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Compelling Conversations for English Teachers, Tutors, and Advanced English Language Learners

  1. Memrise: online learning tool fuses memory, fun and community

    October 1, 2014 by Eric

    Through “mems,” students retain English vocabulary


    Photo source: Memrise website

    “We’ve built Memrise to embody the very best knowledge about how your brain works, and so help you learn as quickly and effortlessly as possible. We’ve turned learning facts and language into a game where you grow a colourful garden of memory.”

    -Memrise About Us

    Learning online and through mobile apps transforms the way in which we learn languages. Free resources spring up around us, full of new technologies and innovations. Among these online learning tools, Memrise presents itself as a fantastic, scientifically-backed option for language learning students.


    After choosing from hundreds of English courses across various languages, students begin to “plant” the seeds. Each lesson acts as a game, first presenting the vocabulary and later testing the student’s knowledge of the new words. The use of “mems,” or Memrise’s term for “morsels of interesting and relevant information” helps the student to recall learned information. Students can pick their from previous users’ mnemonics, pictures, videos and example sentences, or they can design their own “mem.”

    Following the gardening metaphor, Memrise reminds students every now and then to “water” their memories by reviewing each lesson. By retaining previous performance, Memrise calculates how often to send these reminders and and keeps track of how “planted” a certain item is. Unlike most other learning tools, Memrise claims to tackle both short and long term memory.


    The level of participation in Memrise’s active community remains the member’s choice. It may be desirable to join in to discuss courses, share mems and answer questions. However, students can also progress through the lessons without tapping into the forums.


    As with most online and mobile language learning platforms, a certain critical component remains neglected. Memrise can enrich reading, writing and even listening skills. As always, students must turn to real-life conversations to improve their speaking abilities.


    However, as a memory-based, free and attractive online learning tool, Memrise remains a worthy website for English language learners. It seems particularly apt for those students who struggle with memorizing new vocabulary words, make use of mnemonics and learn visually, Memrise can help grow a beautiful garden of language.

    How do your students “mem”-orize new vocabulary?

    To read more about Memrise, visit their website here, or read their Wikipedia article.

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  2. Conversation Tip #2: Listen louder!

    September 27, 2014 by Eric

    Jessica Lu, a first-year student at the University of Chicago, interned for Chimayo Press and the Compelling Conversations blog through the summer of 2014. Over the months, she has perused ESL textbooks, analyzed newspaper articles and tested out mobile apps, seeking out ways to inspire discussion. Each week the Compelling Conversations blog will publish one of her top 10 tips to create compelling conversations outside of the English classroom.

    Without listening, there’s no conversation

    conversation tip

    Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

    “There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.”

    -Simon Sinek (1973- ) English businessman, author and philanthropist

    Do your students pay attention to what others are saying in a conversation? About half the conversation should be spent listening to what the other person has to say; after all, the students aren’t giving a presentation! As mentioned in the first conversation tip, people have compelling and unique things to bring to the table–so it’s important to listen to what they have to say!

    Giving the person undivided attention demonstrates respect–and good manners. Interrupting or disregarding the other side is detrimental to good conversation. For everyone to leave feeling good about the interaction, consideration and civility must be part of the equation.

    Perhaps most importantly, students should listen louder. What does this mean? Listen for tone, voice inflections and other meaning conveyed without words. American writer Ernest Hemingway famously stated, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” Students, too, can take away significant information if they listen louder.

    How do you encourage your students to listen? What can you learn when you’re not speaking?

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    Photo Source: “Mother and daughter talking” by Linda Bartlett (Photographer) – This image was released by the National Cancer Institute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health, with the ID 2082 (image) (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.English | Français | +/−. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –


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  3. It’s a Breeze in Easy English Times

    September 24, 2014 by Eric

    Idiom lessons by IAB in EET

    piceasy english times

    “These lessons will help you use more colorful English in your life. Idiom by idiom, you will find speaking English less difficult and more fun. You might even find speaking English ‘a breeze.’”

    -It’s a Breeze book description

    Idioms certainly have acquired a notorious reputation among English language learners. Even for native speakers, few English expressions seem logical. It’s a Breeze by Toni Aberson seeks to make learning idioms easier and more fun. Recently, we’re pleased that the Easy English Times has featured the book’s lessons in its issues and will continue to do so for the time being.

    Easy English Times remains a valuable resource to have in the classroom for beginning and intermediate language learners. Editor Lorraine Ruston and Publisher Betty Malmgren compile newsworthy articles, stories and activities focusing on ESL, adult literacy and citizenship. Naturally, I’m pleased Compelling Conversations grabs a spot in every issue and on the website! If you haven’t subscribed yet, I recommend emailing to request a free sample copy.

    How do you teach idioms in your classroom? Do you encourage your students to read the news?

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  4. Q&A with Dennis Hackin, Hollywood writer about Android Roy

    September 23, 2014 by Eric

    Hollywood writer Dennis Hackin and three-time Chimayo Press author, has always possessed a passion for writing, prolifically producing plays, movies, novels, and poems since the age of eight. Hackin’s Bronco Billy was adapted into a movie starring and directed by Clint Eastwood in 1980. His latest novel Android Roy is Chimayo Press’ first science fiction title.

    android roy dennis hackin

    1. Where did the inspiration for Android Roy originate from?

    [I began to wonder] what is consciousness? What is all this? Why do I think? And then you look at computers and computers think–are we programming the computers or are they programming us? I like reading theology, and well, God created man, so I thought, what if God created Androids? I liked that concept… [that] maybe the Androids created man. Once day I was on a walk and I was thinking about Android. And then the name Roy. Android Roy. Android Roy, the Paranoid Android, it was like a poem almost.

    2. Why did you decide to write a science fiction novel?

    I’ve been writing science fiction for a long time. My dad was a reader and really instilled in us to read, and I always liked science fiction; I was drawn to it, be it movie or books. Living in a scientific world draws you into science. I don’t know a lot about science, but I like knowing about scientists. Scientists are interesting; they’re explorers. And writers are like detectives exploring new environments, new mysteries.

    3. Describe the driving force behind the story’s plot.

    It’s like a quest; there’s a journey. The idea was Dr. Paradox, who I love, who Android Roy thinks is his creator, is putting him out there in society. The real question is, if God created Androids, is Android Roy really the one seeing how society reacts to Androids? [Android Roy] doesn’t understand why he’s here because God just doesn’t tell you that.

    4. Is Vanilla Swan based off a real-life influence?

    The real Vanilla Swan is a scientist, a writer of fiction and collects praying mantises. She is the smartest person I know.

    5. Who does the Paranoid Android represent?

    The Paranoid Android represents humankind. Weapons are a human creation. I think in the beginning the arrow was meant to be for a hunter, to sustain the tribe. Then you had people thinking ‘Well wait a minute, I can sell arrows to the hunters, but there are people that are very aggressive. I can sell arrows to the conquerors’. I think that the Paranoid Android represents technology out of control.

    6. What was one of your favorite scenes or chapters? How did it relate to the book as a whole?

    I love the horseshoe competition, because I never saw that as a competitive sport. I like the human nature of what that was. Going up this pyramid, or the yellow brick world, there are portals that Android Roy enters. [The humans] think he’s becoming wiser to humanity, but God sees that he’s becoming wiser to God. God’s all alone. God wants Android Roy to really get closer to him.

    7. What is the idea behind the Walled City?

    The Walled City–like [ancient] China, where those that rule get the spoils. The idea is that Many are Called, Few are Chosen. Those that are Chosen get to choose their lifestyle, and it’s not concrete. Kind of gloomy, pre-Soviet era, kind of bleak. The people that are living in oppressive societies can rebel against oppression if they’re willing to give up the comforts of their kiosks. You see the fanatics willing to give up their lives. Where are the warriors of peace? Are they willing to give up their comfort? If not, the fanatics are going to take over.

    8. What does the White Plague symbolize?

    The White Plague represents man’s inhumanity. when gluttony takes over, when you are craving materialism, when you get off your moral compass–you create disease.

    9. Throughout the novel, you emphasize the meaning of love and an Android’s ability to love. Can you elaborate why you chose to incorporate these themes?

    Love is everything. Love is the great elixir of a writer. Without love, where is life? I love love. It takes two to have love, so when that happens, it’s a beautiful dance. But it’s not permanent. What’s permanent is the memory of love. How Android Roy love isn’t always human love. His love his dependent on the purity of what he believes love is: trust, truth, justice.

    10. God appears in the novel as an idea and creator. What is your perception of God?

    God is friend, God is father and mother, God is a magician and trickster, I’ve been angry at God, but I think that God can handle all the anger in the world, but God is not perfect. God reflects us. I’m God, you’re God. We’re all God.

    11. How do you feel about the prevalence of technology in today’s society?

    Elon Musk’s greatest fear is artificial intelligence over nuclear weapons. Real thinkers come at all different ages, like child prodigies. In the wrong hands, technology could attack human beings.

    12. How do you hope your audience will react?

    I have to leave that up to the reader. I can’t answer that question. I would hope that they got a laugh, got a tear, got a smile–they wouldn’t be fearful; they would be hopeful. When I read a book and the author taps into to best of who I am, I think. I’m hoping that it soothes them and makes them feel good. If they feel good, they’re having a better day, and I’ve helped humanity. It’s a chain reaction.

    13. What does the future of Android Roy look like?

    There will be more Android Roy books. I know I want to take Android Roy on his adventure to Freedomland. Freedomland is not quite as free as he thinks. Android Roy is also being sent out in regards to possibly being made as a movie or a CD-ROM game, or a graphic novel.

    To purchase Android Roy, click here.

    Jessica Lu, Chimayo Press summer intern, conducted this interview with Hackin to give readers a glimpse into the inner workings of the book. A fan of the book herself, she hopes this Q&A will illuminate the deeper aspects of the book for readers.


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  5. Conversation Tip #1: The right attitude is key

    September 20, 2014 by Eric

    Jessica Lu, a first-year student at the University of Chicago, interned for Chimayo Press and the Compelling Conversations blog through the summer of 2014. Over the months, she has perused ESL textbooks, analyzed newspaper articles and tested out mobile apps, seeking out ways to inspire discussion. Each week the Compelling Conversations blog will publish one of her top 10 tips to create compelling conversations outside of the English classroom.

    Positive attitudes generate positive experiences

    conversation tips

    Photo by Teresa Ling

    “In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision.”

    -Tenzin Gyatso (1935- ) the 14th Dalai Lama

    So often our desire to have meaningful conversations overshadows the reason why we want to have them in the first place: to learn from others. Every time we interact with family, friends, acquaintances and strangers, we develop new growth and understanding. Therefore, it remains important to keep this in mind when we strike up a conversation.

    How do we help students keep a favorable attitude? Most importantly, emphasize the importance of keeping an open mind. Doing so ensures things start off on the right foot. Remind your students that even if they find themselves disagreeing with the person, they can sustain a tolerant mindset. Their conversation partner has a whole world of experiences to share–and so do they!

    How do you encourage your students to view their conversations with a positive attitude? What can be learned from conversations?

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  6. Perfection and grammar: not essential for ESL students, or even native speakers

    September 17, 2014 by Eric

    Certain grammar rules unnecessary for comprehension, everyday conversation


    Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

    “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

    -Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) Spanish surrealist painter

    Is it always essential to have perfect grammar? Must we always avoid split infinitives, dangling modifiers and grocery shopping lines labeled “Ten Items or Less,” since the sign should read “Ten Items or Fewer?”

    Leading linguist and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker doesn’t think so. In this Guardian article, he spotlights 10 grammar rules that are okay to break some of the time. His reasoning varies by example, but mostly regards contemporary acceptance, informal vs. formal settings and the historical use of the word. These rules have foiled great writers, national ad campaigns and grammar purists themselves–but whether or not they are actually broken falls under another story. While Pinker does praise writing with classical grammar, he emphasizes the fact that sometimes some grammar rules are taken too seriously, and unreasonably so.

    Pinker’s points reiterate the importance of clarity and communication above all else. Though English language learners should learn certain grammar rules, they must know that perfection is not the ultimate goal. Clearness is far more important. For instance, teachers waste time stressing that sentences can’t end with prepositions–one of the misconceptions Pinker debunks-instead of focusing on content and real-world situations. In the real world, people say sentences like “Who are you writing to?” instead of “To whom are you writing?” And (notice this sentence starts with a conjunction) English learners need to know when they’re not making real mistakes and that, instead, they’re violating an outdated, unused rule.

    What other grammar rules have become obsolete? Which rules do you stress in your classrooms?

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    Photo source: Sentencediagram


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