Good website for ESL teachers

Just stumbled on TEFL Place, a blog for ESL teachers. It’s got some really good lesson plan ideas on it–I’m not sure Water Balloon Volleyball is going to work in my classroom, but it’s an interesting idea and it would be fun. I might save that one for a barbecue with friends.

I also shudder when I think about Hidden Ringtones designed not to be heard by the teacher because the pitch is too high for our old, inflexible ears. But then I discovered (googling to see if the science behind these things was real or not) that this idea is being used to drive kids away from places where kids tend to hang out–in front of cafes or 7-11’s. The store plays a high pitched annoying tone that adults can’t hear but kids find irritating. So next class I’m going to try using these sounds against my noisy and disruptive students–maybe to drive them away from the back of the class. It’s an interesting idea I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

More seriousy, TEFL Place has some really good suggestions like a list of what to do before school starts to get organized and make your classroom ready. Some of them are obvious like buying classroom supplies, but it’s good to have everything in one list you can check off. And some of them, like “9. prepare an inventory to find out student interests” and “10 review your resources to meet individual needs’ are definitely overlooked by a lot of students.

Another good post is on lesson planning, something I just posted on here). So I was interested to see what additional advice was offered. This is a much more practical approach to how to make a workbook or student book page into a full-fledged lesson. It’s good advice and it’s good to be reminded that even if you have a textbook, you can’t just show up, say “Turn to page 22 and do exercise one.” You have to have a plan and you have to make it interesting for the students.

TEFL Placeis definitely going on my RSS feed list.

For Teachers: How to Make a Good Lesson Plan

I put up a new article on English Advantage for ESL teachers on
why and how to plan a lesson. As I say in the article, the most important reasons to have a plan are so that you have clear goals set out for your lesson. Otherwise you are just filling up time and/or entertaining students; both of these can be important too but without a goal, you aren’t really educating. Also students don’t respect teachers who try to improvise everything or aren’t prepared to answer their basic questions about a topic or lesson.

The article has more details on this, but a good lesson should have three elements. Students should be Engaged, or interested in the lesson. This may mean choosing a topic they like, relating it to their personal experience, or playing a game. Students should also Study, or learn something in the lesson. Pretty obvious, right? It might be vocabulary, sentence structures, grammar, or functional language like giving an opinion, but there needs to be a learning component to the lesson. Finally students should Activate what they are learning. They need to not only Study but also use the new language. This might take the form of an open discussion, a guided dialogue, a role play, a writing assignment but simply doing a grammar exercise isn’t enough. Students need to apply the grammar to realistic speech or writing.

I certainly would love to hear comments from teachers and students about your opinion, advice and experience on lesson planning or criticism of my article.

And check out the Lesson Plan page for a bunch of ESL lesson plans, which hopefully follow my own advice!

Salaries for PhDs Too Low?

InsideHigherEd reports on an academic who briefly worked in an elite escort/prostitution ring to supplement her meager salary as a professor. Rhona Reiss, who got her PhD in 2000 from the University of North Texas, was teaching at Towson University and also working as interim department chair of Occupational Therapy at Howard University in 2001. Despite her 35 years of experience, her salary wasn’t enough to cover her debts from her doctoral programs, raising her son and the illness of a parent. So she began to work for the now famous Deborah Jeane Palfrey in her “escort service” receiving $250 per ‘sexual encounter’.

While some may condemn Reiss, it is a indictment of academia as well that a woman with 35 years of professional and academic experience is unable to be paid a decent living wage. Reiss herself said:

What other industry than academia would [take] somebody with 35 years’ experience who had held the highest … position in the profession … and would pay me an entry-level salary?


Native speakers make mistakes. Even professional writers. Here’s a mistake from an article on Market Watch about an alleged scandal involving presidential candidate and Senator John McCain. An important issue but one marred by this horrible mistake:

Paxson also said that Iseman likely attended the meeting, which she helped to arrange it, the report said.

This is a very common mistake for ESL students dealing with transitive and intransitive verbs. It should read, “which she helped to arrange,” because the word “which” takes the place of the “it” at the end.
So learn this mistake, don’t make it, but don’t feel too bad if you do.
EDIT: Even English teachers make mistakes. You may have noticed that there was originally no space between “Market Watch” and the word “an” above. Shame on me!


Not so much a lesson plan as a quick review with examples of different ways we can accept an invitation or agree with a suggestion in English.


  • Review different ways to signal agreement with someone

Americans are weird. We have ten thousand ways to agree with something someone says and when you translate them literally, it can get pretty confusing. At least my friends and students get confused. So here are some of the idiomatic ways in English to say: “Yes, I think what you just said was a good idea.”

Sounds good literally means something like ‘The sound is pleasant to me’ so it confuses people because it’s just a way of saying I agree with your plan.
For example:”Want to go get some Chinese food and then see the new Tom Cruise movie at the cinema.”
“Sounds good!”
Notice that we don’t use the negative form in this way. “That doesn’t sound good” would mean that it seems like there is some kind of problem, as in:
“I’ve been coughing up blood all day.”
“That doesn’t sound good. You should see a doctor.”
Or,we can say ‘That doesn’t sound right to mean, I think you made a mistake.
“Charles Dickens wrote the famous tragedy, Hamlet.
“That doesn’t sound right…Wasn’t it Shakespeare?”
“Was it? Oh yeah, Dickens wrote Oliver Twist!

That would be nice This throws people because it’s in the hypothetical and it confuses ESL learners sometimes to understand that it’s just a polite way to accept an invitation:
“I’m going to have dinner at a restaurant near the dock. Would you like to come? It’s supposed to have excellent seafood.”
“That would be nice.” This doesn’t mean “Maybe”. It means “Yes”!
It can also be used to accept help:
“Would you like me to drive you home? It’s pretty cold out.”
“That would be very nice. Thank you.”
We can use a number of adjectives with this form: That would be wonderful, great, excellent, etc.

I would love to again just means, “Thank you for the invitation. I accept.”
“Would you like to have a cup of coffee after class?”
“Thanks, I’d love to.”

All right sometimes written ‘Alright’ because we say it as one word. While literally this would translate as something like “Everything is correct”, it actually just means “Yes”.
“I think we should talk to Bob before we buy a new car; he knows all about cars.”
“All right, I’ll give him a call tonight.”

I’ll take you up on that is used to agree to a plan or to accept an offer.
“Hey, do you need some help on Friday with your homework? I can come over and help out.”
“I’ll take you up on that actually. How about 11am?”
Or:”I have two tickets to the Britney Spears concert. Want to go?”
“I’ll take you up on that. That sounds great!”

So there are some phrases for you to try out next time someone makes a plan, or invites you out. I won’t teach you how to reject an invitation, because if you’re a foreign student studying in the US you should take up every invitation you can!


A quick review of articles and how they are used in most general situations.

One of the biggest problems that Russian speakers have with the English language is those pernicious articles like a, an and the. In Russian or Kazakh or a lot of other languages, there is no equivalent. Even for French, Italian or Spanish speakers it can be confusing because unlike most Romance languages, in English we sometimes drop the articles.

So here’s a quick guide to the basic rules of articles!
A and An
First of all, an is used before words that have vowel sounds such as:
an elephant or an idea.
A is used before a consonant or a consonant sound, such as:
a telephone but also a university and a user. Why? Because the words user and university are pronounced yuser and yuiversity. That “yu” sound is a consonant sound.

A or An means one, and is only used with singular nouns. It is called the indefinite article because we use it when we are referring to any one thing in a category. For example:
I saw a man enter the store. I saw one man, about whom I know nothing.
We ate a pizza for dinner yesterday. A pizza because it doesn’t matter which one we ate.
I am a teacher. I am one of many teachers in the world.
He is an interesting guy. He is one interesting guy out of all the others.

This will make more sense when we contrast it with the definite article, the

Note that we cannot use a or an with uncountable nouns.
A intelligence is very important.
A garlic tastes good with spaghetti.
I value people with a charity and kindness.

The versus A
The is used to refer to a specific thing. Maybe a thing I have just mentioned or one that we understand to already be in discussion. Or I may specify which one I mean. For example:
I broke the computer. We only have one computer at home, and I broke that specific computer.
I broke a computer. This could mean that I broke one computer out of many (say at a computer club).

I ate the pizza yesterday. You know which pizza I ate, the one we ordered last night and was sitting in the refrigerator!

We saw the man who wears that funny red hat at the store today. I am telling you which man we saw–you remember that man with the hat, right? It wasn’t just any man we saw. It was him.

Waiter, the soup is cold! This soup, right here in front of me!
I ate a soup from beer once. This is just one of many soups I have eaten in my life.

The is unique
So we use the to specify one specific thing. We also use it in front of things that are unique.
The President means the president of the country, because he or she is unique

The Earth We only have one planet
The Mississippi River there’s only one river named Mississippi in the world!
The financial report for 2006

Not using Articles
So that’s when we use articles. When do we not use articles?
Usually when we make general statements, we do not use articles. If the noun is countable, we use the plural form. If the noun is uncountable, we use the singular form.

Love is all you need.
Dogs are the most loyal animals in the world.
English is a weird language
Coffee is good with milk and sugar.

We don’t use articles with names of sports, academic subjects, languages or nationalities.
We also tend not to use it with names of countries (but we do say The United States and The United Kingdom!), cities, streets, islands or mountains.

Note that articles goes before adjectives:
An interesting child
A foolish idea
The clever dog
The long but boring novel

Those are the basics of article use. Hope it helps!

Talking About Health

I had a student who was a doctor and had a strong interest in learning about health slang and idioms so that he could talk to patients. I put together a number of activities and lessons for him on the topic of health. While his level was quite advanced, most of these lesson plans are targeted at intermediate students. So here are a few of the activities I did with him.

Health Idioms, a reading using and explaining some phrasal verbs and idioms related to health. Students have to infer the meanings of the words and categorize them.

Healthy Slang a reading that uses and explains some slangy expressions we use when we talk about our state of mind and health, such as: antsy, blah, and sick as a dog.

Catch, Get, Have was designed to help students tell the difference between these three verbs when it comes to talking about sickness. It’s a self-discovery exercise where the student looks at some sample sentences and infers the rules of using these three verbs.

Alternative Medicine is an advanced lesson plan that lets students read about Alternative medicine and discuss it from a number of points of view.