Posted tagged ‘JenniferESL’

Hitting the Books: Learning Idioms about Books and Reading

April 24, 2014

"Books" by Chris (shutterhacks)It’s been a while since I’ve posted materials on idioms. The interest in conversational expressions remains strong among online learners, however, so I recently decided to pick up the camera and talk about idioms and sayings related to books.

This time around, I changed my approach in teaching this kind of vocabulary. In the past I limited my video lessons to three expression to allow time for adequate practice. Now I plan to take advantage of other platforms and formats, so additional practice can be found on my website in the form of an interactive exercise. Also, for those in the classroom, a reading-based activity will allow review and expansion. Please see my Hitting the Books_handout. With these additional opportunities for study, I felt it was possible to increase the number of target expressions to seven. I hope both students and teachers will enjoy hitting the books with these materials!


Photo credit:

“Books” by Chris (shutterhacks). Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

TESOL 2014 Highlights: Using Twitter

April 15, 2014

On the final day of the convention, I sought to learn even more about the uses of technology. I wasn’t disappointed. I found several sessions offered by the CALLIS and VDMIS groups. The one on using Twitter was well attended.

Abby Porter of University of Illinois and Nathan Soelberg of University of Oregon correctly assumed that most teachers know of Twitter, and they also correctly assumed that although we know about tweeting, we may not know how to do it or how it can be used in language learning.

The presenters started with a discussion of the benefits. Among them is the fact that Twitter makes text retrievable. Students and teachers can easily go back and read earlier tweets. Also, people can become connected by topic. Connections can occur in and out of the classroom. Finally, through a humorous anecdote of his own language learning experience in Korea, Nathan explained how subtle things in speech, such as a small word or structure, might be missed in conversation, but through the process of reading text those small differences are more easily perceived.

A dozen or more possible uses of Twitter were generously shared. Here were some of my favorites:

  • Classroom management. Students can be asked to tweet individual answers to questions. The teacher, sitting at his or her desk, can then provide individual feedback as the tweets are received.
  • Peer feedback. Twitter handles can remain anonymous, which might make students feel more comfortable when giving feedback to peers.
  • Dictations. Students can tweet their dictations to the teacher and hopefully through the process realize the importance of accuracy (over speed).
  • Screencasts of lessons. Teachers can tweet screencasts for students to review parts of lessons.
  • Important documents. Teachers can take photos of worksheets or other important lesson materials and make necessary notes for students directly on the images. Abby and Nathan mentioned apps like ShowMe, which is free.

The presenters recommended getting Twitter started early with new groups of students and having experienced users tutor a partner and explain the basics.

Thank you very much to Abby and Nathan for a useful session and for kindly allowing me to repost some of their ideas here! Please note that Abby will make the full presentation available on her website.

TESOL 2014 HIGHLIGHTS: Vocabulary Learning and Instruction

April 8, 2014

For me, a TESOL convention wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Electronic Village. Sometimes you have to search for the EV down a long hallway or two, but once I found the EV folk in Portland, I also discovered new ideas for vocabulary instruction.

Jill Ballard, Laurie Frazier, and Shalle Leeming of Academy of Art University, San Francisco shared recommendations for developing learner independence. Two familiar online resources, the University of Hong Kong’s Vocabulary Profiler and Brigham Young University’s Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) were presented for student use. Teachers and materials writers have, of course, turned to these and similar resources often, but this team of teachers explained how students can be guided to use knowledge of high frequency words and collocations.

Using an academic text on visual literacy, Ballard, Frazier, and Leeming demonstrated how the Vocabulary Profiler identifies and sorts high frequency words, AWL words, UWL words, and off-list words. The highly visual separation of the words can help students determine which vocabulary in a text is worth learning when reading independently. Taking one of the color-coded AWL words, “approaches,” the presenters then moved into COCA and explained how the listed collocations could be scanned to determine which part of speech is more frequent and which collocation(s), e.g., approach to, is common. COCA does offer quite a lot of information, and the many search features could overwhelm new users; however, by limiting student use (at least initially) to finding, scanning, and studying the collocations for a given word, COCA becomes an effective learning tool.

Students could record their findings and study the new vocabulary with the help of Quizlet. From flashcards to drag-and-drop exercises, Quizlet can help learners review and interact with the information they pull together, making vocabulary learning engaging and meaningful. The presenters suggested that example sentences could be pulled from COCA or a learner’s dictionary.

Moving over to another computer station, I found Rosario Giraldez of Alianza Cultural Uruguay Estados Unidos offering her ideas on the uses of another vocabulary profiler, Lextutor. A similar demonstration with a text was given, but Rosario focused on uses for both teachers and learners. The two I liked best were for reading and writing. First, the suggestion was made that if a text was determined to be too difficult for a given group of students in terms of vocabulary, Lextutor could quickly identify for the teacher those words that needed to be substituted with higher frequency words. Second, students could be taught limited uses of this vocabulary profiler to help them see their own word variety and progress in vocabulary learning. Rosario suggested that a student could submit a composition at the beginning of the term and then submit another at the end of the term. By comparing the range and density of vocabulary, the student could self-assess his or her own writing.

Luckily, there was time to sit in at one more mini-session at the Technology Fair. I joined Anne Hernandez of Arkansas State University, who summarized the workshop she co-moderated for the Electronic Village Online (EVO) earlier this year. Anne worked with fellow EV folk Brenda Brinkley and Jennie Farnell and led teachers through an exploration and discussion of online vocabulary resources over the course of five weeks. (Click here for session info.) Anne noted how much sharing took place among teachers and stated that it was so successful that they just might run a similar session again for the EVO in 2015 (so look out for that annual event that offers free professional development!). Anne shared a list of websites and kindly indicated some of the favorites: Quizlet (no surprise there), Glogster, and Learning Chocolate. That last site was particularly fun for me to check out. It’s appropriate for beginners and sets up exercises to practice meaning, pronunciation, and spelling.

My sincere thanks to all the presenters for allowing me to repost their ideas here.

TESOL 2014 Highlights: Brainstorming Ideas with Brainshark

March 28, 2014

TESOL 2014 is in full swing, and despite the rainy weather, there is great energy in the Convention Center here in Portland, Oregon. I attended a few sessions on Day 1, and I would like to share some highlights with those who are not able to attend this year.

Autumn Westphal of the SIT Graduate Institute – Rennert (New York) packed her conference room early in the morning with teachers eager to learn about project-based strategies using Brainshark. Autumn explained that myBrainshark is a free online resource that allows users to create different kinds of digital presentations:

  1. You can add voice to PowerPoint presentations.
  2. You can add narration to a Word document.
  3. You can upload a video and add narration to it (though the original audio track is not silenced).
  4. You can upload images and create a photo album.
  5. You can create podcasts.

Narrating can be done via a computer mic (the only option for those outside the U.S., as I understand) or a cell phone.  There are different sharing options. Final products can be made public or private. You can choose to share videos via your YouTube account. Downloading directly from myBrainshark unfortunately only gives you your audio recording as an mp3, but if you choose to place a Brainshark creation on YouTube, then you can use a free YouTube downloader and get your whole project. (Autumn forewarned participants of the free downloaders that come with spyware.)

Autumn commented on the option of recording through cell phones, observing how the process gives students practice with dial-in procedures and automated instructions, which are so very common today on U.S. phone lines. She also offered useful tips, noting, for example, that she usually selects a volume level of 20% when she records.

So what exactly can be done in a class or school setting? Autumn focused on building photo albums with narration and podcasts. Of the five possible creations on myBrainshark, she said these were the simplest. She nicely demonstrated a digital photo album that served as a self-introduction. She had uploaded shots of her taken in various locations and personalized the project even more by uploading original music performed by her mother, a blues musician. (Note that the site offers music loops for your projects, but you’re free to upload your own.) Our brains immediately started seeing possibilities, and one teacher next to me suggested having staff create their bios for the school website. Wouldn’t a digital album with music and narration be an attractive format for a teacher bio?

Autumn shared a number of possibilities, from teacher-made presentations to flip the classroom to student-made presentations to serve as cultural projects, e.g., “What Does It Mean to be (Chinese)?” In my small group, I shared my idea for narrating a story. The class can all have the same set of images to work with. They could sequence the photos in the order they wanted (or the teacher could sequence them in advance), and then in groups they would  create and upload narrations. The final projects could be played for the class. Autumn used every last minute to share more useful ideas. For instance, if the class took a field trip, they could create a narrated slideshow to present to another class of the same level.

Autumn’s handout with clear and detailed instructions for using myBrainshark have been uploaded to the TESOL site. I thank Autumn for kindly permitting me to share her ideas and tips here.

TESOL 2014 Portland – My Schedule

March 24, 2014

I’m heading off to Portland for an exciting week in the company of fellow ELTs. I hope to see some of you there. Just so you know where to find me, I’ll post my schedule here.

Wednesday, March 26

  • I’ll be at the Leadership Briefing in the morning and the Leadership Luncheon in the afternoon.

Thursday, March 27

  • 1:00-2:00 p.m  I’ll be volunteering at the Materials Writers Interest Section (MWIS) booth in the Exhibit Hall. Please stop by and say hello!
  • 3:00-3:45 p.m. Session title: Engaging Learners in the 21st Century: Improving Outcome. Location: Convention Center E146. I’ll be presenting with Christina Cavage and Susan Gaer for Pearson.

Friday, March 28

  • 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Session title: Progressive Use of Video in English Language Teaching. Location: Convention Center F149. I’ll be presenting with a number of other VDMIS members (Video and Digital Media Interest Section), including Jason Levine, Pamela Vittorio, Kenneth Chyi, and Johanna Katchen.
  • 2:00 – 3:45 p.m. Session title: I Want to Write a Book! Getting Published With TESOL. Location: Convention Center B115. I’ll be presenting with other members of the Book Publications Committee (BPC).

Of course, I’ll be attending as many academic sessions as I can, and when possible, I will try to share some TESOL insights with you while in Portland and after  my return.

The Power of Positive Thinking

March 22, 2014

I place importance on motivating and supporting language learners. This is probably connected to the fact that I hear from learners daily online, and talk about a lack of confidence is common. When I participated in the WizIQ MOOC last November, I included some talk about building the confidence of learners. I mentioned that I had designed some materials with inspirational messages. My Good, Better, Best handout was part of a previous post on motivating students and demonstrated how a positive message could be embedded in a grammar exercise.

In my most recent work on YouTube, I opened the oral reading playlist with a few texts that offer inspirational messages about persevering and making the most of one’s time. Since the nature and format of the videos are quite different from the ones in the past, I wanted to set the right atmosphere and help learners’ overcome their wariness of something new. I wanted to make learners believe in their potential and the value of reading aloud with me. The response so far has been wonderful. One viewer said the first text “A New Day” gave her the confidence to write a comment in English online for the first time. Hooray!

If we can inject some positive thoughts or feelings into a lesson, it can help learning take place. Agreed? Recently, a member of my forum shared a poem about what makes his day. The simple but effective structure impressed me. I not only enjoyed the piece of happy thoughts, but I also saw potential in the poem for classroom use. Rizwan Ahmed Memon of Akil, Larkana, Sindh, Pakistan has kindly given me permission to repost his verses here. Rizwan has demonstrated a very positive attitude, embracing the roles of teacher and learner in his daily work. I would encourage you to consider sharing his poem with your own students and inviting them to write their own stanzas about what makes their day. This short creative writing activity could be a good warm-up or a way to lead into a language point, such as collocations with make.

That Makes My Day
Rizwan Ahmed Memon

(Originally posted on EWJ Forum.)

When there are clouds in the sky,
Water in the pond,
Wind from the north,
Your hand in my hand,
That makes my day.

When there is a smile on your face,
Bangles around your wrist,
Earrings in your ears,
A ring on your finger,
That makes my day.

When there are waves in the river,
Your footprints on the bank,
Your books in the boat,
That makes my day.

When there are flowers in the fields,
Due on the grass,
Your fragrance around me,
That makes my day.

When there are leaves on the ground,
Your presence under the tree,
Shadows all around,
That makes my day.

When there are two cups of tea on the table,
Your face to watch,
Your voice to hear,
That makes my day.

For more of Rizwan’s writings, please visit his blog.

In like a Lion, Out like a Lamb: Practice with similes

March 13, 2014

March Comes in Like a Lion and Goes Out Like a LambOn this mid-March day the snow is falling yet again, and I am reminded of the saying, “In like a lion, out like a lamb.”

Similes are so short, and yet so colorful and exact. Once students are aware of these structures, they’ll begin to note the use of similes in the language they hear and read every day, from songs to novels.

I’ve offered suggestions in the past for using similes and metaphors in the classroom, but today I decided to share my ideas using only similes with animals. There are so many to choose from, and being mindful that too many can cause information overload, I designed an activity only with ten comparisons. It’s optional to add in others. Please look at my In like a Lion_handout. I hope you and your students enjoy it.

Additional similes available at

Photo credit: “March Comes in like a Lion and Goes out like a Lamb” by Jan (garlandcanncon) retrieved from under Creative Commons.

Finding Four-leaf Clovers: Practice with compound modifiers

March 6, 2014

"Clover" by penninoSt. Patrick’s Day is around the corner. Although it’s one of the smaller holidays on our calendar, it still represents a chance to talk about culture and tradition. My Spring Playlist on YouTube highlights an old video I made in honor of March 17.

I’ve shared some teaching ideas in the past connected to St. Patrick’s Day. I’d like to offer a new activity for upper level students who could benefit from a review of and expansion on compound modifiers. Please consider using my  Finding Four-leaf Clovers_handout. Additional information on compound words was posted back in 2009. This newest activity challenges students to identify compound words by structure and form new ones based on these patterns. Enjoy the creative writing segment!

Photo credit:

“Clover” by pennino retrieved from Creative Commons

Finding Fluency through Oral Reading

February 20, 2014

I’m a big believer in the power of reading and the need to maximize the benefits of a text. With private students, I’ve often asked them to work with a particular reading multiple ways. We read for comprehension. We study vocabulary and new structures in context. We discuss the content and make time for summaries and reactions. Additional readings can then be done. For example, I  can select lines or paragraphs from the text and ask students to listen and repeat after me until fluent reading is achieved. I see the confidence and satisfaction grow when a student finally reads a passage smoothly.

What about independent reading? Of course, there’s reading for pleasure, reading for academic  coursework, and reading that needs to be done at the workplace. But those all tend to be silent forms of reading. How can learners continue practicing oral reading to improve general fluency? What materials and strategies can be used?

Since last year, I’ve been toying with the idea of creating oral reading passages for independent practice. I hope to post my initial ideas in the near future in the form of video. How would you go about composing these texts and how would you ask students to work with them? Here are some of the factors I believe need to be addressed.

  1. A language learner needs to read a text multiple times. Therefore, the texts for oral reading practice should be short enough so that a busy person would be willing to reread it. A one-minute reading seems ideal to me. The shorter length would also more easily allow varied types of reading, from listen-repeat to choral reading.
  2. The texts need to be comprehensible. If a learner is going to read with expression, the content must be understood. That implies that the vocabulary and grammar must appropriate. For a mass audience, I think a set of readings needs to increase slowly in difficulty. When higher-level vocabulary is used, enough context must be provided so that the meanings can be inferred. Also, when new vocabulary is introduced, the words should be high frequency words to make them worth learning.
  3. Comprehension also comes through readiness. Simple pre-reading activities are used to engage and prepare a learner.  From predicting to discussion, a pre-reading task activates prior knowledge and taps into relevant personal experience.
  4. Fluent reading is guided by knowledge of punctuation and sentence structure. I think some simple slashes or other markings make natural thought groups clear for a reader. I hope my series on punctuation will support my set of texts for oral reading.
  5. A learner needs a model. In a live lesson, we can serve as models for our students. But for independent practice, learners appreciate having access to recordings. For that reason, I have often selected podcasts online for private lessons. The recordings and transcripts are on-demand. I have also recorded my own reading of original texts in the past and shared those recordings with students. For the new set of videos, I will certainly provide a model for learners to follow.
  6. The content needs to be interesting. The learner must want to do this form of practice. Texts should be informative, entertaining, and/or reflective in nature.

Wish me luck as I move forward. Please feel free to comment and make recommendations.

Moving Day!

February 13, 2014
“Packing in Progress”

“Packing in Progress”

We often draw from our personal experience when we contextualize language for our students. I think this is one way we succeed in connecting with learners and increase the authenticity of the experience.

My next choice for the Language Notes series is prompted by my family’s recent move to a new town. While this is the first move with my children, this is the fifth or sixth move I’ve made with my husband over the years. How common are moves in the U.S. or another country? This is an interesting question to discuss. What are moves like and how does one handle the search for a new home?

If you’d like to start this discussion with your students, please consider using my Language Notes_11_classroom slides. See what language they have for a conversation about types of housing and the process of moving. My video will serve as a focused study of relevant vocabulary. Later on their own, students can use my interactive crossword to review key words and expressions.

The topic of housing could easily flow into a review of structures that express purpose and reason, namely because, so that, as, for, and in order to. Please take a look at my Moving Day_handout and see if the grammar level is right for your group of students.

Photo credit: “Packing in Progress” by Ben W (Ben+Sam)

Retrieved from

(Creative Commons)


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