Why Can’t They Just Get This Right?

Have you ever met one of those errors that simply will not go away? In Kazakhstan, Many students would say to me, “I am agree with this,” instead of, “I agree.” It didn’t matter the level of the student. I would hear students making this mistake over and over. And the standard error correction practices didn’t seem to make much of an impact.

Why is it that our students seem to have these persistent errors? And why is it that students from a particular country or culture seem to share so many of these errors?

Interlanguage?

The answer is interlanguage. Interlanguage is a sort of language (or pidgin) that students construct when they are learning a second language. Interlanguage shares features of both students’ first language and the new language, and it changes as students master the new language.

Basically what happens is that students process a new language through the filter of their first language-trying to apply the grammar and language features to the new language. If you’ve ever tried to communicate in a new language by translating an idiom from Englsih literally into the new language, that’s interlanguage. Another feature of interlanguage is the overapplication of rules of the second language. When a beginner student learns that adding -ed to verbs makes them past tense in English, they often start using that rules every where. They say things like “sitted” and “eated”.

So why were my Kazakhstan students saying, “I am agree,” instead of “I agree”? Well, in their first language, Russian, it’s common to say “я согласен” which literally translates to “I am agreeable,” i.e. the adjective form of “agree”. However in Russian, you usually drop the verb “to be” in the present tense.

So to produce, “I am agree,” my students had to apply a few rules of Russian and a few of English:

  1. They added in the verb “to be” because they know that in English we do use it.
  2. They used the correct form of “agree” (instead of “agreeable”) because they heard that form being used.
  3. However, they missed that “agree” here is a verb and therefore we don’t actually need the verb “to be”

Continue reading “Why Can’t They Just Get This Right?”

Make Your Own Icebreaker

icebreakerWhen I was working on 50 Activities for the First Day of School, I was reading so many icebreakers and getting to know you activities that I started to wonder if there was a common framework to icebreakers. Was there a standard set of steps teachers could improvise around?  How could you make make your own icebreaker, something original, but not unfamiliar to students?

I played with a lot of ideas before I came up with this Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart. The chart outlines the four major steps of an icebreaker activity, although you can usually skip or abbreviate one of those steps.

  1. Students usually acquire information from each other or the classroom or teacher. From the other side of the coin, they are sharing or giving information
  2. Then they usually have to record that information somewhere, and usually as they record it, they are manipulating it, doing something with it.
  3. Then they share or distribute the information.
  4. Finally, they use that information in someway. This step can be as simple as reporting back to the class or as complex as writing a biographical essay about a partner.

For each step, the chart has a number of examples of how that could be done. You can also think back on your favorite icebreaker and reverse engineer it to see how it accomplishes each of these steps.

You can find the Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart at Alphabet Publishing, along with other free downloadable worksheets for icebreakers and getting to know you activities. I probably shouldn’t be sharing this, as it might put me out of business! Who needs a book of activities when you can make your own? But I can’t resist sharing this, and maybe getting some feedback on it!

So how does the Make Your Own Icebreaker chart work?

Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart from Alphabet Publishing
I identified four steps that students go through in a typical icebreaker, or getting to know you activity. I’ll explain them below and illustrate them with a very simple interview-style icebreaker. I should not that not all icebreakers have these steps, or have them in this order. In fact, I’d say most icebreakers have three of the four steps here. And sometimes there’s a prep stage, where you make a worksheet or students think about what they are going to say.

I’d also note that the steps don’t always go in this order. In Find Someone Who, the teacher records information in a chart and then makes the students acquire it.  Or sometimes the steps happen simultaneously. When students are asking and answering questions, they are acquiring and recording information at the same time.

Step 1: Acquire Information

So usually the first step of an icebreaker is to get some information from a partner. It might come from asking questions or reading a name tag or a worksheet the teacher has handed out. In some cases, the teacher or student does some prep work before, in creating the information. You might have students fill in a profile.

In a simple interview-style icebreaker, students acquire information by asking their partner questions such as “What’s your favorite color?” or “What did you do over summer break?”

Step 2: Record and Manipulate

Now that students have asked their questions of their partner, or read their teacher’s profile, they have to do something with the information. Having students manipulate information helps them to remember it and evaluate it. You want students to remember what they have learned from their friends and classmates beyond the first day. You also want them to make connections–“Hey, he likes baseball. I wonder if he likes other sports, too.” Otherwise, there’s point in doing a getting to know you activity at all.

In an interview, students would be taking notes on their partner, or perhaps filling out a class profile worksheet the teacher gave them.

Step 3: Distribute

This may be the step that is most often skipped. Usually students jump from recording information to telling someone about it. In our interview example, students would now jump to step 4, reporting the information to the class or another partner.

But adding a step where students leave the information somewhere–on a bulletin board, mixed up at random, thrown in a snowball, adds an extra element to the icebreaker. It allows you to have students find a new partner by chance, as in Who Wrote That? Or students can hang a fact they have collected about their partner on the wall, and every one in the class can read about everyone else. This opens up the icebreaker so that the whole class is learning about the whole class.

Step 4: Use the Information

Finally, you want students to do something with what they learned, whether it be report back to the class, report to another pair, or go home and write a paragraph about their new friend. In Two Truths and a Lie, students evaluate the truth of what they were told. As a wrap-up to Who Wrote That, students may expand on a simple fact to tell a whole story about themselves or their partner. Students can act, sing, dance, or do interpretive dance (although that might be a bit intimidating on the first day of class).

 

So there you go. You have all the tools you need to make amazing icebreakers. Let me know what you come up with!

Try to Pronounce Students' Names

Pronounce Students' Names My Name My IdentityYou’ll never be able to pronounce my name,” the student from Uzbekistan said. Little did she know I had lived in Kazakhstan for several years and the two languages are very similar. Nor was her name really all that difficult, just long.

“Is is Zulfizar Abduraimova (not her real name)?”I pronounced her name fairly well, I think.

She was floored. It was a small thing, pronouncing a student’s name correctly. It had extra impact because you don’t see a lot of Uzbek students in the US and it’s not a popular destination for Americans, either. Of all the English classes in the world, what were the odds she’d walk into mine? But that little trick bought me a lot of good will and rapport with her.

Contrast that with an all-too common scene in my experience, fictionalized below:

“You’ll never be able to pronounce my name. Call me Zul,” says the student.

“Oh thank God,” thinks the teacher. Then later in the staff room, “Zul? Who told her that was a good English name?”

“Have you met Shih-Wei? But I told him to call him Stephen.”

“Oh, really? I thought Shih-Wei was Rose’s real name. Can you believe there’s a guy who calls himself Rose?”

The chain reaction of disrespcct

See what can happen when students adopt a nickname because they feel their name doesn’t fit English or their teacher doesn’t care enough to try to pronounce their name? Students end up choosing nicknames that are still mocked. The only thing accomplished is that the student learns that their name is indeed not a proper English name. How much easier it would be to learn their names, rather than give them nicknames?

Now I’m not talking about nicknames the student has chosen for fun. Or that their friends have given them. I’m talking about nicknames or shortenings of their name students take on specifically because they feel their name is “too hard” for English or “sounds funny to native speakers”. I’m talking about names given to hide or distort who they are.

Names are closely linked to identity. Respecting a students’s identity is the easiest way to build rapport. That’s why I applaud the My Name, My Identity Campaign. The campaign encourages teachers to learn to pronounce students’ names correctly. There are some great resources  to help you, including a great guide on International Naming Conventions and  four websites to help you hear names and see them spelled phonetically.

What if You Can’t Pronounce Students’ Names?

I will add one caveat, which is that you may not be able to pronounce your student’s name as perfectly as a native speaker. We tell our students that a native accent is not a realistic goal for most language learners. They shouldn’t expect us to have perfect pronunciation, either. However, there’s no excuse not to make an effort. They will be able to tell if you are trying or not. And it really will go a long way to building rapport with your students.

Cross-posted on Alphabet Publishing’s blog

Visualize Your Goals: 30 Goals Cycle 7

For various reasons, I’m digging through a lot of communities and bloggers I used to follow with dedication. That led me back to the 30 Goals Challenge, which I really enjoyed. It’s a great way to be inspired as a teacher, writer, and a blogger. So here’s my entry for Goal 1 of Cycle 7 Visualize Your Goals
Visualize Your Goals

My Two Main Goals

My two goals are in the center and they’re quite broad, but I suspect quite straightforward: To make a living and to be happy. I should point out that making a living for me is about more than just making money or eating and sleeping. It’s about being productive, which is something that’s important to me.

I’ve then illustrated three branches or kinds of activities that make me happy and help me make a living.

The Three Branches

On the bottom left, there’s networking and reaching out to other teachers, including talking (I don’t know why those faces look so scary), social media, and a shout out to 30 Goals and communities like it.

On top, there’s the bulk of my work: writing and promoting my writing. Of course, there’s a wonderful overlap where I reach out to communities to help market my book and get swept back into those communities again and improve my teaching. That’s the best kind of professional development cycle!

Finally, there’s the part of my life that is sheer fun. I think it’s important to map fun and plan for it as you would work. So there’s family time with my son and my hobbies, like playing guitar, reading, and  working in the garden. That sprawling thing is meant to be a tomato plant but it kind of looks like green river now, which is fine.

What are your goals? What do they look like? How will you get there? Leave a comment or join 30Goals and Visualize your Goals as well!

50 Activities for the First Day of School

50 Activities for the First Day of School by Walton Burns

50 Activities for the First Day of School by Walton Burns

My book is officially for sale!

50 Activities for the First Day of School is a collection of activities teachers can use on the first day of school or anytime they need an icebreaker or team building activity. While aimed at the English language classroom, the book is useful to any teacher who wants to start the school year out right!

This book features

  • Classic icebreakers and name games
  • Fun ways to start teaching on the first day
  • New innovative activities to build rapport
  • Practical ideas to set the rules from day one
  • Engaging ways to introduce the course right away
  • Effective methods of assessing your students’ language level

You can also find more information on the book and great first day of school resources at The First Day of School webpage.

Free Stock Images for Bloggers

I’ve been slowly collecting a number of sites that provide free stock images on this post. Now that I’ve been using them for a while, I’m updating this with a few notes about each one.

  • http://minimography.com/ is probably the one I use least. The images are all very minimalist and clean and modern. They look great, if that’s what you want. Since I tend to use pictures of smiling and laughing children a lot (go figure), this site isn’t a lot of use to me. But it’s very high quality and the pictures are strictly curated.
  • https://unsplash.com/ is my favorite for dramatic, inspirational, or simply beautiful shots. There’s lots of shots here of night skies and mountains and rushing rivers. Often they are filtered for dramatic effect. I really like these free stock images for backgrounds or to put behind quotes. It’s also fun because they offer to email you 10 images every week. Or you can use their Chrome app that produces a random image every time you open a new tab. I had to disable it because it was too distracting.
  • https://freerangestock.com/ provides what most people think of as stock images, but free! I can find my laughing students, teachers looking industrious, and people staring at cellphones intently, along with anything else you might find at Shutterstock or iStock. That includes graphics and vector images, too. Great variety, great quality.
  • http://pixabay.com is also a pretty standard stock image site. I’d say the variety and quality is not as good as FreeRangeStock, but I’ve found some fun images there.
  • http://morguefile.com/ is similair to pixabay. It’s hit or miss whether you find what you are looking for and whether the quality is any good. Morguefile does feature only photographs, so no cartoons or icons or vector drawings.
  • http://gratisography.com/ is a mix of standard stock images and beautiful inspirational shots. All photos are the work of one photographer so the variety isn’t as great as other sites. But the style tends to be uniform, so it’s very useful for finding multiple shots that work well together.
  • https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/by-2.0/ Flickr is a photo-sharing site for photographers, professional and amateur alike. This site is just a way of searching for images there that the photographers are allowing others to use. Be sure to check the terms. In most cases you will need to include attribution, and in some cases you can’t alter the image in any way.
  • https://picjumbo.com/
  • http://findicons.com/ As the title implies, this one is all icons. I’m amazed how often I use icons in my writing. I like adding marginalia like helpful hints or references to other pages. I like using icons to set those off. So this is a great site for finding lots of icons.

Classroom Posters for the First Day of Class

These are my two favorite classroom posters. They provide great first day of school activities to help students get to know each other. What’s even better is that the bonding and team building goes beyond the first day. All by themselves, students start congregating around these posters to chat and talk about themselves.

iyow
The first poster invites students to share some words in their own language. By letting students bring their own language and identity in the classroom, you’re showing that you know they are more than the sum of what they can express in English and that learning English doesn’t mean forgetting their past. One of the big surprises with using this poster is how fast students start teaching each other words using English as their medium, of course. They start demanding to know things in English so they can translate into their own language! Furthermore, students start thinking about register, tone, difficulties of translating, pragmatics, and social context. Breaks and time before or after class will always find a student staring at this poster.

worldmap

The second poster is a simple world map and I love this one I found with all the flags on it. A simple day one activity is to have students label their country with their name. Then have them look at the map and their classmates’ countries of origin. Get them to form at least one question about one other student’s country, such as what do you eat there, what is the weather like, why is your flag like that. Students find the person they want to ask and briefly share information about their home countries. This is another one that gets students hanging out during breaks, studying who is from where and discussing their countries of origin.

 

Both posters are for sale in my Teachers Pay Teachers store in multiple sizes: 24 x 36, A2, legal, and letter. Purchase and download the In Your Own Words Poster and the World Flags Map Poster.