jonathon narvey's ESL CENTRE


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

This is what it's all about

Some days, you find exactly what you're looking for. Sometimes, when you're not looking for something in particular, you find exactly what you need.

While scanning through Youtube randomly, I found this very entertaining video that anyone working in the ESL industry should be able to relate to. Even though you can see the punch line coming from a mile away, it's still funny. Enjoy.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

English through songs

Music is a popular way for ESL students to practice their listening skills - and if they aren't shy about it, their speaking skills. Lyrics can be just as useful to practice as stock phrases when the grammar isn't too messed up, and easier to memorize.

These kinds of lessons can also be whipped up quickly with the help of some burned CDs and, a site where you can usually find the words for popular songs.

Of course, you don't have to use - just typing in a block-quoted verse of the song in question will usually lead you to the rest of the lyrics.

These sorts of lessons can even be too easy to create, copying and pasting the lyrics onto an MS Word document, erasing random bits and printing them out five minutes before class starts. Instead, take the time to only erase those words or phrases that you actually wanted to practice (eg. all of the articles - a, an, the; all of the modals; can, must, have to, etc; or words ending in the sound, "m" or "n"). The students will get way more out of the lesson if it is focused.

Just remember - leave the gangsta rap at home for your own entertainment. We're trying to create fluent, functional English speakers - not 50 cent wannabes.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Canada Day? What's that?

Around this time of year, Canadian ESL teachers' thoughts turn to just what our great country is all about. Our students, on the other hand, will need a little prodding.
This Canada Day (or any day for that matter), it might be nice to spread a little knowledge about our country. I've already listed some ideas for talking about Canadian culture and related resources here. A short but fun ESL quiz about Canada can be found here.

While teaching about one's country, there can be a temptation to go overboard and just start lecturing about every boring little detail that you can think of while students listen with practiced patience. A few discussion topics about Canada that might be fun:

1. Canada was "born" in 1867. It was a very different kind of place. Guess how it might have been different from today.
2. What are some popular sports in Canada?
3. Maple Syrup is a well-known Canadian product. What other products come from Canada?
4. What are some cliches or stereotypes about Canadians?

Happy Canada Day!

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Monopoly: it's not just for Microsoft CEOs

Just for the record, I'm not a big fan of using games in the classroom.

I've acquired a reputation as a fairly serious instructor over the course of my career. I only rarely ever even use the word "game" for fear that students will complain that they are wasting their time playing instead of learning. Students don't always recognize that playing is one way of learning. ("Activity" is my code word for when I do break away from the norm and let my students have some fun.)

In the rare instance when I do pull out a boardgame for use in the classroom, it's usually Monopoly.

I use the game to reinforce three kinds of target language for ESL learners:
1. Numbers and money skills
2. Idioms related to business and money transactions.
3. Negotiating language (for higher level and/or Business English students).

A few points to remember before using Monopoly in the classroom:

1. Keep your instructions simple. Explain the premise of the game - "The one with the most stuff at the end of the game wins." Don't get into too many little details with the rules. Just explain how they can make money from rent and that they will lose the game very quickly if they fail to obtain the color-coded matches for their properties.

2. Give the students their cash and randomly-distributed properties right at the beginning, before you explain the rules. They will understand more easily with visual aids (and are usually put into a better mood with $1,500 cold Monopoly cash in hand).

3. Give the students five minutes to negotiate in a free-for-all, trading or selling properties until each player or pair of players has at least one complete set. Remind them that even with a complete set, they will never win the game if they don't put houses on their properties.

4. Roll the dice and get going. Students usually learn quicker by playing than if someone explains.

A complete game can usually be finished in less than forty minutes if this method is used. This leaves time for any preliminary vocabulary lesson before the game or review afterwards.

Remember, don't try to teach the students strategy. Some will pick it up instantly - and the others, well... in Monopoly, as in life there are winners and there are losers.

The point is to have fun in a fast-paced activity that will hopefully reinforce a lesson. Enjoy!

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Here we go again... Yeeehaaaaaa!

With classes changing over every month or so, ESL teachers can be forgiven for sensing a little deja vu at the beginning of a new term.

First comes the obligatory introductions, followed by a quick review of the school's rules ("Speak English, do your homework every day and if you slept in because you were hung over, at least have the decency to tell me your bus broke down") and the (hopefully) smooth transition into their very first lesson.

Keep in mind that these are not public school students who have to be in your class. They are your clients and you are providing a service in a very competitive market.

A few rules to remember to keep you and your class happy:

1. Be nice. I once neglected to greet a student as she walked in on her first day as I was busy writing the lesson topic on the board. She transferred out right after class, and took two of her friends with her. This prompted a very uncomfortable meeting with the school's manager.

Turn on the charm. It will pay dividends later.

2. Make sure you actually teach them something. This may seem obvious, but a lot of teachers like to spend a big chunk of time getting to know their students on the first day (which is good) but don't leave enough time to actually teach a complete lesson (which is not so good). Every day, even the first day, should be useful for them.

3. Write your email address on the board (You don't have to use your main email - you can sign up for one just for this purpose). This may seem a little weird, but this gives the students a signal that you are approachable at any time.

When another teacher advised me to do this I was afraid I'd be having to write tons of responses that I just didn't have time for. Actually, students rarely use it. Sometimes a student will email for some clarification regarding homework or just let you know they came down with the flu so they won't be coming to class. It's just one more tool to build a rapport with your students.

Don't ask the students for their email addresses on the first day, though. That's just creepy.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Here's your diploma. Now please leave

Students need benchmarks of progress.

Tests are great for measuring a student's progress during their course. Most schools encourage regular testing and most students appreciate it.

But in my years of teaching in various settings, I've noticed that when it comes time for students to finally graduate, some schools don't think too much about the importance of an actual graduation ceremony.

Some schools simply hand out graduation certificates in the classroom, without any ceremony, and take pictures. That's about it.

My own school does have ceremonies every week, where we give nice-looking (but easy to print up) certificates to our graduates, let them say a few words of thanks and receive gifts from their proud colleagues. We also ensure to welcome the new students with a loud, bombasically enthusiastic greeting.

Yes, the ceremony is lengthy, entailing lost classroom time. And it can be pretty boring by the time we get to the twentieth speech or so.

But symbolism is important, too. When a big ceremony is undertaken, the students' sense of accomplishment is reinforced. This is also a good time for the student to take measure of how the school has helped them. A few minutes of solid reflection may translate into more students coming to the school by word of mouth from happy graduates.

Since ESL schools are businesses, they should remember that while time is money, taking the time to do things right has its own reward.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Technology is wonderful when it works

All teachers must strike a balance between actively lobbying for resources that they want and coming to terms with the resources that they actually have.

The challenge is especially striking when it comes to computer hardware.

Last week, the ancient computer monitor in our teachers' room started acting funny. The picture went fuzzy and then shrunk to a small point of light in the centre of the screen. After a few seconds, the MS Word screen came back online - upside down.

When faced with this situation, what should the teacher do? Choose one of the following.
A. Turn off the monitor, then turn it back on and hope it starts working again.
B. Call tech support.
C. Get the bottle of whiskey that is kept for exactly these sorts of situations out of the drawer.
D. Turn the monitor upside down so that the screen will appear right-side-up.

Of course, any of the above suggestions might be appropriate. If you look carefully at the picture above, you will see what we did.

Good luck with all your technical difficulties.

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