6 Sets of Seemingly Similar Words

What kinds of questions test you as a language teacher? Grammar-related questions usually generate the most challenging Student Stumpers for me, but that doesn’t mean other queries don’t give me pause. Synonyms or words that appear to be very similar test my knowledge about register and collocations. I respond to the best of my ability…

8 Election-related Activties

In the final weeks before the U.S. presidential elections, ELLs will likely find it hard to avoid hearing or reading about the candidates and their campaigns. Whether students are in the U.S. or not, having the opportunity to engage in election-related activities will bolster their understanding of current events and make them feel more connected to the…

The Verb Tense Dilemma: Is There Any Future?

It’s much simpler to introduce three verb tenses (past, present, and future) than two (past and present). If you acknowledge only two, then you need to explain that will is not a tense, but a modal verb. That opens up a whole new can of worms. I’m not saying we should avoid the more complex path — after…

Talking Politics in ESL

In my latest YT video I attempted to talk about politics without really talking politics. Hopefully, I succeeded. I gave a brief overview of the two major political parties. ELLs who have watched the lesson report that they picked up some vocabulary and gained a better understanding of U.S. political parties. But in addition to…

5 Ways to Make Feedback on Writing a Positive Experience

Online teaching is not always done in real time. Some of my private instruction is now given through written assignments. Students submit drafts and I provide feedback. We don’t schedule live lessons, so that mainly leaves us with written communication: email, comments, and track changes on documents. You may wonder how effective this instruction can be and…

Getting a Handle on a Common Verb

How many meanings does the verb get have? Hmm. Quite a lot, right? I had to consult a dictionary to make sure I wasn’t forgetting any. A student on Facebook asked me about the many uses of this verb. Actually, first he asked about the different meanings and then he asked about usage. If the verb…

Tricky eVocabulary

While correcting a student’s text yesterday, my attention was drawn to how vocabulary has developed around computers and the Internet. Words like cookies and sleep have new meanings. Also, today we need to be clear about our request for an address; we may need a street address, an email address, or a web address, depending on the…

Making Discoveries: An ESL Story

I first crossed paths with Walton Burns at a TESOL convention. We’re both members of the Materials Writers Interest Section, and it turns out that we have quite a bit more in common, especially in the roundabout way we discovered our professional calling. Walton may not have planned to become an English language teacher or…

Using Quantifiers Correctly Most of the Time

Quantifiers can cause confusion for a few reasons. 1. First, students have to recall which expressions go with which nouns – countable or uncountable. We say a good number of students but a great deal of difficulty. 2. Second, there’s the matter of register. Many is more suitable for formal English than a bunch of. 3. Third, meanings overlap and can…

What You Can Count On: Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Countable and uncountable nouns seem even trickier at the more advanced levels. That’s when students encounter a good number of words that have both meanings. Take truth, for example. We often use it abstractly, but it’s possible to talk about the truths that are self-evident, right? The best thing to hold on to is a set of guidelines….

Using Grammar: Putting the Pieces Together

I’ve been stumped by some pretty good questions over the years. The inquiries in my Student Stumper category usually target some aspect of the language that I need to consider further before responding. But lately the questions I’ve been asked by learners aren’t specific. In fact, they’re extremely broad. These questions challenge me in a different way….