Posted tagged ‘JenniferESL’

Chicken-related Idioms and Proverbs

October 31, 2014

chicken in yardI had more fun this week with chicken-inspired ideas. My office window looks out on the front yard, and I keep seeing a chicken wandering around, so it’s no wonder the bird has found its way into my writing. If you’re looking for a fun lesson on idioms and proverbs, please consider using the eight that I selected in my video lesson. I also created an interactive exercise that emphasizes context. My Flew the Coop_handout explores context further by asking students to create dialogs based on suggested situations.

Same Verb Forms, Other Uses

October 24, 2014

Learning English would be simpler if we only had to teach one use for each verb form, right? But when we get into tense and aspect, there are multiple uses we have to cover. Of course, we can start with the most common meanings of each form. We tell beginners, for instance, that the present progressive is for actions happening right now, and will is used for future actions and events. Then either through our lessons or through exposure outside of class they eventually discover that a verb form can express more than one meaning, and more than one verb form can be used in the same context. How confusing!

Recently I heard a native speaker give an interview, and he used the present progressive to describe a scenario in the present.  I know we can use the present tense to make a narrative seem more vivid, but this scenario was about habitual actions. I had to pause and think, “Do we do that often?”  Well, I can’t confirm the frequency, but I believe we do use the present progressive this way. Imagine a police officer telling parents, “If you’re children are riding to school every day, they need helmets and a lesson on road traffic safety.” The officer could also have used the simple present “ride,” but his statement is also fine as is.

How familiar are your students with all the uses of a single verb form? Do they know:

  • future time clauses with before, after, if, etc. require a verb in the present?
  • Did you ever…? is a common alternative to Have you ever…? in everyday conversation?
  • narratives (especially in fiction) are often told in the present to make the description more vivid?
  • the present progressive functions just like be going to for planned events or actions in the future?
  • the present progressive can be used to emphasize a habitual action in the present, especially with the adverb always?

If you’d like to give some exposure to these kinds of uses, please check out my Same Verb Forms, Other Uses_handout. There’s discovery, reflection, and practice in this short activity.



Commenting on Halloween Costumes: Activities for Beginners

October 15, 2014

Halloween TreeSome of you who’ve been visiting my blog over the years may recall that I love Halloween. It’s one of my favorite U.S. holidays. I’ve already shared many activities with this holiday theme. However, looking over my past posts, I see that I should bring some balance into the offerings by creating at least one or two more activities that can be done with beginners.

Costumes are a very fun part of this holiday celebration, so that’s what we can focus on this year. Here are two activities you could try:

 1. Shop for costumes. This is more like window shopping from the comfort of the classroom. Select images of about a dozen costumes in advance (men’s, women’s, and unisex) and post the images for the class to view. I’d suggest a few popular choices (e.g., vampire, witch, ghost) to familiarize students with some vocabulary frequently used in conjunction with the holiday. However, I’d also recommend using some so-called career costumes. Students will already know doctor and basketball player. Introduce them to some new occupations: police officer, construction worker, scientist, pilot, astronaut, or sailor. You can throw in king and queen. After identifying the costumes, follow these steps:

Step 1 – Questions to practice with a partner: You can scramble the sentences and then have students unscramble them in pairs before taking turns with the Q&A.

  • What’s this costume?
  • Is there a (nurse) costume?
  • How much is it?
  • Is it expensive?
  • Do they have my size?
  • What sizes are there?
  • What size are you?
  • Do you like this costume?

Step 2 – Discussion. You have $50. You need a costume for a Halloween party. Which costume do you want? Why?

This activity could lead into a larger lesson on counting money, a vocabulary lesson related to shopping or jobs, or a grammar lesson on question formation. (Note: Many of the women’s…ahem…skimpy costumes sold online may not be appropriate, so choose carefully. You can always find images of homemade costumes and put sizes and price tags on them yourself.)

2. Describe costumes. This activity is like a Halloween version of the Fashion Police who patrol red carpet events. You can choose amazing, funny, cheap, and otherwise notable costumes. Sites like Pinterest might help your search. The idea is to see what language students already have and then build on that. Focus on adjectives. Help students use both attributive and predicative adjectives:

  • That’s a (silly) costume.
  • That costume is (silly).
  • I like that costume. It’s (clever).
  • I don’t like that costume. It looks (cheap).
  • What a (beautiful) costume!

You can lead into a deeper look at intensifiers: very, really, so. You can also introduce comparative adjectives if the students are ready.

For all levels, please consider ideas shared in previous posts:

Also, in the past, I discussed reasons for ELLs to be exposed to Halloween traditions. Click here to read.

Photo credit: “Halloween Tree” by Heather Franks. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Mailman or Mail Carrier: Gender in the English Language

October 10, 2014

A YouTube viewer asked about my use of she to refer to one of my dolls. Confusion arose over the fact that I was referring to an inanimate object. Why didn’t I use it? The learner wanted to understand my word choice. This is a fun point to discuss with students. Point of view can heavily influence one’s grammar and vocabulary. I explained how we also use he or she to refer to animals, especially pets, if the gender is known. You hear this practice in wildlife documentaries all the time. A lioness might even take offense if the narrator used it to refer to her! In the case of my doll, a special and familiar object to me, I want to recognize her identity. I prefer she to it.

If any of you have ever watched the TV show True Blood, you might recall that one character uses the exclamation “Oh my goddess!” instead of the more common expression of surprise “Oh my god!” Again, it’s all about point of view. The discussion of gendered nouns and gender-neutral nouns in English is even more interesting than our flexibility with pronouns.

What I feel is most beneficial and practical in the context of a language lesson is an objective presentation of the trends. There are concepts that have remained masculine and feminine, and our stable vocabulary reflects this. King, queen, brother, and sister are just a few examples. However, gender-neutral words for occupations have really become more frequent in English. Students must be prepared to understand flight attendant, server, salesperson, and other job titles in day-to-day communication.

If you would like to address the issue of gender in the English language, please consider using some of my resources:

  • Language Notes_13_classroom slides Images of family and occupations will prompt students to speak. This pre-lesson activity can reveal the language students presently have to identify people.
  • Lesson 13 in my Language Notes series will present gendered nouns and gender-neutral nouns. You can use the video to supplement your own presentation or to help you plan your own examples.
  • Interactive exercises on gendered nouns and gender-neutral nouns can be used for independent review.

3 Strategies for Making Homework Doable

October 1, 2014

The other day I had a Skype call with another teacher who works in a traditional classroom. Part of our discussion touched upon the challenge of getting adult learners to do their homework. I’ve personally worked with a couple stay-at-home mothers in the past, and those experiences led to some ideas for students with children. I’ve also suggested five ways to encourage adult learners to complete assignments.

Perhaps since my live instruction in recent years has mostly been one-on-one, I may have had an easier time getting students to do assignments. One factor is the pressure of being the only student. It’s their time, their lesson, and their opportunity. Also, I can really tailor an assignment to the individual’s needs, so the appeal is quite strong and the objective is clear.

Today I’d like to suggest we brainstorm a little more and generate additional strategies. Let me start with three ideas I have for making the assignments more doable in the first place. Please feel free to add on!

  • Be flexible with the schedule. Some years my children have received weekly homework packets rather than daily assignments. As the one who coordinates all the family activities and appointments, I appreciate having the freedom to focus on different tasks at the times that are best for us. If you work with a group that meets a few times a week, are you able to assign tasks that can be done at any time during the given week? This kind of flexibility might increase with the use of digital resources. As an online teacher, I appreciate the convenience of apps and sites that allow students to do exercises and complete tests at their leisure (but by a deadline). Automatic scoring takes care of the feedback and scores can usually be sent to teachers who are registered. What sites do you know about? Some free ones include ESL Video, USALearns, and VocabularySpellingCity (my children’s school first introduced me to the free features on this site).
  • Be flexible with the format. There are mobile devices for a reason. People today need to be mobile. How many of your assignments can be done via a cellphone, smartphone, or tablet? Tools like Twitter and Remind (Remind101) allow for text communication, so tasks can be assigned this way. In the case of Twitter, tasks can be assigned and performed on the platform. Also, consider assignments that must use a smartphone. With short tasks, can students have different options for submitting their work: writing by hand, emailing, perhaps texting (if no fees apply), or even sending a brief voice memo?
  • Consider collaboration among students. Pair work and group work can strengthen a student’s resolve to get a task done. There can be support from one’s peers, but there is also some pressure to carry one’s weight. Can some independent tasks be a project that requires contributions from more than one student? I’ve shared pair activities in the past as well as group activities. Can a part of such an activity be done outside class?

Related link to post on how not to overwhelm students with a writing assignment.


Lots to Wonder about: Working with Prepositions

September 26, 2014

In my next video lesson on prepositions, I plan to tackle about and of. I’m going to limit the number of possible combinations to give learners a chance to retain them. I hope that through exposure in different contexts, some of the collocations with these two prepositions will stick in the learner’s mind. To that end, I’ve already created a classroom activity (see my Lots to Wonder about_handout) and an interactive exercise. Perhaps you can make use of these materials with your students. Enjoy!

Working through a Webcam: Tips for Teaching Online

September 19, 2014

Webcam by Ananta Bhadra LamichhaneI’ve been asked more than once to compare online teaching to traditional classroom teaching. More recently, I was asked in an interview to identify common challenges. I thought it might be useful to go more in depth for those considering some form of online teaching in the future.

 – Presentation skills. No matter the medium, you need to explain subject matter clearly. You have less use of full body language when you’re sitting in front of a webcam, but you still have use of your hands and facial expressions. If you have the space and your mic can receive your voice well from a few feet away, though, who says you can’t teach standing up with greater movement? Don’t forget you also have use of visual aids, from slides to physical objects you can show on camera. When I worked with a beginner at one point via Skype, I kept teaching realia handy for examples. And if you’re working with a group, you need to remember to keep instruction interactive. Don’t turn live teaching into a lecture with one-way delivery. At the same time, you don’t want to overuse a particular tool for audience participation. In other words, don’t go poll-happy. In the traditional classroom, you use a variety of strategies from your “toolkit,” so do the same online. The combination of a single poll, some questions answered via text chat, and a creative activity, such as a prediction task based on a thought-provoking photo, could really help you engage a webinar audience.

- Organization skills. Teaching always demands the ability to multitask. You need to juggle resources and remain aware of your students’ performance throughout a lesson. What can you do to stay organized when working online? Before a Skype lesson, my practice has been to open up all windows and files needed. On a webinar platform, I know now to prepare all my tabs before launching the live session. You also want to do a tech check before any live meeting, so you can fully focus on instruction once you start. If you’re on a webinar platform, there’s likely an option to check your equipment. Do that. You can test your video and audio settings very easily on Skype under Tools > Options. There are also sites that offer a free webcam check. For a smoother private lesson, I’ve usually shared a lesson outline in advance as a Word document. The student’s copy has links, notes, and exercises that can be used during and after our lesson.

- People skills. A virtual classroom has real people who need a real connection with you. I like to be in contact with participants pre- and post-class. This is especially important with large webinars. Short discussion questions or simple tasks can increase anticipation of a live session and start building a sense of community. When everyone convenes on the chosen platform, many of you are already acquainted and there’s already a foundation for discussion. Once you do start teaching, remember to make eye contact with the webcam. It can’t be done at all times because you’ll also be reading slides and the stream of words in the text chat, but during an explanation or while listening to someone’s response, remember that the webcam is the “eye” of the learner.

There are certainly other similarities and differences to discuss. If this topic is of interest to more of you, I’d be happy to address it again in a future post. I suspect that more and more of us will truly be doing some form of online teaching in the coming years!


Photo Credit:

“Webcam” by Ananta Bhadra Lamichhane . Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.



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