Posted tagged ‘TEFL’

A New Year’s Resolution: Let’s get savvy with online tools!

December 30, 2010

It’s that time again. Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? One promise I’ve made to myself is to learn more about online tools that can help me in teaching or materials writing. I’d like to discover at least three new tools and learn to apply them in 2011. I’m on my way to knocking that number down by one or even two.

A recent comment on my post about trusting dictionaries prompted me to give some attention to corpus research. Daniel, a reader of this blog, informed me that Google has a new tool called Books Ngram Viewer. The resource can help users understand trends in the usage of particular words or terms. The demo shows a graph for “Atlantis” and “El Dorado”. I plugged in words and phrases that I’ve been asked about in the past, for example, “toward” versus “towards” and “accepted to” and “accepted at”.  For fun, you can give it a try, too.

The tool is rather user-friendly. I like the ease of switching between American and British English as well as the simplicity of setting the years you want to focus on. I’m learning that a smoothing of “0” isn’t too helpful. It gives raw data that’s not easy on the eyes. The default setting is a smoothing of 3 (the average of three years before and after plus the target year, if I’m not mistaken), and this setting makes trends more readily visible. Be sure to take the time to understand the differences among the corpora: English, English Fiction, and English One Million.

Because I began experimenting with Google Ngram, I decided I should also devote some playtime to another resource recommended by a reader. Phil Bird told me about the corpora offered by Brigham Young University. So far, I’ve only used the Corpus of Contemporary American English, but I began to see how this tool combined with Google Ngram and an online dictionary can truly help me answer questions about collocations. I did searches for “was/ got accepted to” and “was/ got accepted at”, and the results helped me understand the trends.

Got any other tools to recommend? I think if we periodically devote some online time to these kinds of experiments, we won’t be overwhelmed by all that’s available but only inclined to learn more.

On that note, I’ll end and wish you all a healthy, happy, productive year in 2011.  Thank you for visiting my blog today. Happy New Year!

Shop and Chop: Practice with fricatives and affricates

December 29, 2010

Need to offer upper level students some practice with troubling fricatives and affricates? Consider using this activity, which contextualizes the sounds in a fun and meaningful way.

Step 1 –
Read the list of phrases in the box in Task A (see Shop and Chop_activity) and have students listen and repeat after you. Next, ask them to underline fricatives: “Which words have the sounds /ʃ/ and /ʒ/? These sounds create friction. The sounds are made because you are forcing air out a tight place in your mouth. Let’s underline these sounds.” Then ask them to circle affricates: “Which words have the sounds /dʒ/ and /tʃ/? These sounds stop air before letting it out. When it does come out, there’s friction. Let’s circle these sounds.” You may have them try identifying the sounds independently and then correct their work as a class.


Step 2 – Ask students to complete Task A in pairs. They must sort the phrases under the headings “What we shop for” and “What we measure”.


What we shop for: beige shoes, a box of tissues, bed sheets, a bag of sugar, desk chair, a set of dishes, a jar of jam

What we measure: our shoe size, 2 cups of sugar, the weight of a precious gem, a tablespoon of margarine, 20/20 vision                                 

Step 3 –
After correcting students’ work in Task A, have them continue working in pairs. In Task B, they must list as many answers as possible in five minutes.

Optional: Turn Task B into a game. Award 1 point for each item and 2 points if the item listed contains one fricatives /ʃ/ or /ʒ/ or one affricate /dʒ/ and /tʃ/.

ESL/ EFL Site Forecast for 2011

December 27, 2010

I’m curious to see if anyone reading this will suggest a website we should all keep our eyes on in the future. Do you anticipate the growth of any particular resource or contributions of an individual content creator? Let me share a few sources that I predict will develop some good materials for ESL/ EFL teachers and students in 2011. If you can, please add to the list.

In no particular order, here they are.

1.  Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab.  This is already a well-known site in the ESL/ EFL community. However, I anticipate much growth in 2011. First off, Randall promises to make his materials accessible for use on portable devices, such as iPhones. Second, I appreciate his collection of Video Snapshots because they offer lessons on both language and culture. Yet another project I find interesting is Randall’s Multimedia Language Activities. It shows his willingness to experiment with other online tools, namely Voice Thread, to enage more of the learner.

2.  Voice of America. This is another big name, but perhaps not so many are aware of The Classroom, which offers a growing collection of multimedia lessons based on readings that range from American Life & Culture to Science & Technology. The activities that follow each article are consistent in format and pedagogically sound. Explore VOA’s virtual classroom and you’ll also find additional activities for all levels, from grammar practice to mini lessons on common idioms.

3. EnglishCafe. There are good reasons why I often collaborate with this site. I truly like the spirit of community and the willingness of all the teachers to support one another. Also, I have observed and participated in the site’s growth over the past couple of years. More and more talented teachers are joining, and that means more free resources are being developed for ESL/ EFL learners. Check out the blog posts and lessons published by Paul Meier, for example. When students ask if I have materials on a certain pronunciation topic and I don’t, I often look to see if Paul does. Then I recommend it. I do the same with the materials created by Kenneth Beare regarding grammar. When I receive requests for online lessons and I’m not available, I often steer students in the direction of fellow TESOL member, Smiling7 (aka Holly). In short, EnglishCafe is a growing community, and in 2011 I expect to see dozens of contributions to the already sizable collection of blog posts and interactive lessons created by qualified teachers around the world.

4. English with Jennifer. You didn’t think I’d miss the chance to put my own website on this list, did you? Of course, I’m excited about how it will develop in 2011! The site was launched in Februrary of this year, and over the past several months I’ve been able to consolidate my online work and make it easier for users to find resources they need. The site features projects I’ve created in response to popular demands for help with writing (Improve Your Writing), vocabulary (Word of the Day and Everday Vocabulary), listening and speaking skills (The Jim & Jen Show), and self-study (Study Tips). I hope to continue working on all these projects as time allows, and I suspect that new ideas will come about in response to other requests for online resources.

First and Last: A speaking activity

December 20, 2010

About a year ago, I posted a speaking activity called “Firsts” for upper level students. Allow me to offer another activity that could be used with both upper and lower level students. I call it “First and Last”. I find it timely for such activities as 2010 is drawing to a close, and we’ll soon be welcoming the first day of 2011.

Click here for printable First and Last_handout.

[Version A. For basic levels]

Directions for the teacher:

Step 1 – Use the activity to practice question and answer formation using the simple past. Write the following verb phrases on the board. You may add other phrases if you wish to target other irregular verbs. Be sure all words are understood.

bake a cake                                                                        ride a motorcycle

dance a slow dance                                                      see a shark

drink a cocktail                                                              speak to a large group

go hiking                                                                             spend a lot of money

make a big mistake                                                      watch a scary movie

meet someone from another country         write a letter in English


Step 2 – Under the verb phrases write these prompts:

Question 1: When was the first time you ______________?

Question 2: When was the last time you ______________?


Answer 1: The first/ last time I ______________ was ______________. [At what age? What year? How many years ago?]

Answer 2: I never ______________.


Step 3 – Moving clockwise around the room, one student will ask another classmate about a first or last experience. If student A asks about a first time, then student B must ask student C about a last time. New verbs can be used in each exchange. If a student is able to recall the first or last time of a certain experience, the questioner must add one more question to learn one more detail.


Student A: When was the first time you watched a scary movie?

Student B: The first time I watched a scary movie was maybe in the seventh grade.

Student A: What film did you watch?

Student B: Aliens.

Student B: When was the last time you baked a cake?

Student C: I never baked a cake.


 [Version B. For intermediate and advanced levels]

Follow the same steps; however, the focus will be on pronunciation. Explain how old versus new information influence both sentence structure and sentence stress. Note how usually old information comes first and new information comes last when giving an answer. New information receives greater stress.

Before students begin the Q&A activity, share the model and underline the words that should be stressed.

Student A: When was the first time you watched a scary movie?

Student B: The first time I watched a scary movie was maybe in the seventh grade.

Student A: What film did you watch?

Student B:  I saw Aliens.

Student B: When was the last time you baked a cake?

Student C: I never baked a cake.

 Be sure students are using falling intonation for wh- questions and rising intonation for yes-no questions.



Celebrating New Year’s Eve: A whole language activity

December 16, 2010

Are you planning ahead for your last lesson of the month? Perhaps you’d like to use an activity with a New Year’s Eve theme. Here’s one for adult learners at the lower levels.  Enjoy!

Step 1 – Present the following vocabulary:

at midnight                         champagne                        make a toast                     

celebrate                             dress up                               New Year’s Eve



 Step 2 – Ask them to complete the short text (Task A) on the New Year’s Eve Activity_handout.

Step 3 – Have students work in pairs to unscramble the survey questions (Task B). Then correct their work as a class. Discuss variations.

Step 4 – Have students work in small groups of 3 or 4 to discuss the questions from Task B.

Step 5 – OPTIONAL: Ask the small groups of students to create 1-2 additional questions about celebrating New Year’s Eve. Write the questions on the board and then ask each student to answer one of the questions (in a complete sentence).

Looking for the Truth About Language Levels

December 10, 2010

As teachers, we recognize a difference between Zero and False Beginners. I wonder if we could have a discussion about students whose different language skills are at both the intermediate and advanced levels. Let me clarify. I’m not referring to high intermediate students, whose language skills are all more or less progressing at the same rate towards advanced proficiency. I’m giving thought to those students who only in some respects can be called advanced because they still have some skills that are clearly below the advanced level. Is there a label for this? “False Advanced” sounds unfair. Perhaps “quasi-advanced”? We might then say, for example, “Anna is quasi-advanced, with her strongest skills being reading, writing, and grammar.” or “John is quasi-advanced, with writing being his main weakness.” What do you think?

I entered this reflection after considering the levels of some students I’ve interacted with both recently and in the past. Some clearly have strong comprehension, but are limited in self-expression. Others feel at ease during conversation, but shy away from reading and writing. Of course, all students have their individual strengths, but in some cases the gap between certain skills is significant. Have you made similar observations?

While thinking about language levels, I also tried to formulate a more concise answer to a question I’m often asked by students. They are typically intermediate language learners and desperately wish to be advanced. “How can I improve my English?” they ask. “How can I become more fluent?” My advice is rather voluminous. Very often I refer students to my collection of Study Tips. More recently, I’ve tried to learn what others feel is key to the success in language learning. In response to my question, people were first indicating that it was one’s ability to set and meet goals. As of today, the poll shows that people believe the true advantage is the chance to immerse onself in a country where the target language is spoken.

Your thoughts?

So They Said: An activity to practice verb + preposition combinations

December 6, 2010

Phrasal verbs alone pose their own challenges. However, another group of verbs that deserves attention in the course of students’ studies is the common combinations of verbs and prepositions. For example, suffer from is not a phrasal verb, but it’s a standard combination. How can students learn such combinations? Multiple encounters certainly help, but active practice clarifies doubts. Here’s a series of short exercises for ten common verb + preposition combinations.

Step 1 –
Remind students that a good number of verbs are followed by specific prepositions. These combinations are not considered phrasal verbs but are simply set structures. Write two columns on the board with verbs on the left and prepositions on the right. Give students 1-2 minutes to recall as many matches as possible. Let them work alone, and then correct their work together as a class. Note: They must use each preposition listed only once. Two verbs can be followed by “about”.

Verbs: beg, confess, dream, insist, laugh, play, succeed, suffer, talk, warn

Prepositions: about, about, against, at, for, from, in, on, to, with

 ANSWERS: beg for, confess to, dream about, insist on, laugh at, play with, succeed in, suffer from, talk about, warn against

Step 2 – Hand out the next matching activity (Verb and prepositions_handout). Students must match the verb + preposition combinations to the speakers. This can be done in pairs or as solo work.

ANSWERS: 1. suffer from  2. dream about  3. talk about  4. confess to  5. laugh at  6. insist on  7. warn against  8.  beg for  9. play with  10. succeed in 

Step 3 –
Have students work in pairs or small groups to create questions and answer them.  One variation is to have groups switch papers and answer one another’s questions.

Looking for more practice? Kenneth Beare of offers two interactive quizzes students can try independently. Click here for Quiz 1 and Quiz 2.


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