Mouth-selfies Make Pronunciation Real

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Most EFL teachers savour a ‘teachable moment’ where, by plan or serendipity, some magic happens. Let me tell you a story about one of mine.

During the 7 years I taught in the Middle East, all teachers lamented the prevalence of mobile phones in the classroom. Sometimes, even, multiple phones during exams had to be removed from students under the protests of “We’re just sharing teacher….honest…..just sharing.”

Phones were a problem.  And as so often happens, problems are the source of an inspiration.  One day I got all 24 of my 17-19 year old male students around in a circle of desks and got them to explain to me, in English of course, all the features of their many varieties of mobiles or cells. All the new terms and features were written Continue reading

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Today Wasn’t Great

bigstock-Business-Woman-Customer-Servic-84197477Today wasn’t a great day in my EAP class.  It was very definitely Monday and more than one student had spent the weekend battling non-stop computer games; World of Warcraft is apparently an indefatigable foe.

And, something had convinced my students that grammar class was the best time to catch up on lost sleep. Nothing was going to keep them from their rest, not even the most fascinating facts about the present progressive tense.  So, I opened my bag of teacher tricks in hopes that I could lure them from Mr. Sandman.  If they engaged, we could all go home content at the end of the day.

I had them write on chalk boards, scribble on the white board, role play, and question each other with today’s vocab. I commiserated over the Raptors’ loss, arranged Continue reading

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The TESOL Electronic Village 2015

TESOL2015_logoThe TESOL International Convention is happening in my own backyard, and I can’t participate as I am working in Qatar.  I hope that my fellow TESL Ontario professionals have the ability to attend and participate in the massive spectacle that is the annual TESOL Convention.

I have had the good fortune to attend three conferences in person and a few more online. My favourite part of the conference, after the professional and personal networking, is the Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section (CALL-IS) TESOL Electronic Village.  It is a place where one can Continue reading

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Taking the Tech-less Challenge

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I’ve been using, and embracing, technology in the ESL classroom for a few years now.  Working with Level  2 learners in a course partnered with a workplace experience, it was a natural fit.  I had a SMART Board from day 1, access to a computer lab, and training and support provided by LearnIT2Teach to set up a Learning Management System using a Moodle platform.  I also had free and dependable Wi-Fi in the classroom.  I have to admit, I had been getting spoiled.

Some of my colleagues had joked with me about what I would do if I were to be stripped of the technology that I used every day, or if my location were to change,  say, to a church basement or similar.  Then one day last November, it happened.  New location.  No SMART Board.  No Wi-Fi.  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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The Unsung Heroes of ESL/FSL

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I’ve always wondered how an adult who is learning a new language felt when surrounded by the unfamiliar. Although I’ve once experienced the difficulty and hardship of learning a new language and acclimating to a brand new environment as a child, it doesn’t compare to the emotions and experiences felt by an adult learner.

Having watched both my parents in the past try to interact with other fellow Canadians without the proper use of the English language was noteworthy.  Though at times they were clearly frustrated, they seemed to get by.  Today, my parents’ command of the English language is vast and they are both able to carry on conversations and express their wants and needs. Aside from their drive to want to learn and acclimate, they also had French to fall back on. But what about those who migrate from Continue reading

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Is Learner-Centred Teaching the Best for ESL Adults?

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Of recent, it is becoming increasingly clear that more and more ESL students entering our classrooms are expecting a rapid transmission of information, structured presentations, concrete outcomes, a course syllabus, and direction from teachers. Such expectations are not new; they come with most formal classes.  Such expectations, common in traditional classroom settings, coming from Adult ESL learners, necessitate a rethinking of our present learner-centered or constructivist approach. It raises a question: Is there a place for direct instruction in today’s adult classes? Or, is there not a place for the traditional approach? By that, I don’t mean the uncreative and non-liberating approach to education so well described by Paulo Freire. I mean a Continue reading

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“And when you finally fly away, I’ll be hoping that I served you well”

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A great song lyric from Rod Stewart’s Forever Young

 Listening to Irfan’s voicemail message, my mind darted back to a November morning in 2007 when he and his older brother Arman walked into my class.

They stopped, stared, and smiled. They said hello and sat down. They pointed to their names and addresses on the paper they carried. They had barely made it to level 1. As a novice teacher in the first year, I was more nervous than they were in the multi- level classroom. At 22, Arman was shouldering the responsibility of caring for his widowed mother and younger brother. At 18, Irfan had moved to Canada with no knowledge of English. They had worked in a factory for a few months before they’d been laid off. He wasn’t even aware he was entitled to Unemployment Insurance (EI now). Continue reading

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Do we have an Impact on Students?

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Learning a language is tough. Period. And if English is your first language, count yourself lucky. Because truth be told, English has to be one of the more difficult languages to retain, especially if you had to learn as an adult. I know a thing or two about that (minus the adult part).  When my family made the move to Canada, I couldn’t speak a word of English.  In fact, I struggled to learn even at the young age of 8.  Based on my interview, the school felt I didn’t need an ESL teacher and decided to throw me in the lion’s den, unaided and helpless (or at least that’s how I felt at the time).

My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Eadie, challenged me mentally in more ways than I can describe. She never took it easy on me since I understood nothing of the language. Instead, she thankfully treated me like the rest, and if I didn’t understand, well I’d better read up! I welcomed the challenge, although I was quite frustrated at times.  But with the help of both my homeroom teacher and my English teacher, Mrs. Harley, who had me write in a journal every day at the beginning of class, I learned that making mistakes was the only way I was going to learn. I needed to fail a few times before I was able to see the light. Such an invaluable lesson I’d learned: you’re going to fall before you can stand, and that’s OK! Continue reading

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