“Education is a kind of continuing dialogue and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.”
~Robert Hutchins(1899-1977), former President of University of Chicago and educational philosopher
Continuing on the theme of creating a better classroom this semester, it is essential to make sure there is an ongoing dialogue between teachers and students. With this in mind, ask yourself: Who gets to speak in class? Whose ideas count? Who chooses the assignments? How do students receive feedback? Do students have a chance to conference with their instructors? Do you want your students to become self-directed – or autotelic – in their studies?
Here’s a quick checklist that ESL teachers that I created for a CATESOL workshop a while back called “Techniques for a More Democratic Classroom”. My core assumption remains that giving students more opportunities to literally speak, write, and share their insights leads to a more engaging, dynamic, and valuable classroom experience. Here are some more questions to consider:
1. What are some of the students’ personal interests?
2. Who do you currently teach? How would you describe the students?
3. How can student interests be better incorporated into the curriculum?
4. Which assignments do students currently choose? Which seems most successful? Why?
5. What are some benefits of greater student participation?
6. What are some risks of greater student participation?
7. Do you want to increase the number of choices students make?
8. What critical language skills can be taught by tapping into their interests?
9. How can you tweak current material to better individualize instruction?
10. What internet resources can you use to augment the current curriculum?
11. Which exercises or activities do you find most successful in your classroom?
12. What decisions do you keep as your prerogative as the instructor?
13. How can you encourage your students to become self-directed learners?
14. What skills do your English students need to realize that goal?
15. What habits do students need to practice in a democratic classroom?
16. What are some obstacles to a more democratic classroom?
17. How does technology encourage a more democratic classroom?
18. How can you create a more democratic classroom?
From my perspective, a more democratic classroom provides immigrants and international students with a chance to demonstrate both linguistic skills and personal freedom. Many immigrants, especially from more closed societies, continue to believe that the only good student is the quiet student who listens, takes notes, memorizes, and repeats back the teacher’s words. Therefore, it behooves ESL teachers working in democratic societies to demonstrate a different definition of a good student where all students share their experiences, contribute their knowledge, and use their expanding English vocabulary to contribute. Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
For more content related to making and breaking habits – and discussing them in the classroom – check out Chapter 3: Making and Breaking Habits from Compelling American Conversations, with expanded materials from the Teacher Edition!
What is the 5W/H filter? Who can use this technique? Where can English students use the 5W/H filter in daily conversations? When can they use this method? Why do many journalists and managers use the 5W/H filter in their work? How can the 5W/H filter keep conversations going?
Some English students will already be familiar with the idea of 5W/H as the general question words: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. This checklist approach encourages speakers to bring these questions directly back into the conversation. Can you guess how it works?
When you are asked a question, practice running the answer through the “5W/H Filter.” Make sure you answer at least two of the question words to provide details. Let’s look at an example of a typical casual conversation.
Nick: What did you do this weekend?
Nobu: I went shopping.
Nick: That’s good.
Nick: See you later.
This short conversation might be pleasant, but it wasn’t too informative. Now let’s run the conversation through the 5W/H filter.
Question: “What did you do this weekend?”
What: Went shopping
Who:With my sister
Where: At the outlet
Why: We were looking for a present for our brother’s birthday.
How: We rode our bicycles.
With the filter in place, Nobu has several places to take the conversation. When Nobu chooses to share at least three of the filtered answers, it’s much more interesting and compelling. Nick may then continue the conversation in several directions. Let’s take a look at how the conversation might go:
Nick: What did you do this weekend?
Nobu: I went shopping at the outlet on Saturday with my sister. We were looking
for a present for our brother’s birthday.
Nick: Oh, really? How old will your brother be?
Nick: How is the outlet? I haven’t been there yet.
Nick: I didn’t know you had a sister! How many people are in your family?
By providing details, Nobu and Nick learn more and share more about their lives and activities. They can also maintain longer, better conversations. If they want, Nobu and Nick can cycle through the 5W/H filter again, and the two can talk for as long as they want! The good friends will learn more about each other and their friendship can
become even stronger.
Interested in learning more? Check out our sample chapter, Exploring Daily Habits from Compelling Conversations – Japan. Want your own copy? Click here for more information!
Photo Source: Photo taken by Nicola Sapiens De Mitri
“In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it.”
-John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) American theoretical physicist
We live in a world full of wonderful resources from books to television to the internet. These resources remain invaluable to encourage our students to immerse themselves in the English language. Think of the conversations that can arise as a result!
Search and Share exercises, otherwise known as Webquests, present themselves as popular tools for many teachers. Compelling Conversations has developed some of their own, which can be found here. These worksheets allow students to record what resources they used and what aspects to look out for. The questions accompanying each activity allow the student to reflect on the “search” aspect, and also serve as perfect conversation starters when students “share” with one another.
Note the variety in the approach of these wonderful exercises. For instance, students may be looking out for body language, comparing with a video in their native language, hidden meaning or parallels to their own lives. They no longer have to dread filling out tedious, repetitive worksheets.
I like to use these worksheets for Tedtalks, New York Times articles and of course, to accompany the chapters of Compelling Conversations. How do you encourage your students to “search and share” information in your English class?
Ask More. Know More. Share More.
Create Compelling Conversations.
Why it is so important for English learners to tackle homophones in the classroom
“For me the greatest beauty always lies in the greatest clarity.”
―Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781), German writer
English remains an often confusing and difficult language to learn (and teach!) for many reasons. For instance, the gap between a word’s spelling and its pronunciation often presents a challenge for English learners. Another source of confusion and many headaches remains the surprisingly large number of homonyms and homophones―different words with the same pronunciation. Just as computer speech software programs like Siri on the iPhone find it difficult to distinguish the number two from the preposition “to” from the word “too”, so do many listeners.
A “good mistake” I made while recently traveling with friends in Northern California emphasized the confusing nature of homonyms. We were looking for a wine tasting tour in Sonoma and Napa Valley, a beautiful area that attracts many tourists. The driver wanted directions to a winery called “Miner Valley,” so the passenger asked Siri for directions. Siri, the impressive iPhone personal assistant, provided detailed driving directions to “Minor Valley” winery nearby. This “good mistake” cost us thirty minutes, but did emphasize 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,” which means small or unimportant in most situations. Yet town and winery names can still be confusing and colorful. Both “Miner Valley” and “Minor Valley” happened to be 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?” To understand each other, we must, therefore, continue to emphasize the importance of word endings – even in advanced ESL and EFL classes – so listeners can better comprehend 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. We must first admit that 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.
How will you make homophones easier to handle?
Ask More. Know More. Share More.
Create Compelling Conversations.
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.
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.
How do you revise a conversation textbook designed for American immigrants and international students in the United States for high school English language learners in Vietnam? Carefully!
Naturally, the new version of “Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics” will emphasize aspects of Vietnamese culture, avoid taboo subjects, and include local folk sayings and proverbs. The chapter called, “Driving Cars” becomes “Riding Motorbikes.” Other chapters get deleted altogether. Religious quotes are lost and some touchy questions remain unasked. So it goes – even in the 21st century.
Today, after weeks of collecting proverbs, talking with EFL teachers in Vietnam, and editing my original ESL for a particular EFL audience, I have a close to finished version. I feel quite satisfied with Compelling Conversations for English Language Learners in Vietnam. The new edition will be out within a month!