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….

Is It Possible to Form Good Study Habits with an App?

My previous post prompted reflection on how good study habits are formed. I shared ideas on long-term change as described by B. J. Fogg in his TEDx talk “Forget Big Change, Start with a Tiny Habit.” In theory, it certainly sounds plausible that a new habit can become automatic if it is closely tied to an…

How Good Study Habits Are Formed

Whether students are enrolled in a course or studying independently, language progress largely depends on how much they invest and how consistent they are with good study habits. However, before habits are established, a learner needs to develop awareness and add a dose of realism to their aspirations. What exactly are their language goals? I’ve…

Teaching How Less Is More in Writing

Words allow us to build beautiful creations. Particularly in writing, which affords us more time for consideration, we put our thoughts together like a jeweler. The artist picks and chooses elements and strings them together. We do the same with words, hooking them together with grammatical structures. In the end, both the jeweler and the writer make a statement….

Defining a Hybrid Learner Today

My favorite news magazine is The Week. I love it for the range of topics covered, and I appreciate its efforts to view issues from more than one perspective. Not all news sources do that. I realize there’s a digital version, too, but I stick to the printed version that comes in the mail and I…

Too Much Terminology?

I love grammar, so I obviously fall into the camp of those teachers who take the time to give direct attention to grammar structures. I believe in a balanced approach: A certain amount of language can be picked up through regular exposure, but there are times when explicit instruction clarifies doubts. In other words, communication…

The Benefits of Talking about Art

  You may be teaching working professionals in the business world or even a group of teens with more interest in this summer’s blockbusters than what’s on exhibit at a local art gallery. You might be teaching undergrads, but there isn’t a single art major among them. So why talk about art in the ESL…

Greetings and Closings: When simple phrases seem rather complex

A YouTube viewer asked me about the choice of closings in email. Indeed, if words are heartfelt, you’d think they’d be appropriate for a loved one, but if your significant other signed a message with “Heartfelt regards,” wouldn’t you be taken aback by the formality? In my video series on email, I’ve taken the time to…

Student Stumper 44: How can an adjective follow THAN in “later than usual”?

QUESTION: I read a sentence with the phrase “later than usual.” I thought only nouns could follow the preposition than, and usual is an adjective. Is “later than usual” grammatically correct? ANSWER: Dictionaries list than as a preposition and a conjunction. To be honest, I sometimes find it tricky to make the distinction, especially with comparisons. I see it as a…