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?
CompellingConversations’ compilation of YouTube videos for ESL teachers and students alike
“We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn.”
―Mary Catherine Bateson (1939- ), American writer and cultural anthropologist
Want to make use of YouTube’s gigantic collection of ESL and language-related videos, but don’t know where to start? Every semester, I compile a diverse set of useful, relevant and interesting videos for a wide range of difficulty levels. Here’s the ten favorite this time around to share with your advanced English (or ESL) students:
1. English Pronunciation – vowel changes in stressed and unstressed syllables
This 2011 video by AccurateEnglish uses common words to highlight how to pronounce English vowels in stressed and unstressed syllables. In seven minutes, Lisa Mojsin, author of “Mastering the American Accent,” reviews common mistakes she encounters in her English classes, and uses a rubber band as a visual tool to demonstrate which vowels should be stressed.
2. Being a Good Conversationalist – Responding to Good News and Bad News
VOA Learning English, in a 19-minute Google+ Hangout session, displays the proper responses to good news and bad news in English. This video from 2013 features Guest Jane Mairs, writer of the Ask the Editor column for Merriam-Webster, who explains why certain responses are polite or impolite in conversation.
3. Job Interview – Learn English
Duc Lai gives a six-minute breakdown of the job interview process while providing several tips along the way. In two different job-interview settings, this video from 2010 explains why certain questions are asked and notes that the word ordering changes when a sentence is transformed into an inquiry.
4. How do Accents Work?
Made in 2014, this video covers a very relatable topic to English learners. Brainstuff – HowStuffWorks delves into the explanation of how accents work in roughly six minutes. This concept is explained in terms of social, geographic and scientific aspects, and with the help of diagrams, is made easy to understand.
5. The World We Explore- Sir Ken Robinson Zeitgeist Americas 2012
In this video from 2012 by zeitgeistminds, Sir Ken Robinson, known for his work covering the imagination and education, explores creativity in our education system and society. Throughout the twenty minutes, Robinson engages the audience and uses anecdote to push forward his point that the standardization of school systems is stunting creativity. This leads many to ask: are we educating or miseducating in our classrooms?
6. How to Improve Spoken American English – Sound Like a Native Speaker
Rachel’s English, a prolific YouTube Channel for teaching ESL, uploaded this six-minute tutorial in 2013. By using a “Ben Franklin exercise,” Rachel shows that with just a recording of a native speaker, students can begin to sound like ones themselves.
7. Advanced English 1a – Vocabulary – Olympic Games
The first in a 2008 playlist by JenniferESL, this eight-minute video is designed for upper-level students wishing to learn the vocabulary of a common conversation. Jennifer, well-known for her YouTube channel, teaches Olympic vocabulary words in context by using a multiple-choice scenario. The other videos in this playlist follow a similar structure for different topics, such as Olympic Games grammar and Yard Sale vocabulary.
8. Difficult words “world,” etc
AccurateEnglish uploaded this 5 minute lesson in 2009 in order to help students pronounce the most difficult words. In this quick guide, Lisa Mojsin presents little tricks to show how students should “imagine” the spellings of these words in order to pronounce them correctly.
9. What Makes a Word Real?
TEDtalk host Anne Curzan discusses in 17 minutes what makes a word “real” and why people should not resist the emergence of new words, like “adorkable.” This video, which came out in 2014, explains why certain words are in the dictionary, and at what point does a word become “real.”
10. Daniel Gilbert- The Surprising Science of Happiness
In 2012, TEDtalk host Daniel Gilbert discusses how our “psychological immune system” determines our happiness, independent of whether or not things go according to plan. His interesting examples of people who face adversity yet are still happy lead us to wonder what the true path to happiness is–and all in just 21 minutes.
Explore the benefits of using Skype to tutor English learners around the world.
“A conversation can be made easy. Just ask a question and then listen.”
―Robert Bly (1926- ), American poet and author
As millions of English-learners across the globe take advantage of new technology, English tutors may want to consider hosting their sessions via Skype. At no additional charge, both parties can Skype and hold live conversations from home.
This modern approach remains particularly advantageous to tutors offering their services beyond their neighborhoods, or even beyond their country’s borders. Skype also allows both teacher and student to “share their screens,” thus allowing for effective sharing of teaching material and student work. Perhaps the most useful capability is the record option: tutors and students alike can benefit greatly from being able to re-watch videos of their sessions.
Tutoring Tips for Skype
Here are some quick things to keep in mind when tutoring on Skype:
-Watch the informative 2009 Time Magazine video How to Ace a Skype Job Interview. Although clearly intended for job seekers, it provides a concise overview of helpful screen management tips for English tutors and teachers using Skype
-Set up an account with an easy to remember, appropriate username and an appropriate photo
-Familiarize yourself with the application, and how to video chat, share screens, record, etc.
-Test your microphone, speakers and webcam using Skype’s testing service before hosting any sessions
-Prepare for the English tutoring sessions, even if teaching conversation skills
-Set a clear agenda for the tutoring session and share materials with the client
-Host sessions from an appropriate, well-lit room
-Wait to start the clock until the microphone, speakers and webcam have been properly connected for both parties
-Ask questions and let the English student practice their English speaking skills
-Provide both direct and indirect feedback on the students’ “good mistakes” in a friendly manner
-Remember to periodically share screens or have the student display his or her work
-Advertise – for free – your Skype lessons on your resume at www.eslteachersboard.com and/or www.eslboards.com
-Consider offering a short free online session as an a teaser for your online tutoring
A good ESL tutor will still assess their students’ initial level and outline short-term and long-term goals for the meeting. However, because travel time and transportation costs are no longer part of the equation, tutors can now schedule shorter, more frequent meetings as well as the longer sessions. One hour seems most comfortable for me, but some more experienced ESL tutors have found 90-minute and two-hour sessions work too. Of course, the longer the session, the more crucial the need to carefully prepare for the English lesson.
You can also check Skype’s page on online tutoring to answer additional questions regarding the ins and outs of teaching over webcam. Since Skype is nearly as interactive as face-to-face, English tutors should consider its benefits when hosting their teaching sessions. Many students appreciate the ability to review the recorded sessions. You can encourage this reflective practice by asking about their reactions to watching themselves in the previous lesson.
Consider Using Compelling Conversations
Many Skype tutors have chosen to use Compelling Conversations materials to provide clear structure and help English language learners keep the conversation flowing. Naturally, I’m pleased with this unexpected development and appreciate this 21st century method of holding face to face conversations – across borders – in real time. English tutors will find our ready-to-use conversation lesson plans make teaching speaking skills easy and relaxing.
If you are considering teaching English as a profession, tutoring English conversation on Skype provides a practical way to both explore the field, gain practical experience, and put some nickels in your pocket.
Will tutoring English and teaching conversation skills on Skype be in your future?
Small American colleges often love their ambitious graduates. Wabash College, my alma mater and outstanding private liberal arts college in Indiana, certainly celebrates her favorite sons and treats them like stars. This fall’s Wabash Magazine advises graduates to “Look East, Young Man” as it celebrates the opening of the College’s new Asian Studies Center.
Inside, the magazine editor describes a “Language of Opportunity” article as “Eric Roth ’84 recounts how his attempt to start a free-thinking university in Vietnam led to the realization that the spread of the English language—in part through his own conversational English primer—may be the more immediate path to freedom of thought and expression in the region.”
Fortunately, the article also provides a larger context of teaching English in a closed (but still opening) society. The writer, Steve Charles, also explores the difficulties of adapting Compelling Conversations , an advanced conversation for ESL (English as a Second Language) students into an acceptable EFL (English as a Foreign Language) textbook, and explains how I came to publish two very different English language conversation textbooks. Please note that the original ESL book has 45 chapters, including “Voting”, and the EFL version for Vietnamese English Language Learners has 15 chapters with more vocabulary definitions.
“In addition to teaching at the University of Southern California, the former congressional aide and journalist (Roth) is co-author of Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics. The book is an alternative text for teaching conversational English as a second language (ESL). It is recommended by a leading trade journal of English teaching professionals.”
The three-page glossy magazine piece continues to provide perspective and illuminate the role of English in the 21st century. “And in case you haven’t noticed, English is well on its way to becoming the world’s dominant language,” writes Charles.
“This is the first time in world history we actually have a language spoken genuinely globally by every country of the world,” writes David Crystal in English as a Global Language. As of 2005, almost a quarter of the world’s population spoke English as a native or second language. It is the de facto language of commerce and diplomacy. More than 80 percent of information stored on the Internet is in English. And while there are more speakers of Chinese, Spanish, and Hindi, they speak English when they talk across cultures, and it is English they teach their children in order to give them a chance in the world economy. More than 20,000 ESL teaching jobs are posted monthly; no longer a fallback, teaching ESL is becoming a lucrative first or second career. Some experts predict that by 2030 more than half the world’s population will speak English.”
Reading those simple, powerful facts about the explosion of English renewed my appreciation for our role as English teachers today. English remains the language of opportunity for millions seeking to study, work, and move abroad. The article allows me to explain. “I had been teaching ESL to immigrants, and I knew English was essential to their lives in the U.S., but on this trip we saw English as a truly global language. It is the gateway to a modern world, and to 21st century lives. And in countries like Vietnam and other developing nations, English is sometimes the only accessible means to advance yourself.” This insight lead to the title “the language of opportunity”.
“Combining his teaching experience and his liberal arts background, Roth collaborated with his mother, Toni Aberson—an English teacher for 35 years—to self-publish the first edition of the book. Dedicated to his father, Dani Roth—who spoke six languages and “could talk with almost anyone”—the book provides an alternative to “presentation-practice-production” approach to language learning, instead using quotations, questions, and proverbs to prompt conversation.”
“Some [quotes and questions] will have students roaring with laughter, while others require careful introspection,” wrote a reviewer (Hall Houston) for the ESL journal English Teaching Professional. “They are highly effective for promoting student discussion.”
“In the classroom and in the book we try to create a space that’s tolerant and rigorous at the same time,” Roth says. “The focus is on learning by doing, and we want to give people room to make good mistakes—errors that help us learn. When people expect themselves to be perfect, they go silent.”
Most of the book’s prompts ask for recollections or personal opinions.“Whatever perspective you bring to the book, I want you to find validation in some great thinker, that it’s okay to see things that way. That gives us all the freedom to be ourselves and less of who we think we should be, or who we’ve been programmed or conditioned to be.”
Like many other English teachers – of all kinds – I feel rich in life experiences, but we seldom get recognized for our hard work. We also also clearly make significant contributions to our grateful students and larger, positive global trends. And recognition feels good. Therefore, I’m grateful that Wabash College, a small Midwestern college in a small town, taught me to “disagree without being disagreeable” and see the big picture.
“The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity, and the brute by instinct.”
Marcus Cicero, Roman statesman and orator
How do potential English teachers gain the experience and knowledge to become successful English teachers? The answer is both more complicated and simpler than many people believe. The internet provides exceptional opportunities for potential English teachers to become autotelic (self-directed) learners. Following your own interest and creating your own educational program has never been easier.
The cult of paper continues to reign – especially in educational bureaucracies. Perhaps this remains the largest discrepancy between ESL and EFL faculties. In immigrant-friendly societies English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors usually have been formally trained in actually teaching ESL learners. Many English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instructors, in contrast, are enticed to pursue teaching English while traveling abroad as a means of earning some extra cash. While some of these impromptu instructors are confident, worldly, intelligent, and often become outstanding educators in their own right, more often they are less-than-successful, holding to the assumption that teaching is easy, and teaching English even easier.
As the Bulgarian adage goes, “Many learn to walk by stumbling.” Over time and after several awkward classes, some instructors grow through experience, becoming better, more effective teachers. A key fact remains the ability to zoom out and reflect upon an English lesson; what worked, what didn’t work, what could be done differently, etc. By reading and reflecting, and then developing Personal Learning Networks, some “instant English teachers” can become stronger and smarter classroom guides.
Further, the reality remains that too many education classes bore students, obsess over theory, and neglect teaching any practical instruction techniques. Plus, these formal certificates and advanced degrees can become rather costly and do not guarantee success in the actual EFL classroom. Combined with the reluctance of so many private English language schools to spend money on professional development and pay higher salaries for more credentialed teachers, many EFL teachers choose to find their own paths to becoming outstanding instructors. Teachers’ conferences, professional seminars, carefully observing successful English teachers, and finding a mentor are all beneficial for English teachers, both novice and experienced, trying to learn how to better instruct their students.
While it is obviously possible for EFL instructors to be hired in China, Vietnam, Thailand, and many other countries without a strong background in teaching, I still recommend that most EFL and ESL instructors get more training and share teaching experiences – for your students sake and your own pursuit of excellence.
Yet this professional development does not have to be sanctioned by any formal educational institution. As the great American historian Henry Adams observed, “”They know enough who know how to learn.”
The best thing that I can advise ESL instructors is to create a PLN, or Personal Learning Network, as it has become the fashionable rage among many English language and trainers around the world. Here are some links for insight into becoming a more learned and practical English teacher, all 100% free internet resources that I personally follow and have learned from over the years.
http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/ – Larry has become a living legend among American English language and social studies teachers for his ability to find, analyze, and describe the best sites for educators. I learn every time I allow myself the pleasure to explore his “best of” series of links.
http://evridikidakos.edublogs.org/ – Teaching with technology creates new possibilities and Evridiki Dakos has established herself as a leading expert, especially for teaching English to children. Check her creative blog out!
How can you encourage your advanced ESL students to develop their speaking skills and tap their interest in our rapidly changing world? Create compelling classroom assignments that respect their intelligence, engage their curiosity, and model great speaking skills. Let your students be hunters, gathers, and presenters of new information to their classmates!
Adding a homework assignment that requires ESL students to go the “ideas worth sharing” website at www.TED.com accomplishes all these goals. For the last four years, I have asked both college and international graduate students to select a short TED.com video, watch it, and prepare to share their impressions in class. Since many students have evolving English language skills and the course is an advanced oral skills class, they just take notes. What’s the title? Where was the lecture given? Who gave the lecture? Date? How did they open the presentation? Was their a significant quote? What sources were orally cited? How would they rate the video on a scale of 1-5? Why did they choose this TED video? Why do they recommend we watch it too?
Students will often watch several TED videos before choosing a favorite one. This advanced ESL homework assignment seems to capture their imagination as they explore the TED website. The next day, students discuss the TED video that they selected in small groups of four. Afterwards, I ask for “brave volunteers” to share their impressions – i.e., review – with the class. Usually everyone wants to present so we extend the lesson to a second class where I videotape all the presentations. The class sessions are always illuminating, engaging, and surprising as I learn more about students, their interests, our evolving world, and their English language speaking skills. This democratic speaking skills activity creates an atmosphere where “everybody is a student, and everybody is a teacher.” Result: the entire class creates compelling classroom conversations!
As the old American cereal commercial used to say, “try it – you’ll like it” – at least with more advanced English students!