July Fourth: Fireworks, Flags, and Other Fun Topics

Posted June 30, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Vocabulary

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9239648638_ae2178c33d_mNot everyone is on vacation during July. If you’re teaching during the week of July 4th, there are a number of ways to tie the U.S. Independence Day into a language lesson.

1) The latest lesson in my vocabulary playlist focuses on idioms based on the colors red, white, and blue. A short interactive quiz is available to test comprehension.

2) Word forms of “free” would be another appropriate topic and more academic in nature.

3) Ask your students if they know what sound fireworks make. If they’re not familiar with boom, hiss, whoosh, or whizz, you might want to have them take a look at onomatopoeia.

4) Flags in general offer a springboard for vocabulary. For example, in my new video, I teach that blue represents perseverance. Could students find synonyms? How about determination, strength, or endurance? You could also see if students are able to find a more conversational equivalent: not giving up. In a class of international students, each could explain the key colors of their national flag and explain any new words using synonyms or more everyday wording.

5) Songs offer vocabulary, listening, and pronunciation practice.  There are two directions you could go in, in terms of song choice. Traditional patriotic songs and patriotic rock songs engage students of different ages, and by no means do students have to be gearing up for the Citizenship Test to benefit from exposure to popular patriotic music.

6) A holiday word search could help bring in U.S. history, which would be particularly helpful background information for those new to the country. If this kind of activity seems suitable for your students, you might also check out the word scramble and cryptogram offered on Puzzles to Print.

To those celebrating, Happy Fourth of July!

Photo credit: Fourth of July Fireworks – Avalon, New Jersey by Brian Holland. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Confusion over ‘U’

Posted June 25, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Pronunciation

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During a private lesson I was asked about the different ways we pronounce the letter ‘U.’ There are a number of resources that shed light on the different pronunciations. One I found helpful was Teflpedia.com. It can serve as a reference when you need to offer an explanation, create a lesson plan, or design an activity.

Context is always key in language practice. I like to isolate a problematic sound, contrast it with others, and then have the student use the target sound in words, phrases, and sentences. An interesting context keeps an exercise from growing dull. In my Funny Truths _handout, I suggest having students read sentences aloud, sort key words according the pronunciation of ‘U,’ and then create their own sentences. All statements are surprising facts, and listeners must identify each one as true or false. By the time students are creating their own sentences, they should have greater awareness of the different pronunciations of ‘U.’ The activity has upper level students in mind. Enjoy!

Summer Listening Practice

Posted June 17, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Listening

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I’ve made suggestions for summer reading, so why not summer listening? I can’t take all the credit for this idea. A private student asked that I put together a study guide for the two months we won’t be meeting. The request is specifically for listening practice.

I’m trying to compromise on who should set the tasks. I believe the student should assume some responsibility even in the planning stage. However, I know it is my role to establish guidelines. My study guide begins with two bullet points:

  • Set a schedule. Choose a realistic number of days and minutes you can hold to from week to week.
  • Choose your resources. Your resources will match your goals. If you seek to understand more conversational English, your choices will differ from those of a student who wishes to master more vocabulary. You can work with more than one resource at a time, but you should be consistent in the manner of practice.

My student is very diligent, and I know she can find 10+ minutes a day, 6-7 days a week. I created a model for two weeks, showing suggestions for each day. It will be up to her to create a specific plan for the remaining weeks of the summer. I’m also deliberately listing a number of appropriate resources because I’d like her to make selections. Taking ownership of one’s self-study is key.

Practices I recommend:

  1. Dictations can be done 1-2 times a week. I’ve encouraged a number of students to work with my Oral Reading Fluency texts for listening practice. They can listen, write down what they hear, check their work, and then listen again. This sequence can be repeated with online stories from sites like Speakaboos or very short excerpts from any number of films. The YT channel Move Clips already nicely breaks up longer films. One clip could offer enough content for a couple days of study. I’ve been able to find screen plays online for some films, so students can check their work.
  2. Direct study of speech patterns is helpful. Within the past year, I worked with two different students on linking. Knowledge of connected speech boosts listening comprehension. For self-study, I’ve recommended some of the videos posted by Stacy Hagen on EnglishwithStacy. In addition to linking, she addresses stress and reduction.
  3. Extended listening practice is slotted for one day a week on my model. (Hopefully, the student will decide to do more.) Not surprisingly, I listed some ESL listening practice sites (audio with interactive exercises), but I feel it’s just as important to simply immerse oneself in the language and see how much can be soaked up. No pressure. Just listen as long as you’d like. The more enjoyable, the better. This is where I feel there can be variation from week to week. Songs, poetry, films, TED Talks, discussion on NPR (All Things Considered), or documentaries. They’re all possible choices. This is where we might also list materials we wouldn’t dare include in a regular lesson. For instance, I personally enjoyed War World Z as an audiobook because it was read very well by different actors. However, I admit there’s so much violence and vulgarity, it would be offensive to some. As part of summer listening, though, an adult student might enjoy the dramatic reading and the different accents. If you’re looking for resources that are more appropriate for a general audience, here are two I highlighted for my student:

There are plenty of famous speeches and biographies posted online as well. What resources do you like to recommend for listening practice?

Spotlight on the Little Guys: Prepositions

Posted June 9, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Grammar

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Prepositions may not get as much attention as verb tenses or modal verbs, but they sure raise a lot of questions. Every so often I think we can take some time and provide some answers.

My goal for this month is to continue building my video playlist on prepositions. As I continue to work my way through points of confusion, I recognize both the divisions and the overlap in usage. How challenging it is for a language learner! On the other hand, the overlap raises the odds that a guess will prove to be right.

Of course, those should be educated guesses, so as teachers we can serve our students by helping them understand the meanings of prepositions. For example, both during and throughout can refer to a period of time, but throughout really emphasizes the whole period, so it’s a good choice when you wish to emphasize that an action or condition is constant: My parents have supported me throughout my academic career. / There have been conflicts among humans throughout history.

If you’d like to test the accuracy of upper level students with prepositions of time, namely at, in, on, during, throughout, and over, then please consider my At Any Time_handout.

Chances Are: Practice with “That” Clauses

Posted June 5, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Grammar

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I’m taking on the topic of noun clauses with a private student. I plan to cover embedded questions, but first I want to work with that clauses. Those are the first kind of noun clauses students likely understand and produce. Even high beginners can start making statements with “I think (that)….” By the time learners reach the intermediate level, they easily understand many more that clauses in context, especially with reported speech (She said that…), direct objects (I know that…), and even adjectives (I’m happy that…).

Context is always key, so in my Chances Are_handout I focus on the topic of life dreams. It’s an easy topic to use for speaking or writing activities should you wish to connect my exercises to other activities of yours. I had upper level students in mind for this handout. Enjoy!

The Answer to Everything: Practice with the Prepositions For, To, and With

Posted May 29, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Grammar

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Prepositions are problematic for many English language learners. Presenting some collocations to students can certainly help them understand what a particular preposition expresses and what kinds of nouns, verbs, or adjectives that preposition combines with. For example, talk with someone, argue with someone, and speak with someone all refer to communication involving two or more people. “With” expresses the idea of being together or being involved in some activity. That’s why we can also say bored with something or fascinated with something.

There are a lot of collocations, so the key is to limit exposure and make time for meaningful practice. If you’d like to give your students some practice with for, to, and with, please consider my discussion activity: The Answer to Everything_handout. I’ll tackle more collocations in my next video lesson on prepositions.

Dedicated to You: Practice with the Prepositions TO and AT

Posted May 20, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Grammar

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I’m finally turning my attention back to prepositions. My goal is to address some common points of confusion. In my next video lesson, I’ll explain some uses of TO and AT. Have you ever heard someone confuse throw a ball to someone versus throw a ball at someone? That’s one point I’d like to cover. The difference in meaning is rather important, isn’t it?

You could have some fun teaching some collocations with TO and AT.

  • Song Dedications. Guess the most popular songs people dedicate to their loved ones. Look at some lists online. Do students approve of the song choices?
  • Reasons for Anger. Can students predict common reasons for coworkers getting mad at others? Look for articles on negative coworkers.
  • Tips for Explaining Things. Challenge students to come up with tips for explaining complex things to others. Lifehacker.com shares some ideas.

I also offer my Dedicated to You_handout for further controlled and meaningful practice.


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