Compelling Conversations for English Teachers, Tutors, and Advanced English Language Learners
August 15, 2013 by Eric
What three tips would offer new a ESL/EFL teacher?
Hall Houston, author of Provoking Thought: Memory and Thought in ELT, posed this question to several prominent English language trainers and teachers last year. Sean Banville, Russell Stannard, Chia Suan Chong, Nik Peachey, Scott Thornbury, and myself replied. (Naturally, I feel grateful to be included with these far more notable and accomplished ELT educators.) Houston placed these practical, sometimes surprising, and often illuminating responses together in the back of his latest educational book The ELT Daily Journal: Learning to Teach ESL/EFL.
Here are my three tips for novice English teachers working with English language learners.
1. Create Classroom Rituals – Beginnings and endings matter. Establishing clear classroom expectations and class rituals increase student comfort, establish a professional atmosphere, and improve student learning. One of my favorite classroom rituals is asking a personal question on the daily attendance sheet that re-enforces the day’s lesson, checks off a bureaucratic necessity, allows individual student expression, and builds group cohesion and student curiosity. Adding a relevant pithy quotation at the bottom adds another layer of engagement.
2. Encourage “Good Mistakes” – Since mistakes are both inevitable and part of the learning process, encourage students to take chances, stretch their English muscles, and make “good mistakes” in a safe, tolerant space. Good mistakes are common mistakes that we can learn from so we can go on to make new, different, and better “good mistakes”. Sometimes students allow the demon of perfectionism to paralyze them, and framing errors as “good mistakes” can reduce the fear and stigma around making errors so students can learn more by doing more.
3. Deploy YouTube (or other video channels) – The easy access to thousands of authentic materials on YouTube and other online channels makes teaching English easier and more satisfying than ever. Instead of just playing a single video clip in class, you can have high intermediate and advanced students find their own videos for homework and summarize them for classmates. “Search and share” homework assignments encourage student curiosity, develop critical thinking skills, and require students to speak as they describe and evaluate videos for classmates.
(You can find several such worksheets that I’ve created here.)
The ELT Daily Journal provides over a dozen similar sets of responses in the appendix. Designed for new teachers, the simple format poses a question or provides a suggestion to stimulate writing about classroom experiences. Although I’ve taught for over two decades and seldom kept a formal teaching journal, I found it a quick, satisfying read that evoked some positive and a few awkward classroom experiences. Consequently, this book serves as a quick primer on best ESL/EFL teaching practices and core ELT principles.
This thin, practical book has been added to my ESL/EFL library and professional development workshops. I look forward to sharing the book, especially with novice English teachers. I certainly wish I had read and used this journal when I taught my first English class so many moons ago. You might find it useful too.
We all have classroom experiences as students or teachers. What advice would you offer to new ESL/EFL teachers? Why?
Ask More. Know more. Share more. Speak more.
Create Compelling Conversations.
Category: adult education, adult ESL, book reviews, educational philosophy, ELL, ELT - English Language Training, English, English langugage learners, English Teachers, ESL, ESL English as a Second Language, teacher training, teaching tips, TEFLTags: Add new tag, adult ESL, advanced ESL, book review, educational philosophy, EFL English as a Foreign Language, ELT, English teachers, English as a Second Language, English Language Training, English teacher, Eric Roth, ESL, ESL teachers, ESL teaching tips, Hall Houston, teaching English, teaching ESL, Teaching matters
March 1, 2013 by Eric
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), Canadian-American educator
How do you find good jobs in a bad economy? What job search technique is widely taught and practiced at elite private universities, but seldom used at community colleges, adult schools, and high schools? Why do I consider informational interviews an essential skill and outstanding capstone assignment for many English classes?
This Saturday I will again be demonstrating how ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers can add informational interviews to their curriculum and classrooms at the 2013 LA Regional CATESOL Conference. The large conference, hosted by the USC TESOL Society, will be held on the beautiful USC campus where I also teach international students. As regular blog readers know, informational interviews allow adult, high school, and university students to develop their oral skills, expand their vocational vocabulary, and explore a potential career in a real world context. At USC, I require students to sign up for the Trojan Network, an amazing professional network of USC alumni who have offered to speak with USC students about their career paths. Of course, this network gives students far more social capital than most ESOL students. Further, I can videotape the 8-10 minute student presentations that summarize their informational interviews with classmates, and post the videos on a class website. These social and technological aspects make the informational interview assignments popular and practical. Yet even within these outstanding conditions, the informational interview assignment requires English teachers to carefully scaffold the long, multifaceted assignment into smaller parts for maximum effectiveness.
Can ESL teachers – working with fewer social and technological resources – still make informational interviews work for the English language learners in their classes? How? I will share my observations and suggestions, based on teaching inner city high school students, directing an adult education center, and working with community college students in my presentation. I will also ask participants to identify the barriers and brainstorm together on approaches to expand the social network of immigrants and international students in Los Angeles.
If you teach English now or hope to teach English in the future and live in the Los Angeles area, please consider joining us for this large conference on March 2. I will be giving two presentations -Informational Interviews Help ESOL Students Succeed and Connect to Jobs- at 10:00 – and another at 1:00 titled “Flip Your Classroom with Search and Share Fluency Activities.” Both will last 45-minutes and include many reproducible handouts for English teachers. I hope to meet some of you in person. So far, over 350 English teachers and future English teachers have registered and the conference could easily exceed 500 English language professionals if onsite registrations matches expectations.
The all-day professional development teacher’s conference will go from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and offers a wide range of activities, workshops, panel discussions, and large publishers’ exhibit hall in Tudor Campus Center. The four different time slots of concurrent sessions and workshops allow CATESOL members to select from a rich menu of engaging alternatives. The publishers’ exhibit hall in the modern Ronald Tudor Campus Center should also attract a large audience of educators and TESOL students. Finally, the conference includes 12 poster and technology sessions, and 11 interest group/level “rap sessions” for candid discussions of professional issues facing English teachers. Members and non-members are both welcome to attend, and students enjoy a significant discount on the conference cost of $65. For more information, including a 52-page conference program with detailed descriptions of events, go to www.catesol.org/laregional
For readers unable to attend, I will be posting some materials online later. Meanwhile, you can explore this list of resources on informational interviews that can be used to introduce and deploy informational interviews. KQED, the public radio and television station in San Francisco, has produced an outstanding collection of nine workplace videoclips for adult ESL and community college students called Work Voices. The short clips profile immigrant workers in a wide variety of work environments such as hospitals, restaurants, health clinics, salons, and colleges. This accessible series illuminates how informational interviews can be used beyond elite private universities – and how students already know people they can interview.
Both the UCLA Career Center and University of Berkeley promote informational interviews for their students. I’m particularly fond of the concise, snappy summary on Explore Careers page from the UCLA Career Center – even if UCLA and USC remain friendly cross town rivals. You can also use the video Conducting an Informational Interview to establish the fundamentals of conducting an informational interview for adult ESL and community college ESL students. Finally, the aptly titled Five Tips for Non-Awkward Informational Interview addresses some of the hesitations of older students in a casual, friendly style. English teachers have to, in many cases, encourage and cajole slightly timid students beyond their limited experiences to go on informational interviews.
Naturally, many students hope to find job leads from their informational interviews even if the rules of the game prohibit asking for a job. While there’s an argument for assigning the informational interview before job interviews, I recommend using mock job interviews first because students are both more familiar with the task and it requires less independence. (Here’s the chapter of potential job interview questions from Compelling Conversations that I created for community college, adult education, and university students.) Yet pushing students to call strangers, set up an informational interview, and summarize their conversation makes this off-campus assignment both practical and vital. From my perspective, the informational interview remains the almost perfect capstone assignment because it verifies that students are ready to be act independently and develop their workplace skills- in English – and move toward their professional ambitions.
Bottomline: Informational interviews really do help ESL students succeed and connect to jobs.
Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.
Category: adult ESL, Business English, CATESOL, Compelling Conversations, educational philosophy, English langugage learners, English Teachers, ESL, ESL English as a Second Language, informational interviews, teacher training, VESL, workplace communication skills, worksheets and chartsTags: 2013 LA CATESOL, informational interviews, workplace English
December 31, 2012 by Eric
English remains an often confusing and difficult language to learn (and teach!) for many reasons. The common “gap” between how a word is spelled and how it sounds is one challenge. Another source of confusion and many headaches remains the surprisingly large number of homonyms and homophones, different words with the same sound. Just as computer speech software programs like Siri on the iPhone find it difficult to distinguish the number 2 from the preposition “to” from the word “too”, so do many listeners.
A “good mistake” made while recently traveling with friends in Northern California emphasized this obvious point. We were looking for a wine tasting tour in Somoma and Napa Valley, a beautiful area that attracts many tourists. The driver wanted directions to a winery called “Miner Valley” so the passenger and navigator asked Siri for directions. Siri, the amazing iPhone personal assistant, provided detailed driving directions to “Minor Valley” winery nearby. This “good mistake” cost us thirty minutes, but emphasizes the importance of context in understanding everyday conversations. Few native English speakers will misunderstand the noun “miner” , the hard working people who hunt for gold, silver, or coal for a living, with the important adjective “minor” meaning small or unimportant in most situations. Yet town and winery names can be confusing and colorful. Both “miner Valley” and “Minor Valley” are the names of two fine wineries in the area. (Do they whine about each other’s wine? I don’t know, but that pun came to mind.)
Of course, English language learners make these sort of good mistakes all the time. While we might seldom confuse “by” the bank for “buy” the bank, it’s easy to confuse “realize” for “real lies”. Sometimes our students complain, or whine, about our how confusing English is for them to master. And if they “eat” their final syllables like “s” or “r”, even attentive listeners can find themselves confused too. Did the ESL student mean “mine”, “mines”, “mind”, or “miner”? We must, therefore, continue to emphasize the importance of word endings – even in advanced ESL and EFL classes – so listeners can better understand what our students want to say. If the context is unclear or vague, we might not know if the speaker is referring to a miner or minor problem? Many comedians, of course, delight in these situations, but homophones can haunt English students. English teachers and English tutors can turn these common good mistakes into teachable moments and practical lessons in speaking skills. Yet we have to admit English is a crazy language.
If you’re interested in learning more about homophones, you might enjoy reading Wikipedia’s informative article on homophones or reviewing an impressive list of many confusing homophones/homonyms. I enjoyed reading both.
Bottom line: English teachers need to both sympathize with the struggles of English language learners and teach homonyms in our ESL and EFL classes.
Ask More. Know More. Share More.
Create Compelling Conversations.
Category: EFL English as a Foreign Language, English, English as a crazy language, English class, English langugage learners, English Teachers, ESL, ESL English as a Second Language, homophones, linguistics, Speaking Skills, teaching tips, tutoring tips, wordsTags: adult ESL, advanced ESL, EFL English as a Foreign Language, ELL, English teachers, English as a crazy language, English as a Second Language, English class, English Language Learners, English teacher, ESL resources, ESL teachers, ESL teaching tips, homophones, teaching tips, tutoring tips
October 26, 2012 by Eric Roth
Do our students need to swim in English? Or do they need to focus on avoiding minor grammar mistakes? Should we encourage our students to speak as much English as possible? Or should we paralyze our students with exaggerated fears?
Okay, these are rhetorical questions. Yet our ESL students – even advanced ESL students – don’t have to be perfect; they have to be understood. Alas, many – far too many – English classrooms still focus far more on grammar than authentic communication skills. Our students need to speak clear, comprehensible English. Practical knowledge, not abstract theory, should be the focus of our English classes. English remains a tool and just a vital tool for our students to reach their life goals in the United States, Canada, Australia, or the United Kingdom. Here is a short list of important questions for our English language learners.
- Can they order food in a nice restaurant?
- Can students fill in government forms?
- Can they understand classified ads – online or in a paper?
- Can they negotiate prices at a yard sale?
- Do they understand a frontpage newspaper article?
- Are ELLs able to confirm information?
- Can adult students make clear recommendations?
- Can ESL students share personal experiences?
- Do students feel comfortable participating in classroom discussions?
- Can they give a competent classroom presentation to fellow students – or at work?
- Can they effectively interview for an appropriate job?
- Do they feel comfortable at social events with native English speakers?
- Can they, in short, swim in English?
If people want to communicate, meaning matters most. In other words, our students don’t need to speak perfect English with zero grammar errors anywhere outside of some English classrooms. Sometime English teachers, perhaps in a bid to help students ace their TOEFL scores, exaggerate grammar points that have little or no practical importance in daily life. Let’s look at some common language errors that our students make, and move the discussion outside of our ESL classrooms.
- Will the absence of articles (a, an, the) prevent a student from buying something?
- Will a confusion of “much” and “many” prevent someone from receiving assistance?
- How crucial is subject-verb agreement in daily conversations?
Grammar fundamentalists hate hearing the simple truth. These errors of limited significance for most adult English language learners outside the English classroom and white collar professions. Our students need to swim in English more than they need to pass grammar tests.
Further, the focus on accurate grammar and the expectation of “correct” English can cause excessive self-consciousness. In fact, I’ve worked with many English language learners who use severe, often extreme negative language to describe quite competent and sometimes strong presentations in adult education, community college, and university courses. This severe self-criticism places huge barriers on many English language learners. Worse, this perfectionism ironically limits their willingness to engage with the broader English speaking society. That’s why I often tell high intermediate and advanced students, who are often quite ambitious and hard on themselves, to “kill the perfectionist demon”. During the first few weeks of class, I usually emphasize this point with a simple “swim in English” pitch.
“You don’t have to conquer English; you just have to swim in it everyday. Attentively listen to authentic English. Listen to podcasts and the radio. Create small conversations. Just ask a question. Read something in English everyday. Follow your interests in English. Allow yourself to be yourself in English. Jump into the language, and do your best. Start swimming in English. Our class is a safe place to expand your English skills, and learn by doing. I want to see significant, meaningful, and verifiable progress. I’m not interested in perfection. We want significant progress. Let’s get going and make some good mistakes together. Let’s swim in English, and see how far you can swim this semester.”
Our ESL students don’t have to be speak perfect; they have to be understood by listeners. They have to be functional in English. They have to perform particular language tasks. They have to speak English inside and outside the class, and successfully convey their ideas. Most English language learners need practice speaking, and positive social experiences in English. They need more conversation opportunities, and fewer grammar lessons. In short, our English students have to swim in English; they don’t have to swim across the English Channel.
So why don’t we give our students what they need to survive – and often thrive – in more English classes? Let’s help them swim – and speak – in English.
Ask More. Know More. Share More.
Create Compelling Conversations.
Category: adult education, adult ESL, adult literacy, Conversation lessons, EFL English as a Foreign Language, ELL, English class, ESL, natural EnglishTags: adult education, adult ESL, conversation skills, EFL English as a Foreign Language, English teachers, English Language Learners, ESL, ESL teachers, Speaking Skills, teaching English
August 27, 2012 by Eric
Some English students make learning English even more difficult by expecting themselves to speak “perfect”, with “no accent” just like ” a real native English speaker.” May I suggest that this noble goal is both very difficult to achieve – especially for adults – and often even unwise.
First, what is perfect American pronunciation? People across the country – Boston, New York, Minnosota, Atlanta, and California – all have slightly different pronunciation patterns. So which standards are we using? (For a more global perspective, check out the outstanding website Sound Comparisons for English accents around the world.)
Let me emphasize this point for ESL students who remain pronunciation perfectionists. How many Americans living in California today actually fit that stereotype? When I walk down the Santa Monica Promenade or visit Venice Beach, I can hear an astonishing range of accents (and languages). So what’s wrong with having an accent, anyway? Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks with an accent – and he’s been extraordinarily successful as a film star and a popular political leader. (Schwarzenegger served two terms as California’s Governor.)
A better goal is to speak English in a clear, natural way, so that listeners will understand your words and ideas. Remember: speakers of English have many different accents, especially in the United States. Therefore, focus more on clear, natural speech, rather than on achieving some perfect pronunciation. Being understood by your listeners is what matters most. Whether at school or work, people want to hear you and will make a reasonable effort to understand your words and thoughts. You also want your listeners to understand you when you speak English.
So here are a few practical suggestions to improve your English pronunciation:
• Open the mouth a little wider to make vowel sounds.
• Speak more slowly.
• Practice saying the last sounds in words, such as lunch, gives, and locked.
You want to be clear and comprehensible, not perfect in your pronunciation.
Of course, you also want to understand other English speakers too. What can you do if you don’t understand someone’s speech? You can also always ask someone to repeat any word or phrase that you do not understand. Sometimes outside noises make it difficult to hear; sometimes people speak faster than we would like, and sometimes we just get a bit confused. Whatever the reason, it’s important to let a speaker know when you have lost track of their words.
Many native English speakers ask conversation partners to clarify and repeat words or sentence. Don’t be shy. You can ask someone to repeat a phrase whenever they do not understand something. Try using these helpful phrases:
• Would you say that again, please? • Could you repeat that?
• Please speak more slowly. • Pardon me?
• Sorry, I didn’t hear you. • I didn’t catch your meaning.
• Could you repeat that? • I’m lost. What do you mean?
• I’m confused. What did you say? • Could you clarify that?
Almost everyone will politely respond, speak slower, and try to use simpler words so you can more easily follow the conversation. So give yourself permission to speak more English and don’t let perfectionism silence you.
Category: adult ESL, Conversation Tips, ESL, Speaking Skills, workplace communication skillsTags: American English pronunciation tips, American pronunciation, ask clarification questions, ESL speaking skills, perfectionism, sound comparisons, speaking tips
July 18, 2012 by Eric
“America needs new immigrants to love and cherish it.”
- Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), American writer and longshoreman
Compelling American Conversations: Questions and Quotations for intermediate American English language learners explicitly emphasizes American English, speaking skills, and democratic values.
The primary audience remains newcomers to the United States, recent and not-so-recent immigrants, who may be studying at an American high school, adult school, community college, or university. Focused on the aspirations – and needs – of intermediate English language learners, our new book shows a variety of ways to create and sustain authentic conversations with a developing English vocabulary. Compelling American Conversations challenges intermediate English language learners to reflect and speak about their lives and experiences on 15 topics in class and in English. Knowing English should include the ability to speak English.
See sample chapters from Compelling American Conversations here.
Therefore, we deliberately chose to emphasize speaking skills and fluency in Compelling American Conversations. Each chapter includes:
- Two sets of partner interview questions on each topic
- Discussion activities to explore, explain, and clarify
- Search and share online activities where students select materials on specific topics, summarize and evaluate the video/article, and introduce to small groups of classmates.
We also include academic vocabulary and more philosophical questions because American immigrants deserve the same level of sophisticated materials which international English as Foreign Language (EFL) students enjoy in the stronger international high schools.
- Focused vocabulary for both practical and academic purposes
- Paraphrasing American proverbs – and others from around the world
- “Agree/Disagree and explain” reaction exercises to classic and modern quotations often used to prepare for TOEFL and IELTS exam
From our perspective, there is something profoundly disturbing in dumbing down of curriculum materials for English language learners in the United States. Compelling American Conversations seeks to introduce higher expectations for verbal skills and more authentic materials and relevant topics to the intermediate ELL and ESL classrooms. Students should be able to not only listen and understand, but speak and be understood.
Finally, the authors hope American English language learners begin asking more questions in classes, speak more in their workplaces, and create their own compelling American conversations – outside ESL classrooms.
See sample chapters from Compelling American Conversations here.
Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.
Category: adult education, adult ESL, adult literacy, Conversation lessons, EL Civics, ELL, English langugage learners, ESL, ESL worksheetsTags: adult education, adult ESL, Compelling American Conversations, Conversation lessons, conversation skills, EL/Civics, ELL, English as a Second Language, English Language Learners, English teacher, Eric H. Roth, ESL, ESL resources, teaching English