Technology in the ESL Classroom

I’ve just gotten back from the TESOL Convention and I learned quite a bit and met quite a few interesting people. One topic that kept coming up again and again was the question of technology in the ESL Classroom. Every year, it seems like there’s a new app or website for teaching English. And there’s always a new online tutoring company-the newest one this year had some kind of rabbit mascot that I only saw when they were filming promotional videos. In fact, with TESOL down and IATEFL still to go, there’s been quite a bit of chatter about […]

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Adrift a video drama series for English Language Learners from Alphabet Publishing and Chasing Time English

Are You Teaching the Hidden Grammar of Conversation?

We’re excited to a brand-new series, Adrift, a four-episode video drama and accompanying coursebook for learners created by Chasing Time English for C1+/advanced language learners. The videos (available for free on the Chasing Time English site) provide engaging input for natural language as well as demonstrating how body language, gesture, facial expression, and voice are used to communicate non-verbally. And the story line will get students talking as if it were their new favorite TV show: A man wakes up in a mysterious room. An unknown agent interrogates him about his last job, a job that went wrong, unbeknownst […]

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How to Put on a Play in Class

The benefits of drama in the English classroom are surprising. Students learn and practice a variety of acting skills, using their bodies and voices to make meaning. When they put on a play, what to say is given to them so they can focus on how to say it. Speaking with emotion and attitude are skills we don’t always find in our coursebooks. And when students act a role, it’s a sort of safe space where they can make mistakes. Plays are also usually written in natural language so they are a wealth of idioms and conversational expressions. They are […]

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Prewriting Activities for Young Learners and Lower Level Students

Prewriting is really just a fancy way of saying planning to write. For many writers, it includes brainstorming and outlining. But prewriting activities for young learners, or students with lower proficiency in English, need to be designed carefully. Even something as simple as brainstorming may be hard because they don’t have a lot of vocabulary around a topic. And outlining can be equally intimidating. Now graphic organizers can be helpful, but how do you explain a graphic organizer to a student with low levels of English? That’s one reason I really like Teresa X. Nguyen‘s books of illustrated creative […]

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What Do They Know About You?

Why do I recommend a Get-to-Know-the-Teacher activity on the first day of class? I remember the first time I was grilled by a new class. I was teaching middle-schoolers in a public school in Kazakhstan and many of them had never seen an American before. I started the class off with a little orientation speech about class expectations and so on. A hand went up. I called on the student who asked, “What’s your favorite NBA team?” I said I wasn’t a big basketball fan, and the class exploded. “I thought you were American. All Americans love basketball.” “We watch […]

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What Are Your Students Worth?

Have you ever thought about what your students are worth? What would you pay them for the work they do on a project? It’s a sort of backwards question, as generally students pay us to learn. I’m asking this question because of a group work evaluation method I learned from Patrice Palmer in her wonderful book, Successful Group Work. Instead of asking students what grade they think they deserve (or how they’d grade their teammates in a group project), ask them: How much would you pay yourself for the work you did? or if you want them to evaluate each other, you […]

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Genre Switching for Better Writing

I belong to a Facebook group for self-published fiction authors many of whom routinely make thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month. The key to their success? Pick a genre that readers like, read as many examples of it as you can, and then write to that genre. While some might dismiss this approach as putting formula over art, their ability to sell does highlight the importance of genre to readers. When we read a detective novel, we expect certain things to happen. In a horror novel, there are certain things characters will never do or say. […]

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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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An Interactive Way to Review the Syllabus

On the first day of class, we often need to review the syllabus. Students do need to know the rules, how their grades will be calculated, and the outline of the course. But if you lecture at them, they tend to get bored, get distracted, and forget. If you pep up your syllabus review with jokes and personal stories, they remember those stories forever. Not so much the important stuff. I don’t think anything engages the brain and helps students memorize more than making them do the work, and making it fun. That’s why I’m a big proponent of […]

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