All posts by Jennifer Hutchison

A Year in the Life

Laptop computer with boxes of students in an online classroom on the screen
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

It’s been a little over a year since ESL campuses shut their doors. I can’t decide whether it has gone by slowly or quickly. In my personal life, the pandemic has lurched along, one depressing headline after another; endless days without family and friends. However, as a teacher I have been flying through the days by the seat of my pants!

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Haiku: a humble but mighty tool in ESL

photo: Sahil Pandita on Unsplash

Reduce, reduce, reduce. Make every word count. I repeat these instructions every day in my EAP classroom. Session after session, I hand out exercises to reduce wordiness and replace empty, abstract words with those that are strong and specific.  

And yet, the students have a hard time going “beyond the exercise” to apply these skills to their writing. They continue to fill their pages with in the event that, “as a result of,” and “in our society today” as well as abstracts such as “the meal was good,” “the lake was beautiful,” and “the people looked happy.”  

I needed to find an authentic writing form that would encourage rich, yet spare, prose. And then it struck me—the haiku. The Japanese poem is inherently concise and relies on specific, sensory words. A win-win! 

So, I initiated a “holiday haiku” activity. First, I explained the basic form: one line with five syllables, the next with seven, and the third with five. Secondly, I divided the class into small groups to brainstorm specific, image-worthy words that evoked their celebrations back home. This second stage worked beautifully. Not only did the words flow, but also the students enjoyed sharing their cultural traditions.  

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Building cultural awareness inside and out

Photo by Giulia May on Unsplash

I have been lucky enough to work with students from a myriad of cultures over the years. Had anyone asked me if I promote intercultural skills in my students, my response would be swift. Yes, of course!

After all, I have initiated plenty of culturally themed discussions, readings, presentations, digital narratives, and other activities. But after reading more about Intercultural Competence (IC) and, more specifically, Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC), I realize that I am not going far enough.

What is ICC?

Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) derives from Intercultural Competence (IC). Both refer to the ability to interrelate with people from different cultures. According to Byram (as cited in Bickley, Rossiter, and Abbott, 2014), being interculturally competent means you can communicate effectively with people from diverse cultures in your own language. ICC, however, focuses on the “additional knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities” to do so in a second or foreign language (p. 138). For EAP, obviously, this distinction is important. 

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Calling our students by their names

image source: Unsplash.com
image source: Unsplash.com

~A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But would it, really?

My name, Jennifer, comes from the Welsh Gwenhwyfar. It means “white wave” or “fair lady.” Although I don’t see myself as a “lady,” I do like the rhythmic majesty of “wave.” The tumbling, repetitive motion of it. But if it weren’t for the research I did, I wouldn’t have a clue what my name means. My parents certainly didn’t put much thought into it; they just liked it. Indeed, according to Ye Chongguang, “Chinese names are often chosen for their meaning, but English names are chosen for their sounds” (Lee, 2001).

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Rethinking How We Teach Pronunciation

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Image source: bigstockphoto.com

When I teach pronunciation, a feeling of unease claws at my chest. I scan the expectant faces from Iran, Turkey, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, China, Korea, Columbia and Cameroon. How do I respond to the needs of such an internationally diverse group?

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Where I am from

Copyright: Jennifer MacKenzie-Hutchison. All rights reserved.

Last week, I read over my students’ poems and was reminded how much I love my job. As teachers, we need to savour these pleasures and summon them during the more tedious moments. My students, mostly from Asia, are in a year-long EAP foundation program at Ryerson University. I asked them to write a poem based on “Where I Am From,” by George Ella Lyon.

The scholastic objective was to get my students to explore their identities, but my personal objective was to learn more about their families, their ambitions, their countries…their lives. In class, we went through the author’s life, stanza by stanza. We examined the details, the imagery, and the metaphors. Then my students went home and wrote their own versions.

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