Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mixing It Up

Purpose: Learners tend to sit with others who speak the same first language, share the same race or ethnicity, or are the same age or gender. While there are certain advantages to allowing adult students to choose their places (open seating), less desirable results can be: students speak to each other in their native languages, disrupting class, students speak less English and pay less attention, relying on translations from neighbors, students don’t get to know each other well across cultures and language groups.

Why not allow students to dictate seating on certain days, but at other times, provide activities that determine placement and enhance learning and student interaction and integration? Here are some ways to group learners randomly, based on interactive review exercises.

Preparation time: 10-15 minutes (time needed to label tables, write index cards, and, if necessary, arrange tables and chairs)

Materials: index cards or slips of paper, post-it notes

Preparation: Select a specific skill to review in English: pronunciation (words that sound alike, words that have the same initial sound, etc.), vocabulary (seasons, rooms in a house), verb tenses, synonyms, antonyms, prepositions, etc. Determine how many groups you’ll need, which helps you decide on arrangement of tables and chairs.

1. Before students arrive, use post-it notes to indicate table categories. For lower level, consider using pictures instead of words. If you’ve decided on forms of speech and four groups, write one form on each post-it note and place one on each table.
2. Prepare individual student cards for distribution. In this case, you’d need about 20 cards.
3. Write table assignments on the board:

Nouns Table #1
Verbs Table #2
Adjectives Table #3
Adverbs Table #4

4. As students enter, ask them to pick a card from a container, read the table categories on the board, and seat themselves at the correct table.

5. Encourage students to help each other.

6. Check to see that everyone is seated correctly.

7. Direct students to introduce themselves to each other and share the words on their cards.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Best Practice: Modeling and Demonstrating New Vocabulary

Everyone loves vocabulary and it is a very important part of language learning, but it is easy to get carried away and teach too many new words in one lesson or confuse students with spontaneous explanations. Read on to learn more about best practices for teaching vocabulary.

How do you choose vocabulary to teach to students? Start with good activity and lesson objectives. Let the objectives guide your choices.

How do you explain the words? Concrete words can usually be explained by using props, realia, drawings, or a picture dictionary. Plan ahead so that you have the materials you need. Abstract words are more easily presented by giving examples. Good examples help students to infer meaning.

Let’s take, as an example, the word appropriate, a word that might be encountered in the intermediate level. Here are some examples that should help students infer meaning:
1) Ask students about movies they’ve seen. Then ask: Is this movie appropriate for children? Why or why not?
2) Is it appropriate to wear blue jeans to a job interview?
3) Is it appropriate to talk on your cell phone during class?
Now elicit examples from the group. If the students use the word correctly, you’ll know they understand it.

As part of your lesson planning

  • think about the specific language (key words) that you want the learners to produce

  • practice explaining those words in level-appropriate language

  • gather visuals and props that show meaning

  • think of examples that will help demonstrate meaning

  • try to limit the number of new words to 10 (memory can only hold 6 to 10 new items).

What about additional words that students ask about during class? If the word isn’t relevant to the topic, you might decide to write it down and talk to the individual student about it later. If the word is useful to the whole group and relevant to the topic, think before you speak. Keep your examples simple. Use visuals if possible, or act it out. If you need to look it up in a student dictionary, take the time to do that. It’s better to wait and be clear, than provide an immediate and confusing answer!

For example, let’s say that the students ask you about the word scientist. It isn’t related to today’s lesson. You could answer that a scientist is a job.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Milling to Music

Purpose: There are many ways to pair students up for activities. Here’s one way to find
partners and get learners out of their seats at the same time.


1) Play a song or other piece of music.
2) Everyone gets up and walks around the room.
3) When the music stops, the person closest to you is your partner.
4) Now do an activity like Sentence Starters in pairs:

Each student has the beginning of a sentence. For beginners, it might be “Every day I _________________.”

For more advanced students, it might be “I have never _________________.”

Each partner shares the stem he/she has and the partner must complete the statement.

After reading an article in a higher level class, sentence starters can promote critical thinking: One example of an opinion in the article was ___________.

One thing I disagreed with in the article was ___________.

Repeat playing music, stopping to complete the activity with a new partner each time.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Out of Your Seats!

Purpose: Most of us can only sit for a limited period of time before our capacity to learn decreases. Some of us learn better using a multi-sensory approach. Plan at least one activity in every lesson where learners get out of their seats. In this way, you appeal to a variety of learning styles. All students will return to their seats more alert and energized. Here are two examples of activities that require little or no preparation.

I. Vote with Your Feet

Preparation Time: 5-10 minutes (to make signs the first time)

Materials: Make 3 signs for the classroom. Depending on level of students, signs read:
“strongly disagree”, “strongly agree”, and “neutral”
“YES”, “NO”, and “?”.

Preparation: Place the signs along a wall or at either end of the room with the “neutral” or “?”sign in the middle.

1. Make a statement to the class. For example, if you are studying months of the year and seasons, you might say: I love winter. Then demonstrate what you want the students to do, by asking for volunteers to place themselves next to the sign that indicates their feeling or belief about winter. Teacher or tutor also participates, perhaps picking a position that hasn’t been chosen. Now each person explains his/her opinion.
2. Demonstrate a second time if necessary, with a different statement: Driving a car in the winter is very difficult.
3. Once instructions are clear, ask the students to arrange themselves along the spectrum in response to a new statement.
4. Encourage them to explain their position to the others in the group. One person from each group summarizes the reasons stated.

II. Line-Ups

Preparation Time: 0

Materials: none needed

1. Ask learners to line up sequentially: by month and day of birth, by height, in alphabetical order by first name, then last name, or by dates in U.S. history, for citizenship students.
2. Depending on the theme or grammar focus, ask students questions. For example, use “before” and “after” to talk about months of the year or where individual students are located in line. Use the comparative and superlative to talk about who is shorter, who is taller, who is shortest and tallest. For history, match an event with a date.
3. Have students ask questions of each other or make statements about the line-up, using the appropriate vocabulary or grammar point.

Give each student a number and have them line up from smallest to biggest number. Students self-correct, then take turns reading the numbers, once the order is correct.