Posted tagged ‘realia’

Finding a Cure: How to work practical skills into a lesson

April 29, 2009

ESL students are faced with two basic challenges: They must master English for communication, and they must learn to function within an English-only environment.  For example, a student must be able to ask a passerby which bus he should take to reach the city library. Then, after boarding the bus, he needs to pay the fare, read the bus route, listen for his destination to be announced, get off the bus, and follow signs to the main entrance of the library. In short, he must communicate and function in English to meet his daily goals. ESL teachers should bear this in mind when planning lessons.

Working practical skills into language lessons is particularly helpful for students in English-speaking countries. While their ultimate goals are academic or professional, they must also achieve everyday goals like navigating the local library, using a phone card, and making purchases at a pharmacy. This last task can be overwhelming even for a native speaker. Just think of the array of bottles and boxes that make up the stock of over-the-counter medicines (OTC) at any pharmacy. Choosing and then using OTCs is a practical skill we can help our students learn. Consider different ways you can incorporate label reading into your reading, grammar, and vocabulary lessons:

  • Teaching reading skills: scanning for information. Bring in several empty bottles and boxes from OTCs. Have the students pass the empty containers around, examining the labels of each one in turn. They must find the information to complete your chart:

                      What symptoms              What’s the dosage            Expiration date                                                               does it relieve?                       for an adult?

Name of                                                                                                                                                                                                                medicine:

1. _________      ____________       ___________       ___________

2. _________      ____________       ___________       ___________

3. _________      ____________       ___________       ___________


  • Teaching expressions of cause. Note how medications state causes of symptoms using due to.  Have students find examples on the containers.  Example: Benadryl – It relieves symptoms due to hay fever or other upper respiratory allergies.
  • Teaching conditionals. Have students find uses of if and in case of and restate the meaning. Examples:

Do not use if seal is broken or missing. = When a seal is broken or missing, you shouldn’t use this medicine.

In case of overdose, get medical help. = If you take too much of this medicine, get medical help.

  • Teaching imperatives. Have students find examples of directions and warnings. Examples:

Directions: Pepto-Bismol tablets – Chew or dissolve in mouth. Drink plenty of clear fluids.

Warnings: Benadryl – Do not use in a child under 2 years of age. Avoid alcoholic drinks.

  • Teaching vocabulary skills: recognizing the suffix “-er” and its meaning.  Have students find examples of the suffix “-er” on labels and restate the meaning. Examples:

Pain reliever = It relieves pain.

Upset stomach reliever = It relieves an upset stomach.

Or ask questions to elicit target vocabulary: What do we call a medicine that reduces a fever? – Fever reducer.

Classroom Essentials

January 27, 2009

Whenever I enter a classroom, I must have a bottle of water in my hand and some tissue in my pocket because I’m prone to a dry cough and the occasional sneeze. But what about real classroom aids? What is essential? What is convenient to have on hand?

I’ve known teachers to keep a variety of items in their classrooms, from clever gadgets to completely unexpected props: a soccer ball, a stopwatch, puppets, a radio, and a foot-tall Godzilla action figure, to name a few. All were incorporated into language lessons.

What’s in your classroom? What do you feel lost without? What do you like to keep in your so-called bag of tricks? Here’s my own list – a baker’s dozen. These are items I’d like to have on hand in order to teach any lesson on any given day:

  1. Board (with markers and an eraser)
  2. Clock (with a second hand)
  3. Dictionary (two copies from different publishers, ideally)
  4. Scratch paper
  5. Pens (for myself as well as for forgetful students)
  6. CD player/ stereo
  7. Magazines (with lots of photos)
  8. Scissors
  9. Tape
  10. World map
  11. Dice (for games and activities)
  12. Small container (box, bag, hat, etc.)
  13. Markers (for impromptu projects)


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