Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Teachers' tips for successful homework assignments

With today's fast paced world, parents often complain that they don't have time to help their children with homework. Unfortunately, they too often discover that the assignments appear to be either busy work or work too difficult for their child to accomplish alone. This knowledge is upsetting to the child as well as the parent, making both of them feel that the homework is a waste of time.

Usually the quality of the student's work suffers because they don't see a purpose in the assignment or because the child gets frustrated from the difficulty of the work. No doubt, teachers need to give homework from time to time, but by using the following tips they can help ensure their students' success with the assignments they make.

First of all, teachers should make sure the assignment is necessary. They should be able to explain to both students and parents the importance of the work assigned. Students and parents deserve to know that their time is not being wasted. In addition, teachers need to remember that homework is for practicing what has already been learned in the classroom. If the student has not successfully learned the concept, his practice becomes confusing and damaging. Not only does he not master the concept, but many times he has to unlearn what he has practiced.

After realizing that the student is ready for the homework and that the homework is important practice for the concept she taught, the teacher needs to decide how long the assignment should be. If the student can get ample practice with ten problems, why assign fifty? An important tip to remember is that frequent practice is more important than long practice. If the student does five problems successfully one evening and then again the next night, he will gain confidence and remember the steps for solving the problem more easily than if he worked twice as many problems on one occasion.

Once the teacher is ready to make the assignment, she must be sure the student clearly understands what he is supposed to do. Not only does she tell the class what to do, she needs to write it on the board and have the students record it in an assignment book. In addition, it is always helpful for the teacher to let students get started on the assignment while she is still available to answer questions. If possible, she and the students can work a couple problems on the board together, or she can walk around the classroom to make sure the students are on the right track. This coaching time helps because when the child leaves the classroom, he has something on his paper to serve as a reference for him as well as for anyone who helps him with his homework.

Of course, anytime a teacher can make learning fun, she needs to do so. Whether presenting a concept in the classroom or making a homework assignment, teachers need to realize that people learn better when they are having fun. Although it's not always possible to make homework fun, the teacher can work wonders by building a rapport with her class and making her classroom a fun place to be. If she has taken time to create an inviting classroom that makes students feel comfortable and welcome, she has taken a giant step toward creating an environment where students want to do their best both inside and outside of the classroom.
by Phylis Cox

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Tuesday, 21 April 2009

ESL Sentence Examples

Using sample sentences taken directly from your ESL students is a great way for them to work on their editing and error recognition and corrections skills. There really isn't too much to complicate this idea as it is really quite simple in practice.

What you do is collect a series of sentence examples from your students' work. You can choose to select sentences that all display a similar problem (verb tense for example), or simply collect any examples you wish. I would suggest that you get permission from your students before you do this and then make sure to keep them anonymous. I've never had any student refuse, but it best to respect their privacy. On that note, be sure to choose sentences that are not personally revealing either in terms of personal information/experiences or just basic "I can guess who wrote this" information.

So what do you do with these example sentences? Well you give them to your students to work on. Their goal should be to find and correct any errors in logic, grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice etc. Of course you as the teacher can limit them to working on only very specific issues (find all spelling mistakes). I typically give 3-4 sentences out to a class and give them about 20-30 minutes to work on them. Usually individually at first, and them in pairs or threes. Once you think they have done enough, be sure to go over them in class.

What you will find is that as long as you have used sentences from students at the same basic ESL level, they will struggle mightily with this task as they are trying to find the same errors that they typically make.

If you have access to a computer lab, you can have them do this in a word processor which allows them to manipulate and move the words around very easily. It is also very good to do the review on a computer with projector so that they can see you move the words around as well.

Without fail students come away from this activity with a much greater appreciation for error recognition and correction.

A simple extension of this into the speaking realm is to have students transcribe some free speech (a commentary on a picture perhaps) and then do the error hunt and fix afterwards.

Here are a few examples to give you an idea of some basic ESL sentence examples you could work with. There are from an intermediate academic prep class I taught a few years back.

1. It is hard to see snowing in my hometown so I am very exciting.
2. It is unreasonable for me, in fact I should be exciting and happy. Because she studys in University of British Columbia.
3. When my friend has arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia. This feeling is stronger than before.
4. Braised pork slices is my favorite but my mother is board chairman in her company she hasn’t time to cook for me. but she teached me to cook some of my favorite food, especially when I came to Canada.
5. I see other people wear less clothes than me, sometimes I think “why they can wear so less, and Don’t they feel cold?”.

Example sentences are very easy to collect, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't actually use these. Use examples from your class, they will match your students' levels better.

taken from:

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The Rosetta Stone

If you aren't familiar with the real Rosetta Stone, it is a stone artifact found in the middle east that is a critical piece of history in the understanding an Egyptian writing. It contains multiple types of writing (translations of the same text) all in one stone slab and is perhaps the single most important 'document' in the understanding of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is because of the multiple languages on this stone that early linguists were able to discover the meanings of many previously unknown hieroglyphics.

OK, so what does this have to do with computer assisted language learning? Well there is a great piece of software called "The Rosetta Stone" that was developed to help students learn language more quickly. I had the opportunity to review a demonstration copy of the software recently and found it very easy to use, well designed pedagogically (it builds very naturally from easier topics and materials to more complicated as a student works with the software). The software works on developing a students vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and reading skills primarily. For what it provides (hundreds of hours of practice and materials to work on), it is very affordable.

I'd say that it is very well suited to use in public school language programmes, for home study, community language programmes, and in private language schools that focus on communicative language development. It may not be ideal for programmes with a heavy academic focus, but would still provide a great deal of practice for students. The software is also available for teaching/practice in dozens of different languages (not only English instruction), so if you are teaching Italian, French, Turkish, Thai, Greek, and any of 20 or so other languages, the sofware is available for study in those languages as well.

When I was talking with a rep recently I found out that they are now offering the software with a free headset (that includes a microphone), and free shipping. Considering that they also provide a 6 month return guarantee, it is a really great opportunity to get a copy of the software. You can also send your students to read this page so they can look into getting a copy for themselves.

taken from:

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English Pronunciation Software

For students who are learning a new language pronunciation is a hurdle that seems to take a long time to jump over. Long after grammar and reading skills have developed and vocabulary knowledge has been built, pronunciation lingers as a problem area. Often, the problem is more in the speaker's mind then a real source of comprehension problems - however that in itself is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

For teachers who are working in classes with students from a variety of backgrounds working on pronunciation issues can be a challenge as pronunciation problems vary according to a student's first language. Koreans have touble with f/v, p/b; French speakers with th/d; Japanese with r/l if we are only looking at individual sounds. Move into rhythm and intonation and you've added in another whole level of complexity. Despite having a tonal language (Mandarin for example), Chinese students of English are notorious for flat, monotonous speech in English.

So can English pronunciation software help teachers and students with their pronunciation problems? The most basic answer is yes. There are a selection of good pronunciation software packages that can help both teachers and students alike. As a teacher, you can work on more global issues in class and then have your students work on problem areas that they are personally experiencing with pronunciation software. Students can also do self-access or self-study with pronunciation software on their own time to further work on their spoken English.

Here are some English pronunciation software packages that I'd suggest checking out:

* eyespeak - Good for word and sentence level practice. Also provides some good practice on phoneme level issues. Provides good visual cues on a student's voice patterns
* Pronunciation Power I and II - Very easy to use software that provides a TON of practice opportunities over roughly 60 different phonemes. Provides practive at both word and sentence level. Corrective feedback and suggestions are not really a part of this software, but it is very well liked.
* Connected Speech - A good package of listening and speaking activities that are theme based. The focus of this pronunciation software is to work on sentence level issues (prosodics: suprasegmentals, rythm, stress and intonation)

Using software to work on English pronunciation isn't the end-all and be-all. A student must get real life exposure and practice speaking as much as possible. Improving pronunciation is a lot like playing professional sports. You can practice all you want, but until you get into the game, your skills don't really shine or let you down. It is in the 'game' that you learn where you need to work on your pronunciation and what is already OK. Getting students to do that…well that is an issue beyond any pronunciation software.

taken from:

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What is Intonation?

Somebody dropped me a note the other day asking about intonation and what exactly intonation is. Well it isn't that hard a concept, although it is a little subtle at times.

Basically, in language, intonation is
the rising, or falling pitch in the speakers voice as they say words or phrases. In many languages, changes in pitch reflect a change in meaning of what is being said.

Some languages are considered to be 'tonal languages'. That is, the language makes use of different tones to signify different meanings. Mandarin Chinese, and Thai are two that quickly spring to mind. What this means is that in tonal languages, words that are the same in all ways except the intonation will have different meanings. Of course the use of tones is not limited to distinguishing different words.

Other languages, like English are said to be non-tonal. This is of course not entirely correct. English speakers make great use of intonation to, among other things, signify mood, or differentiate questions from statements (as well as yes/no questions from wh questions). Additionally some Englishes have tonal variations like the raising of dipthongs in Canadian English (known as Canadian Raising).

Intonation works at word, phrase, and sentence levels to vary meaning, intent, and emotion. There are also tonal differences noted between male and female speech patterns in most languages.

Intonation is a subtle, but critical component of full spoken fluency in any language. For language learners, it is often one of the last things to be mastered as it requires tremendous levels of exposure to and interaction with native speakers of the language being learned.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on what intonation is, and why it is important to master.

taken from:

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Topics for Presentations

I've been working with a couple of newish teachers this term, and have been asked this question a number of times "What are good topics for presentations"? Which is quickly followed by should they use powerpoint.

Usually my impression is that language learners don't really need to use powerpoint in their presentations. I know that may sound like heresey coming from a guy that writes a blog about CALL and runs a University Language Lab, but for me the primary goals of a presentation are for the student to display

1. the ability to come up with the needed ideas and content,
2. organize it logically so they reach the objective of their presentation
3. have confidence to deliver it
4. make use of good language (grammar, vocabulary)
5. speak clearly so all can understand what they are trying to present.

I've found that in more cases than not, a computer based presentation just ends up getting in the way of their language production because

* they read the slides verbatim
* they look at the screen and not the audience
* the technology fails in some way (there are hundreds of ways this can happen)
* the computer portion is so flashy that it is distracting and irrelevant

This has so far been a little off the topic of "topics for presentation", but not really. It is those first five points above that should guide the choice of presentation topics in an average language classroom. Your topics should focus on materials and ideas that are relevant, and meaningful to your students. If they are within a content area that you have been studying recently, all the better as they will be more familiar with the content and language. Here are a few guiding principles that I suggest you follow when you as a teacher decide on topics for presentations

1. make sure they are age appropriate - don't give kids 'adult' topics like politics, economics, or law
2. make sure they are knowledge appropriate - focus on what your class knows, not what they don't know
3. be sure they are language level appropriate - some topics simply require more vocabulary and higher levels of grammar knowledge
4. unless there is good reason not to, give your students a lot of opportunity to explore the topic in a way that is interesting to them - basically assign general topics rather than specific ones.

As an example of this, I recently had my upper intermediate ESL class do a presentation. The basic assignment was for them to think of a problem in the world (ideally a social/environmental problem), explain why it is a problem, and offer a possible solution. I did not care if it was a global issue or an issue local to their hometown or even neighbourhood. We had 15 totally different presentation topics, which made the class more interesting and added to their overall knowledge of such issues.

There is no magic secret to presentation topics. The magic comes in the presentations themselves. If you follow some of the suggestions I've offered here, you and your students should be OK.

taken from;

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Sunday, 12 April 2009

How to Deal With Immensely Rude People? (Tips)


* Always, always, always remember to keep your cool!

* Don't take anything that this person says seriously.

* Keep on the down-low when making replies; you want to make polite ones, not ones that will get you in trouble. This will give you the impression that you are much more mature, and therefore will help you maintain your dignity!

* Don't talk about them behind their back just in case they were sent by the rude person to spy on you.

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