Posted tagged ‘JenniferESL’

Listen, Laugh, and Learn: 6 Ideas for Video-based Activities (Part 2)

July 23, 2014

Are you interested in exploring more video-based activities? Here are the other three I promised.

4. Catching a liar. Honesty is a great topic to discuss with students because it can be placed within so many different contexts depending on the kind of learners you are working with. You can discuss the need for honesty at home, at school, in personal relationships, or in the workplace. BuzzFeedVideo has a two-minute clip on How to Tell If Someone Is Lying to You. Because the clip is short, you might require at least two viewings. First, you could ask students to come to class having watched the clip once and written the basic signs that tell you a person is lying (forgiving the lack of parallel structure since it’s not used in the video!): eye movement, hiding body parts, grooming, head movement, and audible cues. Then in class you can assign small groups of students a particular sign and have them be responsible for noting as many details or examples possible during a group viewing of the clip.  Just as volunteers spoke in the video, one student from each small group can speak for 15 seconds on an assigned topic. The class must use the information learned from the video to explain why they think the speaker is telling the truth or lying. If you wish to combine this listening activity with grammar, consider my Bluffing game that requires use of the present perfect and simple past.

5. Trying to live longer. BuzzFeedYellow has a two-minute clip on How to Live to 100. As a pre-listening task, ask students to make their own lists. Require 3-5 items. Students may share their ideas with the class or with a partner.  As a second pre-listening task, invite them to make predictions as a class. You can prepare them by telling them the main topics: diet, exercise, and positive attitude. Can they guess the specific ideas and advice that will be presented in the video? As they watch the video, they can confirm their predictions and also compare their lists to what is presented. Do they agree or disagree? Perhaps additions or changes to their lists will occur after watching the video. In small groups, students can be challenged to compile their lists and submit only one. Each student can argue the necessity of including a particular item. This language topic works nicely with modal verbs (You should exercise every day.) or expressions of reason and result (Because of/ thanks to/ due to her vegetarian diet, the woman feels much healthier.) An optional activity can be to watch a second related video by List25 and compare ideas.  Check out 25 Ways You Can Live A Longer Life. Are there any items that appear on both lists?

6. Talking about strange foods. “Strange” is a subjective word, as is “delicious.” You’d need to be sensitive if you work with BuzzFeedYellow’s Americans Taste Exotic Asian Foods. However, touching upon cultural differences and differences in perception can be a very positive experience in an international classroom. The point isn’t to mock or insult, but rather to laugh at our natural reactions to things that are very different. This very human tendency is what can unite a mixed group as they come to a shared understanding. I once had a group of students write about the strangest thing they ever ate. One student had the insight to write about a favorite snack that was familiar to her but likely strange to her peers in the ESL classroom. The dish? – Fried grasshoppers. The goal was to create a descriptive writing that appealed to the senses, and students also learned about one another’s preferences. The video could be used to set the context for a discussion about strange foods and foods common in one’s culture. This in turn could lead to a short writing assignment: (1) Write one paragraph about the strangest food you ever tasted. OR (2) Write one paragraph describing a food you like, but which is not likely found in other countries. Alternatively, students could be assigned a Web search for a recipe for one of the foods mentioned by a classmate. For example, can they find and then explain how exactly to prepare fried grasshoppers?

Listen, Laugh, and Learn: 6 Ideas for Video-based Activities (Part 1)

July 17, 2014

While poking around on YouTube, I came across a number of interesting videos that could easily be incorporated into a language lesson to engage learners and prompt production. I began looking at top ten lists, which I’ve explored in a previous post, but quickly moved into other video formats. Here are six that caught my attention and inspired a few ideas for upper level students.

1. Debunking myths. There are a number of videos with titles like “Facts You Believed But Aren’t Really True.”  List25 and BuzzFeedVideo offer a few interesting ones, but I couldn’t readily see their sources to verify their information. The one I liked the most was produced by HouseholdHacker. See Myth Hacking – 5 things you thought were true but aren’t. What’s great about this list is that it’s short, making the video convenient for classroom use. Also, the information is practical. With any of these lists, I suggest making a pre-listening quiz with true-false items for each myth debunked in the video. (With the longer lists, you might choose to focus only on the top ten facts.) Have students take the quiz with a partner. Then the class can watch to correct their answers. With the HouseholdHacker video, students could then be invited to share their own know-how and state a practical tip using target language, such as the real conditional or modals of necessity (e.g., you should try lemon juice to remove freckles).

2. Doing self-reflection. BuzzFeedVideo has a video called Are You Right-Brained of Left-Brained? Who doesn’t like to laugh and reflect on their tendencies? This short video is under two minutes and is already in quiz format. See if your students are aware of their dominant side before watching the video. Can anyone explain what it means to be right-brained or left-brained? Students can take the quiz as they watch. A couple viewings may be necessary, and pausing will likely be needed as they note their answers on a piece of paper. Have students discuss their findings in small groups. Pull out key vocabulary from the video (pause at 1:12 for visual, outspoken, etc. and pause again at 1:21 for verbal, analytical, etc.), so they can try to incorporate the words in their conversation.

3. Describing others. BuzzFeedVideo has another video just under three minutes called What Your Handwriting Says About You. Start by asking students what they think about their own handwriting. Did they take penmanship classes in school as children? Have students copy a sentence from the board or try a short dictation. Suggestion: Many people don’t think much about their handwriting because we do so much typing these days. Have students exchange papers and then watch the video. Afterwards, they may sit with their partner and try to analyze their partner’s writing sample. You can facilitate this part by first having them complete a cloze exercise that summarizes the insights. Example: “If you have rounded letters you are _____ and creative.” (Answer: artistic) They can refer to the text as they look at their partner’s writing. As an independent writing assignment, students may write one paragraph stating whether they agree or disagree with the information in the video.

There are many other videos to base activities on. I tend to favor the ones from BuzzFeedVideo. I’ll share three more of my top picks in the next post!

Interesting Ways to Commence Language Studies: Using commencement speeches

July 9, 2014

graduation capI have briefly mentioned the possibility of using commencement speeches in the past, but coming across some good ones recently inspired me to consider additional ideas in detail.

Do you have a favorite speaker? I really enjoyed Steve’s Job 2005 speech at Standford and J. K. Rowling’s 2008 speech at Harvard. is one of a number of sites that offer a list of all-time best commencement addresses, and both Jobs and Rowling made their list. Marlo Thomas of the Huffington Post put together her list of the best addresses from 2014.

No matter which speech you or your students choose to use, there is sure to be inspirational content along with useful expressions and a good listening sample of authentic language. Some considerations:

  • Length. The addresses are long by nature, so you may consider using an address in parts or simply choose to focus on an excerpt that students can work with to target different skills. They can always be encouraged to listen to or read the full address independently.
  • Difficult content. I don’t really mean the complexity of the language, for all the addresses will use formal language and higher level vocabulary. I’m referring to the anecdotes speakers tend to use to refer to adversity and realities of the world. You’ll have to decide what is appropriate for your students. For example, if you choose an excerpt from J. K. Rowling’s address, you would not want to focus heavily on the accounts of  torture victims.  You’d be wise to focus more on her description of failure.
  • Format. There are some interesting high school commencement speeches that have potential for classroom use, but unless there are accurate captions or a transcript, you may want to make another selection. The high profile speeches, like Rowling’s, are sure to have both the video (with clear audio) and the transcript. Having the speech in both formats allows you more possibilities and gives the students richer resources.

What are the classroom possibilities?

  1. Reading skills. Other than the the traditional approach of listening to the speech, posing comprehension questions, and then discussing the content, you might choose to focus on the structure. Can students look at the speech as a whole and make an outline? Can they identify the main theme, subtopics, and supporting details? Once this is done, then you can move into discussion and reflection.
  2. Listening/reading skills. You could provide the basic outline and students could be asked to complete it.  If no title is shown at first, invite them to provide a title. You can write in the supporting details and ask them to identify the main points.
  3. Writing skills. Can students look at the speech as a whole and critique the structure? Is there a consistent theme, development, and enough support? Evaluate the strength of the conclusion.
  4. Listening skills. You can create a true-false quiz that students can answer as they listen to the speech. I’d suggest focusing on the personal anecdotes and the facts of what happened.  A second quiz can be created for post-listening. At that stage, students can handle reflection and answer true-false questions about what is implied.
  5. Speaking/writing skills. Most commencement addresses include quotes. Ask students to scan the transcript for quotes and then paraphrase or summarize each one. After they share their work, they could be invited to comment on the meaning and state agreement or disagreement. They may also share their own personal stories that illustrate the quote.
  6. Vocabulary. As a class, students can create a vocabulary notebook. Invite each student to read an assigned segment and highlight 2-3 new vocabulary items. Have them use dictionaries (offline or online) to find the meanings. Each student is responsible for teaching their words or expressions to the class. All information can be compiled and shared as a reference tool.

Do you have ideas of your own? I’d love to hear them.

Holiday Hopes

July 1, 2014

East Point Carnival and Fourth of July CelebrationI will be celebrating the Fourth of July with my family this week. For those observing Independence Day, I hope you have a safe and happy holiday weekend.  And to everyone everywhere, peace and good wishes!

I will return next week with a new post.



Photo credit: “East Point Carnival and Fourth of July Celebration” by Jason Riedy. Retrieved from Creative Commons on Flickr.

Forms of Freedom: Practice with the word family FREE

June 24, 2014 4th is just around the corner. In the U.S., we will be celebrating Independence Day. Whether you are in the States or not, you may find time this week or next to do a little bit of work with the word family for “free.” Are you teaching upper level students at the present? Please consider my Forms of Freedom_handout. Enjoy!


Photo credit:

“July 4th Beach Fireworks” by Kevin Dooley

Retrieved from Flickr – Creative Commons


Note: While putting this activity together, I came across a very niche-specific YT channel that helps people say other people’s names correctly! Do you know how to say Freida? Did you know it rhymes with Rita? Visit, and you’ll see their videos are not limited to names of people. Here’s the link to their main website.

Frequent Flyer: An activity to practice adverbs of frequency

June 20, 2014

“AW9FYG” by Sam ChurchillIt has been a long time since I worked with my friend and student Natasha, with whom I made my playlist for beginners. We are both in new towns and very far from each other, but because there has been a demand for more video lessons, I found the time to drive out to her new home recently. (Video to come!)

We reviewed, and then I decided to test her familiarity with adverbs of frequency. Natasha did well, but if given the chance to practice more with her, I would like to reinforce word order. Students generally pick up on the meanings quickly, but variation in word order can be the main challenge. With that in mind, I created my Frequent Flyer_handout. If you have basic level students, you may find this simple activity to be a good way to reinforce the patterns in word order. For this lesson, I limited the focus to always, usually, often, sometimes, rarely, and never.


Photo credit:

“AW9FYG” by Sam Churchill

Retrieved from Flickr, Creative Commons.

Push to Dispense: Understanding the grammar of consumer labels

June 12, 2014

DSC00127 Test Shot Cleaning Product 10-01-2014A few years back, I posted suggestions for using authentic weather reports in a language lesson. Those ideas came under the heading of “Survival English.” Recently, a student’s question highlighted another source of authentic language that will inevitably be encountered and that also poses a challenge for the learner: consumer labels. You know what I mean — the information on the back of a box or bottle that supplies instructions, warnings, and other pertinent information for the consumer.

Once your eyes adjust to the small text, you encounter a very specific writing style that is not unlike news headlines. Consumer labels use abbreviated language. The absence of articles as well as the occasional auxilary verb or object confused the one student until I explained the need for brevity. It was then I hit upon the challenge of asking learners to put the abbreviated language into standard spoken English. “Turn nozzle and push to dispense foam” really means “turn the nozzle and push it to dispense the foam.” We could explain to another user, “You have to turn the nozzle and then push it down to make the foam come out.”

Want a practical and original warm-up for upper level students? I call it Consumer Demos:

  1. Bring in a mix of personal care products and household cleaners, one for each student.
  2. Give them a minute to read the consumer information. Ask them to scan and find the uses and the instructions. They must be able to explain in more conversational English but using standard grammar what the product is for and how it should be used. Dictionaries may be used. Possible products: facial lotion, mouthwash, make-up remover, aftershave, all purpose cleaner, tub and tile cleanser, jewelry cleaner, car wax.
  3. In small groups, each student will take a turn presenting their product. After each student speaks, group members can comment on whether they have used the product or a similar one.

You can easily move into a grammar or vocabulary lesson by selecting language from the labels.

  • Definite article and other modifiers. Present a line from the instructions and ask students to change it from abbreviated language to standard language. Example: “Squeeze small amount into palm of hand.” > “Squeeze a small amount into the palm of your hand.” Discuss the reasons why articles or other modifiers are needed.
  • Vocabulary. From “nozzle” to “dispense,” most consumer labels tend to use the same word choices. Are your students familiar with these words? See my Push to Dispense_handout for more practice.


Photo credit:

“DSC00127 Test Shot Cleaning Product 10-01-2014″ by rodtuk

Retrieved from Flickr, Creative Commons

Fun, Useful Ideas for Working with Adjectives

June 5, 2014

My next grammar video will target the order of adjectives. I find it’s one of those topics that can put me a loss for answers. Why do we put size before color? Why do we put shape after size? Well…because. It sounds like a lame answer, but that’s just what we do. Language users develop standards, and it’s best to observe those standards for clear communication. If you talk about a brown big couch, you might be putting a pothole in the road to comprehension. In contrast, the phrase a big brown couch is easily digested in the flow of conversation.

I’ve posted some ideas for practice in the past. Now I’d like to offer a way to help learners discover the patterns before moving into production. Please consider my reading-based activity: The Empty White Room_handout.

How to Learn Collocations: Independence from Teachers and Dependence on Resources

May 28, 2014

Another teacher recently asked about ways to teach collocations to upper level students. The inquiry reminded me of what I took away from a TESOL session in Portland this past March. A team from  Academy of Art University, San Francisco focused on building learner independence. They recommended showing students how to work with COCA and Vocabulary Profiler when reading academic texts. I agree with this idea of putting tools in the hands of our students. They will not always be taking our lessons, but they will have the information given and the skills practiced in our lessons.

While learners are studying with us, I believe in using a very valuable resource: one another. Whether it’s a group lesson or private lesson, I see value in practicing vocabulary through conversation and student-generated texts. Vocabulary is mastered through multiple encounters, but repetition must be meaningful. That’s why context is so important. But how can we be certain  that content will be engaging and target language will be retained? That’s where using students’ own ideas comes in. This personalizes the lesson and can increase learner engagement and retention of material.

I’ve shared classroom activities in the past to practice collocations:

These kinds of activities teach students best practices for learning vocabulary now and in the future:

  1. Don’t try to learn too much at one time.
  2. Don’t just learn the meaning of the word. Learn how it’s used. Learn the collocations.
  3. Pay attention to context.
  4. Don’t just look at the information. Practice using it. Try using collocations in your own speech.
  5. Listen to others and pay attention to their use of collocations. When in doubt about what you hear, check a learner’s dictionary.

As for the future, we can allow students to get ready for independent learning by practicing different approaches under our guidance. If they are wondering which words to learn, they could be told about high frequency word lists, like the AWL. You can visit the site together and explain how the sublists identify the most common words. Also, students could select a text and focus on high frequency words identified by Vocabulary Profiler. TESOLers Jill Ballard, Laurie Frazier, and Shalle Leeming of Academy of Art University suggested this and the use of COCA to discover collocations. COCA can be intimidating, though, so I’d offer a list of questions to help make sense of the results displayed on COCA:

  • What kind language are you looking at — spoken, fiction, academic, etc?
  • Do you see repeated phrases (e.g., adjective + noun “statistical analysis”) or repeated structures (e.g., noun + preposition “analysis of”)?
  • Can you confirm collocations with a learner’s dictionary?



The Trick to Telling a Good Tale: Simple Past or Simple Present?

May 16, 2014

ST001: Figure 2.1One of my recent online exchanges centered around the choice of verb tenses for telling a story. Do we narrate an event in the present or the past? The learner who raised this question had just learned about the use of the simple present to make a narrative seem more exciting and real, as if the action were unfolding right before the listener’s eyes. It took several exchanges to strengthen this learner’s grasp on when this shift in verb tenses is appropriate.

This kind of question certainly requires a look at grammar beyond the sentence level. I offered some models, such as clips from performances by comedian Bill Cosby, who skillfully recalls moments from his past with humor to entertain all ages. As I gave the matter more thought, I began to compile a list of other possible models. For you and for me, I will keep this list handy for the next time I need to illustrate this grammar point. The range of contexts should enable us to choose the one model that best suits the given learner’s age and interests.

  •  The story of Swan Lake in the film Billy Elliot. The simple present is used to tell a familiar tale, the plot of the famous ballet.
  • Bill Cosby on Understanding Children. The simple present is used for facts, general habits, and humorous past acts.
  • A man goes into a seafood restaurant…” joke posted on Smilezilla. The simple present is used to tell a humorous story.
  • The First Case, a joke posted on Reader’s Digest (joke page). The simple present is used to tell a humorous story.
  • Marty McFly recalling Doc’s accident in Back to the Future. The simple past is used to tell the sequence of events that led to Doc’s idea for time travel. This scene nicely contrasts with any of the previous models.


Photo Credit:

“ST001: Fig. 2.1″

by Rosenfeld Media

Retrieved from Flickr, Creative Commons.


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