Something in Common 2: Practice with compound words

Posted January 16, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Uncategorized

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Photographer: Christian Guthier

Photographer: Christian Guthier

Compound words are definitely an example of the kind of language that sends people to the dictionary. In my seventh lesson in the English Writing Skills playlist, I address the complications of punctuating compound nouns and compound modifiers. My basic advice is to consult a trusted dictionary when there’s doubt, and when dictionaries don’t agree, then just choose a pattern and be consistent. For instance, day care will be understood just the same as daycare, but day-care would likely be seen by most as an error.

At the upper levels, students can handle a conversation about how compound words are formed, so I think it’s worth putting words together and taking them apart to discover patterns like those with present and past participles. Through word play (There’s a nice compound! Hm, would you prefer seeing it as one word?)  students can also recall familiar compounds like handmade and sunglasses. Do you have tips or patterns to share? Here’s one activity you can try. Please click to view my Something in Common 2_handout.

For more practice, you can direct students to my interactive exercises. Lesson 7 also addresses hyphens, dashes, and parentheses.

Photo credit: “Clothes Barn” by Christian Guthrie retrieved from the Creative Commons at Taken at an Oxfam store.

Something in Common: Practice punctuating titles

Posted January 10, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Writing

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In my sixth lesson on English Writing Skills, I address writing titles and names as well as commas with adjective clauses. It may not be the most exciting topic, but it’s one that creates doubts among learners and teachers. We are all writers, and when we write, we sometimes hear an inner monologue about punctuation and formatting. Does that letter need to be capitalized? Do we put a comma before “Jr.” in someone’s name? Is that an identifying clause? You’ve heard that voice ask such questions, haven’t you?

I don’t claim to have all the answers. In fact, I take the time to tell students about different style and format guides used, from MLA format to the Chicago Manual of Style. In my video, I explain the patterns I personally use and give learners a chance to edit some sentences about American films and TV shows using those patterns.

If you’d like to lead students in a meaningful review of punctuation and formatting in titles, people’s names, and adjective clauses, please consider my Something in Common_handout. For independent practice, there are three related exercises on my website.

Happy Holidays!

Posted December 19, 2013 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Announcements

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Wishing you all a very special holiday season! I’ll be back in 2014 to share new ideas with you.

Purple Ornament

Happy New Year to all!

Warm regards,


Getting Serious about Your New Year’s Resolution: What is your life purpose?

Posted December 13, 2013 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Conversation, Listening, Writing

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Sharing New Year’s resolutions can be a relatively easy activity with students. You put common structures into practice as students make statements, such as “I hope to improve my vocabulary” or “My resolution is to learn at least five new words a week.” You can prompt more production and ask them to outline a plan for achieving their goals. This allows you to teach sequence markers. Model: “The first thing I will do is make time to read in English. I will read for 5-10 minutes a day. Second, I will practice writing one short text a week with my new words. Finally, I will keep a vocabulary notebook to help me review all the words I’ve learned.”

Such activities are not new, and to be truthful such activities don’t dig very deep. Students can stay in the safe zone and make resolutions that reveal little about who they are and what they really want in life. Statements about cleaning out the closet and losing weight are common, and these kinds of goals may be stated as first thoughts that come to mind. Could we push for more depth and greater risk-taking? Can you set up a lesson that calls for more of an investment? If done well, such a lesson would be memorable, and isn’t that what we want all our lessons to be?

How about asking students to start the New Year by identifying what their life purpose is? — Wow. Right? For upper level students, I see potential to develop activities based on two TEDx Talks. Both presentations prompt students to reflect on what they either want to do or what they are already doing in life.

  • For teens and younger adults, I recommend Eunice Hii’s talk “Don’t Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y.” I discovered this video while I was searching for examples of transition words used in presentations. I like Eunice’s clear, natural speech. Her tone is conversational, yet professional. I also got my example of “So…” as a discourse marker in her opening line! Students could be asked to identify and react to Eunice’s view of the advice “follow your passion.” Does she think following one’s passion is a good thing? What guidelines does she set? (Use the last five minutes only, from about 12:10 on.) Can students identify their own role models as Eunice did? (2:20-3:05) Do they feel as clueless as Eunice about the future?
  • For adult learners, Adam Leipzig’s talk will be very insightful. The title alone is very engaging: How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes. A listener doesn’t have to wait long to receive Adam’s list of questions which guide reflection. He repeats the questions a number of times, making the list easy to remember. The Q&A activity he does with the audience is one you could do in class either aloud or through writing. For more introspective learners, I would recommend a writing assignment based on Adam’s questions. It could all lead up to informal 30-second chats with multiple partners. Once students have fully and accurately answered the questions on paper, have them pair up several times, taking turns asking one another the question,  “What do you do?” Incidentally, Adam’s talk gave me a wonderful example of “Now…” used as a discourse marker (1:19).

Whichever talk you choose to work with, remember you can focus on different aspects. Explore the potential. As Helen Solorzano taught me at MATSOL this year, these kinds of talks can be used to help students become better listeners. Helen encouraged teachers to design activities that get students thinking about what is said, how it is said, and what is not said directly.

As teachers, I think you’ll enjoy answering Adam Leipzig’s questions in his TEDx Talk. Our New Year’s resolution should be to come up with a better answer than “I teach English” when asked what we do. Think of the amazing answers we can give: “I facilitate international and intercultural communication” or  “I help others gain communication skills in English to better their lives.”



[December 22, 2013] Dear Readers: Since posting this, I have received some wonderful feedback. One teacher took these ideas and created a very well-designed handout. Please click to view and make use of the material shared by Denise Friend of  Polaris Career Center. [Know Your Life Purpose in 5 minutes_Denise Friend]

Writing Dates and Times: A short but necessary lesson

Posted December 7, 2013 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

Here’s an interesting way to start a quick lesson on writing dates:

  1. Ask each student to write today’s date in large print on a piece of paper. (No peeking at others’ papers!)
  2. Ask students to hold up their papers at the same time and see how many people wrote the date in the same format.
  3. Have students form pairs or small groups with those who used a different format. Discuss which formats are standard for which countries or which contexts. If many used the same format, challenge them to think of an alternative way to write the date. Example:
  • December 5, 2013
  • 12-5-13
  • 12/5/13
  • 12/05/2013
  • the 5th of December

In my fifth lesson on English Writing Skills I focus on writing dates, times, and numbers in general. We often think of these topics as being very basic, but it’s also fairly common to see a range of formats used among more advanced students. A quick review of standard formats is beneficial. Knowing that Americans write the month before the day can help avoid confusion with a date like 4-8-12.

Time is also worth reviewing. How many in your class would understand what time of the day it is when the clock reads 14:20? Again, you could ask the class to share their ideas and preferences. Challenge them to write the current time in as many ways possible. Which formats are standard in which countries? Which are used in everyday writing and which are more typical of formal situations?

  • Two o’clock in the afternoon
  • 2:00 p.m.
  • 2:00 PM
  • 2 PM
  • 14:00

Suggested practice:

  1. Have students select and write down 3 famous and/or significant dates using different formats (i.e., numerals and dashes, numerals and slashes, words and numerals). They can challenge their peers to read the dates and identify the significance of each one.
  2. Detailed reports of historic events often have dates and times listed. For instance, you could have students scan for numbers as you ask questions about the Titanic. See the brief summary posted on Possible questions: On what day did the ship set sail? On what day did it hit the iceberg? At what time did it hit the iceberg?

Click here for a related post on stating what year it is.

Being Thankful for Online Collaboration

Posted November 27, 2013 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Professional Development, Tech Tips

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business teamAs Thanksgiving Day approaches, I must pause and give thanks for many things. In my professional life, my appreciation for online opportunities continues to grow, and I am ever so grateful that I have come into contact with so many teachers. Each exchange helps me grow and gives me new things to think about. Here are just some of my recent discoveries with my words of thanks inserted — you all know who you are!

  • Thank you, Jase, for inviting me to be a part of the MOOC on ELT Techniques. (It’s still not too late to join! Click for info about the course and the presenters. Link to my class page.)
  • Thank you, Nellie, for telling me about the Spring Blog Festival.
  • Thank you, Youssef, for introducing me to the online tools Voki and Dvolver, which can promote creative collaboration and facilitate engaging presentations. I’ve already had some fun experimenting with Dvolver films.
  • Thank you, Gabriela, for reminding me about the power of poetry and proving that courage and creativity lead to great things in the classroom. Through our exchange, I discovered useful models of haikus. (Wattpad and Pocantico Hills School)
  • Thank you, Lina and Teresa, for mentioning Vocaroo to me and outlining some possibilities with this recording tool.
  • Thank you, Martha, for introducing me to Forvo. I didn’t realize how easy it could be to find samples of different accents.

Lastly, thank you to all of you for visiting my blog and allowing me to explore and share my thoughts on different topics. Happy Thanksgiving!

Opening New Doors in Professional Development

Posted November 20, 2013 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Interviews, Professional Development

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MOOC 11.13 presentersProfessional development online is a real possibility, and the opportunities continue to grow. I’ve shared information in the past about video training and webinars. The time has come to talk about MOOCs! No, let’s not merely talk. Massive Open Online Courses are large in nature, so they deserve a big shout-out.

I’m excited to be part of the ELT Festival on WizIQ. The second MOOC has just started, and all 24 presenters will be focusing on ELT Techniques: Listening and Pronunciation. Participants are enrolling by the hundreds for this FREE professional development opportunity. Classes will take place through December 13. It’s not too late to register.

The mastermind behind it all is Jason R. Levine, or “Jase” to all who know him – and there are many around the world who do. Jase has not only organized the MOOC, he is the heart of it, supplying the energy and contagious enthusiasm that an event of this scale needs.

Jase wears many hats. He has fifteen years of experience in ELT as a teacher, teacher trainer, and published materials writer. He is chair-elect of the TESOL Interest Section Video and Digital Media and works as an English Specialist for the U.S. Department of State. He is the creator of ColloLearn, an approach to English language learning based on the songs he writes and performs as Fluency MC. Jase is salso Ambassador and Knowledge Entertainer at,where he launched the MOOC ELT Techniques.

Jase took time out of his busy schedule this week to answer some of my questions about his work online.  Enjoy and benefit from his responses!

[The thoughts and opinions expressed in the interview are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pearson.]

Jase classroom shot

1. What made you decide to organize a MOOC?

Mainly it was the energy and enthusiasm for exchanging ideas that I was seeing in social media, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. English language teachers from all over the world were helping one another, creating, curating and sharing materials and learning tremendous amounts in social spaces online. The time seemed right to move these exchanges to a virtual classroom platform where we could maintain the same relaxed social vibe but take things to the next level professionally. Working on ELT Techniques has been fantastic.

2. How do MOOCs meet the needs of today’s teachers?

MOOCs meet our needs in numerous ways, though I should qualify that to say that I believe Connectivist MOOCs (c-MOOCs) are the ones that truly do. cMOOCs promote learning through human interaction; their success depends on the extent to which participants network, share, and collaborate.

When MOOCs truly engage teachers, we benefit enormously from working from home or on the road, connecting around the clock, working at our own pace, attending classes given by a variety of presenters, discovering and connecting with like-minded peers and mentors from around the globe, offering and receiving feedback on assignments from these peers and mentors, and-last but certainly not least-doing all of this without paying a fee.

3. Some say online learning isn’t as engaging or effective as face-to-face learning. What’s your response?

Frankly, I believe it’s no different from comparing effective face-to-face learning with ineffective face-to-face learning. The bottom line is how passionate and inspiring the teacher is, how motivated your classmates are, and how engaged you are with the materials and activities. There are dull classes in both physical and virtual classrooms. Here’s the wonderful part: engaging MOOCs and other forms of online learning will prevail over the tedious ones-and these courses everyone in the world with an internet connection can have access to. In contrast, if you have a dull class with an uninspiring teacher in a physical school, you’re stuck.

We must also bear in mind that the majority of English teachers in the world-whether for financial reasons, time limitations, or geographical location-do not have the opportunity to avail themselves of professional development in the traditional sense. For these teachers, comparing quality face-to-face training with quality online training is irrelevant.

4. How did your own online activity begin? How much of your professional work is done online?

It began with posting videos of my songs and classes on YouTube. Then one day a teacher in Morocco, Ikram Lyamlahy, messaged me to say that she’d posted one of my videos in her Facebook group and other Moroccan teachers were there commenting on it. At that point, I’d never heard of a Facebook group, let alone one where teachers would be sharing ideas about someone’s content. I was blown away! Once I saw that Facebook could be a forum for the best sort of social online learning, I never looked back.

On the other hand, I dragged my feet getting into an online classroom. I imagined it would be difficult or impossible to connect emotionally with students. What would we do without the safety and intimacy of a physical space? Two years ago, Sylvia Guinan invited me to one of her classes in WizIQ as a guest teacher. The class started and instantly began filling up with students from Egypt, India, Italy, Thailand, the U.S., Brazil, and a dozen other countries. From the moment we began greeting one another, I felt the realness of it and knew that this was the future of learning. That very same day I taught a group in a physical classroom; as soon as I closed the door, I felt claustrophobic.

These days, besides the MOOC for English teachers we’re running, I’m designing a MOOC for English learners and preparing to relaunch “The Weekly English Workout,” my speaking skills program co-produced by Dr. Nellie Deutsch.

5. What advice do you have for teachers who want to be more professionally active outside the classroom? How does one get started teaching or creating content online?

I would say to first hook up with the many folks in social media who are creating, curating, and sharing content and services. Post your creations in places where you’re networking with other teachers and solicit their feedback. In terms of teaching online, please get in touch and I’ll help you get started!


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