Category Archives: Speaking

Say It With Confidence!

Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com
Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

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

Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com
Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

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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ESL Week Contest Turns Groans into Creative Fun!

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Image source: bigstockphoto.com

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

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 An Active Start to the Academic Year

 

team with arms together in cooperation to look for success - isolated over a white background
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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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Uncovering Meaning

Illuminated light bulb in a row of dim ones concept for creativity, innovation and solution
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Early in my ESL teaching career when I had a new class, I found myself asking: “Why don’t my students do what I tell them to do?” They rarely followed up on the advice I gave them, didn’t come back from lunch on time, or even take a break when I said it was break time. I pondered this for some time. It wasn’t until after being in my class for a bit of time, that I noticed them beginning to follow my instructions. But initially they didn’t, so I thought this lag in understanding was due to them misinterpreting my particular pronunciation.

Then, I had an ‘aha!’ moment.  Continue reading

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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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What is EAP?

bigstock-Writing-Steps-Pyramid-Edit-Wri-59394623I 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

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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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