Category Archives: conversation

Student-Led Discussions

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During my TESL practicum, I was privileged to work with a wonderful instructor in an EAP class. My practicum supervisor* was great at scaffolding and layering; as the course progressed, each language skill was incorporated into subsequent lesson activities until it all culminated in a final project. The class was in oral skills with the final project being a presentation. Along with using the targeted language from the semester, the presentations also included a focus on appropriate body language, strategies to engage the audience, and the use of technology.

While presentations are common in English language classes, they can be very stressful and time consuming. In order to add variety to the assessments during the course, another activity that was required of the students, and that could easily be adapted for any type of ESL classroom, was leading a discussion group. Not only did we use this in the EAP context, I used the same activity in an EFL class that I taught in Ecuador in which the students were preparing to take the First Cambridge Exam.  Here is how I did it!

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Come Again: You Said What?

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Imagine if someone said something overtly sexual or crude to you. What would your reaction be? Disbelief? Shock? Anger? Now imagine that the speaker is your ESL student. Of course, your response has to be different.

Sometimes because of pronunciation or improper word usage, ESL students inadvertently say or write the most shocking things. A while back, one of my students wrote this in a peer review (a student response to a student assignment, in this case an essay): “Your hooker is not very appealing and is unlikely to attract the reader.” Of course, he meant hook. What a difference two letters can make. This situation was easier to deal with because the student had not uttered this sentence aloud to the class. I took him aside and explained the meaning of the word, resulting in him blushing quite a bit.

Sometimes students mispronounce words such as sit, beach, can’t etc. I deal with this issue Continue reading

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Bridging the Great Divide

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I have been teaching in an EAP program for the last six years. The goal of our program is to prepare international students for the experience of studying in a post-secondary program alongside their domestic peers. Understandably, competence in their use of English is paramount. However, I am constantly struck by the fact that domestic students and international students, regardless of their ability to speak English well, remain largely separate on campus, both in and out of classes.

My students often comment that they don’t know how to make friends with Canadian students, and they are worried about the quality of their English and how they will be received. In an effort to bridge this ‘great divide’, I recently had the opportunity for my students to participate in a communicative activity that, for a change, did not involve their own classmates. Working alongside a wonderful colleague and professor in another discipline*, I was able to offer my class of twenty students a chance to meet and converse with the very Canadians they had been worried about meeting (and intimidated by) for a long time. Continue reading

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Say It With Confidence!

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When we are submitting a cover letter to a perspective employer, we want to showcase our skills and to communicate the fact that we have confidence.  In work preparedness classes we promote the idea that confident vocabulary and sentence structure is essential to having our cover letter read.  But where is the line between confidence and over confidence, and how do we teach that to our students?

I once received a homework assignment that was a sample cover letter written by a student.  The format was good, the sentences well formed, and there were no spelling mistakes. However, a few lines made me wince:  I am brilliant.  I am the best person that your company could hire.”  This surely was confidence, bordering on hubris, that may in fact have the same effect as grammatical error on the reader of the letter.  If I were the hiring manager, I’m not sure I would have read much further. So, where do we draw the line? Continue reading

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Pragmatically Speaking

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For the last 8 or 9 years I have been working in programs that deliver language instruction to adult newcomers who have language levels above CLB 7.  These people have high levels of education and have been professionally trained.  When I first started working with this demographic of students, I struggled with creating content that was relevant for my classes.  I found their language skills to be quite good, and I wondered what else I could offer them. 

Once I started to get to know them a little better, I came to understand that they were having difficulty obtaining employment.  This fact seemed counter intuitive to me because I know that Canada relies on immigration to sustain its workforce.  I had been taught that without immigration, Canada’s population would actually decline.  So, what exactly prevents them from getting a job? Continue reading

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 An Active Start to the Academic Year

 

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Another school year is just around the corner. Teachers (me included) are bound to be planning for that first week where we set the mood of how learning will happen in and out of our classrooms. Last year, I wrote about ‘get-to-know activities’[1], but these are just some of the many introductory activities we could introduce. For example, it makes sense to plan for student-centred lessons right from the first day of classes by introducing active learning activities, which give students the opportunity to learn while doing –and which many students are not accustomed to[2]. This can help our students transition smoothly to learning by discovery and collaboration. Smart, right?  Below are two of my favourite active learning activities. (I hope you will share yours too!). Continue reading

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Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane?

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Want something for lower-level ESL students that is fun and informative?

When I taught benchmark one classes, I did something that increased their vocabulary by about 100 words in a month or so. It was also fun. It’s not a very original idea. In fact, I borrowed it from my days as an occasional teacher when I had to teach kindergarten.

In many kindergarten classes, they have show and tell. A child brings in an object in a bag, and the rest of the students have to guess what it is by asking questions. I decided to do this with my ESL class.

We sat down and thought of all of the properties that might be associated with an object, things like shape, size, colour, age, and material.  I got poster paper for each attribute, and then had them make one for each. They supplied me with the words, and I Continue reading

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Signposts Show the Way to Good Communication

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Fluency is a critical element of communication and is often a basis for how language levels are judged.  Signposting is a technique which makes speech more fluent.  Words or phrases that link speech together to make it coherent, and give the listener an indication of where our verbal communication is headed, are considered signposts.

Does receiving an indication of the direction that a conversation will take make a difference to the listener?  Absolutely!  When we have a good idea about what we will hear, we can process the meaning faster.  Hearing something contrary to what we are expecting causes our brain waves to spike.  The spike causes a diversion of energy which can contribute to longer processing time.  Considering how fast a brain processes language, a matter of milliseconds can slow down comprehension.  The delay in comprehending could cause a listener to completely misunderstand what was said. Continue reading

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Making Room for Conversation

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Carving out more in-class time for student-centered conversation in the past year has had my students progress more quickly as they spent more time speaking, rather than just studying the language. Confidence and experience are essential for developing fluency, and in a safe environment, students’ overall progress can improve significantly. Since doing this in my class, I’ve seen an increase in the quality and quantity of my students’ interactions with each other, and I’ve also learned that they’re interacting at a higher level within their communities.

When adding conversation time in the classroom (which is great for those multi-level classes too), it’s important to have stimulating topics from which interesting questions can be created. I like to choose topics that boost student engagement and that are based on current news events, hot topics such as the latest technology gadget, or seasonal/cultural themes. You may need to tread carefully around Continue reading

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