Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: English As a Second Language: Learn English Fast and Have lots of Fun

Since I've been talking about students putting in the extra effort and movies in class, I figured this would be a good time to introduce a quick book review of a book I read a few weeks ago.

Title: Englsh As a Second Language: Learn English Fast and Have lots of Fun Author Binh Phan Price $4.87 Pages 55

Who should buy it? This book is definitely made for ELLs more than ELTs. It would be a useful book for an ELT to have a loan out to students, or a book you could suggest you students look into on their own.

What’s it do? This book goes through different, “fun” ways to learn and practice English. It covers, Movies, Songs, Games, Chatting / Blogging, and Reading.

In each section it explains:

Why you should do this:
Example:  The book explains that there are many benefits to singing. Your body increases its oxygen intake, balances its metabolism and aids the motor skills between primary senses and the brain. It also tends to put you in a better mood, and most people consider it fun. Since the brain associates fun as something pleasant you are more likely to retain the information in the lyrics!

How you should do this:
Example: For reading, the book suggests that you read out loud, read and record your voice, read books that movies are based on, read animated stories, read comics, read Fairy Tales, and read English jokes. In each category it tells you why reading this specific type of text is good and what people will probably enjoy it the most. It also gives examples of where to find things in this category to read.

Is it any good? The author admits he is not reinventing the wheel. Most of the information in the book is common sense and probably stuff that you already tell your students. However, many students are convinced that their teacher’s advice isn’t as great as someone who wrote a book. If you think your student would get a wakeup call from the book, or just needs to hear what you have said from someone else then YES the book is worth buying.
Plus, after the book is over he gives away another e-book of his for free “Learn English Fast, A guide to improving your English with accelerated learning techniques and unstoppable motivation.”
And wait, there’s more! If you leave a review and share it on Facebook or twitter he will gives your student access to two weeks of the, “Learn English Fast ‘n’ Fun” program.  Perhaps those two weeks would be of some help to your students?

I’d love to know if you end up reading this what you think, or if you have any similar ideas feel free to leave a comment!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

But I don't have time to show a movie!!!

I know a lot of teachers who don't show films in class due to the time constraint. Filminute has 25 different films all chiming in at a minute!

You can use them as listening activities, attention getters, things for students to describe, or inspiration for your students' own events!

Here are some that I liked and could see using in class.
Idiosyncratic I am sure they'll remember the word idiosyncrasy after this! A great clip to cover, "What would you do if this happened?" There is censored female nudity and a cigarette I think I would use this in class one day when working on guessing the meaning of a word from the context.

The Kissing Booth: Talk about a twist! Super cute! You can talk about what he was thinking and introduce the word, "homely" I'd probably use this for a grammar point (conditional, participial phrases, relative clauses, etc.) or just to start a discussion about love.

The Veil This is another sentimental one. Great if you are talking about the Arab spring, different cultures, or empathy. Not any dialogue, but I still think there's lots to do here! (There is some blood and you can hear guns so be sure it is appropriate for your class).

Maybe Another Time This does have gunshots. There are thick accents, but it is subtitled. I think showing this and The Veil back to back and having students compare them would be amazing.

The Present Lots of talking for a listening activity. Pretty clear and very sentimental! A great tie in if you are going to read / talk about the downfalls of different jobs. No gore, no blood, no violence.

There are so many more! for example would be great for adjectives. How do they fee? I'd have my students get started on a poetry unit with it, or we could talk about symbols!

Take a second to check them out and let me know if you think you would use any in your class. You won't waste your time, after all each is only a minute!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The pleasant suprises a blackout brings

I hadn't seen my students in over a week (class was cancelled for a bit due to hurricane Manuel in this area).
The beautiful campus!
Their partial exam (originally scheduled for last Weds) got rescheduled to today! Worse still, they didn't tell the teachers until 8pm yesterday. Despite my e-mails and tweets, many of my students didn't know until they got to school their exam would be today.

Regardless once we got to class they dilligently started their exams.

The lovely lit class.
My school has a beautiful campus with mostly great classrooms. Awesome windows, green views, space to try out different chair layouts, etc. This class is held in one of my less favorite rooms. It's a big room with all the technology I could want, but very dull. It has no windows and those tables that are heavier and harder to move around. Since I am only in there three times I week I don't get to decorate it.
Picture of the dark room

Halfway into the exam the lights flickered and went out.


I ran to the lights and helplessly flicked them on, and off, and back on ignoring the fact this was doing nothing to the lighting in class.

I opened the door and asked a loitering student if he could get a maintenance man. In the meantime my students just kinda sat there. "You can move to the front row if you want to grab the light from the hall." I stated still standing at the door keeping it open.

The dark room with the door open
Eventually one of the maintenance men came and explained that there was a problem with the power of the whole school.

He helped me wedge a trashcan to keep the door open; then at least I was free to wander a bit. At this point a student asked, "Teacher, can I take out my cell phone and use the flashlight?"

Within minutes my class was filled with students holding their cell phones over their tests.

I was pleasantly shocked and surprised. Normally students will whine and beg whenever they can, but this time they persevered and kicked butt!

Within the next 15 minutes I asked our secretary if she could call my boss to see what the procedure was. She couldn't get a hold of him, but she did look in my class, "It's actually beautiful" she commented. I agreed, and am a bit sorry I didn't take a picture (but I didn't want to leave then unattended to grab a camera). It wasn't just the soothing glow throughout the class that was pretty. It was the fact that my students were doing what they needed to do!

We managed to cram my students into a teacher's lounge (with big windows letting the beautiful day's sunlight fill the room) to finish their exam, and the fact that they happily moved rather than moaning and groaning filled my heart as well.

Have your students ever reacted differently than you expected and surprised you (pleasantly)? I'd love to hear about it! Drop me a comment below.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ways to Keep in Touch with parents

If you are a tech savvy teacher (or you pretend to be) there are a lot of ways to connect with parents:

Remind101 is a service designed with teachers in mind. It essentially lets parents sign up for their student's class. From them on when you want to send a reminder, "Students will be reading at a nearby preschool next week! See if your child wants to practice their book with you."
It's free! No need to wait for your tax refund.
It respects privacy: your number is never shown to any parents and their numbers aren't revealed to you.
It's easy! It walks you through step by step.

It is only available in the US and Canada... so that leaves me out of this loop.

If you use a site to record grades, or monitor behavior (Engrade, ClassDojo, Blackboard) they usually have a way for parents to log in and access the site.

Sometimes this is more passive on your part. You keep the information up to date and they make the decision to check it or not. That's what something like Engrade and blackboard offer.

 ClassDojo is also passive, however it also lets you send your reports to the parents. For example, if you are reacting to a particularly good day with a trouble student you can send the report to a parent so they can praise their child as well!

These programs are great because if you are already using them, it doesn't require much more effort to allow the parents access. It also makes your class a lot more visible. Students can't claim they don't know why they are failing, or that the teacher doesn't like  them. Their actions and grades are all very transparent.

You can create a class website, blog or twitter too! These take a bit more effort as you have to maintain them, but I find they are great for students who lose papers or need reminders. I love using Twitter. It is fast, easy and most of my students are addicted so it works well.

It is also nice for those less tech savvy teachers because it really doesn't require that much know-how to make a twitter account and get started.

No computer access?
If you simply cannot access technology (or you don't think your students' parents can) you can still connect with your students' parents in others ways:

I have talked about how I send a letter home the first week; this way, parents know what I expect and how to reach me.

My mother always sent out a monthly (or was it weekly) newsletter to her students.

My school had a weekly "Family Envelope" with reminders of school events, class assignments and other must know things. Parents would sign whatever was inside the envelope and return it to the school with the student. Sometimes they includes little "password questions" randomly. If a parent spotted it, they would answer the question and send in the answer. This would put their student in a drawing for free homework passes, free dress days, etc.

What about you? How do you keep in touch with parents? Does it work? What would your ideal system be? I'd love to hear form you in the comments, or on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Dangerous Lies We Tell to Children and Ourselves

Since this week I talked about parent interaction I wanted to include a review of a book that involved parents. 

I think my parents did a pretty amazing job, and I can really only remember one big lie they told me. I was a HUGE cry baby when I was younger. Skinned knees: I’d cry. Hurt feelings: I’d really cry. Broken toy: sobbing. Lost toy: mental breakdown. One day I went running to my mom in the backyard over some trivial ailment tears streaming down my face and she said, “Carissa, God only gives you so many tears, and if you waste them all now when I die you won’t be able to cry at my funeral.” It worked. I could almost feel the tears get sucked back into my tear ducts.

Did that lie affect me growing up? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I still cried when I was sad (or very happy). I still cry like a baby during those animal abuse commercials. It didn’t emotionally stunt me. It was just something she said to get me to reevaluate my personal preference towards constantly crying over everything. I don’t think my parents ever told me any dangerous lies, but maybe yours did?

Title: Dangerous Lies We Tell to Children and Ourselves Author: Deborah Dian  
Pages: 77 Price: $.99

Who would buy it? I think this book is directed at parents more than teachers, but as the author was an educator and teachers are often like parents I picked it up. That was a mistake. I don’t see much use for this book for a teacher, unless they have told one of the four lies mentioned below.

What does it do?  
The book covers nine lies that parents tell children, then four lies that teachers tell their students and finally six lies that parents tell themselves. The books rounds off with an epilogue and sources.
Essentially the book starts by stating that while adults are used to exaggeration and white lies children tend to accept everything at face value. This means that when a child is lied to they become hurt, frustrated, and less believing that everything is truthful.
The nine lies from parents are ones that I have difficulty relating to because my parents never said them. An example is, “You’re too young to know what that word means,” and “Don’t worry about money everything is fine.” Each lie goes through examples of when parents tell the lie, why they tell the lie, why the lie is so dangerous and what alternatives there are (e.g. how to tell the truth). 
Next we are given a look at some lies that teachers tell students. These are: “school is a safe place”; “only an idiot would vote for that guy”; “every student should take college prep classes”; and “a degree is the only way to be successful.” I can honestly say I’ve never told those lies, nor have I ever had a teacher tell them to me. I did have a very liberal government teacher in high school who dressed in black when someone was given the death penalty and often told us how amazing Michael Moore was, but she never told us she disliked George Bush.  If you have said something similar to those four lies, then you may like to get this book and check out some of the alternatives.
It ends with the six dangerous lies parents tell themselves. I have a splendid cat, but no children, so I basically skimmed this section. One example is, “”My teens are too young to be given adult information about sex”

Is it any good? 
Mostly I was not a fan of the book. Though, at one point, she pointed out the misguided results of teachers always telling students they can do anything. Yes, bolstering a student’s self-esteem is good, but platitudes such as, “work hard and you can be whatever you want,” are often just that…empty platitudes. Students then become embarrassed or feel inadequate when they are working a minimum wage out of high school. They were told they would have greatness…where is that?

In Fight Club,
Chuck Palahniuk wrote “We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." I think this was a similar observation on her part.

Otherwise, I think I expected to relate more with this book, and when I couldn’t. I was disappointed. However, if you can remember being lied to as a child, or if any of the lies mentioned above that teachers tell have been things you’ve said then I think you would enjoy this book much more than I did,

Monday, September 9, 2013

Maintaining Contact with Parents

For the life of me I can't remember where I heard this story. It could have been from a colleague, a friend, a teacher, or a blog. Essentially the story goes:

A parent came in to complain about her child's grades and how the school needed to be doing more.  The employee looked at her and said, "Name three of your child's teachers." The parent paused nodded her head and said, "I see your point, have a nice day."

The moral of the story is that parents tend to only get involved when things go bad, when they would be more useful getting involved from the start!

On the first day of class we do several things. I have a PowerPoint where I go over class expectations and rules. Then they fill out a gap fill restating the rules. The final part is to take the paper home to their parents. The bottom of the paper is a short letter (in Spanish) to the parents. It explains that they can access engrade, or twitter to get a hold of me in addition to my e-mail. I also offer to speak with them in Spanish if they don't feel comfortable in English.

This way, right away I have opened up the channels of communication. Not all parents choose to contact me, but I know that I gave them the option to get involved from day one.

This year when I sent out the letter I received an e-mail that very night from a mother sent from her iPhone. It was written in Spanish, but the loosely translated it said, "Hello. It is very nice on your part to introduce yourself, and it is very nice to meet you. I am the mother of (student). This is the first time that a teacher has shown this kindness. I wish you the best."

I know it is silly, but notes like that really make me feel like I am on the right track.

There are some more suggestions here. How do you make sure that your parents stay up to date with your class?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How NOT to teach minimal pairs

There's a bad moon
or there's a bathroom?

 I am still on a pronunciation kick from the most recent blog carnival! I am also thinking about the ELT Research Carnival where I wrote about the importance of bottom up skills in listening. This post mixes those two ideas with minimal pairs.

Minimal pairs can a fun way to test a students pronunciation or listening skills.

A common activity is to give students a worksheet and have them circle the word that they hear.

For example, "I really love to eat ( bears / pears )."

Do you see the problem with this?

It doesn't really require any listening skills. Most (normal) people would answer pears. They know that contextually eating bears is not something that happens, or at least not where I live in Mexico or where I grew up in San Diego.

Compare this to the Credence Clearwater song, "There's a bad moon on the rise." Many people hear, "There's a bathroom on the right." Both sentences make sense! That's why it can be tricky.

The other thing some teachers overlook is the types of minimal pairs. My Mexican students have no problem pronouncing (or hearing) the difference between l and r. Giving them activities using words like lice and rice wouldn't help them.

Of course, if you have a mixed class you can include activities which focus on all students needs, but if you are teaching a class with speakers of similar backgrounds be sure to pick sounds they will struggle with.

If you aren't sure what your students need to practice, that's OK. This is when I highly suggest picking up a copy of Swan's Learner English. A book I found beyond valuable when I first started teaching, and I still reference when I am exposed to speakers whose languages I don't know.

On TPT I put a free worksheet that I made for my TOEFL students. It focuses on the sounds that my Mexican students needed to practice. There are three activities:
  1. Two stories use minimal pairs that are interchangeable in the sentences. This can be read to the class with students selecting what they hear (as a purely listening exercise) or with students in pairs taking turns. One student would read the first story making sure to carefully enunciate, and the partner would try to guess what they were saying. Then they would switch for the second story. 
  2. There's also a BINGO board for some fun practice. 
  3. Finally there's a writing activity where students make their own. After they can read it to the class and have students try to guess what they said. 
I've talked about other ways to practice minimal pairs like jokes, and comics and I still standby those as great techniques. Just make sure to keep the few tips this blog talked about.

What about you? What do you think teachers should keep in mind when working on minimal pairs (or any pronunciation) with students?
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