Conversational Moves

So many speaking materials focus on micro-language: application of a grammatical form, pronunciation of a syllable, maybe memorization of a useful phrase. But students do not get much scaffolding for a macro-approach that integrates larger elements of language such as longer turns, or whole sections of a conversation with a particular purpose or theme. Richard Swales talked about analyzing written work in terms of rhetorical moves, or places where we start new sections with a new objective. We can apply the same analysis to conversations, showing students different ways we perform conversational moves such as, starting a conversation, engaging in […]

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Using Video to Teach Natural Conversation

Video is a powerful resource to teach natural conversation to students. Students can benefit from listening to conversations between fluent speakers. In particular, natural, fluent speech provides models of pronunciation and intonation, and how we use our voices to express emotion and emphasize important words. Rhetorical markers such as “uh” can be pronounced a variety of ways depending on whether we are pausing to think, indicating we disagree, interrupting someone else, or showing disapproval. So audio can do a lot of things a written script can’t. Nonverbal Communication in Natural Conversation However, videos of conversations provide all the benefits […]

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Theater as the Ideal Group Project

Thunder claps, lightning strikes, and rain begins to fall as Jane and Margaret approach the bus stop. They are two students: one a model child with good grades, the other a bit of a misfit who doesn’t clean her room or get her homework done on time. But as an ordinary autumn rain turns into a natural disaster, the issue what kind of people we’ll really need in the future is called into question in a new way. This is the setting for Rising Water, a play written by Alice Savage for the ESOL classroom that uses the story […]

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Scripted Dramas to Teach Pragmatics

I’m excited to be exhibiting and presenting at the WATESOL Fall 2018 Conference in DC in a few days. I’ll be featuring some of our books about drama including Fortune and the Integrated Skills Through Drama series. I’ll be putting the whole presentation up along with handouts at some point but I’m proud of this activity idea from the Fortune series. When I talk about using a dramatic videos to teach pragmatics, I hear the same question from teachers a lot. Aren’t scripted dramas too artificial to teach authentic communication skills? After all, studying pragmatics is supposed to help students learn […]

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Jimmy Fortune, private investigator, from the Fortune series, a scripted drama that teaches communication skills.

Fortune: an Innovative Video Series for Language Learning

As you may have gathered from our site, Facebook page, or Twitter, we have a new project out: The Fortune Series, a coursebook with a focus on pragmatics and speaking built around an original 6-episode video series for language learning. The drama, which resembles NCIS or Law and Order or any of those popular TV dramas, students are already watching, was created by the award-winning production team, Chasing Time. Some highlights of this original and innovation video series for language learning include: Material targeted at two levels: Fortune Blue for High Elementary/Pre-Intermediate learners (CEFR level A2) and Fortune Gold […]

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Students Disagreeing

Let’s agree to disagree: a lesson in pragmatics

Another great post from Alice on using theater to teach pragmatics, in this case the pragmatics of disagreement. In this day and age especially, it can be useful to teach our students how to express disagreement, and to go beyond useful words and phrases, to the construction of logical arguments. Last spring, Maissa and Bushra were discussing fall courses, and Bushra casually mentioned that she was not planning to take grammar. “It’s all online.” She said, “I don’t need it.” Bushra has a point. Youtube has made it possible for anyone with a cell phone to post a grammar […]

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Reader's Theater

How to Do Reader’s Theater

What is Reader’s Theater? In its simplest form, Reader’s Theater is an activity where students read a play aloud with the scripts in hand. They often do so without having memorized the script. They may not have props, act out the action of the play, or even move. There doesn’t need to be an audience besides the readers themselves. Reader’s Theater can be used with scripts or stories or even poems. Sometimes the teacher or students rewrite stories in play form for the purpose of doing Reader’s Theater. This can be a great way to get students writing creatively. […]

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Teaching students to be honest: the pragmatics of brutal honesty

We’re not making this up. It’s National Honesty Day and we have some ideas for activities for teaching students to be honest. What is National Honesty Day? The concept for the day was simple, ask direct questions without ulterior motives, and expect answers of occasionally brutal honesty. While these situations create difficult relations between people sometimes, it’s the first step on the road to utterly healing wounds and creating clear communication that allows proper understanding.Embed from Getty Images: Jessica Williams from the movie The Incredible Jessica James which features a scene where two people on a blind date decide to […]

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10 Ways to Teach English with Plays

Why teach English with plays? Plays are a natural resource for the English language classroom. They offer opportunities visit and revisit language in action, particularly if the play was written in natural dialogue. Furthermore, when students read an informational text, or even a short story, they aren’t always thinking about communication beyond the words. However plays are written to be spoken. That means playwrights must consider how their lines will sound out loud. That’s why plays reveal insights into the way speakers use fixed expressions, intonation, and gesture to convey feelings or wants, and to navigate relationships.  And they […]

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Two students acting out a role play. A tall student has his hand on the shoulder of a girl. He is reassuring her, but she looks skeptical.

Why Do Drama in the Classroom?

Speaking lessons are my favorite lessons to teach. I love writing a really interesting role play and having students go at it. At their best, students get so absorbed in the role and the situation that they start speaking fluently. They don’t overthink their grammar or stress about their mistakes. And they are so motivated to get an idea across, they start talking over vocabulary gaps, using so much language. Then afterwards, they are so hungry to learn the real words! So drama in the classroom can be fun and motivating for students. And it teaches them fluency. But […]

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