English Advantage

Opinions, Reflections, and Resources from an ESL Teacher

Free ebook On the Board

New free ebook On the Board: 200 Fast, Fun & Easy Warmer, Filler and Fast-Finisher ActivitiesGet our new free ebook, this week only over at Smashwords before it goes live everywhere!

This is a collection of proverbs, quotes, riddles, and brainteasers and other fun stuff I’ve curated over the years. Put one up on the board and get students thinking and working. It’s the perfect no-prep warmup, do-now, bell-ringer, filler, or fast-finisher activity.

To learn more, check out the book page. Then head over to Smashwords and download it for free in any ebook format you can imagine!

Restaurant Roleplay for Beginners

restaurant roleplayThis restaurant role play is how I teach beginner students to order at a restaurant. The goal of the lesson is to get them to do a role play of being at a restaurant, so the focus of the lesson is as communicative as possible. In addition, I have an intermediate/advanced level restaurant lesson that you can check out.

Restaurant roleplays are a great way to teach students survival skills. They also provide a basic customer service dialogue that they can modify. And I like how they absorb more complex grammar such as “would” without having to parse it just yet.

This full lesson plan helps ESL false beginners and low-level students practice ordering at a restaurant. The lesson includes:

  • complete teacher notes
  • a warm-up
  • an exercise that elicits key language
  • an exercise to write a sample dialogue
  • work with some target vocabulary and grammar
  • materials for a role play including sample menus and a sample dialogue for students to follow.

Objectives

  • To give students practice ordering in a restaurant
  • To practice the structures “I would like” and “May I have”
  • To promote fluency and automaticity

This restaurant role play lesson plan has been moved to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can purchase and download it there.

Interview a Star: An Interview Activity for Fun Speaking Practice

interview activityThis is a pretty simple speaking lesson and interview activity where each student picks a famous person and then the other students interview him/her as that person. It can be done in class or assign kids to do research for homework first.

Materials

Preparation

Each student should choose a famous person they plan to act as. Alternatively you can assign roles so this lesson can be linked to a recent reading about famous people, or it can be linked to current events where students choose people in the news. Students can also choose or be assigned fictional characters so it can be linked directly to a novel, film or almost any activity you’ve done in class.

If the characters are well-known to everyone (ideally they should be), you can run the activity in class. Otherwise you might have students choose the famous person for homework and do research. Or you can bring source materials to class and do a lesson on researching. In any case, students should be prepared to be interviewed as this person. To keep the class focused or make sure they do some research, you can use the Interview Fact Sheet. In any case, students should be ready to be interviewed as this character so they should know something about them and be prepared to improvise, guess or make up any answers on the spot!

Interview a Star

Now, you can do this two ways:
1) Put the students in pairs. Each student prepares 5 questions for the other student and then they take turns interviewing each other.

2) Do a mock talk-show in class. In turn, each student goes to the front of the class, announces who they are acting as, and the whole class can interview them.

You may choose to have the interviewers in turn do some research first. This works best if you pair the students. One way to do it is to have each student choose who they will be. Then pair them, at random or have them choose who they want to interview. Now each student has to do research on both the person they picked AND the person their partner picked. That way the questions will be more relevant and focused.

You have to be a little careful to make sure that people don’t ask insulting or slanderous questions like, “President Bush, why are you so ugly?” Or, “Angelina Jolie, will you sleep with me?” Other than that, this is a very fun lesson and students get very creative explaining away scandals or making up histories of their characters. It’s especially fun when the interviewer knows more about the person than the actor does. Encourage students to be creative!

Note: For beginner students, you might ask them to just find some basic information on the star and formulate basic questions like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you like to do?” For higher level students, I would push them to ask more probing questions and give complete answers.

Thanks to EnglishBaby! for reminding me of this great idea.

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

Share Your Failure Story: 30 Goals 7

Seriously, this could have been my class

The Class from Hell

I just shared a post about the class from hell on my publisher’s blog. As I wrote about them there:

I’ve never forgotten the 9th graders from Lyceum 33 in Astana. It was the worst class I’ve ever have. One student came to class early, stuck his head out the window, and started to smoke! While I was standing there. Another student simply refused to hand me back his test. I said I’d give him a 0 if he didn’t give it back to me and he said, “F*** your 0, who cares?” and walked out of class. I knew it wasn’t all my fault, because I saw kids fighting in the halls. One 14-year-old told me he knew how to drive. He stole his father’s car all the time and drove around with his buddies, getting drunk in the car.

These were the biggest incidents, but every day was a struggle. If I told them to get out their book, there were audible sighs and rolling of eyes. If I asked if anyone had questions about the task, I’d get students asking what basketball team I liked and if it was true that all Americans were fat. We all have students who pack up their bags 5 minutes before class ends, but I had kids packing up their bags and walking out. And the cellphones, oh, the cellphones…..They texted each other in class!

This sounds pretty clearly like a story of student failure, right?

And yet, I firmly believe student failure is also teacher failure. There’s always something we can do.

Sit Down and Shut Up?

The other teachers weren’t getting eaten alive. When I studied what they were doing versus what I was doing, I noticed a lot of behavior that I didn’t like. In this culture, teachers were unassailable authority figures who yelled, screamed, and insulted the students. They never admitted to any wrong doing, and many classes involved students sitting quietly, copying from the board or a textbook, or taking notes of a lecture–ok for college, but in high school, not so much. Especially as they had specifically hired me to teach English speaking! Clearly, the sit down and shut up approach was not going to work.

Keep Them Engaged

Finally, I realized that there was one thing my fellow teachers were doing in class that I did want to emulate. They were keeping the students busy. Now I didn’t want to give my students meaningless busy work. However, by reflecting on my routine and finding the places where students weren’t doing anything, I managed to take a lot of dead time out of my lesson. When the students didn’t have time to be bad, they were actually pretty good.

For me, and I’d imagine for most teachers, the times when students can be most idle are:

  1.  Taking attendance
  2. Writing objectives
  3. When you’re giving directions
  4. When they finish early. And that goes for activities as well as quizzes and tests.
  5. When handing back work

By tweaking my routines, preparing an early-finisher/Do-now file, and doing a lot of housekeeping activities on a blog or webpage instead of in class, I was able to kill a lot of dead-time. Suddenly my class from hell turned into the mildly disruptive class of pretty typical teenagers. Or as one of the bigger, more resistant kids put it to me once:

“I like to make teachers annoyed. It’s a fun game. But at least you try to teach us things. I appreciate that. Please don’t take it personally that I get on your nerves!”

 

How about you? How do you keep your class moving and dead time to a minimum?

Presidential Election Lesson Resources

PresElectionVThese are some resources I put together about the presidential election, way back in 2008. The focus of the class was less on the individual candidates and more on the process of the presidential election itself. It’s the process that often confuses international students. Finding information on the candidates is often the easiest part. A lot of newspapers publish articles such as, “Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump’s Economic Plans: A Comparison” with lots of tables and clear summaries. Those are great for ESL students!

Feel free to share your go-to election day resources in the comments

With any conversation class, you want to make sure you have lots of background information. When dealing with something as complicated as the US election for president, the class is going to have a lot of questions. So you either need to read up and bring materials to look up anything you didn’t memorize. Or you need resources that the students can read and research themselves.

Resources and Materials on the American Presidential Election

Read Article II of the Constitution which defines how a President is elected and the powers of the President. Links to relevant amendments are provided in the text.

Wikipedia also has the text of Article II with explanations in plain English. I wouldn’t recommend giving beginner or pre-intermediate students the original text of the Constitution because it is difficult. Better to summarize for them.

Presidential and VP Debate transcripts from 2008 to 1960. Provided by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-profit that sponsors the debates. An interesting conversation topic there: Should independent organizations sponsor debates?

Simplified readings on the candidates and the election process including a good explanation of the electoral college system.

If you have computers with the Internet in the classroom, All About Electing a President is a pretty good slideshow summary of the process from primary to election. And One Vote 2008:Election Playbook has more in-depth guides to topics such as delegates and primaries.

Lesson Plans on the American Presidential Election


The New York Times provides lesson plans based on relevant issues and linked to articles. Good materials and interesting ideas. I particularly like the ones on political humor and caricatures. However, students may not be used to that in their country. 

These lesson plans involves in-depth research on the political process in the US. The lesson plans here are best for intermediate-advanced students. Students also need access to the Internet or a good library. However, the worksheets are great for thinking of guiding questions or evaluating how much you know about the presidential elections.

Here are some conversation questions from Heads Up English on the Election 2008. And some are still quite relevant.

Fun Quizzes

The US Election Facts Quiz is a pretty interesting. This quiz will help students find out if they are a Democrat or a Republican. International students in particular enjoy that because they can understand the meaning of the American political parties.