Thanksgiving Wishes!

Posted November 25, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Announcements

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There are many things I’m thankful for. I’m sure you feel the same way. Whether you’re celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday or not, I send you my warm wishes. I also thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and consider my ideas.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Beyond Prepositions of Place 101

Posted November 25, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Grammar

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We teach in, at, and on to beginners. Of course, the study of prepositions of place doesn’t end there. Students move on to words like near and next to. This is when confusion can grow. What’s the difference between near and nearby? What about beside and besides? Is it correct to say near to?

9733520035_5284cdb08c_zIf you’d like to review and practice prepositions of place with intermediate students, please take a look at my Near and Far_handout. I hope it increases their confidence when expressing location. The topic is one most people enjoy discussing: best places to live.

Photo credit:

On a Country Road by Carl Shinoda. (March 2012.) Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Expressing One’s Thanks in Writing

Posted November 19, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Writing

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16558645750_fa19b673d6_zWhether you’re teaching in the U.S. or not, it’s a great time to bring in an activity about giving thanks. You might do something that requires some preparation, like a gift-giving activity. You could also just do a fun warm-up and ask students to name all the people they’ve said thank you to in the past 24 hours. For those big and small acts of kindness, what words of appreciation did they use? That sets up the opportunity to discuss levels of formality and appropriate words for different situations, whether they were thanking a pizza delivery person or a thoughtful coworker.

Here’s a longer activity for intermediate or advanced students. Check out my Never Too Late_handout. It’s a partner-supported writing exercise. Students are given a model before they’re asked to begin drafting their own thank-you letters.


Photo credit:

Wild Turkey 2 3-7-15 by Larry Smith. (March 2015.) Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Learning to Write Clearly and Concisely: An activity for advanced students

Posted November 11, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Writing

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A place to visit: the Enchanted River

A place to visit: the Enchanted River

I’ve been working with small numbers of advanced students on speaking and writing skills. We focus on common topics like travel and health. The students have obviously talked about such issues before, so I ask questions that provoke deeper reflection and stimulate comparisons or arguments. The oral discussions are engaging, and the writing extends students’ opportunity to express their thoughts on particular points.

Over the weeks, I’ve observed how students face the same challenges as writers. Organization is rarely an issue, and sentence structure is equally strong. They lay out their ideas in a very logical manner. Word choices are also quite impressive, and the depth of thought thrills me. Sometimes consistency with tone must be addressed, but what I’m seeing most is the need for more consistency with the use of impersonal subjects (like one and you) and the need to be more concise.

If you have advanced writers who could benefit from the kind of practice that can polish their texts, please take a look at my Concise and Clear_handout. The activities focus on amazing places to visit.

Got intermediate students? Check out this post with an activity about amazing vacations.

Photo credit:

Enchanted River –Hinatuan, Surigao by Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ.

Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Back to the Basics (2)

Posted November 5, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Grammar

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Recent questions from students have prompted me to consider additional opportunities for review. Basic level students have asked me about the verb form after people and the reason for using helping verbs in questions. From subject-verb agreement to question formation, students need more practice with grammar. Comments and email sent to me reveal further doubts over similar words like it’s and its as well as the use of negative words.

I realize that a single exercise isn’t enough to master a grammar point. Whether it’s a beginner or an advanced student, multiple encounters with a particular grammar pattern are necessary, and the student needs the chance to put the target grammar into use. Along with the chance to have a meaningful exchange with the grammar, I believe in the benefits of controlled exercises. They can call attention to a single language structure that the student needs to consciously build. Through the process of error correction, for instance, a student may finally understand the rule. Additional practice will reinforce that understanding.

A few years back, I offered my first Back the Basics post with a handout on a few basic grammar points, including demonstratives and the difference between pronouns and possessive adjectives. Now I’d like to offer my Back to the basics 2_handout. I hope the exercises will facilitate learning for basic level students. The short tasks focus on it’s vs. its, subject-verb agreement, question formation, and negative statements.

Is Fluency Achieved in or out of the Classroom?

Posted October 29, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Methodology

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Jason Levine headshot

Jason R. Levine

I was recently invited along with 33 other English language teachers to offer an opinion on how fluency is achieved. Jason R. Levine, a.k.a. FluencyMC, compiled 34 tips on becoming fluent in English.

Seeing the range of ideas as well as the striking overlap of viewpoints is exciting. In my opinion, the compilation is a starting point for more discussion. With so much value placed on real language and meaningful interaction, one might begin to question the need for a teacher or instructional publications. Is fluency achieved in or out of the classroom?

Obviously, we all believe teachers are a necessary part of the process. Otherwise, we’d each have a different profession! And as we do our job as teachers, we all make use of instructional materials, from textbooks to YT videos. But how much of a contribution does formal instruction make towards developing fluency?

The need for focused study. To varying degrees, all learners are able to pick up patterns from comprehensible input. However, even the most gifted language learners need the chance for practice with feedback. Being understood is one thing; articulating your ideas very clearly is another. In other words, fluency implies a certain amount of accuracy. One might be very functional in a language, but that’s not the same as fluency. Classroom study, be it traditional or virtual, provides a safe, comfortable environment to develop accuracy. A leaner benefits from feedback given from the teacher, even when it’s a classmate being corrected.

The need for confidence. In Jason’s article, Scott Thornbury refers to the relationship between fluency and the impression the speaker creates. Other teachers in the group also mention the role that confidence plays in being fluent. Does that kind of confidence develop only outside the classroom? Based on my observations, I believe that some people are adventurous and self-assured by nature. Mistakes are made and taken in stride. But for many learners there’s hesitation to speak or write due to lack of confidence. As adults, we especially worry about the impression we’re creating. The pressure mounts in a real-life situation: at work, in town, on the phone, or in a mainstream classroom.

The ESL classroom is meant to be a supportive environment in many respects. One of our jobs as teachers is to make our students feel comfortable enough to try. We want communication to flow easily, without fear of mistakes. We know that there are different types of self-esteem, and a person’s self-esteem can drop when they switch into another language or step into a particular situation. A positive classroom experience can help a language learner transfer confidence to real-world situations.

The need for guidance. Ultimately, we want our students to be independent learners. We hope to guide them to a point where they need our instruction less and less. Good study habits can be taught and practiced. This is my final defense of formal instruction. The ESL classroom isn’t an alternative to real-world practice and communication. It should be seen as a bridge. The wonderful thing about that bridge is that it doesn’t have be burned at any point. I’m happy to have advanced speakers of English turn to me with questions about the intricacies of the language. I supply an answer to the best of my ability, and then the learner continues on his or her personal journey.

Fluency is largely achieved through real-world interaction, but language study with a teacher makes that goal all the more achievable.

Secrets to Learning Vocabulary

Posted October 23, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Vocabulary

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Different students have complained to me that they can’t seem to remember the words they need when they talk in English. I’m not sure there are really secrets to learning vocabulary, but I do think that each learner needs to discover what study practices work best for him or her. Perhaps the key is to guide them by explaining what kinds of practices they need to develop.

Here are some ideas to share with learners:

Study the context. It’s helpful to recall the context in which you heard or saw a new word. Not only will this help you piece together the meaning, but you’ll also be able to get a feel for when the word is used. Who used it and what was their relationship with the listener? What was the subject of conversation? A playback of a film clip or a flashback to a page in a novel can be mentally attached to a word. It’s like a multimedia vocabulary notebook stored in your mind. Visualize the word and its spelling. Replay the original example in your head. Pay attention to pronunciation and grammar. How was the word used?

Engage in reflective study. Having a real vocabulary notebook is a great idea, whether it’s kept on paper or in some digital form. You can’t store too much new information in your head. If you have key points written down, such as the word, its definition, and an example, you can review more easily. Eventually, it will stick. And when you forget a word in conversation, be sure to look it up later in your notebook. The privacy of your own mind allows for a do-over. Go through the conversation again and restate your ideas using the words you want. Refer to your notebook as needed.

Combine speaking and writing. Writing prompts reflection. In my recent series of small group conversations, I’ve had students do a short post-class writing assignment. They write a paragraph answering one of the several questions I posed during class. They’ve already discussed the topics, so I’m asking them to rethink their answers and articulate one thought to the best of their ability. In class, I offer corrections and suggested wording, so they can draw from my feedback when they write their paragraphs. In the process, their confidence with vocabulary and grammar generally increases.

A less formal way to combine speaking and writing is with social media platforms. Text and audio are being combined more and more. Interaction through social media can be in real time without being rapid fire. There’s a helpful delay between exchanges, giving learners time to pick and choose their words. One of the apps I’ve been experimenting with for the past few months is HelloTalk. I like the concept behind it so much that I’ve listed it among the student resources on my own website. Basically, it’s a robust texting platform for language exchanges, allowing text or audio with the support of translations, pronunciation models, and correction tools.

As I said, there aren’t really guarded secrets to learning and retaining vocabulary, but it will take effort to discover and implement helpful practices. Encouraging learners to share their practices with one another will facilitate those discoveries.


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