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Blank looks on our student’s faces require action.

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It’s not “very” happy… it’s jubilant!

When learning a new language, writing is an essential part of how we express ourselves. We must acknowledge that the English language has a rich vocabulary and we should tempt our students to expand their lexical resources. By challenging them in class, we are hopefully making them become curious outside of class.  In this case, this particular movie did just that. John Keating, played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, has a scene where he goes on and on about the importance of a language which, from what he stated in the movie, was made to “woo women”. So for whatever reason we use it for, let’s not let our students be lazy. Here’s a way to challenge those high intermediate, advanced and exam preparation students.

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What are quiet ESL students not telling you?

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I think we have all struggled with students that give us the look or often get distracted in class. Now, we as teachers know the real reason behind it. They are simply not understanding. There are many explanations behind WHY they are not understanding. Sometimes it’s their own fear of the language, of not understanding fast enough or failing. But on the other hand, there are also times it’s us. We’re speaking too fast, or not explaining clearly, or giving the class at the pace of those who participate the most and moving forward, not noticing the quiet ones in the back. I think as teachers we should constantly look for ways of finding out these reasons and doing something about it.

Here are some things I do when I start noticing quiet ones in my group:

  • I have one-on-one feedback sessions. This way they are not being compared to the rest and feel more at ease to tell me how they feel their process is going. I know sometimes we have very large groups, but if you do the one-on-one sessions with 5 students every class until you finish the whole group, even if it takes you a month, you will see the reward in your student’s confidence-boost.
  • I always try to have some kind of prepped feedback process. Some teachers like keeping a progress journal, others have worksheets. Depending on the age and learning purpose of your students the HOW can vary, but at the end of the day the important thing is to have a structure. Those quiet students will most likely stare back at you, even in this circumstance, if only asked “How are things going?”.
  • Once I identify the WHY, I start to prepare my classes with this in mind. I know if you have 30 students and each one has a different “why” this can be overwhelming, or even impossible. But, it’s actually not. What I do is that I organize my students by needs (once I’ve done the individual feedback); I will usually get about 3, tops 5 groups. So, now those 30 individual “whys” have turned into 3 or 4 manageable groups that I can prepare my weekly classes for. Once they are in groups I can:
    • Make mixed-needs groups to assure they all have a role that can help them learn in their own way.
    • Recycle certain language or activities in a way I know each group of students is able to really understand and engage.
    • Give projects or role-based assignments, where I can use each student’s strengths to help their peers and raise confidence.

As I said, we are all aware that many students struggle in our classes and depending on the reason they are learning English, it can be quite stressful for them not to see immediate progress. Learning English, and any other language, does have a lot to do with confidence and self-esteem. There are many signs that can help us identify just what’s going on. If you want to know more take a look at this great article I found on Busyteacher.com.

7 Things Your Quiet ESL Students Are Not Telling You.

Until next time.

Some extra links for additional research on giving feedback and keep track of your student’s progress:

Portfolio assessment 

Teaching English Through Daily Journal Writing

Providing Meaningful Feedback

Monitoring and Guiding Student Process

5 ideas for no more song fill-in-the-blanks. Part 2.

In a previous post I explored a different way to use music in the classroom. To check it out, click here. Here’s a look at some more ideas to use songs and music in class with your students that let us step away from the traditional fill-in-the-blank activity. Here they are:

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Soundtrack

Have students choose from 3-5 songs that they consider represent milestones or are important moments in their lives. The idea is to make a soundtrack for their lives, where they can not only investigate their songs, but also explain to the rest of the class why each song is important to them. I’ve found it helpful to make a step-by-step worksheet that will allow them to understand the project and complete it keeping in mind the language targets that I want to involve in it.

Round the world lyrics

For homework tell each student to bring a song they like, along with the lyrics. In class they should choose a line from the song and every student then goes up to the board and writes their line. If you have a small group (like I usually do) you can have them each bring in a few songs, or have them write two or three lines from their song. Then have the rest of the group guess the song by reading each line. Once the activity is done you can create a playlist and use these songs for your future activities.

Scratch that

Dictate 10 to 15 words from a song, then tell every student to choose 5 words. Once they have done this, play the song and have students scratch out the words from their list as they hear them. The first student to finish is the winner. This is a great warm-up activity before using a song in class. For even better use of the activity, make sure some of the words are related to the particular language target of the class.

Identify errors

Print out a version of the lyrics with some mistakes that are related to the language target. Have students identify the mistakes and write the correct phrase or word. When making the worksheet, make sure to leave spaces between each line so the students can write the corrections underneath the line.

Youtube videos

There are youtube videos that already have parts of songs with the grammar you need in class. These are great to either practice or introduce a topic. A good example is this one on gerund or infinitive I used recently in class.

There are many more ideas that I’ve used in class and will be posting later on. Stay tuned!

Helping students become independent learners in today’s English mania world

tedMovieLearning English has become the world’s new mania with about 2 billion people around the world trying to learn this universal language, says Jay Walker in this TED talk. There are many manias, and this one in particular cannot necessarily be categorized as something good or bad. The reasons for learning English are so many nowadays that it ultimately becomes a necessity that people and governments try to find a “solution” for. Some governments do standardized testing, others like in Colombia, demonstrate the use of English either through courses or tests which are requisites for graduating from higher education programs. The standards will continuously increase to the point countries can assure that their citizens are competitive in today’s world. This does not mean that the other languages are being lost, simply that we have a lingua franca that allows us to “solve problems”, as Walker puts it. It is truly a universal language that lets us communicate and that indeed is what we as teachers should be focused on in our classes.

The world has other universal languages. Mathematics is the language of science. Music is the language of emotions. And now English is becoming the language of problem-solving.” – Jay Walker 

As teachers there are many strategies that we can apply to facilitate learning a second or foreign language, but from my experience turning your students into independent learners is the best tool and strategy you can give them. This will make learning the language their responsibility, not ours; we are meant to be facilitators and the more we let our students take an active role in their learning process, the more they will go on to learn the language independent if we are or aren’t there as their teachers to guide them.

How to make our students independent learners?

These are some strategies that have worked for me in the classroom to make my students take responsibility for their learning process. I hope they work for you.

1. Students should always use a dictionary.  They should have an English-English dictionary (dictionary.com) or Thesaurus (thesaurus.com) be it physical or as an app (it makes things so much easier). In class when vocabulary is requested have them refer to their dictionary. If they have a lower level and you find definitions are not for them, I’ve found that Google Images makes a great dictionary!

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2. Have students read out loud. When you do a writing exercise have students read their exercised out loud, so they can identify some mistakes on their own. Once they are done, whatever wasn’t identified by them is most likely an error not a mistake. (What’s the difference between an error and a mistake?). Have them keep a record of their errors so they can gradually become aware of them and correct them on their own.

3. Know when to correct. Correcting at precisely the right moment can make a difference. When is the right moment?

4. Make reflective questions. When teaching a specific goal, make sure that the linguistic and communicative objective is clear and that at the end of the lesson you question your students; this will let your students self-evaluate their learning process. Always give feedback that will reinforce or guide their self-assessment, but make it specific!

5. Create meaningful assessment instead of continuous testing. Keep track of your student’s progress and long term development through a variety of tasks that allow the use of the language. “Place as much value on process and progress as in the final product”- Edna Sackson

6. Make connections. Always make a rational connection with the knowledge they already have, their experience in the outside world and the language you’re teaching them.

7. Everyday English homework. Try to get your students in contact with real English as much as possible and to fulfill tasks that are everyday activities for them and will be meaningful to them.

There are many other strategies, but these are the ones I use the most. You can take a look at the following articles so you can find out more strategies to help you make your students independent learners. Trust me they’ll thank you later!

Some interesting articles 

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning

Independent Learning in the Classroom

Helping Learning Become Independent Learners

Tips to Help Students Become Independent Learners

Jay Walker Jay Walker: The world’s English mania #TED : http://on.ted.com/f0pWR