I was talking with a colleague, Lisa, during lunch break the other day. At our school, the students have a 1-hour class with a pronunciation instructor once per week. Lisa was suggesting the merits of having a similar intensive lesson every week on reading. After our discussion, I began to consider the importance of reading versus the other skills. I am beginning to wonder if reading is the key skill to developing English proficiency.
Don’t get me wrong – Teaching pronunciation is one of my favourite classes to teach. I guess I like the focus of language use and playing with the sounds, the stress, intonation and inflection. Many students have expressed that it is important for them, as well.
Years ago the ESL program at Brock University welcomed a cohort of remarkable students on scholarships to pursue graduate studies in Canada. All of them were optimistic and highly motivated, but one – let’s call her Marianna – stood out for her exceptional diligence. She was a geneticist, and perhaps that academic focus promoted her extremely methodical approach to studying English; in any case, she wonderfully exemplified the self-aware style that often characterizes successful adult learners. One of my experiences when teaching her was especially memorable.
But first, the background: Guided by theoretical findings that were emerging at the time, we required every ESL student to read one entire easy-reader per week. We offered a large bank of fiction and non-fiction texts, and students could freely select whatever title and difficulty-level they wished. Continue reading →
Teaching critical thinking through reading in the information age
Attending PD conferences of your local chapter of TESL Ontario is a great way to meet other teachers, network, and learn new ideas and techniques to add to your teaching toolbox. On May 13th, I attended the Waterloo-Wellington Spring AGM and PD event. The theme was “Thinking Critically” and the guest speaker for the plenary session, Tyson Seburn, spoke on the topic of teaching critical reading in an age of (mis)information and fake news. Tyson Seburn is Lead Instructor of Critical Reading and Writing in the International Foundation Program at New College, University of Toronto, and he recently published a book entitled, Academic Reading Circles.
In this blog, I want to share some of the strategies that Tyson raised in his address Continue reading →
Happy Monday TESL ON members! Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I don’t know about you, but I love poetry! Although most of us may not use it very much to teach English to our students, many are aware that it can be a good way to teach the rhythm of English. However, I think there are so many more ways that we could use this rich form of the English language. Continue reading →
While clearing out my cupboards, I came upon an old boxed set of classic books that I had bought for my children when they were younger. Rather than putting them into the donation bin, I thought they might come in handy in my level 3 LINC class. As it turned out, I found them to be quite a useful tool in the classroom.
I focused in on one particular student (I will refer to him as John) who I felt was just about ready to be promoted to level 4, with the minor exception of a weakness in his reading skills. He was an excellent, hard-working student, but he was lacking confidence in his own abilities.
I suggested that he take home one of these books and read a little each evening. The books are small, about 4 inches by 5 inches, and about an inch thick, with brightly coloured illustrations on the covers – not very intimidating looking. They are adapted Continue reading →
ESL Week makes me think about a particular student. Her first day is still crystal clear in my memory. Nervous, shy and just plain scared, she chose to say, “No English” mostly with gestures. I must have been blind as I did not see the butterfly about to emerge from that cocoon in a few months’ time. About six months later, one day, I made an announcement in class about the ESL week contest. Collectively, the class groaned, “No!”
In my experience, a yes becomes so much better when it begins as a no. 🙂
We then started playing with the contest idea. A scaffolded version of the ESL week guidelines became a reading comprehension task. We brainstormed ideas through a speaking lesson on the topic. She came up with a few different movie (video) concepts. The voice inside my head nervously said, “How are you going to help her? Do you know ANYTHING about editing?” But I did not interrupt her vision. We moved on to writing the story board for her idea. In the days that followed, she Continue reading →
Their hearts are in the right place – they want reading practice – but most of them have zero interest in the news and end up getting very little from their daily ritual of reading Metro on the subway.
If students are looking for extra work, it’s important that it’s something fun and interesting for them. My students are upper-intermediate/advanced. For the most part, their English is very good – most of the errors they make are small, basic errors like prepositions and collocations -so they just need practice rather than pouring over grammar rules.
What I tell them instead of reading the newspaper, is
“It doesn’t matter what you read, as long as it’s in English!”
I have been teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for a little over five years now. Compared to my previous jobs teaching general ESL and Business English, I find it incredibly satisfying; I think this is partly due to the course having a clear objective: preparing students for college and university.
But an important question that arose early on in the course, was
What does it mean to prepare students for college and university?
Are we talking about having their English at an equivalent level to their peers? Or is it more about mentally preparing them with academic skills needed for success? Continue reading →
Have you ever met any students who don’t want to improve their speaking skills? I haven’t. It’s more of a challenge to get them to read and write. I did something that got them into reading.
A few years ago, I was trying to encourage my students to read. Fortunately, there was a public library nearby. Once a week we would go there, and I would help them find books. Still, I wanted to give them more motivation to read, so I decided to get them to read across Canada.
I believe this activity will work regardless of your level. All you have to do is adapt the activities to the abilities, and that includes the books that they read.
I did this with my level 1 students. For those who were particularly weak, I had them take out books by Mo Willems. They are fun and easy to read. Here is an example of one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq77-6zsCSg
Canada is about 7,250 km from coast to coast. I had about 10 students. For every book they read, they earned 100 km, Continue reading →
In May 2014, while volunteering at the TESL Toronto spring conference, I was lucky enough to see a presentation by Chris Harwood and Tracy Manning about their experiences implementing a Facebook-based Book Club in their EAP program.
Inspired by their talk, I decided to try this out with my students. It took some weeks of planning, and some trial and error with different books, but in the end it’s become a successful and popular part of my course!