Thursday, December 20, 2012

{FREE PDF} Needs survey for beginning adult English Language Learners

When teaching adults English, it's critical to teach what they need to know.  With beginning level students, it can be difficult to uncover this desire because of limited language skills. Use this visual survey to assess your beginning level adult students needs.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How to get a good job recommendation from your professor

Over the years, many students have asked me for job recommendations as they prepare to enter the professional world.  For some students, writing such a letter is an easy task.  For others, not so much.  You might think that this stems simply from which students were the 'A students' and which ones received lower grades.  However, it's very possible that I might write a stronger recommendation for a B student than I do for an A student.

Why? you ask.

Simply put, intelligence does not always equal job skill. As an employer, I would look for much more than simply a good GPA (though that certainly doesn't hurt).  Here are a few things I would value as an employer that I speak to when I write recommendation letters for students:

  • Responsibility. Do you turn assignments in done well and on time?  Do you come to class consistently?  Personally, I think responsibility accounts for about 70% of a person's success.  Your chances at success will be severely limited if you're brilliant but can't get out of bed. In the same vein, if you are a person of average intelligence but work diligently, it's likely that you'll go a long way.
  • Respect.  I'd argue that this is also called "Professionalism" in the 'adult world'.  Treating people you secretly find 'crazy' with kindness and diplomacy is part of developing positive relationships in the professional world.  Start practicing this with your classmates and professors.
  • Teachability. Young professionals who know everything usually annoy most people around them.  While I believe youth offer great value and freshness to their professions through their energy and passion, it's also important to recognize that you have much to learn from people with more experience doing what you want to do. Ask questions than you express opinions. Listen more than you speak. Consider how your actions might be perceived by people around you. While I certainly hope I'm not the first person to break this news, you are not the center of the universe. Let your attitude toward others reflect that you understand that fundamental reality of life. 
  • Communication.  Occasionally, I have had students caught in difficult life circumstances.  When they communicate with me about these situations with timeliness, respect, and responsibility, it makes it very easy for me to be flexible and helpful with their needs.  Communicating well through difficult times also shows a level of maturity that I would value as an employer. Another way to communicate well in class is to ask for clarification when needed.  It's important to assure that you understand what I'm looking for in an assignment, and a great way to do this is to ask me about it when you need more clarity.
  • Participation. While I know students *think* the prof doesn't see them sleeping, texting, daydreaming, or snickering it's more than likely that we do, and that we do make a mental note to ourselves for future reference.  The strongest recommendations I write are for those students who actively and appropriately participated in class.  To me, this indicates that a student is likely to become a committed and astute employee.  
Remember, what you do in class now influences who you will be in the professional world tomorrow.  I know it feels years away, but you are building your career now, even as a student.  Practicing the skills above will enable you to enjoy a long, fruitful and fulfilling career.  

Friday, September 28, 2012


Definitely one of the most difficult parts of English is its inconsistent spelling and pronunciation.  Because English has been historically influenced by so many other languages and currently exists in a global context, it draws from a huge array of linguistic backgrounds.  Unfortunately, this doesn't help it be a consistent language for those who are trying to learn it!

Here are a few examples of English craziness:

When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true
We say sew but likewise few?
One reason why I cannot spell,Although I learned the rules quite wellIs that some words like coup and throughSound just like threw and flue and Who;When oo is never spelled the same,The duice becomes a guessing game; 
We must polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
The soldier decided to desert in the desert.

Read the complete versions here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Talkin' about race in the classroom

"You're just pickin' on me 'cuz I'm black," Duane challenged me when I told him he needed to shut his mouth and get to work.  

I stopped cold and gave him my best I-dare-you-to-try-that-one-again teacher glare.  While I didn't doubt that he'd experienced his share of racism from his teachers, I also wasn't about to let him throw such a serious accusation at me in an attempt to get out of his work.  He backed down and I saw to it that the rest of class started their assignment.  Once they were focused, I wandered over to Duane and his group of friends.

Duane immediately turned his back on me, "You can't say nothin' I wanna hear."

So, I ignored Duane and continued on with his friends, "You know, that whole you're-a-racist-thing is a BIG DEAL to me. I know that racism happens at this school, and that you've probably seen more than your fair share of it."

They nodded in agreement, seeming slightly surprised that a white teacher would admit to racism in school.  "If your buddy's right, then we have a serious problem," I told them, "but if he's just throwin' that word around so that he can be lazy, it's no better.  In my mind, what Duane said is one of the most serious, offensive things possible, and if it's true, we need to deal with it straight up.  Racism is still too deep of a problem these days and the last place I want it to happen is in my classroom!"

They were stone-silent - no arguing, no eye-rolling, no folded arms or turned backs (well, except for my buddy Duane who was still giving me the cold shoulder).  Apparently, I had their attention, so I kept going, "You don't know who I love, where I've been, or what I know.  You have no clue what I've seen or what I believe.  Maybe you should give me a chance before you start throwin' all those labels all over me."

At this point, Duane tried to rejoin the conversation and interjected some "Geez, lady!  You just don't get it" kind of comments, but his friends stopped him short, "Just listen to her, man. She might have somethin' good to say."

Duane stopped, and I gave him the recap of the speech I'd just delivered to his friends.  He grunted, acknowledging that maybe he'd jumped the gun a bit and made some inaccurate assumptions.  I breathed a sigh of relief that I'd broken through a piece of his wall.  From that point on, Duane and his friends had my back.  They didn't 180 and become straight A students, but they quit pushing back at me that day, and I sensed a different kind of respect had been established between us.


Over my years teaching, I've had countless interactions where race is a significant part of the dialog.  When students sense I have an awareness, some experience, and an interest to be honest about the subject, they open up in remarkable ways.  But that ability didn't come without significant work.

I've lost many nights of sleep grappling over concepts of ethnocentrism.  I've shed tears over the privilege I carry as a white person.  I've read about racial history and experience (though there's still so much left!) and listen to voices outside my comfort zone and personal experience.  I'm married inter-racially and raise biracial children.  I've made ignorant yet offensive racial statements, sometimes forgiven, sometimes not.  I've lived, traveled and/or worked in places where I'm the only white person, and have spent heavy hours pondering the unequal kind of power my race carries in these contexts.

Sadly, in my years teaching, I've worked with many white teachers who have never had the opportunity or impetus to reflect on how their race impacts their relationship with their students.  For a few, it's a result of arrogant blindness, but for most, it's simple ignorance and lack of exposure.  I understand.  I've been there myself.  Here are a few things that have helped me as a white majority person immeasurably in the process:

  • Reading.  See my Amazon Listmania list on Race and Education for specific resources on race and education.  For a general understanding of race relations, I highly recommend Cornel West's book Race Matters, and Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom.
  • Listening.  I've been fortunate to participate in settings which encourage honest sharing about race, and in these settings, I've learned (or perhaps more accurately, am learning) to listen more than I speak. 
  • Speaking.  When appropriate, it's just as important to speak into situations in which race needs to be considered and is instead ignored.  
  • Watching.  While I'm not much of a movie-watcher, they are immeasurably helpful in providing an understanding of someone else's story and experience.  I'm preferential to Skip Gates documentaries, but stories that portray the impact of race are also very powerful learning tools.
  • Reflecting.  Both workshop-type settings as well as personal relationships have provided safe places for me to process a deeper understanding of race.  Sometimes this is more formal in the context of a conference or an MLK day celebration, and other times it is simply a chat with a friend.

As English language teachers, it is nearly impossible that we will teach students of our same ethnicity.  Developing a deeper understanding of our own racial backgrounds and experiences will prove immeasurably valuable in how we relate to and support our students.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

{FreePDF} Hand-out to teach greetings

I used this handout as a pre-activity to help students understand the levels of formality in greetings. They first brainstormed a variety of greetings they knew, and then explored who they would use these greetings with and why.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tools for developing cross-cultural understanding

Just as English language teachers need to develop cross-cultural skills for themselves, our students may also have this need.  A few tips on teaching cross-cultural skills to English Language learners:

1.  Don't assume that students have cross-cultural skills.  Just because they're from a different culture doesn't mean they have cross-cultural skills.

2.  Introduce recently arrived students to the Stages of Culture Shock.  This will help them understand the process of what they are going through being in a different culture.  Helping them process their adjustment to a new culture will help them see it for what it is.

3.  Be patient with students' perspectives.  Part of cultural adaptation is anger and misunderstanding.  When you see students going through this, be patient with them, allowing them the space to work out their own understanding.  Some people may never fully 'understand' a culture, but they do grow to accept it.

Other Helpful Resources about culture and the ELT classroom

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why ESL/EFL teachers need cross-cultural skills

Some scholars debate if it's necessary for language teachers to have cross-cultural skills.  Frankly, I think this is a pointless debate.  Language does not exist in a vacuum separate from culture, and separating the two leaves an incomplete knowledge base.  Having taught in a wide variety of cross-cultural situations, I've certainly seen teachers who lack cross-cultural skills.  At worst, the classroom environment becomes warlike, where the students feel a need to protect their 'turf' because the teacher's treatment of it is so offensive.  At best, students become apathetic, sensing that they do not have the talents and skills to succeed.

First, let me define what I mean by cross-cultural skills (Garza, 2010):
  • The ability to see cultural differences when they occur.
  • The ability to accept cultural differences and practice them
  • The ability to appreciate and value cultural differences without demeaning them

So, why is it important for language teachers to have strong cross-cultural skills?
  1. We are cultural gatekeepers.  When we teach a language, we represent the culture the language comes from to the students we teach.  Regardless of how we represent it, students will associate their experience with us with the cultures we represent because we are often the first people they come into contact with when they learn a language.  
  2. We are bridge-builders.  I have a whole other blog on the concept of living between worlds, but when we teach language, we help one side understand the other.  In today's increasingly divisive and polarized world, this is an extremely valuable role.  If we don't have the skills to see from someone else's perspective, we are not able to effectively be a bridge that links cultures.
  3. We shape the future.  For all the cliche that it is, I'd still be remiss to overlook that teachers are woefully underpaid for the magnitude of the influence we assert on future generations (don't even get me started about corporate or professional athlete salaries in comparison!)  In light of this, one of the biggest questions I have is if we are  empowering those who come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds or (when we lack cross-cultural skills) do we simply perpetuate the same oppressive power-structure that has existed for centuries in the Western world?  In more direct language, without developing cross-cultural skills, teachers will perpetuate a colonial model of oppression.

And finally, how do we develop cross-cultural skills?
  • Participate in other cultures.  I was going to say travel, but I've seen plenty of people with tons of tourist experience who have zero cross-cultural skills.  It's a very different thing to site -see than it is to participate in a family or a community.  This might be something as simple as getting to know a family from a different cultural background in our communities to working and living in another country.
  • Seek out other perspectives and listen.  In the US, we don't practice this skill very well (just watch our election season!).  People who take the time to converse, read, or dialog across diverse perspectives gain an understanding that the world isn't as black and white as it seems.  
  • Question mainstream assumptions.  Headlines never tell the full story.  They perpetuate stereotypes and keep people assuming they understand 'the other'.  When we question the message of the masses, it enables us to see from a different viewpoint and consider another's perspective.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An introduction to writing a rubric for English Language Learners

Education has all sorts of jargon.  For new teachers (especially those teaching English without any previous training), the word 'rubric' might fly right over their heads, leaving them to wonder about this strange-sounding word that so many teachers use.

So, you ask, what's a rubric?  In short, a rubric is a tool teachers use to accurately and objectively measure how much students have learned about a specific topic or skill.  To give you a framework, here are a few samples of  rubrics:  ESL Reading Rubric, ESL Speaking Rubric.

How do I create a rubric?

  1. Determine what you want to measure.  Are you grading for specific, detailed accuracy, or overall understanding?  Are you trying to assess listening/speaking skills or reading/writing skills?  If you are primarily checking to see that students understand the vocabulary, you don't want to design a rubric that measures grammar or syntax.  However, if you want to assess a bigger picture of language skills, you might incorporate all of these aspects.  
  2. Determine the standards for excellence - inadequacy.  (I know, I know, that's a lot of power in your hands, right!?!?)  Typically, you don't want to measure for more than 4 levels.  I usually use something like this:  (4) exceeds expectations; (3) meets expectations; (2) approaches expectations; (1) does not meet expectations.  These standards are typically listed across the top of the table.  
  3. Determine the skills you want to measure.  Choose 3-5 skills you want to assess based on what you are measuring.  For example, if you want to measure speaking ability, you might assess vocabulary use, accuracy, pronunciation, and comprehensibly.  
  4. Write measurable descriptions for each skill/standard.  For example, describe what each expectation looks like for each skill.  When you write descriptions, be as specific as measureable as possible.  Instead of writing, "The student uses lots of advanced vocabularly," you might write, "The student uses over 10 advanced vocabularly words accurately in context.  

I like to give the rubric to the student before the assignment so they know how they'll be graded.  I find students appreciate knowing teachers' expectations ahead of time.

Other helpful resources on rubrics:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Great technology tools for English language teachers

A virtual filing cabinet. Evernote has revolutionized my life.  It's similar to Microsoft's program OneNote, but is cloud-based and FREE!  It allows you to tag web pages you find helpful or interesting.  You can also create your own notes.  I use it for lesson planning and keep all of my class agendas on Evernote.  Because it's accesible online as well, I feel a little safer knowing I can access it from another computer, not just my hard drive or thumb drive.  There's also a "missing manual" for Evernote that you can download here.  Here's a screenshot of my categories.

Jing is a screen capture site which allows you take a 'picture' of any screen or portion of screen that you want.  I find this incredibly useful when I make handouts for my students because it lets me incorporate graphics or webpages in a quick and convenient way.  It can also be used to create videos.  I've seen other instructors using it to record feedback to students on their work.

If you haven't yet heard of Pinterest, it might be a good idea to climb out from underneath the rock over your head.  However, even if you are on Pinterest, you may not be aware of the vast array of educational resources.  Larry Ferlazzo has some great boards, and you can check out my education board and my writing board as well.  

I found Prezi because my new computer doesn't have Microsoft Office and I was looking for free presentation software.  The bonus was how cool Prezi is - the idea is like powerpoint, but the presentations have the feel of a graphic organizer (which, of courses, I LOVE!)  I'm so excited to jazz up presentations a bit in my classes.  Its presentations have the feel of a Mac, and its also free!  See a presentation that I made to introduce myself to my students.

I've come across VoiceThread frequently at conferences I attend.  While I haven't used it in class yet, I'm definitely waiting to.  It would be a great site for ESL students to practice speaking.  It's a great way to create a centralized, interactive discussion on-line around a specific topic.

Wiggio is a tool which facilitates groupwork.  It offers conference calls, calendars, to-do lists and other tools to help groups work together online.

Here are links to other technological resources educators use as well:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Designing high quality activities for ESL students

When teaching, it's important that the materials you design not only solid have solid content, but they also need to be graphically designed in a way that facilitates understanding.  Here are some tips on how to create activities with excellent content and visual appeal:

  • Use SmartArt to create graphic organizers.  You can also use mindmapping or brainstorming sites like or to do this as well.
  • Leave plenty of white space.  This will help to reduce clutter and let the student see what's most important.
  • Make the title is specific and easy to find.  This way a student doesn't spend valuable time trying to understand less important words.
  • Use bold, italics, font sizes, etc. to help draw the eye to what’s most important on the page.
  • Try to repeat the same design style for the repeating components (like directions).
  • If you use graphics, make sure they support the text.
  • Make sure the language AND tasks are written at a level accessible for the intended students.
  • Vary the type of exercises you include.  Try to match the difficulty of task to the level of student.
  • Make language as simple and straightforward as possible.
  • Base your activity only on material the students have learned already.  Including new vocabularly or other unlearned information will only confuse students.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beware of overseas teaching scams

An important issue to be aware of when looking for English teaching jobs is the existence of scams.  Susan Taylor guest-posted an excellent article on this topic on Kalinago English.  The highlights:

Beware of jobs that:
  • require upfront payment
  • look too good to be true
  • have questionable websites
  • use poor English
For more details, click on the link above to read the entire article.

Another good place to look for scams in on Dave's ESL Cafe international job forums.  They have country specific forums which often discuss the realities of a specific location.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Online dictionaries for language learning

While dictionaries have always been crucial in the process of language learning, online dictionaries are introducing a whole new world of accesible information!  Complete with forums, idioms, thesauri, and even encyclopedias in a variety of languages, these sites are a one-stop shop!

Here are a couple of my favorite that are particularly useful for English language learners:

The Free Dictionary

My favorite feature of The Free Dictionary is it's industry specific dictionaries - it has medical, legal, and financial dictionaries.

Word Reference

Don't let it's plainness fool you - this is a powerful tool!  With dictionaries in 15 languages, this is great for a multilingual class.  It's language forums are also very useful in dialogging about word meanings with native speakers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Recommended website: Larry Ferlazzo's websites of the Day

This guy's blog is absolutely fabulous!  He posts about everything in ESL, but particularly about top websites.  One particularly helpful page is the "Most Popular" tab - he posts everything from 'The best websites for learning about MLK" to "Helping students develop self-control."  Larry's won quite a few awards and is an ESL teacher in California.  He also runs an English website for English language learners.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Best flashcard resources for ESL students

Flashcards are a great tool for language learning, and can be used in far more interactive ways than simply flip and recall.  Why spend money on pre-made flashcards if you have paper and a printer?  There are some GREAT websites that offer free flashcards for English language learners.  Here are a few:  All flashcards are free and come in 3 sizes.  Art looks like clip-art.   The site offers over 2900 flashcards!

ESL Flashcards for Kids.  Flashcards come in different sizes, with and without the word describing the picture.

ESL Kidstuff Flashcards.  Over 1500 flashcards in 80 categories.

Kidsparkz.  Offers photo flashcards too.

Kizclub.  This is my all time FAVORITE printables site.  Their flashcards are no exception!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Creative ways to use flashcards with English language learners

Flashcards can conjure up images of boring, repetitive, kill-and-drill activities.  However, they don't have to be used this way!  Flashcards are a GREAT tool for the esl/efl classroom, and can be used quite effectively cooperative and interactive learning.  Here are some ideas:
  • Around the world:  A classic competitive game which keeps students on their toes!  Follow basic directions here for around the world, except substitute vocab for spelling.  Show students flashcards to elicit the word in the target language.
  • Conversation starters:  Pass out flashcards and have students discuss the pictures with a partner.  Have them ask and answer questions about the picture.  This could be a timed activity where pictures are rotated and students discuss new pictures as they go around the class.
  • Memory: Have students match word to picture.
  • Writing prompts:  Give each student a flashcard and have them journal, freewrite, or brainstorm about the picture.
Like these ideas?  Here's a whole HUGE list of more!!!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Best English language grammar reference sites

So just because you teach English may not mean that you understand it, especially if you are a native speaker and don't have special training in teaching English.  Here are some great sites to look up all sorts of  rules and guidelines for the English language: ESL:  includes charts, quizzes and other related resources which review and introduce grammar.

The Basic Elements of English:  Guide to better understanding parts of speech, sentences, punctuation and word use.

Grammar Bytes:  Contains a wide variety of terms, exercises, handouts, presentations, tips and rules addressing English grammar.

Guide to Grammar and Writing:  Breaks down topics by word/sentences, paragraph, and essay levels

Oxford Dictionaries Online:  Good for teacher and student alike, this includes a dictionary, a guide for better writing, and puzzles and games.

Purdue OWL Writing Lab:  Containing a HUGE variety of resources for writing teachers, this site is packed with information for teachers, tutors, and students.

WordReference:  a multilingual (15 languages!), interactive, online dictionary.  The best thing about this site is the forums where you can ask specific questions about word use, etc.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Where should I teach English around the world?

Trying to decide where to pursue an English teaching job around the world?  

If you have a specific country in mind, the best place to start is Dave's ESL Cafe Job Forums.  In these forums, you can find information specific to the country you're interested in, and ask questions about organizations, cultural dynamics, etc. It's THE place to start gathering information about English teaching around the world.  It's crucial to do thorough research about where you're going to teach to avoid scams and all other sorts of 'sticky' situations that can happen.

Here are a few other articles which give some good information about teaching English in specific regions:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reputable TESOL Certificate programs

I frequently get emails from people who want to find respectable TESOL training programs.  Because TESOL certificates vary widely in quality, it can be difficult for employers to gauge their quality. If you're looking to get TESOL certification, you'll first want to decide which type of program you're interested in.  While there's a variety of training programs available, the following are what I would deem 'most reputable' (in order - the first being most reputable.)

1.  University-based program for credit. Getting a TESOL certificate from an accredited university will be the most  broadly accepted and respected program.  You would find the programs by searching universities near you - look in the linguistics, education, or English department for TESOL programs.
  • Advantages: Name recognition, qualified instructors, classroom experience
  • Disadvantages: More expensive, longer
2. Regional training programs from reputable institutions. Oxford and Cambridge are BY FAR the most respected names in TESOL, so anything sponsored by these organizations will be seen more favorably than some of the no-name programs.  This doesn't necessarily mean they're better in quality, just that they do have name recognition.
  • Advantages: Quick, local, inexpensive
  • Disadvantages: Training not as in depth, may not provide classroom experience
3.  Online training programs. Until you enroll in this type of course, it's hard to know the quality.  In addition, online education is still developing and establishing itself.  There may come a day when it is highly regarded, but for the time being, it's still viewed by many as a 'lesser' quality degree.  In a practical sense, teacher training is more effective when modeled in person, something that simply can't happen online.  You can find these types programs by googling "TESOL Certificate Programs".  I can't recommend any specific programs as I don't have personal experience with any.
  • Advantages:  time flexibility, often less expensive
  • Disadvantages: quality, reputation unknown, lack of face-to-face interaction for teacher training

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The pros and cons of online TESOL training

Online TESOL training is growing in popularity, and I get many inquiries about what is the 'best' training program. In the article An online or onsite TESOL course...which is best?, Mich King lists a variety benefits of the online vs. onside program offered by INTESOL, a training organization in Europe (see table below).

While I am not against online education (and think King offers some great support for online education), I do believe it needs to be seen for its strengths AND limitations.  Since I direct an onsite training program, I thought I'd attempt provide a fuller picture for those considering teacher training by outlining the advantages to doing an onsite TESOL course.
Advantages to an online TESOL Course (M. King)Some things to consider
Advantages to an onsite TESOL course
You have the chance to gain a recognised professional qualification at a lower cost.‘Recognised’ is not a given – even if the sponsoring company advertises this.  Reputable employers are often looking for training programs that providereal-life classroom experience – not just book knowledge.You develop a personal, not virtual, relationship with people who then become future colleagues and sources for references.
You can work at home in your own time without having to give up work, or take time off.Are you a self-motivated, disciplined person?  While the flexibility of working at home sounds great, it’s a disaster if you don’t have the personal initiative to finish a course.Being present classes holds you accountable and provides a set work schedule and deadlines.  Some people work better with this structure.
You have the option to work whilst studying. You can even start your first teaching job during your course!This is not an exclusive option for online courses only.  Also, working while studying = NO LIFE.  Are you ok with this reality? (You may have to be if money is tight!)Many onsite courses also allow for this option as they accommodate people who work full-time with evening and weekend classes.
You save money and time by not having to find accommodation or travel to a College every day.Very valid.  Money/time aren’t always as flexible as we’d like them to be!!!  If this money & time are non-negotiable, an online degree is better than nothing.Keep in mind that onsite degrees (depending on the host institution) are usually more reputable for now (I could see this changing as on-line education gets more established and regulated).  If it is truly a matter of money, it’s also important to consider if you’re getting a degree that will qualify you to get the kind of job you’re looking for.
If you want some observed teaching practice you can spend a week doing this when you finish your course, at a time that is convenient for you.This is not documented by the program itself – sometimes employers request institutional documentation of classroom hours and observation on your own time may not count.  In addition, if you don’t have contacts with ESL teachers, it may be hard to find.Quality onsite programs should provide you with in-class observations and experience.  On the ground, instructors usually have contacts in local communities where students in training can observe.
You can take as long as you like to complete an online TESOL or TEFL Certificate, allowing you to fit the course around your life, rather than your life around the course. If you’re a disciplined, hard worker, this is truly a great option.  If you tend to start things and never finish them, don’t let this line of thinking suck you in!  You’ll be better off putting in the focus and work in an environment that holds you accountable.A set schedule can be a benefit, if you are the type of person who works best with parameters set by other people.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why use graphic organizers with English Language Learners

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in the US has its own unique dynamics with regards to content, standards, and testing.  Given this context, many ESL teachers are teaching far more than just English language – they can play the role of social worker, lawyer, parent (not to mention the never-ending paper-pusher!).  I’ve even known ESL teachers who bring breakfast for their students because they knew no food was available at home.  Kudos to all of you doing this meaningful and needed work!

Here are some excellent resources that will help you do your job even better:

PACKED with information, this bilingual (Spanish) site offers research-based guidance for ESL teachers in the form of webcasts, articles, and materials.  Take a look at some of the topics they address for educators:

And here’s an overview of their research topics:

They also offer an email newsletter.  This is by far the most informative and comprehensive ESL website I’ve seen.

Sponsored by the US Department of Education, NCELA provides access to current standards, grants, funding, and opportunities for professional development.  While some may argue that government offices are affected too much by politics and bureaucracy to provide accurate information (and have a darn good point!), it is still a reality that this dictates much of the environment that affects the field of ESL teaching in the US.  Its helpful to understand the system to be able to work most effectively in it.

In many cases, ESL teachers are often advocates for and defenders of policies, practices, and attitudes that support an environment of mutual respect between cultures.  While I take issue with the word ‘tolerance’ (I would hope for more than just ‘tolerance’ in our schools, but that’s another issue), this site offers a wide variety of lesson plans, articles, and tools for teachers looking to help their schools develop a culturally responsive environment in the classroom.

Monday, September 10, 2012

All I really need to know about teaching I learned from teaching without a light switch

My first experience teaching English was in Burkina Faso – at that time one of the ten poorest countries in the world.  My only resources were a box of chalk, a chalkboard, and a florescent light bulb.  The light bulb turned on (most days) by maneuvering two wires sticking out of the wall precariously to make them spark.  My ride to school on the unpaved roads of Ouagadougou involved dodging livestock, steering around deep ruts in the road, and waving at the bright smiles of barefoot children seeing a nasara for the first time in their lives.  Many of the fundamental tools I still use in teaching, I learned in that sparse classroom.
  1. Students who want to learn can accomplish unlimited things. I had one student ride his bike two hours one way to come to my English class because he wanted to practice speaking with a native speaker to improve his English before he went to seminary in English.
  2. There are always resources we can’t afford.  Using what is available goes a long way. While we didn’t even have textbooks, we used songs, quotes, and the chalkboard.  We did groupwork, individual work, and pairwork.  We wrote on the chalkboard, used photocopies, and memorized poems.
  3. Students are first individuals, students second. Until teachers know what affects students’ realities outside of the classroom, they are limited in their knowledge of how to help them learn inside the classroom.
  4. What happens inside my classroom is not the only factor that affects students’ attitudes. The developing world makes it very easy to remember that humans do not completely control what happens around them, and that this sometimes spills over into the classroom.  The donkeys braying outside my classroom every afternoon made this quite clear. On rainy days, my students didn’t come to class because the unpaved roads turned to mud and made travel challenging. 
  5. Sometimes the bigger systems keep the little systems from working right. Hungry children do not focus as well as fed children.  Access to money means access to education means access to freedom of choice.  Corrupt governments oppress the poor and enable the wealthy.
  6. Being a teacher holds inherent power, whether we recognize it or not. In Burkina Faso, I represented America – as much as I hated to admit – and the power that came with it.  Regardless of where my classroom has been, the position of teacher has given me a platform which affects others.  How it affects them is left to whether I handle my power with humble servanthood or proud dictatorship.
  7. A smile goes a long way. Even without the ability to communicate with language, smiles speak a message of their own
This isn’t to say that resources are bad – they are, in fact, very helpful.  It’s just that sometimes the most potent realities of teaching don’t have anything to do with resources for teaching is an act that occurs between two human beings, not two computers or two pieces of paper or two textbooks.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Top resources for American public school ESL educators

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in the US has its own unique dynamics with regards to content, standards, and testing.  Given this context, many ESL teachers are teaching far more than just English language – they can play the role of social worker, lawyer, parent (not to mention the never-ending paper-pusher!).  I’ve even known ESL teachers who bring breakfast for their students because they knew no food was available at home.  Kudos to all of you doing this meaningful and needed work!

Here are some excellent resources that will help you do your job even better:

PACKED with information, this bilingual (Spanish) site offers research-based guidance for ESL teachers in the form of webcasts, articles, and materials.  Take a look at some of the topics they address for educators:

And here’s an overview of their research topics:

They also offer an email newsletter.  This is by far the most informative and comprehensive ESL website I’ve seen.

Sponsored by the US Department of Education, NCELA provides access to current standards, grants, funding, and opportunities for professional development.  While some may argue that government offices are affected too much by politics and bureaucracy to provide accurate information (and have a darn good point!), it is still a reality that this dictates much of the environment that affects the field of ESL teaching in the US.  Its helpful to understand the system to be able to work most effectively in it.

In many cases, ESL teachers are often advocates for and defenders of policies, practices, and attitudes that support an environment of mutual respect between cultures.  While I take issue with the word ‘tolerance’ (I would hope for more than just ‘tolerance’ in our schools, but that’s another issue), this site offers a wide variety of lesson plans, articles, and tools for teachers looking to help their schools develop a culturally responsive environment in the classroom.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Segments of the TESOL field

Given that the public at large doesn't understand the TESOL field, many students entering the world of TESOL also don't understand what types of areas they might work in.  Contrary to popular belief, there are far more sectors in the field that just public education and working internationally.  Here's an overview of the field.

Friday, September 7, 2012

TESOL organization offers online certificate

The Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) organization has just started an online training program.  While many online certificate programs are unpredictable in quality and reputation, the TESOL organization carries an excellent international reputation, and I would foresee it being more reputable than other online certificates (though I still hold that face-to-face courses are most effective).  However, if face-to-face courses are not an option for you, TESOL program looks like a valid option for training.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Demand for English language teachers

The New York Times has a great infographic on the growing need for ESL teachers over the past decade:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why I love Oxford Picture Dictionaries

I thought I’d take a post to expand on one of my must-haves for ESL teachers, the Oxford Picture Dictionaries.  I’ve always LOVED picture dictionaries, so I’m naturally biased toward this type of material, BUT some of the more recent materials Oxford has developed to supplement the picture dictionary itself are quite impressive.  If you haven’t looked at these materials yet, it’s worth some time to see if it would be a useful resource for the setting in which you teach.

Oxford Picture Dictionary Interactive
From the website: Oxford Picture Dictionary Interactive features easy navigation and provides practice opportunities for every word in the Oxford Picture Dictionary, Second Edition . In addition, video clips, readings, conversations, and writing activities provide hours of contextualized language practice.

  • Contextualized language practice and activities to reinforce new vocabulary.
  • Immediate access to target words, promoting language autonomy.
  • Tab-style navigation that provides a clear, intuitive interface even for novice computer users.
  • Flashcard Maker that enables students to print a word and picture cards based on their individual needs.
  • Vocabulary Notebook for students to actively create an electronic notebook of words and images, facilitating independent learning.
If you have access to smartboard technology in your classroom, the OPD also has interactive presentation software that you can use along with the text book.  The OPD is also available in bilingual versions in Farsi, Japanese, French, Urdu, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, Hatian Creole, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Oxford Picture Dictionary for Kids
This is an excellent alternative for working with children learning English.  In this series, Oxford offers a workbook, a teacher’s guide, many reproducibles, CDs and a battery of readers for student use.

Oxford Picture Dictionary for Content Areas
Designed to ‘accelerate academic development’, this dictionary is designed specifically for the ESL student in American content based courses.  Topics covered include geography, US history/government, the human body, living things ,the physical world, earth science, math, and technology.