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. shares some ideas.

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

Precious Practice: Learning to Say Consonant Blends with R

Posted May 14, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Pronunciation

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A private student called my attention to a tricky aspect of pronunciation. We were focusing on linking sounds from one word to another to produce connected speech, but then she asked about connecting two sounds within a word, namely the “tr” in truth. Slowing pronunciation down too much had its dangers. Truth could end up sounding like “to Ruth.” She also wanted to confirm which sounds were voiced. Ah! This was another pitfall. I wanted to be sure truth didn’t sound like “druth.” Voicing shouldn’t begin too soon. We practiced whispering the TR and then moving from R into the long U with a full voice.

If your intermediate or advanced learners need some practice with the voiceless consonants /p, t, k/ before R, then please consider my Precious Practice_handout. I hope it helps!

Comma Craze: Practice with Commas

Posted May 7, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Writing

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8157969793_2f5f2813f2_mA couple of learners expressed their frustration over commas. When do we really need them? It is possible to overuse them? Can we just leave them out? These questions may worry some when they are asked to put their thoughts in writing.

If you feel some of your students are suffering from indecision with their use of commas, you might consider my  Comma Craze_handout. I simply created sets of sentences that require commas. Students can identify patterns with the use of commas by working together. Feel free to adapt the activity to your purposes. The general theme is games and toys, from horseshoes to hula hoops. Enjoy!

Photo credit:

“Two little boys and two little girls playing horseshoes, Sainte-Adèle, Quebec” by Herb Taylor. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

More ideas to practice punctuation? Click here.

Either One: Words with More than One Pronunciation

Posted May 1, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Pronunciation

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I was asked recently to explain the pronunciation of “comfortable.” It took a moment of reflection to decide which pronunciation to teach. I actually taught both the 3- and the 4-syllable variation. I’ve heard and used both myself, and I was able to find dictionary entries acknowledging both. Why not prepare learners by presenting two common ways of saying the word? That was my line of thinking.

I’ve posted ideas before on heteronyms and homographs, but now I’d like to focus specifically on words that can have a different pronunciation without a change in meaning, for instance either and neither. How confusing it is for learners not only to learn a new word, but also to deal with variations in pronunciation!

Please consider my Either One_handout. It’s a collection of short texts for you to make use of how you see fit. I’ve contextualized words (and names of geographical places) with tricky pronunciation. The common theme is tourism, mainly within the U.S., so there are obvious springboards to conversation should you need a warm-up or a follow-up discussion about traveling within the 50 states.

Considerations when offering explanations:

1. Sometimes pronunciation differences are geographical, for example, the U.S. may favor /ˈhɑs tl/ while the U.K. may prefer /ˈhɑs taɪl/. How do you say “hostile”?

2. Sometimes slow, careful speech allows for a fuller pronunciation. Not everyone accepts the omission of a sound as acceptable. “Actually” is a good example: /ˈækt ʃueli/ vs. /ˈækt ʃeli/.

3. Sometimes a difference in pronunciation is with stress, not sounds, as seen with “absolutely”: /ˌæbsəˈlutli/ vs /ˈæbsəˌlutli/.

More than Words: Using Graphs for Discussion

Posted April 22, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Conversation, Reading

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When I have private lessons with upper level students, we often work with articles on a range of topics. We study the vocabulary, look at grammar in context, develop a summary of the key points, and react to the content. Recently, I considered the value of purposefully choosing articles with graphs. A different kind of reading skill is used when a learner has to process facts presented visually beyond words.

A couple of recent articles on sleep habits allowed for the opportunity to synthesize information and draw conclusions about how sleep habits vary from country to country and from profession to profession. I felt it was easier to make personal connections to the topic because one could first visualize his or her own place on a particular graph and then start articulating that thought.

What else might you do with graphs?

  • Reflect on our dependency on smartphones. Belle Beth Cooper of the Huffington Post shared some interesting facts back in 2013. Check out fact number 8 in her article 10 Surprising Social Media Statistics that Might Make You Rethink Your Social Strategy. For how many minutes of the day do students keep their phones next to them? Create your own class survey and plot the results on a graph.
  • Compare life experiences. The Visual Everything has an interesting set of line graphs comparing the events that a 30-year-old and a 90-year-old have lived through. Check out Huge Timescales in Perspective. It’s limited to a U.S. perspective, so can your students create a similar line graph and identify key events that have shaped their own world view? In small groups, they can present and share their work.
  • Illustrate the qualities of patience and impatience. On GraphJam’s Memebase I found a graph representing (for one author) What I Do When a Website or Video Is Loading Slowly. Do your students wait patiently in this kind of online situation, or do they engage in some other activity, like playing Minesweeper? Students can create a personal pie chart and then in small groups try to synthesize their findings into a single graph.
  • Break Down a Process into Manageable Steps. BoredPanda presents 35 Extremely Funny Graphs and Charts. One shows a humorous break down of someone’s Use of Time before 15-page Essay due in 12 Hours. The chart can be a starting off point before students take on a short writing assignment. All humor aside, what are the steps and how long will each realistically take? Perhaps agreeing on a breakdown, expectations will be set and tasks will seem more manageable.

Spring Has Sprung: Season-related Ideas

Posted April 17, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Vocabulary

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spring word cloudWhether you are in a climate with four seasons or two, the topic of weather can always work its way into the classroom. For basic level students, an entire lesson might focus on vocabulary, from sunny to freezing. Check out my Seasons.BASIC_handout for more ideas.

For intermediate students, a group-generated word cloud, like the one  I made on the left, is a small project that elicits vocabulary and encourages peer teaching. I mentioned Tagxedo in a previous post. Using this free software, students can brainstorm words related to the current weather, explain any vocabulary that is unfamiliar to other team members, and then discuss the best way to format their image. As the teacher, you could also create your own word cloud and use it to check students’ existing knowledge before launching into a short vocabulary presentation. Which words are already familiar? What topic or theme unites all the words? Can they already use the words in sentences?

As warmer weather made its way into New England, I became inspired to put together a new lesson on expressions related to the season and word “spring.”  A quick review is possible through an interactive quiz. For upper level students, my Spring Has Sprung_handout could effectively provide additional practice. Enjoy!

TESOL 2015: Why Use a Gamification Platform?

Posted April 9, 2015 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Methodology, Tech Tips

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When it comes to education, we all know that technology shouldn’t be used without intention. Sometimes technology can have a coolness factor, but we certainly shouldn’t bring in a device or software simply to make learners say, “Wow.” The technology we choose is supposed to aid us, support our instruction, and facilitate the learning process. There are times to embrace digital tools and mobile devices if they’re accessible, but there are also times when a tech-free approach is perfectly fine and effective. At least, that’s my belief.

The questions of which technology to employ and why came to mind when I attended an Electronic Village session back in Toronto at the annual TESOL convention. I learned how some teachers were supplementing an existing curriculum. One talk really caught my interest. Lora Yasen of Tokyo International University of America (USA) was sharing her experience with 3D GameLab, a gamification platform. She’s currently using an Azar-Hagen book in one class and has turned to 3D Game Lab to create additional exercises and activities to challenge her students.

The use of a game environment appeals to Lora’s university students, all of whom are from Japan, and the platform has extended learning outside of class. Independent assignments given through 3D Game Lab engage her learners. Lora had given a short grammar assignment right before the convention, and already by Friday nearly all the students had submitted their work. Through the platform Lora is able to easily track progress and quickly provide feedback. A simple click opens up a private comment box on a student submission. Assignments can be accepted as complete or sent back for revision.

What’s making the gamification platform successful for this class? It seems a lot stems from the idea of earning something of value, something tangible when tasks are completed. Lora’s students like the idea of receiving badges and “leveling up” at the end of a quest. Also, the experience merges with everyday online activity: the platform can be accessed on computers or mobile devices, and badges can be exported to social networks.

With the concept of badges, quests, and levels, one might wonder if there can be unhealthy competition. Lora pointed out that teachers can design team activities, making the experience more collaborative. Also, quests can be optional, which removes some pressure and allows learners to tailor the experience to their needs.

I’m not recommending that all teachers jump on the gamification bandwagon, but I do think it’s an option worth considering. It’s part of our job to create the right environment and find tools that will bring out the best in our learners. For some, gamified content creation on a digital platform may be the ticket to a positive learning experience. Also, even a good resource can be made better, simply by having the teacher add something of her own — an activity to make production more personal and meaningful or a quiz targeting language that a given group of students needs to review. Lora has also used 3D GameLab quests to practice vocabulary from NorthStar.

I applaud Lora for taking the plunge and trying something new in order to reach and support her students outside of class. She did admit that learning how to create content, quests, and badges requires a serious investment. Teachers must go through Gamification Boot Camp before starting an actual class on 3D GameLab.  The six required badges take no less than ten hours to earn. There’s also a subscription fee, but Lora mentioned that there’s ongoing teacher support included in that fee. Online Teacher Camps are held every 2-3 months.

What do you think?



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