novice teachers may find themselves prone to lecturing even if that is not what they have set out to do. Most of us come across the term “studentcentered” in our preparation as teachers, and of course, we try to design activities that will foster this approach to learning. When a new teacher finds himself or herself in the classroom for the first time, however, it can be difficult to put into practice what we know in theory to be best for students. Many a nervous teacher has found herself talking too much in front of the class. Sometimes, as new teachers, because of our sense of responsibility to control the learning that is taking place, it can feel odd to allow students to work together in groups or independently while we sit back and observe, ready to help if needed. Sometimes, instead of giving students the space they need to work through a task, well-meaning new teachers will “hover” and interfere with group work because they believe they should be directly involved with what students are doing at all times. The truth is, our role as an instructor is to facilitate, and that includes setting up well-designed learning activities that are experiential and somewhat independent. Knowing when to let go and let things happen is a skill, and it’s one that takes practice.




We’ve all heard the saying, “less is more”. This applies to teaching, as well. Eager teachers will often try to cram as much as possible into a lesson, wanting to be as thorough and as comprehensive as possible. While we do want to maximize our often limited classroom time, it’s important to remember that concepts need to be easy for students to digest. We can make this possible by breaking things into pieces. In other words, we want to avoid overwhelming students by trying to teach too many different concepts at once. Experienced teachers know that students benefit most from a clear step-by-step approach to learning. Our job as teachers is to make things as uncomplicated as possible for students.



Most of us spent many late nights planning lessons and creating materials when we first started teaching. Some of this was necessary: after all, planning a class is a lot of work, and teachers are usually very dedicated to making sure they are prepared to deliver quality instruction. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that the best teachers know how to use their time and available resources efficiently. It is okay to use the Internet to get ideas for how to approach teaching points, and it is okay to share materials. In fact, savvy teachers aren’t afraid to find something that is already created and tweak it to suit the needs of a particular class. Likewise, they are open to sharing what they’ve created with other teachers in the profession. In actuality, this strategy will usually benefit students, as it brings together the ideas of many instructors instead of just one.


YOU ARE NOT THERE TO BE FRIENDS WITH YOUR STUDENTS There is a difference between being a friend and being friendly. Many beginning teachers, especially young ones who may only be a few years older than their students (or in some cases the same age or younger), fall into the trap of becoming overly relaxed with students. It’s possible to be warm and open to students while still maintaining a position of authority. Regardless of age or gender, in order to maintain control of the class and to keep students focused on learning, the instructor has to be mindful of his or her role as leader. This can be tricky to navigate at first, but it becomes easier over time.



Teaching is a never-ending exercise in improvisation. Of course we want to go into the classroom with a wellthought out plan, but it’s inevitable that sometimes things will not go as planned. There are times that motivating students can feel like an uphill battle, and there will be days that no matter how much preparation and careful planning went into it, a lesson just won’t work the way the teacher had envisioned that it would. These are challenges that can be frustrating and disappointing to a new teacher, but they are also great learning experiences. Diving in and trying things out in the classroom is really the only way to learn what works and what doesn’t. While some teachers seems to have a natural aptitude for managing a classroom, most of us will need to hone our abilities as instructors through experience and over time. Confidence is key, and knowing that nothing will ever go perfectly as planned is a must for new and experienced teachers alike. In the early stages of teaching ESL, some days will feel overwhelming. Stick with it -- it gets easier in time!

Break the Ice! 10 Fun Icebreakers for the Beginning of the Year EVERYONE LOVES A GOOD ICEBREAKER — IT’S A GREAT WAY TO GET TO KNOW OTHER PEOPLE AND HELP PEOPLE FEEL RELAXED IN STRESSFUL SITUATIONS, SUCH AS THE FIRST DAY OF A NEW SCHOOL YEAR. Here are a few icebreakers and some variations to the icebreakers to try during the first week of school to build a good sense of community in your classroom that will last throughout the year!




By far and away the best way to learn and retain student names is to do a name chain game to start off the class. You can vary the specifics to fit the needs of your particular class, but my class usually goes like this: the first student says 1) his or her name, 2) his or her home country, 3) one interesting fact about himself or herself, and 4) his or her favorite English word. The next student must then repeat all of the information about himself or herself and then say the name and favorite English word of the preceding student. The third student introduces himself or herself and then says the names and favorite English words of the preceding two students, and so on until the last student. For a challenge, tell the last student not to write anything down! As the teacher, you can also go last instead and impress the class with your knowledge of their names while simultaneously making the last student feel better. Make sure you quiz your students throughout the week to see if they can remember everyone’s names and favorite words. I’ve also made a practice vocabulary quiz using each of their favorite English words before which is a great way to transition them into your testing style. Variation: Instead of having students say their favorite English word, have

them choose a word that starts with the same letter as their name, a favorite city, favorite food, etc... the options are endless!



Your students may familiar with this popular tradition in January, but a new school year should bring about new resolutions for students and teachers alike. Have students partner up with each other and discuss what goals they have for themselves for the school year. Encourage them to be specific with the things they would like to accomplish and what they want to be different. Make sure that you as the teacher make some resolutions too! Variation: While students are talking together, have them create a poster of their resolutions. Display the posters around the room to help students remember their goals throughout the term.



Another great activity to get to your students to know each other a little better is a guessing game. Pass out small pieces of paper or notecards to each student and tell them to write down two facts about themselves on the card without writing their name on them. Collect the cards in a basket and mix them up before redistributing them to the students. Students take turn reading out the facts from the note card and the other students guess which person wrote the card. Variation: Instead of writing them down on notecards, have them discuss their facts with a partner. After groups have had some time to discuss, come back together as a whole class. The partners will take turns sharing facts and the rest of the class has to guess which partner the fact is about! Give a point to the partners who guess the facts correctly and a point to the partners who are able to fool the class.



Line students up in two lines with each line facing each other. Tell them to come up with creative “Would you rather...” questions to ask their partners, such as “Would you rather eat pizza for the rest of your life or chocolate?”, “Would you rather be a ballerina or a florist?”, etc... Give them a few examples to prompt them and see what kinds of creative questions they come up with. This will help to pique their creativity and get to know their new classmates. After a short time, have one of the lines move down so students will get to meet everyone in the other line. Variation: In a large circle as a whole class, have Student A pose a would you rather question for Student B to answer. To make things even more interesting, have Student B answer for a different student. For example, Student A might ask “Student B, do you think student C would rather have a crocodile or a zebra for a pet?” The students will then guess for their classmate -- be sure to have Student C answer to see who close Student B was!



A classic get to know you activity is to have students go through their backpacks, folders, pockets, etc... and find 3 or 4 things that they feel describe them very well. Students then need to describe their objects and why they chose them as their defining objects. Put students into pairs to share their objects or share as a whole class so that way everyone can hear about their new classmates! Variation: Send students around the building with cameras (phones work nicely these days) and take a picture of something in the building that they think defines them or could describe them.




A great speaking activity that helps to loosen up nervous students on the first day is a word association game. One student says a word (choose a category like travel if you wish to narrow things down) and the next person must say a word associated with that word, the next student says a word associated with that word, and so on. If another student challenges the association, the student must justify how those words are related. Make it a competition to see who can get the most points if you want to add a little friendly rivalry in the mix. Variation: To make things more challenging or adapt this activity for a higher level class, put extra restrictions such as the word you say must begin with the last letter of the word the previous student said. For example, if Student A says “Japan,” Student B might say “ninja.”



A great way to mix students up to arrange them into groups or just get them speaking to one another is to put nametags on the back of the students of famous people, teachers, movie characters etc... Make sure that these people will be well known by all of your students. Students must walk around with their nametag on their back that they cannot see and ask questions to their classmates about who they are. Variation: If you wait a few days and do this activity on the 2nd or 3rd day of class, you can put a classmates’ name on their back and their peers will have to know that classmate well enough to describe him or her to the student. This is a great way to review names!



To get some of the more creative students included, give each student a blank piece of paper. Tell them to draw a picture of an event that happened to them recently, for example, a vacation they took, or a graduation ceremony etc... There can be no words on the paper. Put the students into pairs and have the partners guess what went the event was based on just looking at the picture.

Variation: Before putting students into pairs, collect the students’ pictures and randomly redistribute them to different students. The students will then have to describe to the class what is going on in the picture. When they finish, ask the artist of the picture to say how close that student was and to narrate what actually happened in their life event.



If students are getting sluggish and you need them to move around the first day, do this activity. Have all of the students seated in a circle and you as a teacher stand in the middle. To start off the activity, you will say “I’m cool because...” and then finish that sentence with something that’s true about you, for example, you’re wearing blue jeans, you speak 3 languages, etc... Then, every student who shares that fact in common with you must stand up and find a new seat. You also will need to find a seat meaning that one student will be stranded in the middle. This game is great for finding commonalities and getting in some good laughs! Variation: Play “I have never....” instead. When students are in the middle, have them call out things they’ve never done and have the students move who have done those activities.



This activity is good for small groups. Randomly group students into three or four and give them a time limit to discover three things that all members of the group have in common and one thing that is unique for all of them. When the time is up, have each group report to the class. Then, change up the groups and have them do it again with their new class members. If it starts to get too easy, start ruling out common answers like “We’re all from different countries” or “We all breathe oxygen.” Variation: Try this with the whole class after doing it in small groups. If they’ve been good listeners, they should be able to recall many things that all students had in common. It may take awhile, but there are surely at least 3 things the whole class has in common!




Where There Is no Smartphone: De-Technologize your Lessons ESL/EFL websites are flooded with new techniques to add technology to the classroom, and help online has moved almost entirely in the direction of needing more and/or adapting teaching materials for a rapidly advancing technological world. Many teachers live in remote global areas where technology is not easily available or reliable, however. What options does the EFL/ESL teacher have in those places where there is no Smartphone, notebook, or tablet?




Not having access to a printer may seem like a serious dilemma for an ESL teacher, especially if she is from the developed world, but she just needs to apply a little creativity! • Flashcards: have students (or bored local kids) draw and paint pictures on cardboard you saved from your cereal boxes or whatever consumer goods you are able to buy in your area. • Worksheets: block print on paper if you have paper and access to a copier, or hand write on a giant sheet of paper or blackboard for students to copy exercises. The extra writing will reinforce concepts for them! • Tests: apply the same method as for worksheets, or give tests verbally.



If your area has no printers, it probably has few or no books. What do you give them to read to practice? • Make copies of pages of your own books or magazines and cut out good example sentences. (If you worry about piracy laws, remember that publishers never had what you are doing in mind when they copyrighted the material.)

Check accessible papers and magazines for material in English to cut out. Copy vocabulary lists onto the blackboard for them to record into notebooks. Focus on speaking instead of reading and writing if you have few written options. They probably need that skill more anyway! If they have Internet and Smartphones, give them excerpts from e-books and tell them to read them as homework assignments. If they have no Internet but have cell phones, copy audio book mp3s to their devices and have them listen to them and answer questions or journal as homework assignments.



Plan ahead, and gather resources you need for upcoming classes while visiting the city or wherever you can manage to link in. You might be able to print things in advance while at the Internet café as well. If you do not even have Internet close by, call people and ask them for advice! Call your friends or other ESL/EFL teachers in your network to help create learning objectives and materials.



Increasingly, activities online are suggesting integrating Facebook, Twitter, and other remotely available tablet and Smartphone social media applications. You can still apply social networking exercises, but in offline adaptations. • Develop an exercise where students have to interview a certain number of classmates in real life as opposed to on Facebook. They will actually have to get together in groups as opposed to chat online. If they live in an area with little technology, they are probably thrilled for a reason to get together anyway! • If they have basic cell phones, have them text message conversa-

tions in English with partners and record their texts in a journal a few times a week. Instead of tweeting, have them write down three times a day “how they feel” or what “their status” is in a journal. They can share them with the class every week. It will be amusing. If they have access to cameras, or have them on their older model cell phones, have them take pictures of five new vocabulary words that they encountered in their worlds and “share and tell” with the class.



Projectors make life much easier, but there are ways to get around the big screen. • If you have a decent computer monitor, make the words on your PowerPoints really big and have students sit close together to watch your slide show. • Draw! Use big pieces of paper and crayons. If you really live in a place without Internet, Smartphones, and printers, you are probably bored anyway. • Take students on field trips to see and experience new vocabulary words and grammar concepts. If you are teaching fruits and vegetables, go to the market! If you are teaching present progressive, go to the playground or the gym and describe what you, your students, or others using the park are doing. “Anita is playing soccer.” “The child is swinging.” “They are drinking water.”

IF YOU ARE CHALLENGED WITH TEACHING EFL IN A RURAL OR TECHNOLOGY-LACKING AREA OF THE WORLD, DO NOT SWEAT, BUT EMBRACE IT! The reality is that you can still teach without a Smartphone despite what the Internet is telling you, and, if you apply a bit of creativity, your classes might even be extra experiential and learning friendly as a result.


Make Your Life Easier: 10 Steps to Good Co-teacher Relations MANY ESL TEACHERS, ESPECIALLY IN KOREA AND OTHER AREAS OF ASIA, SHARE THEIR CLASSROOM WITH AN ENGLISH TEACHER FROM THAT COUNTRY. These co-teachers help translate in class, share the marking, help with discipline, and often are tasked with helping the Native English Teacher negotiate the school bureaucracy and the local culture. This means that poor relations with a co-teacher can quickly make an ESL teacher’s life very unpleasant. Here are a few tips for smooth sailing with your co-t.




Seems simple right? That’s because it is. Nobody likes a sour puss. Smile and be friendly. It will take you a very long way.



It’s going to take a while for you to understand the context of your coteacher’s reactions, and the truth is, they might not be that enthusiastic about having you with them in the classroom. A lot of English teachers only stay a year and some make it clear that teaching is just a means to a year-long vacation for them. Even if you are an amazing teacher it will take a while for your co-teacher to be sure of the fact that you are not another yahoo like your predecessor. Frosty attitudes might have less to do with who you are and more to do with what you represent when you first arrive.



Coming mostly from western cultures, ESL teachers have a pretty firm idea of what the workplace expectations are in that context.


Expectations vary culture to culture. For example, in Korea, your principal has a massive amount of control over the teachers compared with most western nations. A suggestion from them is not a suggestion, it’s a direction. Now, places will make exceptions for you as a foreigner, but the sooner you learn what is actually happening the more able you will be to at least understand why you are getting odd looks for not attending that meeting where you won’t understand a word that is spoken.



Everyone likes to feel like their colleagues are interested in them and their lives. Ask questions (politely) about what your co-teacher will be doing on the weekends and evenings. Where did they grow up, do they like teaching, do they have any kids? Before you start asking questions though, try to get a sense for what types of questions are culturally acceptable. For instance, often things that are completely hands-off in the west (age) are the first questions asked in hierarchical cultures where age is important in determining social station.



School staff will occasionally get together for coffee or drinks. Ask about these outings, try to finagle an invitation. In the event you are invited make every effort to attend. Also, get involved as much as possible with activities within the school. Does everyone gather for coffee at a certain time? Show up, try and participate in the conversation, or even just listen. Sometimes, just being present makes a difference.



This does not mean shower your co-teacher with presents. Little things like bringing in snacks and/or coffee for the office. Make the gifts small and fitting. Know that many cultures see giving these small tokens as a sign

of respect and appreciation. Bring a small gift for your co-teacher on special occasions regardless of which of your cultures those occasions are based in.



Ask questions about the culture. People appreciate it when you make an effort to understand and adjust to the culture around you rather than expecting everyone to adjust to your expectations and cultural norms. Try to learn snippets of the language from your co-teacher. There are some occasions when a co-teacher seems stand-offish simply because they are a little shy about their English pronunciation. Making a ton of mistakes trying to learn their language will help put them at ease with their own abilities.



This can be pretty difficult, but when there is a conflict, make an effort to look at it from their perspective. Understand that it may very well be that this foreigner shows up, takes up some of their class time, doesn’t understand the way things work here, and is now blundering around and making a royal mess of things. It’s important to understand that you might actually be the bull in the china shop. Recognizing that (and stopping all thrashing) is the first step to figuring out how to disentangle yourself without causing further damage.



Co-teachers are often the bearers of bad news. If your co-teacher is one of the few people in your school who speak English, they might just be the messenger, and I think there is some rule about shooting messengers. Things get lost in translation. Their boss might be coming down on them because you broke a rule you did not

know was there (or did and chose to ignore) and now they have to tell you. The fact that they are doing all of this in their second language and under stress means that the message might not come across the way they intended.


NO MATTER HOW RIGHT YOU ARE, YOU STILL MIGHT BE WRONG Their proposal makes no sense. Your answer is perfectly logical ... to you. What they want would create massive amounts of extra, unnecessary work, possibly be detrimental for the students, and doesn’t make sense! Guess what? Within the context of their country and this job they are right. The key is to not fight for lost causes and to understand that your co-teacher is not being malicious. They are likely as frustrated by your resistance as you are by their insistence. Don’t be bitter. It’s part of that adventure you were after. Shrug it off and move on.

CONCLUSION Now there is a chance that even if you follow all of these tips, things will not be all butterflies and unicorns. Some personalities just don’t get along. But, if you try all of these, you should at least be able to work with the person without one of you killing the other. Bad co-teacher relationships are not that common. So, new teachers: go in with an open mind. That way, it’s more likely that you will have a year (or more) of happy friendship ahead of you.


6 Tips to Help You Check Comprehension SOMETIMES IT JUST COMES NATURALLY, BUT ACTUALLY “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” IS THE BIGGEST TABOO QUESTION WHEN TRYING TO GAUGE WHETHER YOUR ESL LEARNERS UNDERSTAND THE POINTS BEING TAUGHT. With such inviolable questions, learners feel obliged to answer “yes” but how do we really know that they do understand? Anyone can get around this by just answering “yes”. The phenomenon of just answering affirmatively is more common with adult learners who have more of a fear of being wrong, but it’s not uncommon with younger learners too who could be tired, unwilling to answer the question or the fear of being teased by their peers for answering the wrong answer.

Learning how to ask concept checking questions is one of the first things that ESL teachers learn in their TESOL or CELTA courses. However, even though we’re well-equipped with the knowledge on how to ask them and we know their importance, we often fail to do so and slip back into old ways and dirty habits of asking our students “do you understand?” It is those teachers, who regularly use concept check questions in their classrooms, who are more effective in their teaching and thus get better results. So, what exactly is a concept check question? Concept checking is a method employed by ESL teachers to check the students have understood what has been said in quick and short ways without asking that question “do you understand?” This way of checking comprehension allows teachers to check whether the learners have fully understood, whether their teaching instructions are clear or not and it also helps to clarify points that are still a bit of a grey area of not. While concept check questions are not a difficult notion, it does take time to get used to them, but just like everything else it will get easier the more you practice.





Everything taught or referred to in the ESL classroom needs to be checked for comprehension. Some simple things that we believe to be easy may just seem like a totally new tongue to your learners – well it is! Firstly, we have to remember that they’re not learning in their L1 so there are more chances that things will get lost in translation so to speak. To really understand how it feels to be your student, imagine what it feels like to be listening to a seminar or lecture that’s completely above your head for example, astrophysics. Even better still, jump online and play and try to understand a college video lecture that’s totally out of your expertise area and see how much of it you can actually grasp – this is exactly how your language learners feel sometimes when points are not explained properly. For many ESL teachers, they forget what it’s like to be a student and for others who have never studied another language, they just have no idea.



No translation is the golden rule of ESL teaching – translating basically goes against everything we’ve ever learned as ESL teachers. While it may seem easier just to give a quick translation when we’re met with blank looks, it can actually be more detrimental to their learning. The main reason why translating should be avoided at all costs is that from language to language there are different ideas, concepts and behaviors which are alien to our learners – things that just don’t exist in their L1, therefore they can’t be translated.



The quickest way to check a learner’s understanding is by asking other questions. This can be done when learning vocabulary, grammar or in reading comprehension. Checking new terms and information with short quick questions is a surefire way of gauging whether your learners have caught on and whether your instruction has been clear or not. For example you’ve taught the word ‘pool boy’. How can you test they have really understood what a ‘pool boy’ is? Ask them short closed questions that require “yes/no” answers to determine whether they know it or not. “Is he a lifeguard?” “Does he clean the pool?” “Would he bring you a cocktail?” “Is it his job to serve you?” The abovementioned are a few example questions that could be asked to check if they know the true meaning. Asking a question that requires the word “maybe” could also make the learners think a little more and it’s a good idea for more advanced learners and if time allows you could also get the learners to justify their answers. Asking questions with “yes/no” answers will take the pressure off the learners to give full answers. In this way you’ll give the learners more confidence as they’re only required to speak one word and there’s very little focus on one student. Additionally, asking closed questions is the fastest way to check comprehension. You can move around the class and ask individual learners about different things or you could ask the questions to the class as a whole and have the learners answer in unison. Having the students answer in chorus at the beginning will make the learners feel more at ease with answering such quick fire questions without thinking too much. Avoid using the target word in the question if possible. If you’re trying to convey the word “peace” you wouldn’t say “is peace quiet?” Write the focus

word on the board and ask simple questions such as “do we fight when we have it?” “can we touch it?” “can I have it in my mind?” “do most people want it?” Repeating the same word over and over again could become confusing and it’s easier just to have it in front of them visually rather than be heard in every question.



It’s true what they say – pictures tell a thousand words. The great thing about pictures is that everyone sees the same thing. If one student sees a lemon, the rest of the students see a lemon too. Pictures, if chosen wisely, can clearly show the image of animate objects. Pictures are especially good with younger learners and beginners as there’s a lot of repetition. If you’re trying to teach the meaning of steak, hold up two or three pictures showing people eating different foods and ask the question, “Which picture shows the people enjoying a steak?” The learners will then answer picture A, B or C. In order to work with pictures for concept checking you’ll need to be super organized. While quick and short verbal concept check questions are easy to come up with on the spot for the more experienced ESL teacher, pictures are not – and even if you wanted to quickly sketch them on the board, it wastes a lot of unnecessary time. When planning a lesson, it’s necessary to decide which words will be the key words and which words they’re unlikely to know. Time needs to be taken to gather the resources – the traditional methods would have advocated flashcards but these days it’s much easier to use the internet and powerpoint if you have access to them in your classroom.


will also improve retention in the future as it’s been proven that putting words together with actions helps in the acquisition and retention of vocabulary.



Using a little bit of variety in your concept checking methods will make them more effective. Another great and quick method of checking comprehension is to ask your students for the opposites of words. Or you could ask them if something is the correct opposite, “is empty the opposite of clear?” “No?” “What is?” Using synonyms and opposites will not only check their acquired knowledge, it will also help increase their vocabulary banks at the same time.


When teachers inundate their learners with difficult instructions or comprehension questions it could leave them feeling slightly inadequate and exposed which will have a negative effect on their learning. A good ESL teacher will continue to check their comprehension in quick non-obtrusive ways to ensure understanding and learning is taking place no matter what their level or age is as our number one goal is to have our students learn and learning can’t take place if there’s no comprehension.


For younger learners a great way to check they’ve got it is by asking them to mime. Young learners respond well to actions and the total physical response is an effective way of learning. Call out the words and have your students act them. It can be used for simple actions, but it can also be used for things, especially if they’re in pointing distance from your learners. A quick action or a simple point of the finger will let you know whether they’ve caught on or not. This method


Get Them Talking: 3 Activities That Motivate Students to Speak One of the greatest challenges we face as EFL teachers is getting our students to actually use the language in class. Many students are very shy about using English, worried about their grammar, accent, or many other mistakes. Because fluency is so important for daily communication in any language, we as teachers need to find some way to get them talking. Reward systems and tying class attitude and behaviour scores to participation certainly helps address this problem, but forced participation is never as productive as when participation voluntary. To this end, it is worth the teacher’s time to use speaking activities that get the students excited and participating for that reason instead of coercion.

then circulate and try to find the counterpart to their card. When they do, they find a teacher and read out the question and response as a dialogue. If they are correct the teacher marks each of their slips (the students keep the completed slips) and hands them two new slips from the next set of questions and answers. Students then go and try to find a match for their new slips. Mark the slips to make sure students do not try to use the same slip to match with several different people. The marks also serve as points. Continue this process for either a set time limit or until all of the slips have been handed out. When the activity is over the student with the most marked slips is the winner.

Games are one of the best ways to accomplish voluntary participation, even among the lower level and shy students. Adding an element of competition, especially on an individual basis, encourages students to try their best and helps them lose their inhibitions around speaking English in front of their peers. So here are three tried and tested speaking games that have proven to be effective and a ton of fun.

For higher level classes, stipulate that all communication when trying to find their partner must be done in English.




This activity only really works for topics in which there are specific answers for specific questions or specific responses to certain situations. Some preparation is required on the part of the teacher. Create a set of question/ situations and the correct answers/responses. For a class of 30 it’s best to have 15 of each. Print four or five sets of these (more for advanced classes) and cut them up so that each question, situation, answer, or response is on its own small slip of paper. Be sure that you keep them in sets (ie. one full set of answers and one full set of questions – not all the questions in one pile and all the answers in the other). In class, hand out one set of answers and one set of questions. Students




This game requires very little preparation on the teacher’s part. All that is really needed is four increasingly complicated dialogue pieces. To help with student clarity, I either draw a pyramid on the board, or have one on a presentation slide. Divide it into four levels. Each level is associated with a two or four line piece of target language that the students have learned in the unit. From the bottom to the top they should be easiest to hardest. All students start at the bottom and must work their way up. They do this by finding another student on their level and going through the dialogue together. If one student can’t complete their part of the dialogue they remain on that level and their opponent advances to the next level. If they both successfully complete their half of the dialogue, they play rock, paper, scissors to decide who advances. Once they have completed all four levels , they come and find the teacher. The teacher can ask them any question from the entire unit, or preceding units for high level classes. If the student gets it correct they play rock, paper, scissors against the teacher. If the student wins they

are a winner. If they lose they go back to the bottom level. Continue the game until you reach a pre-set number of winners. Some versions of this game associate each level with an animal or action. The students who are on that level must act like the animal so they can locate one another. To extend the amount of time this game takes, the loser of each battle can go down a level. Also, if a student playing rock, paper, scissors against the teacher loses, the entire class goes back to level one. This game can be very difficult to monitor, as the students are all over the classroom and all talking at once. One method to help with this is to have the students police themselves. Tell them that if they see pairs playing rock, paper, scissors without first completing the dialogue they can tell you and you move the students down a level and require them to complete a dialogue set in front of you to advance. Also, emphasise that if one person cannot complete the dialogue then the other person advances without any need to go through the rock, paper, scissors process. Students seem to appreciate the element of luck that rock, paper, scissors introduces into this activity.



This game is one that works especially well for low level classes as it does not require using English freely. The teacher must prepare a presentation with one sentence on each slide. I usually create a conversation based on the topic and using the dialogue the students have most recently learned. Ideally, use relatively short sentences. If you can get several one or two word responses in there it keeps the students on their toes. To make things more interesting you can add several other picture slides between the sen-

tence slides. One is simple an ‘out’ slide. If a student gets that slide on their turn they are out. One is a slide that does not affect the student that gets it but the one who is next. If that student is still in the game, then they are out. If they were already out then they are in. The final kind is a random action (make kids jump and say something or whatever). They must do it within five seconds or they are out. Whatever you do, you will need at least one slide per student with a few extras. Once in class, have all students stand up. Set an order among them. When each student’s turn comes they have the choice of reading one or two words from the sentence on the screen. Not more or less. Whoever is forced to read the last word of the sentence is out. Depending on what other slides you have included, there is also a sense of randomness whenever you change the slide. Keep going until there is only one student still standing. They are the winner.

CONCLUSION I have found these games are great ways to get the students speaking for the last half of class. I usually tell them there will be a game if they are well behaved and participate and that increases the speaking level even before the game comes out. Be aware that all of these games can get a bit noisy as the excitement builds. Frankly, that’s part of the fun and it’s what helps the kids forget their inhibitions. So, try one out and enjoy the laughter!






For the first lesson of the week a nice warmer is to use some newspaper photographs that represent news stories from the previous week. Select photographs that are linked to a variety of news stories. Make sure you choose photos that have a range of difficulty: it’s always good to have a couple of more obvious ones. Put your students into pairs and stick up the photographs around the classroom. Ask the students to go and look at the photographs in their pairs and discuss which news stories they think they are related to. They should then make a list of the photographs and write down the stories that they refer to. If they don’t know ask them to create a story idea to match the photograph. The pairs should then join up with another pair and discuss their ideas. Class feedback usually brings out some fun and interesting ideas. The nice thing about this warmer is that it can be used every week with different stories.



Images can also be used to prompt a discussion or debate. Choosing a strong photograph which represents a controversial topic can be a great lead in to discussion or debate lessons. For debate lessons choosing two images that show contrasting views on a topic can be a good starter. For example choosing a picture of a beauty pageant alongside a picture representing child exploitation can evoke a strong debate.



Put students into groups of 3 to 4 and give them a mixed assortment of newspaper photographs and headlines.


Ask the students to match the correct headline to the photograph. Another option is to just give out the photographs and ask students to make up their own headlines and then give them the correct headline and compare.



This is a fun activity and should bring out the humour in your students. Give out some photographs of varying types. Maybe you could find pictures of animals or people in strange situations or with strange expressions on their faces. Students should then come up with captions for the photographs. This could be made into a competition with voting for the funniest captions.



Photographs can be used to help students create characters in creative writing lessons. Give out some images of people with differing ages, situations, nationalities etc., try and choose strong images of interesting looking characters. Ask your students to use the photograph they are given to create a character profile. This is a great way to get your students to use character adjectives. They should describe what they see but also what they think the character’s personality, lifestyle and occupation is.



One way that the above idea can be extended is to get your students to team up with another. They can then put both their characters into a situation where there is a conflict and write a short dialogue. The students can then role play their dialogues in front of the class. Another extension is to write a monologue using the character they have created.



Images of places can be very evocative and can promote the use of some great descriptive language. Choose some photographs that are strong visually. Maybe they show extreme weather or idyllic scenes or you could choose urban scenes of people living on the street

or at a festival. The students should work in pairs and first of all discuss what they see. Then ask them to think about how someone would feel in that place and come up with a story idea based in the setting. They could then work on developing the story.



Pictures can be useful when teaching grammar. For example giving students pictures of people doing various activities and then asking them to describe what they see will encourage the use of the present continuous. Using pictures to encourage the correct use of prepositions can also be useful. Give students a picture of a room and in pairs ask them to describe the position of different objects -- encourage peer correction.



In an Upper Intermediate or Advanced class put students in groups of 3 or 4. Give one student in the group a picture of a famous painting and ask them to describe what they see. The other students should try to draw a representation of what has been described. They can then compare their drawings. Continue until each person in the group has had a chance to describe a painting. You can also use picture dictation for lower level groups to practise vocabulary of position and prepositions. Use pictures that show a room and again in groups of 3 or 4 ask one student to describe the objects in the room and where they are situated. The other students should try and draw a plan based on what the student says. It is advisable to choose the strongest student in the group to describe first.


Creating an Effective Learning Community A lot has been written about diverse classrooms and their advantages. From many years of experience as an instructor in diverse classrooms, I can attest to this: there is nothing quite as energizing as the flow of ideas, sometimes heated, that comes out of a classroom among people of varying levels of maturity, cultural backgrounds, and socioeconomic status. However, that is not to say that these classrooms are without disadvantages. An inherent concern in the diverse classroom is initial student alienation from each other. What, after all, does the eighteen-year-old female freshman have in common with the male veteran in his thirties readjusting to being a civilian? Or to the student with gang/criminal history trying to straighten out his life? To the young immigrant student longing to break free from the confines of his parents’ boundaries? How does the instructor create a community of students of such varied background and goals? It is a challenge, but it can be done.




Group activities should be incorporated from the first day, in learning about the class together. On the first day, have students work in groups to come up with three to five critical questions they have about the class -- they can then read the syllabus to find the answers or ask the instructor. Further ice breaking activities related to the course content or college life can be incorporated in the early days of the class in surveys to find out peers’ college majors, for example, or past experiences related to the course content. For example, as the first writing assignment, I had students write their “literacy biography,” in which they discussed their own experiences with reading and writing. All students were

reflective on the topic, and in this way they also got to learn each other’s backgrounds -- if they had second language/cultural experience, for example, or if they shared the same interests in reading material.



Instructors must model the behavior they wish to see in students: in this case, authentic concern for each student and her experiences. If the instructor treats each student as if her contributions to the class discussion are valuable -- and invariably they are -- then the other students will act accordingly and take an interest beyond the students of similar background that they might normally gravitate to. For example, a number of students had unexpected opinions on the topics of our criminal justice system and treatment of drug offenders -- unexpected and perhaps unacceptable, in a traditional college setting. But by modeling listening to their opinions on the topic, even if they weren’t entirely socially acceptable -- e.g., opinions on the criminal justice system, drawn from personal experience of involvement with that system--respect for different viewpoints was modeled.



Discussion of course readings is one of the activities that can really get students exchanging ideas with each other. The discussions are based on core class readings, on topics such as language use and learning, from writers like Amy Tan and Richard Rodriquez, both of whom have written compellingly of their experiences in growing up in bilingual homes and of language learning. Language is of course a universal -- everyone has experience with it, and it is through dialogue here that students can begin to exchange opinions and experiences. For example, many students have had the experience of suffering through foreign language classrooms with less than effective instruction (it

is a source of constant amazement to me that California youth who may have taken Spanish from kindergarten onward leave high school without being able to communicate in the language at all.) Because students have this shared experience, and probably have reflected on it, they can discuss why the instruction was so ineffective and what might have improved it.



Once students are comfortable discussing more universal topics, they can begin discussing specific social issues that are still of general concern. For example, one of the course readings was written by a man serving a life sentence for an unpremeditated murder committed when he was a young man. He wrote compellingly about how the prison system, focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation, was ineffective in addressing crime -- mostly committed by people such as himself: young males with poor impulse control who would not in their lives commit another crime. Because most students have some experience with crime -- either as victim, or a relative of a perpetrator, sometimes themselves a perpetrator -- all were concerned with the topic and had varied perspectives on it to share. Entering a dialogue with each other on a topic of importance deepened understanding of the topic and each other.


EXTENDING THE DIALOGUE: ONLINE DISCUSSION BOARDS The dialogue can be further extended to online discussion threads, if your class has a companion website or “learning management system,” as many do today, such as Blackboard and Turnitin, websites set up specifically for classroom use and which can be modified by individual class need. I posted some of our topics on the discussion threads portion of the site, asking students to post once to


the topic and to at least two peers’ responses. This got students more involved in the topic and deeper responses their peers were developed as students were more able to reflect than in a face-to-face discussion and did not have to worry about turn-taking as they did in class. In addition, introverted students who had trouble speaking up in class were drawn into the dialogue more. Most students went beyond the required participation because they became committed to the dialogue.


INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS AND RESEARCH BASED ON STUDENT INTEREST Once students have become acclimated to the academic dialogue, they are ready to develop the dialogue more through independent research and writing on a topic of individual interest. It is here that students are really drawn into what it is to be a college student. Some students chose to write about topics we had been discussing, such as gun control, but others chose to research a topic of interest to themselves -- cleared by me, the instructor, for appropriateness (they invariably were.) One young man, a returning student, researched the value of the four-year, liberal arts degree, focusing on the drawbacks (expense, time, lack of focus on student need and interest, all leading to a high attrition rate). This research generated a great deal of interest from his peers and led to students considering focusing their college goals early and learning ways to limit expense. In addition to generating interest in other students, students who posted their writing received feedback on ways to improve their work from their peers-critique they were receptive to as they now knew and were comfortable with each other.



Are there some concerns in students sharing diverse opinions? Of course. A major one is the concern of conversations getting overheated, which quieter students in particular may find uncomfortable. Usually a reminder from the instructor to respect each other in exchanging opinions is all that is needed. In addition, a problem I encountered last semester was groups “solidifying” early, with students work-


ing over and over again with the same peers -- usually those they happened to be seated near. In teaching the class again, I would make sure that students changed the groups every day.

THERE ARE CHALLENGES AS WELL AS BENEFITS TO WORKING IN A DIVERSE CLASSROOM. However, with teacher planning and effort, students can move beyond initial discomfort to sharing their experiences enough to feel comfortable in the dialogue with each other and critique of their each other’s work that make an effective learning community.

This is Boring...: Sure-Fire Ways to Turn Your Students on to Reading One of my first teaching experiences was in a continuation classroom in California, which is a classroom filled with students who have experienced school failure in some way: truancy, poor grades, behavioral concerns, etc. The goal is to get the students back on track and into the regular classroom. To do that, it would seem to take a specially designed program targeting individual student needs and interests. However, when I arrived, I found students already experiencing reading failure attempting to read William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” a mid-twentieth century novel on the nature of war, as school boys stranded on a island during WWII await rescue. They gradually form the same kind of separate cultures and war structures that their parents had and which had landed the boys on the island in the first place. This is powerful material and is on the list of recommended books for high school reading. However, it was not ideal for these specific students: it was in British English, not American, and therefore somewhat “foreign” to them from the start, due to the vocabulary and grammatical differences of the two dialects -- it is also in academic language and filled with unfamiliar language and symbolism. Finally its themes, while universal, were still at an abstract level the students could not relate to. So the book had a number of problems that made it a poor choice for the class in that it did not interest students, and therefore they did not read it nor develop their reading skills. How, then, may a teacher address a class of reluctant readers? There are a number of ways:



I was recently talking to my daughter’s karate instructor, a very bright young man and excellent teacher who is not, however, educated beyond the high school level. However, he told me that he wanted to start reading more than he did, which wasn’t much as he didn’t enjoy it. But he wanted to read some “good books,” and because my daughter had told him I had published a novel, he asked about that. I explained to him

I wasn’t sure that it would be of interest to him as it was a story of romantic suspense, involving heroines in peril and the heroes who save them, and so forth — a genre for a largely female audience. He appeared somewhat dubious but insisted that he wanted to buy the novel on Amazon. This is a common concern with developmental readers — they believe that there are “shoulds” in reading, that it is to be taken like medicine and not enjoyed, and as if reading something within their own range of interests is “cheating” or wrong somehow. If the student’s main interest is karate or some other sport, that is a good starting place as there are many fine novels and other reading material written on that topic. It is likely then the reader will identify with the topics and/or characters and will have the vocabulary base to understand the material.



Once students are comfortable reading within their own interests, it’s time for instructors to expand those interests. You might suggest to your student, “Because you enjoy reading material about sports, you might like Bernard Malamud’s ‘The Natural,’” which is a classic novel about baseball set in the early 20th century, but which also draws in a lot of American culture at that time, literary symbolism of heroism, as well as the history of baseball. From this reading, students might develop an interest in the history of baseball, for example, or other books by Malamud. The instructor can then refer students to the library or online or traditional bookstores.



Connected to going with student interests is going with their own level, all part of banishing the “should” phenomenon. I’ve seen really novice readers struggle in private tutoring sessions with reading the King James version of the Bible, which they brought in to work with (not in a public school context where this would be inappropriate) because they thought this was a reading “should.” The Bible is difficult material for an accomplished reader as it’s written in Elizabethan English and is set in a context and society far removed from our own. In ad-

dition, even experienced readers of the Bible typically study only a page or two at a time. One young man I remember in particular whom I was tutoring through a private literacy program would grimace and complain over the text, “Mrs. Levy, I just can’t deal with this.” He was bright, could decode written English, but had poor comprehension skills. I finally said, “William, you don’t have to deal with it yet remain a religious person. But there are millions of other print materials in English.” It was as if a light came on for him, and I realized he may have come from a home where the Bible might indeed have been the only book available. We spent the rest of the session searching the stacks and came away with several books at his level. An alternative for students who really feel they “should” be reading something spiritual or religious is to suggest stories excerpted from the Bible and written in contemporary English. There are also editions of the Bible “translated” into contemporary American English.



As with writing, reading can be a lonely pursuit, and students are often used to working in groups, and indeed learning itself has traditionally been a group process. So understandably students might balk at the notion of spending long periods of time alone with a text, not sure if they are even understanding it. As might be predicted, their attention starts to wander, and the text is forgotten. To counteract this problem, the teacher can take a number of steps such as allowing students to read a portion of the text and then asking questions, reading aloud while the students follow along (particularly powerful for nonnative speakers as they can hear how the text should sound), or setting up the students in groups with comprehension and discussion questions.

SO DOES READING HAVE TO BE BORING, INCOMPREHENSIBLE, AND PAINFUL? ABSOLUTELY NOT. With some guidance from the teacher in selecting reading appropriate to student interest and level and making the process interactive, students, too, can discover the joy of reading.


FAQ for Reading Teachers MY FIRST READING CLASS WAS A CHALLENGE. I was filled with questions on how to apply the instructional methods I had studied, and I found that my fellow teachers were my best resource in getting me through that first year. Later, with teaching experience came a new role. Now I was answering questions for each year’s new crop of teachers. Here are some of the questions I asked and answered over the years, and you might have too, about teaching reading.




We start reading out loud very early in our own academic careers. As early as kindergarten we take turns with our classmates reading one paragraph or one sentence at a time from our text books and handouts. Learning a second language, however, doesn’t demand the read aloud skill. In fact, reading out loud says more about a student’s pronunciation skills than it does their reading skills. When students read aloud skillfully, it is easy to mistake their good pronunciation and fluency for comprehension, which actually has very little to do with whether a person can read out loud. In addition, if you think about the practical applications of English in your students’ futures, very rarely will they ever have to read out loud. For these reasons, I do not have my reading students take class time to practice the skill of reading aloud. My preference is that students read longer passages at home and that class time is for communicative and comprehension activities. When students do need to read in class, I have them read silently and use more effective methods to check their comprehension. That’s not to say we never read out loud -- it’s just not something I make a point of spending class time on.



Communicative classrooms are those


that focus on language use – primarily verbal. When you are teaching students how to read long (or short) passages from a text book, communicative activities are not as instinctual as they may be in, say, a speaking class. Still, reading can be communicative. Discussions are an easy way to incorporate verbal language use into a reading class. Have groups of students make predictions about a reading selection based on pictures and headings. Do post reading discussions to see if students can reiterate the points in an article or retell the events in a piece of fiction. Jigsaws are also great for encouraging communication between students. Have three students read different sections of an article (one to two paragraphs is usually enough) and then have them explain their sections to students who did not read them. If you break your article into three parts, put three students together to discuss the article. One student should have read each part. They can then tell each other what they read and piece together the overall content of the article.



With a little creativity, you can check reading comprehension in lots of fun and communicative ways. Try sequencing events of a story. Have students retell the major events of a fictional piece in comic strip style. Have students write about characters in their reading piece or write a letter to that character. Have students act out what they read or draw diagrams of a place or item discussed in the reading selection. Have students write their own comprehension questions with multiple choice or true/false answers, then have the class answer all of the questions.



Nearly every ESL teacher, no matter what class they are teaching, will be a teacher of vocabulary. Without vocabulary, one cannot know, understand or use a language. But for reading teachers, vocabulary instruction should be secondary. At every level, reading passages will contain words that are unfamiliar to your students. I

have found that teaching vocabulary on an as needed basis works best in my reading classes. I challenge students to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words in a passage before using an English only dictionary to find the definition. If your students make notes on the meanings of certain words in a reading passage, make sure they are on a separate piece of paper. This will encourage students to remember what the word means and not rely on their notes or translation for comprehension.



The more you can include realia in your classroom, the more practical your instruction will be. Think about the goal of your students. Will they pursue academics in English? Will they use English in their place of business? Are they studying for some other reason? Once you have pinpointed why they are learning English, think about the types of materials they will need to read in that environment. Academic students will need to read text books and take exams. Business persons will have to write letters and emails. Use these materials whenever you can. You will have to teach different strategies for reading – reading a text book with headings and subject specific vocabulary is different from reading a business proposal. Teach your students how to read the materials they will encounter after your class and they will have a strong skill set for real life reading when they complete their ESL programs.


WHAT ARE SOME UNEXPECTED PLACES TO FIND GOOD READING MATERIAL? If you are teaching English as a second language in the U.S. or other English speaking country, reading sources are all around you. You can use almost anything to teach your students practical reading skills. I have used common items like cereal boxes and ice cream containers and others that were not so common like movie schedules, weather maps, greeting cards and transcripts from chat rooms. If you are looking for interesting reads for your students, pay

close attention for a day or two of all the things you read. You will probably find that you read far more than you realize: traffic signs and instructions, product manuals, television programming guides, magazines, cooking instructions and many others. Make a list of all these things you read, and then think about which ones will tie into your curriculum. For example, I had my students read an ice-cream container before reading an article on the Ben and Jerry’s corporation. (Of course, we shared the pint, too.) If you are teaching overseas, you might find good and creative reading material a bit more difficult to find, but still take note of what you read. You can find many English materials online even if you can’t bring the original source to class.



They Can Learn: 3 Essentials in Teaching Illiterate Kids IF YOU ARE TEACHING ESL/EFL TO 5-10 YEAR OLD CHILDREN IN A DEVELOPING COUNTRY, OR TO IMMIGRANT CHILDREN IN A DEVELOPED ONE, YOU MIGHT FIND THAT THEY ARE FUNCTIONALLY ILLITERATE. Most children globally do not learn to read until a few years later than developed country kids, and immigrant children or children of immigrants have probably been moved around quite often and have received little to no formal education. Young children love to learn, however, and they learn fast. Teaching English can even help them learn how to read and write. If you find yourself tasked with teaching enthusiastic illiterates, read these 3 essential tips to reach your learning outcome goals.



AMEND YOUR MATERIALS TO TALKING AND LISTENING Most ESL/EFL documents available on the Internet and in guidebooks, or that you already have developed for other classes, are reading and writing intensive. Convert them to talking and listening activities. You can use a little bit of writing to emphasize points, but focus on the sound of the words connected to their meanings. For example, if you have flash cards for fruit, either convert them to pictures or table them for real fruits and repeat each word 5 times. Go around in a circle with your students and have them repeat the words over and over. Then make a game of it: have them compete for who can pronounce the word first after just showing the food or card. You will see that they cannot write the word or read it, but they know it and can say it just from talking and listening! For grammar do the same – show, do


not tell. When teaching to be, make a game using “I, you, he/she/it” and one or two simple adjectives, like colors or “skinny”. If a lot of students have blue or red on that day, teach what blue and red are if they do not know, and then ask “Am I red?” (you are wearing blue pants and a black shirt). They will look at you confused. Then say, “No, I am blue!” pointing to your blue pants. Then point to a students’ red shirt and say, “You are red!” or “He is red!” They will just catch on after a few and you can take turns.



You will need to amend all tests to be oral exams. If you can make them fast and do one-on-one evaluations, great. An oral test is better because they should practice their speaking back to you. If you do not have time for one-on-one evaluation, create a hand out accompaniment to an oral test where they have to match pictures to the words you are saying. For emotions use smileys. For action verbs show action pictures of people or animals doing things. You can design a test with a PowerPoint alternatively, asking them to pick A or B for the right answer to your questions.



These kids do not read because their parents either did not teach them or cannot teach them. Either way, you want to get them involved. Children of this age might learn to read and write in elementary school, but if they are not receiving support at home they will probably struggle. Here are a few ways to get parents more involved: •

Make them come to class every once and a while and participate. Chances are these parents could benefit from learning English as well and might be interested! It will actively get them involved with practicing at home.

Give homework that involves

reading and writing and tell them to ask their parents for help. Homework that involves interviewing family members is good as well. •

One day in class make books that they can take home and share with their families. A great resource for free downloadable and printable color-in books is http://

Be explicit. Tell parents on the first day of class that they need to be involved!

TEACHING KIDS CAN BE AN EXTREMELY REWARDING EXPERIENCE. Their natural exuberance for learning and their boldness to try new things, ask questions, and probe without shyness gives them a tremendous student potential. Don’t let their inability to read and write and hence learn traditionally scare you away!


Often people are quick to pre-judge others with dyslexia and often they’re cruelly labeled with ‘lazy’, ‘unwilling’ or sometimes even ‘stupid’. Many others are quick to dismiss students with dyslexia and brand them ‘impossible to educate’. These students are neither lazy nor stupid and they’re definitely not impossible to educate. As teachers we need to be prepared for every kind of student and understand that each student has different learning needs – in other words we need to revert back to the very beginning of our teacher training days and remember what we were taught about adapting our lessons. Firstly, we must examine dyslexia to understand what it is and how it affects our students. While many people are under the assumption that dyslexia just affects reading and writing skills, it actually affects all four skills. Each case of dyslexia varies from the next and the symptoms can be different among students, however, there’s one difficulty that all dyslexic people encounter and that’s with the written word and their failure to decode or recognize and interpret letters. Other signs of dyslexia can be reversed shapes, skipping words or phrases while reading, incoherent and inconsistent spelling, word blurring, confusion between left and right, illegible writing and even difficulties pronouncing certain phonological sounds. The biggest misconception with dyslexia is that it can be cured. While it can’t be cured so to speak, we can help train the brain in order to manage dyslexia properly. So how can we help promote learning among dyslexic students and facilitate their learning so they get everything they need out of their ESL lessons?




One of the biggest problems that dyslexic students face is recognizing and distinguishing different letters. While it’s difficult for them in their own language they probably have an even harder time with their L2 – not because their L2 is more difficult, but because they not only have to manage their dyslexia but also try to learn English at the same time. If you’ve caught on to the fact that your student has dyslexia from the onset then you’ll be more prepared. Using a simple 10x10 squared grid, randomly place three different sounds in the different squares for example, SN, SP, ST. After this ask your student to count how many SN sounds they can see and so on. This will help your students scan across the lines looking for specific information and learning how to recognize the letters within a smaller cache. Another way to practice consonant blends is to make flashcards. Each consonant blend will be made up of two different cards – one with only the sound e.g. CL and the other with a word that features the consonant blend and a picture e.g. CLIP. Have the students match the cards and read the words after having matched them. This activity can be used not only with dyslexic students but any lower level student that is learning phonological sounds and word recognition.



While most dyslexic students can train themselves to read without too much trouble they still continue to have problems with spelling, which is made worse when learning English as it is not a phonetic language and there are too many exceptions to the rule. There are number of fun different

ways to help a dyslexic student improve their spelling which in turn will also be beneficial to your other students as spelling in English is notably harder than most other languages. Chunking is a great way to help students learn to spell longer words correctly. Take one word, break it up into different sounds and write the sounds vertically down the board. E.g. com – mun – i – ca – te. Have the students read out each sound one by one without telling them that it makes a word. Once the students have learned the different sounds and memorized the simple two or three letter combinations have them put them all together as one word. This activity will give students more confidence in tackling longer words and dealing with spelling difficulties.



For more advanced students, who really feel silly breaking down words, mnemonics could benefit them especially if they’re visual learners. Mnemonics is the art of visually forming an association with the word. The first trick could be to visually recognize through their eyes. E.g. Tendency – the word tendency has the letters EN on either side of the D which helps students add to the layers of the memory which will help them learn how to spell the word easier. Try to encourage students to use their imagination when they picture words. With the word ‘possession’, you could explain to the students that the S letters are protecting the letter E. If they turn the S letters into $ signs the word would look like po$$e$$ion and we could remember it as a ‘valuable possession’. Having the students make up little quirky phrases to match the word’s spelling is also a fun way of helping students learn how to spell words correctly. For example the word ‘because’ could be broken down like this: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Smaller Elephants. While learning spelling through mnemonics could be more time consuming, it will


help students draw their own associations and create their own rules and of course the more imaginative a student is, the more fun it will be.



Because the written language is directional and those suffering from dyslexia often get muddled up between right and left, it’s easy for them to get confused with the way the letter should go round or even with the direction in which the letter should be read. In English and other languages that use the Latin alphabet there are a number of letters with mirror images meaning that if you placed a mirror on a letter, it would represent the appearance of a different letter. The letters that are mixed up the most are p-b-d. It can be really frustrating for students when they experience difficulties with directions and they need to be taught a couple of useful tips as to how they should approach it. If you can, have your students always remember the word ‘bed’ – this can be done by holding your thumbs together and pointing your fingers upwards. The left hand will represent the ‘b’ and the right the‘d’. This will not only help dyslexic learners, but it will also help those learners who are beginners or who have a different written script in their L1. Using flashcards is also a great way to help students differentiate between the p-b-d sounds. Have a number of small flashcards with only pictures that represent words starting with the troublesome letters. For example you could have pictures of a pin, pan, dog, dinosaur, ball, bat and so on. Go through the flashcards and have the students say the word that corresponds with the pictures. Afterwards, using exactly the same order as before, go through the pictures again, this time having the students not only say the words but to write them too. Remember while we can’t cure dyslexia we can train the mind to deal with it and as the old adage goes, ‘practice makes perfect’.



Words in English are made up of different syllable and can often be classified with the beginning sounds for example ‘pro’ and ‘con’. Classifying


words and then practicing with the same groups of words but with different exercises will help not only students suffering from dyslexia but your regular ESL students too. First write a group of words in a box that can either be connected to the words beginning with ‘con’ or ‘pro’ for example, professional, program, prohibit, pronounce, confess, concentrate, conceal. Have the students classify them into groups under the corresponding categories of either ‘pro’ or ‘con’. Have the students then break the words up into different syllables and write them using dashes to separate each syllable. Finally, to give the students some extra practice in recognizing and writing the words, have them directly associate them with written lists to describe the word. For example you could write the words ‘doctor, teacher, lawyer’ on the board and the student must write down the word that is related to, in this case it would be ‘professional’. A native English person who has dyslexia has a hard time with the language -- imagine a person who is learning English. Dyslexia is not a life sentence, although in some cultures parents fail to recognize it in their children due to a loss of face or seeing as a parenting failure, but with a little bit of hard work and a lot of patience and right learning methods dyslexic learners can also enjoy learning English. If dyslexia is left undetected or untrained it could lead to a whole new kettle of fish such as social problems. In fairness, we need to adapt lessons for everyone and even those students who don’t suffer from dyslexia could benefit from the techniques that are used by teachers.


Try not to bombard the students with just worksheets or exercises to benefit a student with special needs, instead integrate it with other methods and remember the golden rule of ESL teaching, have something for everyone and something for every style.

Sure-Fire Ways to Turn Your Students on to Writing FEW THINGS CAN BE SO BORING AND DEADLY AS THE WRITING CLASS FILLED WITH RELUCTANT WRITERS. AND FEW PEOPLE ARE SO UNMOTIVATED AND RELUCTANT AS THE RELUCTANT WRITER. Reluctant writers often have had poor experiences with school in general and writing in particular. They see writing as a painful, confusing, and pointless exercise — a viewpoint they’re not shy to express, at length, whenever asked, and frequently when not. You might throw up your hands in despair — how does anyone teach anything to such a class? However, there are methods to address the writing – averse class and turn its students into a group of aspiring and motivated writers.




One of the major problems students have with writing is negative past experiences. These experiences might include teachers who didn’t care about their ideas, or told them they were “wrong”, an over-focus on correctness such as comma placement and less on what the writer had to say, an over-focus on really nonessential material, such as setting up the heading of their work. After years of having their work covered in red ink, many students simply give up. This is not to say that grammar and punctuation are unimportant, of course. But they should be introduced to students in their correct place — as tools to written communication, rather than the purpose of writing itself.



Related to the over-focus on issues of correctness is not seeing the larger picture, the purpose of writing. Many students see writing as a pointless exercise, something one does only in school which has no relation to anything in “real” life. Talking to students

about the many functions of writing — to contest a bill, to express love, to critique a movie, to create stories and song lyrics — will help students begin to see the many functions of the written form beyond what could possibly be expressed in a text message or a tweet.



Another problem for novice writers is just not having the tools to write — not even knowing where to begin, often. When given an assignment, many students just sit over a blank page with no ideas and real notion of even how to get an idea to write about. Or they may, with much trepidation, actually write an introduction of some sort, but then just freeze, not knowing where to go from there. These are some of the explanations for the blank-faced student sitting over a blank page.



A major concern in writing instruction is that even today it is taught and practiced as a solitary pursuit — most written pieces are individual, not collaborative efforts, often written while alone. Humans are by nature social creatures, and many of today’s students in particular have been raised in various groupings at school, home, daycare, and so forth. Therefore, these students crave the interaction they just don’t get while writing.



A last concern is students not having their efforts recognized. Again, the purpose of writing is to communicate, and if the teacher just files the student writing after grading it, the whole purpose of writing it seems thwarted. Students, like people everywhere, want their efforts validated, some recognition that their ideas were understood by another person.




I like to begin the term by discussing what makes good writing, when students have read something and thought it was well-written, that they enjoyed reading, that they wish they had written, etc. Usually at some point, a student (usually with downcast eyes) states that she is not a good writer and therefore is incapable of judging good writing. I’ll then say that I can’t paint, but I know a good from bad painting. This opens up the door to students’ experiences as readers and what they value as readers — which are usually not comma placement and spelling but rather vivid details, ability to organize them, the ability to communicate a theme or main idea through such devices as repetition. Not coincidentally, these qualities of a clear main idea, organization, and details are the very qualities that are generally recognized by experts as “good writing.” I’ll at this point hand out the grading rubric for the term and show how many of the qualities students have identified as “good writing” are actually on the rubric.



As often as the first day of class, recognizing that many students in the class are reluctant writers, I’ll ask how many in class really don’t like writing. Somewhat sheepishly, many students put up their hands. I’ll thank them for their honesty, and then we’ll move into what they don’t like about writing, and they’ll usually catalogue the reasons mentioned in this article, one of the main reasons being not feeling that writing means anything, that it has any value. This gives me the opportunity to discuss the things that writing can do for them: lodge a complaint,


express a viewpoint, declare love, etc.



After students have participated in the discussion of good writing and studied the rubric, they are ready to judge strong and not so strong writing. I’ll pass out representative papers, gathered with permission from students in past semesters and with names removed, and have current students use the rubric to “grade” the paper. Then I’ll tell students what grades the papers actually received. There is usually a remarkable consistency in the student and teacher grades (sometimes students will actually grade more accurately and according to the rubric than I did, perhaps because my objectivity was skewed by the writer’s personality or effort.) This exercise further cements students’ view of themselves as writers, able to judge quality in writing.


TEACH THE WRITING PROCESS AND GIVE STUDENTS THE TOOLS TO ACHIEVE Once students are “fired up” about writing, it’s time to learn the writing process. That writing is a process of stages from brainstorming to drafting to editing surprises many students — they are under the misconception that the professional writers of those beautiful essays in their books cranked them out in one sitting in one draft. Showing students the process most writers go through is helpful.


MAKE WRITING INTERACTIVE AND RECOGNIZE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT To make writing more interactive, have students work with each other as much as possible — brainstorming ideas together, reading drafts of their papers aloud, proofreading each other’s work. These activities are likely to have students looking forward to rather than dreading writing class.

TEACHING A CLASS OF RELUCTANT WRITERS IS A CHALLENGE INDEED. However, through such activities raising awareness of what good writing is as well as the purposes of writing and making the whole process more interactive, students will transform from reluctant to enthusiastic writers.


I Have to Teach Writing: Where to Start with Your First Writing Class YOU WALK INTO YOUR WRITING CLASS ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE SEMESTER. YOUR STUDENTS ARE SITTING PATIENTLY WITH THEIR TEXTBOOKS AND LAPTOPS, WAITING FOR YOU TO BEGIN. BUT WHERE DO YOU START? What do your students already know? And what do they still need to learn? Whether you are new to teaching writing or have dozens of classes under your belt, you can use these ideas on the first day of class to help get your students’ words on the page.




Of course, one of the most common activities for the first day of writing class is a timed, in class writing. You can give your students a writing prompt and set 20-30 minutes aside for them to fill up the pages. Doing so will give you a good idea of your students’ skills when it comes to writing. This type of writing is also common on standardized tests, something your students will probably encounter in the future. Your students, on the other hand, may not want to write another essay when they have been writing this type of composition for language tests and for admission into language schools. In addition, in class essays don’t always give you, the teacher, much information about your students as individuals, and getting to know them is an important component of successful ESL programs. Timed writings on the first day have even more drawbacks when you strive to create a communicative environment in your classroom because your students are not talking, interacting or using the language they know in a communicative manner.



You do have options beyond the in class essay for the first day of writing, though. You can get your students talking to one another and give them

some writing practice in the process by having students interview one another. Assign pairs of students to ask one another questions and then write their partner’s answers, turning in the written interviews at the end of class. Students will enjoy getting to know each other, and you will still get a measure of the level of writing they are comfortable with. When students hand in their interviews, make sure each one includes the writer as well as the person he interviewed. As students talk, you can walk around your classroom and jump in on different conversations. It will give you a chance to get to know your students a little bit and will also set the communicative tone for class. While better than the in class essay for the first day, interviews still have limitations. Some may see them as a waste of time since they do not touch on the writing curriculum, and your students aren’t necessarily learning anything about written language in completing them. Plus, if you have students who have very limited proficiency in written English, interviews may be too complicated or challenging for them on the first day of class.



An even better activity, which may allow you to get to know your students, help them get to know one another and touch on the writing curriculum, is getting started on the writing process. I always tell my students that there is P.O.W.E.R. in writing as a process (Prewriting, Organizing, Writing, Editing, and Rewriting). They learn in my classes that good writing does not come from just sitting down and putting words on a blank page, but that the process of writing is fluid, changing and flexible. If you plan to teach the writing process in your class, as many writing teachers do, starting your first class at the beginning of the process with prewriting (or idea generating) may be the right plan for you and your students. Students at all levels of English proficiency can do prewriting activities. Some activities are simple, like brainstorming a list on a certain

topic. Everyone can participate no matter what language level they are at, and students have a chance to share a little bit of who they are and get to know one another and you in the process. Other activities can touch on language proficiency (like answering journalistic questions about a given topic — who, what, where, when, why and how) or encourage creativity (idea mapping, also known as cluster mapping). Through this type of activity, your students have some common ground on which you can build, and they can use the ideas they generated when composing their first written piece.


The biggest key to any successful ESL program, though, is being flexible. Taking the effort to read your students’ body language and determine their emotional states will do more for a fun and beneficial ESL experience than anything else. And the more tools you have ready in your back pocket, the easier it is to adjust your plans when you need to!


FAQ for Writing Teachers Writing might be my favorite ESL subject to teach. I haven’t always been confident, though, when it came to teaching writing. I learned from my peers, from my teachers and from my colleagues. It’s from the knowledge and experience of all these people that I became the teacher that I am today. These are some of the questions with which I struggled most (plus some others) when I first started teaching writing.



HOW MUCH SHOULD MY STUDENTS BE ABLE TO WRITE? It is difficult to put a word count on an ESL writing assignment. Because different students study English for different purposes, what they really need to know depends on how they intend to use English after completing their language studies. For students pursuing higher education in English, they should at least be able to write a five paragraph essay without struggle. Students who can write a five page research paper will be even more prepared for their writing needs in college. Students who will use English for business purposes after their language program will have different writing needs. They should be able to compose simple business correspondence – memos and emails – and maybe more complex items such as grant applications depending on their jobs. As long as students who complete your program can do what they need to do, you can feel good about what you have taught them. Until they make it to the end of their programs, you can use these guidelines. Beginning students should be able to write a paragraph, intermediate students should be able to write three to five paragraphs, and advanced students should be able to write five paragraphs or more.



SHOULD I CORRECT EVERY GRAMMAR MISTAKE IN MY STUDENTS’ WRITING? It’s tempting to mark every error in a student’s written work. Many times, students have asked us teachers to do just that. They want to know every error that they have made. On top of that, we have learned so much about the English language that grammatical errors naturally jump out at us from the page. It feels good to mark them knowing that they will be corrected. The problem with noting every error on the page, however, is that students get discouraged in their writing. Even students who ask for extensive editing get discouraged when their pages are continually filled with red pen. When this happens, students are less likely to challenge themselves or use more complex writing in their compositions. They simplify what they write to avoid mistakes. The best strategy is to choose certain types of errors to correct on a page, and correct those errors consistently. For beginning students you might want to focus on pluralization and conjugation errors. For advanced students you might want to focus on comma errors. Match the skills you are expecting to the level of your students. Save more complex corrections for more advanced students, raising your expectations as they advance through your program. Eventually, your students will learn to write with minimal errors, but never expect perfection from anyone.



Grading essays isn’t like checking a multiple choice essay. There are no clearly right or wrong answers and no way to calculate a percentage for a written piece. My personal strategy for grading written pieces is to use a rubric. A rubric is a chart specifying your expectations for an A paper, a B paper and so on. A rubric usually has three to five categories which it examines. Noting where a student falls on each of those points and then averaging them will lead you to an overall grade for the written piece.



Whether or not to include timed writings in class can be a difficult question for writing teachers. Timed writings sometimes seem like a pointless waste of valuable class time. However, doing timed writings in your class will actually help prepare your students for writing challenges in their future. Most ESL students will go on to take the TOEFL test or other similar measures of language competency. As part of this test they will have to do a timed writing. Giving your students timed writings in class also teaches them test taking strategies for essay exams at the collegiate level. Your benefit to including timed writings in class is getting a pure measure of a student’s writing skills without influence from friends, native speakers or classmates. With all these potential benefits, I admit I do schedule some class time for timed writings. I do try to keep them to a minimum – one or two per semester. We have far too much material to cover in my classes to spend much time on in class writing. When I need to, I have students do timed writings during open lab time or during office hours. That way we don’t lose class time but my students still get to practice writing in a timed setting.


SHOULD I LET STUDENTS USE DICTIONARIES IN CLASS OR FOR ASSIGNMENTS? Using dictionaries in writing class can be a double edged sword. When ESL students, or any language students for that matter, do not have an English word to express their ideas, they can get “stuck” in their writing. They may struggle to find the exact word they are looking for and not be able to get past that thought in their writing. Allowing students to use bilingual dictionaries helps them avoid this hurdle. On the other hand, not allowing students bilingual dictionaries in class forces them to be creative with the language that they do know to get their ideas across, one of the primary goals of language. Because of all these things, I decide the dictionary question on a per student basis. Some students will

not overuse a bilingual dictionary, but having that resource makes writing must less stressful. Others will become overly dependent on a dictionary if I allow it in class. Determining what each student needs, then, is the key to answering the dictionary question.


WHAT ABOUT CANNED ESSAYS? HOW TO RECOGNIZE PLAGIARISM? A canned essay is one that a student has memorized and can write from memory. Sometimes students memorize canned essays for standardized testing. The most famous perhaps begins with a description of the student’s home country in the spring. I discourage canned essays in my students by providing unusual and specific writing prompts. Checking for plagiarism is another way to avoid canned essays. Recognizing plagiarism on a cold read can sometimes be nearly impossible. Many websites offer free services for plagiarism checks. Copy Scape and Grammarly are two of the most common. To check for plagiarism, have your students submit an electronic copy of their essay and then copy and paste what they have written to one of these free plagiarism checking sites.


How to Structure the Curriculum for ESL Listening YOU HAVE JUST BEEN ASSIGNED YOUR FIRST ESL LISTENING CLASS. Yes, you heard right (pun intended): a focus on listening, just listening, not conversation and pronunciation as well, which is usually the case: that is, listening is usually incorporated in the larger context of a speaking skills class. So a major question is: “What do we even do all term?” And maybe even “Why this class?” (Your students might actually have this concern as well.) Not to worry: there is plenty of rationale for an ESL Listening class, and there is much to do to keep you busy all term.

REASONS FOR FOCUSING ON LISTENING ONLY There is a rationale for an ESL class focused on listening, besides just a desire to round out the ESL program and hire more teachers.



Most people have a need to improve listening skills: native and nonnative speakers of English alike, and there are academic, professional, and personal reasons to develop good listening skills. People take phone messages, follow directions, and listen to customers, friends, and coworkers talk all day long, face to face and on the phone. Not listening well and therefore not understanding can damage relationships.



In a broader speaking skills class, there is a tendency to focus on teaching conversation and pronunciation — which all relate to listening, of course. However, because it tends to be harder to assess and teach, the attention to listening can get lost. And courses designed to teach pronunciation, or accent reduction, and conversation and speaking skills are actually pretty common. Courses with a focus solely on listening are rarer, although as necessary.




The standardized testing students need to do well on for admission into an American university, such as the TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language, are in part based on listening skills: as part of testing their conversational and academic English skills, students are required to listen to recordings of speakers engaged in conversation or giving a lecture and respond to the tape in such a way that the test raters can determine listening comprehension took place. So test preparation in a pre-university ESL course on listening skills is appropriate. So now that we’ve seen that a focus on listening for an ESL class is important, the question becomes how to teach such a class: what are appropriate strategies and materials?

METHODS AND ACTIVITIES FOR A LISTENING CLASS ASSESSMENT To conduct a successful listening skills class, the teacher will need some information about the students: levels, needs, and areas to work on. Are students more at an intermediate level, or are they definitely advanced? Do students have mostly academic, professional, or personal needs in improving English? Should they work more on listening for the telephone or face-to-face situations? Are students more interested in listening for a classroom, work, or personal environment? All demand different listening skills and therefore different strategies. For example, there is more focus on specific details and following directions in a work situation than in personal relationships. Academic listening usually requires the ability to take notes while listening to a lecture. The instructor should be prepared to administer at least two assessments at the beginning of the term: a skills assessment and needs assessment.

These can be informal: two such assessments for listening I usually give are having students fill out a short questionnaire regarding what they would like to learn in their ESL listening class and why as well taking notes on a short news story I dictate to them which gives me a rough idea of how well they understand main ideas and details.

TEACHING GENERAL LISTENING SKILLS So now that you have some rationale for your class and understanding of what your students need to learn, the question becomes how to teach it. There are a number of good strategies for teaching ESL listening skills.



Listening for the main point is mostly what we do in our everyday conversations, of course. We get the main idea of what our friend is telling us about her family problem, or we understand the main concern in a news report about the economy. How can we teach students to understand what the main ideas are? To begin with, it’s important to teach listening for stressed words and phrases as they signal main or important ideas. In addition, teach listening for key words and phrases as these also signal important ideas. Often the speaker will use these key phrases the main ideas, even in informal discourse: e.g., “The point I really want to get across — ” or “Here’s the thing — ”... In a more formal speech or lecture, the speaker may signal a main idea with “The main point to take away here is — “ or “I’d like you to in particular note that — ” Being able to follow the main points of a discussion or speech will go a long way in listening comprehension skills.


LISTENING FOR DETAILS AND SPECIFIC INFORMATION Of course it is also important to be detail-oriented in listening, as in listening to someone’s directions for operating something or for getting driving directions. Sometimes the specifics of a news report will be important: when a storm or other weather event is expected and where or details of an accident that may affect traffic routes. To teach specific details of a news report, for example, I find it helpful to have students listen for the journalistic “who, what, where, when, and how”: who the report is about, what it’s about, where it took place, and so forth. For taking note on directions, listen for numbered points other key words as speakers use these to signal the important details: “first you grind the coffee beans, second you pour in water..” for making coffee, for example. Understanding details as well as main ideas are important for overall listening comprehension.



Dictations are traditional to the ESL/foreign language classroom but problematic in that they’re not “authentic.” They can, however, be useful in teaching note taking skills: the instructor can give a minilecture on an academic topic, and students can take notes on it as they would an actual lecture. This is of course also a chance to teach note-taking skills: listening for and noting the main ideas and key details, effective use of outlines, and use of special symbols and abbreviations for notetaking, all of which are valuable in an academic setting.

cific listening skills related to this task: listening for specific social cues, for example, such as a signal to start a conversation (e.g., “Can we talk?”), to change topics (“Oh, by the way, I did want to mention...”), and to close (“I should let you go now.”)



The instructor can also conduct periodic interviews — at course beginning, midterm, and final, for example — to get acquainted with students, note individual skills and learning needs, and observe student progress. Interviews can be on both personal topics, such as open-ended questions about hobbies the student enjoys or more specific questions about families, to get an general idea of everyday listening skills -- questions can also be asked about the student’s professional goals, again to get better acquainted with the student but also to find out student understanding of academic and workplace vocabulary.

LISTENING SKILLS CAN BE AMONG THE MOST CHALLENGING TO TEACH IN AN ESL CLASSROOM BECAUSE OF THE DIFFICULTY IN ASSESSING STUDENTS, MAINTAINING FOCUS ON LISTENING, AND DEVELOPING A SOUND CURRICULUM. However, there are a number of assessment and instructional strategies for listening that will keep students busy and progressing all term long.

The instructor can also dictate a phone call and have students either take a message for a third party (does anyone do this anymore with extensive use of voicemail?) or, again, the students can practice notetaking skills related to the phone call — we do take notes during our own phone conversations, such as names, dates, times, and topics associated with an important meeting.



Most of students’ listening will go on in face-to-face conversations with peers, of course. There are spe-



By nature, we have adventurous spirits (especially those who teach overseas). We are good communicators and have a knack for understanding what people are trying to say. We are creative, enthusiastic and have a gift for teaching. But the best teachers have one more thing – experience. The good news is, not all experience has to come from the school of hard knocks. Some experience comes through the advice of others, of those who have gone before us and tackled the same challenges we are now facing. I for one am thankful for all my fellow teachers who helped me become the ESL teacher I am today. Here is some of their advice (and a little of my own) that may also help you in your teaching journey.



HOW MANY TIMES SHOULD I PLAY THE SAME LISTENING SEGMENT? Different students will need different amounts of repetition when it comes to listening segments. Generally speaking, three times through a listening activity will be enough. On the first time through, students will just be getting their bearings – trying to determine the context and overall purpose of the conversation. On the second time through, students will be able to get more details. After the second time listening, they should be able to answer general comprehension questions and have a good idea of what the speakers were trying to get across in their dialogue. On the third time through, your students should be able to listen for specific information and details. Giving them comprehension questions before the third time through a listening piece will help them hear the answers, and almost all listening students will prefer that to getting the comprehension questions after they finish listening. Even with all that practice and guidance, some students will still struggle with a listening segment. When this is the case, making a recording available during office hours or at a listening lab will give these students the control to listen as often as they need to so they are able to get what they need to from the listening segment.


The important thing is to stay calm and patient when your students struggle with listening exercises. Odds are they are far more frustrated than you are anyway.



You can find listening material just about anywhere. Some of my favorite sources are YouTube and other online videos. I also like to use clips from movies (Netflix is great if you have wifi in your classroom) and television shows. Keep in mind, though, that most of these videos will be very challenging for your students’ listening skills, even advanced students. For beginning and intermediate students, I am more careful in selecting my listening materials. Sometimes, the best source is a recording you make yourself from an original dialogue. Getting a couple of friends together to do a reading of a simple conversation is quick and easy, and it may be all that your students are able to understand. Plus it helps them to hear voices other than your own and those that don’t belong to ESL teachers. You can also help your lower level students by providing a transcript of the listening segment, whatever it is, so they can follow along. It will decrease their listening anxiety and aid in their comprehension. Being more selective in the videos you use can also help lower level students. Choosing segments with clear and slower pronunciation, like news programs or children’s programs, may fill your students’ need for challenging but not too challenging listening material. Of course, ESL teachers have many options for listening curriculum and material if they choose to purchase books and audio resources and they have the budget to do so.


DO MY STUDENTS HAVE TO UNDERSTAND EVERY WORD? The short answer is no. No one understands every word of what they hear, even native speakers. Listeners use tools like making inferences, making predictions, questioning, visualization and context clues to fill in any comprehension gaps they might encounter. Teaching your students to use these tools as they listen in English, just as they do in their native languages, will help them have a good level of comprehension without requiring them to understand every single

word in a listening passage. The hardest part, though, may be countering your students’ desire to understand every word they hear. Some students will think that they cannot achieve good comprehension if they do not understand every spoken word. Teaching them that this is not a realistic or reasonable goal may be harder than teaching them the skills to actively listen, but doing so will serve them better in the long run.



To be completely honest, yes. Your regional accent will affect your students and their knowledge and comprehension of English. “But I don’t have an accent,” you might say. The truth is that everyone, no matter what part of the English speaking world they come from, has an accent. Some are more pronounced than others (the American south or London, for example), but everyone has one, and the ESL students in your listening class will learn to pronounce English words the way you do. That means, depending on where they are studying and where you are from, they may have a more pronounced dialectal accent which may hamper comprehension of other English speakers. As a teacher, your goal should be to minimalize your own accent to help your students learn the best English possible. ESL teachers should therefore learn to approach what is known as “newscasterese” in their pronunciation. If you have watched news programs in different areas of the country, you may not have noticed that the reporters don’t seem to have an accent. Part of a reporter’s job is to approach as neutral English pronunciation as possible. Because of this, their own accents are often neutralized. When you teach, you should also try and approach this neutralized English pronunciation. It may take some practice, and a habit of watching the evening news, but it is worth the effort since your students will become better English communicators and you will become a better English teacher.

TEACHING LISTENING CAN BE ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING CLASSES FOR AN ESL TEACHER, OFTEN BECAUSE IT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING CLASS FOR ESL STUDENTS. Ultimately, being patient and understanding will be the best strategy you can take for teaching listening in English.


In the world of work in general, everyone is obsessed with time. Deadlines, due dates and schedules have people running about. In the ESL classroom, time is also our tyrant. We have to keep in mind that our students have goals to accomplish within a certain timeframe. They need to progress as fast as possible in order to gain the proficiency they need to work, travel or in the case of children to prepare for and take tests. Time is a tricky thing to manage in the classroom. Should I go faster or slow down? What do I do if the level my student is currently in is too challenging? Many more questions like these come up regularly. Well, time can be our friend or foe. We need to learn how to manage it. Read on for some great tips on how to master the art of managing time.




We all work with goals, right? We don’t just ramble on and on in English in hopes that our students will “pick up” a word or two. Students are placed in a level where material will be used to accomplish certain goals in a program. Remember that there are things we need to agree on with the student ahead of time. The duration of that program and the specific language goals should be top on the list. The student might expect something entirely different from what can realistically be achieved -- that’s why communication is so important.



Very often when we analyze our language objectives for a lesson we consider and plan for them individually. This is fine if time is not an issue.

But, what happens if it is an issue? There is an interesting solution for that: clustering. Basically, what you should do is look ahead through the whole chapter/unit you are teaching, and gather or cluster all goals that can be taught together. Make separate language goals that combine well into one larger goal. This might require rearranging the goals, but that shouldn’t be a problem if you are organized. This will definitely save time.



What exactly are you going to teach? How many goals are there for each lesson? This might seem like a funny question but very often teachers are not very clear on this. Make sure you pinpoint precisely what your objective for the lesson is and that all the activities target that goal. Teachers often add or change things as they go along, typically when they have a lot of activities in the lesson. They steer away from the objective path and getting back on track takes time.


add other materials too if necessary. Course books are great as general guides, however, what happens quite often is that teachers follow the course flow and content to the last word. Again, if the program the course book provides is exactly what your student needs, and you have the time, great. If time is pressing, you might want to skip all unnecessary content and just focus on the goals your students need.

AS ESL TEACHERS, WE NEED TO LEARN TO MANAGE A LOT OF THINGS, TIME IS JUST ONE OF THEM. It is important to remember not to make rash decisions. If you start falling behind, take a minute to analyze why. Also, discuss the different options with students to see what they would prefer, then give them your professional opinion. Remember Benjamin Franklin’s words, “Lost time is never found again”!


Ok, so our goals are clear. We know what they are and how many we have. How much time should you spend on each goal? Here is another interesting question: should you spend the same amount of time on each goal? That depends on a lot of things, for example, what the goal is. You clearly won’t spend the same amount of time on everything. If you have illustrations or flashcards to teach vocabulary, you’ll probably need less time than with a grammar point. Once you are clear on goals and general time, make sure you focus on specific time needs for each individual goal or cluster of goals.



We all use material when teaching, generally a course book, and we may



How are my students really doing? Are they truly meeting all the objectives? At this point, you realize you need to find out. This is when assessment comes to mind. I’m quite sure it rings a bell, right? But, what is assessment exactly? Well, to make it simple, assessment is information gathered by the teacher and student to manage instruction. It is also important to mention that there are different kinds of assessment and each has a different purpose. We all include different kinds of assessment in out lesson plans. Teachers as well as students need that kind of feedback to know what to focus on more, what needs to be worked on and what doesn’t. Now, here comes another question: what kind of assessment should be included in the lesson plan? If you want to know, read on.




Basically, we can use assessment at any point, but we should keep in mind there are different kinds of assessment and each is used at different times. Let’s focus on two forms of assessment. Formative assessment can occur any time and mostly in the short term. Learners are trying to understand




Assessment should be done as often as needed, precisely because it should be goal oriented. Formative assessment is ongoing and done very often by using activities that can provide the feedback we need. Summative assessment is usually less frequent since it usually takes place after a large number of goals are accomplished.



There are many reasons why assessment is necessary: •

To reconsider instructional activities, strategies, and course content taking into account student comprehension and how well they are performing.

To adapt the teaching to the needs of the students -- student-centered classroom.

To help students achieve more.

To identify the strengths and weaknesses of the student and focus on what needs to be improved.

In the case of summative assessment, to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit and to confirm it meets a specific standard.


In the ESL classroom, what do our students or their parents, in case of kids, want? I’ll give you the answer, though I’m pretty sure you already know what it is: progress. They want to perform more and better, to be able to use more words and expressions, and the list goes on. How do we know for certain students are making progress? By using assessment, of course. It is how we collect data on student understanding. It provides information that we can use as feedback to make changes in our teaching.


new content and to integrate it into what they already know. Summative assessment, on the other hand, usually takes place at the end of a large chunk of learning, and the results are essentially for the teacher’s or school’s use.



Once more, the answer here depends on what the goal of that assessment is. Essentially, formative assessment can be done by teachers and students. Self-assessment and peer assessment on behalf of the students has proven to be very beneficial during

learning. In this type of assessment the teacher is more like a coach or guide. Summative assessment is mostly handled by teachers.



Different kinds of assessment use different types of tools. In the case of formative assessment some examples are: interactive class discussion, a performance activity like role play, a quiz or a log. Some examples of summative assessment are: standardized testing, final exams, projects students have been working on throughout a long period of time and research projects.

MOST OFTEN, ASSESSMENT IS THE CAUSE OF GREAT ANXIETY IN THE CLASSROOM , FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS ALIKE. Despite our anxiety, we have to remember that assessment is a valuable tool in the ESL classroom. Always keep in mind that it’s all about the student. Teach your students not to be afraid and explain that the feedback will make their learning much more need-oriented. Knowing how to assess students in order to improve instruction is the key in a learner-centered classroom. As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better you do better.”

5 Ways to Use Your Cultural Differences to Relate to Your Students Cultural differences between the ESL/ EFL teacher and student often create a barrier to teaching and learning, but the teacher can erase those barriers and even turn cultural differences into something value-added by using them to help teach.

in their heads, and they both remember and understand the definitions better. This trick can be used in most categories – foods, clothes, family, activities, parts of the house, pets, etc. For examples: •

Foods – “A croissant looks like your medialuna (translates from Spanish to “half moon” and is a sweet croissant) but is usually more salty.” Comparing directly to their cultural equivalent.

Family – “I have three uncles and they were born at the same time. My grandmother had triplets!” Interesting story that will help them remember family terms.

Here are 5 ways to use differences to bring you closer to your students and their learning objectives.




Students need a lot of encouragement. If you are living in a foreign country and learning another language yourself, or if you have studied another language in the past, you can relate to your students when they get frustrated. Tell them that it was hard even for you to learn another language and that they just need to keep trying. For example, you might confide that it took you five years to learn Spanish and your grammar is still awful. Better yet, when you are teaching an English idea that has no rules, compare it to how their language is so much more orderly! If only it could be so easy. For irregulars in the past tense, you might say, “Oh, I wish English was as structured as your language, but we will just need to memorize.” Or, on the other hand, “If you think these past tense verbs are hard, I had to memorize eight variations for each word to speak your language! You only have two to think about.” The comparison helps them put the situation into perspective, and it also brings you, for whom it seems so easy, to their level.



It is very helpful to use comparisons of your culture to your EFL students and use interesting stories to explain culturally specific English vocabulary. It makes students analytically relate ideas

Activities – “Basketball is like soccer but you use your hands instead of your feet and everything is in the air. Plus it is on a smaller court.” Comparing directly to something they know.



Use stories to compare how things are done differently or the same in your culture to get students to practice verb tenses. For examples: •

Present tense: “When I was your age” I worked at a store. What do you do every day? Simple past: “When I was a child” I ate bananas every morning. What did you eat? Future: “When we are old” we retire from work and play golf. What will you do?



You can frame your comparison questions from #3 to focus on verbs or also to focus on particular grammatical concepts. Prepositional phrases can become clearer when students want to relate an idea to you – when they are interested in the conversation. Use similar

questions as when practicing verbs, but focus on explaining first and then correcting their prepositions. For example: •

To: “I go to the supermarket to buy vegetables. Where do you go to?” You can explain the difference between the infinitive “to” and the prepositional “to” and they will compare where they shop in their home country. They will want to complain about how US vegetables are not fresh probably, or how supermarkets have so much selection.

The key is to use topics that you know will create a comparison in their minds to link the ideas and make them want to communicate. It makes the concepts stick more because they analytically try to understand to be able to communicate.



Comparing home countries to your culture is extremely useful in practicing “usually”, “never”, “always”, “sometimes”, etc. For examples: •

“We sometimes go to church here in America. How often do you go to church in your country?”

“People never go to the store without shoes here. Do you always wear shoes?”

IF YOUR EFL STUDENTS ARE GETTING FRUSTRATED BY ENGLISH AND LOSING THEIR PATIENCE TO LEARN, TRY ENCOURAGING THEM THROUGH RELATING TO THEIR CULTURE! These tools also serve to disguise grammar and vocabulary teaching in a context of you, the teacher, being curious about different home countries and cultures. Learning is always more fun when it does not seem like work, but like something we want to do!


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