Sneaky micro-writing activities for students who hate writing

I’m so happy to announce my first-ever guest post on Ms.ESL. This one is by Stuart Price, a fantastic ESL teacher with about eight years teaching experience, who also happens to be my husband! Without further ado…

I love writing and I love teaching writing but since coming to Saudi Arabia, I have found it a tough task. When it comes to writing, Saudi students have a unique set of problems, apart from the ones that plague nearly all ESL students:

  • the whole Roman script thing
  • no vowels in Arabic which leads to astonishing spelling problems
  • writing from left to right and
  • a lack of ideas to put into a paragraph of short piece of writing

As well as the usual paragraph structure / ideas flow issues, this makes writing a particularly demotivating task for students here. But as I said I love writing and like a moth drawn to a flame, with the inevitable frazzled end, I can’t but try to pass on, if not my love, then at least a glimmer that it is possible to write 150 words about your last holiday or to cobble together a story from a picture board.

So I sat down and gave it some thought. And after some serious mulling I figured I would need a two-pronged approach to 1) address their structural / compositional needs and 2) increase the amount they wrote (to give them practice) but in a way that wouldn’t seem labourious, or like ‘oh-no-not-more-writing!’. (more…)

CELTA: What will you learn?

Whether you have zero experience teaching or a few years’ worth, if you are considering the CELTA, you have probably wondered what you will learn from it? There is a reason the CELTA is the world’s leading TEFL certification and even though the intensive course is only four weeks long, the CELTA certificate is globally recognized as one of excellence. So what tools can the CELTA give you which you will need as an ESL teacher? Or if you already have some experience, what new tricks can a four-week course teach you.

As a CELTA trainee back in 2009, I was one of only four people in my group of twelve that had no prior teaching experience. As I struggled to keep my head above water planning lessons, writing assignments (you can download my CELTA assignments here), and dealing with a two hour commute everyday (yeah, I lived in San Jose and drove to the BART, then took the train to San Francisco to attend the course.. I honestly don’t know how I ever managed to pass the course!).

Anyway, as a trainee all those years ago, all I knew at the time was that there was a very steep learning curve for me. Last year, after I did the CELTA Trainer-in-Training, I realized exactly how steep that learning curve is. (more…)

CELTA TRAINER-IN-TRAINING: Evaluative Essay

Once the CELTA was over, life resumed again. Except I still had to write the evaluative essay – a 1500 word piece reflecting on the rigors of the training and my self-perceived strengths and weaknesses as a qualified CELTA tutor. According to the Trainer-in-Training handbook, this is…

…an evaluative piece of up to 1,500 words on the process of undergoing training and what the trainer- in-training feels his/her strengths and weaknesses are as a prospective tutor. The trainer-in-training’s interactive journal, daily log sheets, Observations and notes made during the course will provide the basis for this piece of work.

I had spent at least two weeks on the pre-course tasks and an entire month on the during CELTA tasks (see all the CELTA Trainer-in-Training tasks here), and I’d been very good about doing things on time. But I have to admit I procrastinated for at least a week before I sat down to write this essay the weekend after the CELTA was over. Which was a silly thing to do because it’s incredible how quickly memory fades, especially when one is seven months pregnant as I was at the time.

The 1500 word limit seemed monstrous – before I started. But when I finally sat down to break it down, I realized it was going to be incredibly difficult to contain all my thoughts and reflections and (ahem) criticisms in 1500 words.

Anyway, the first step was to organize the essay into sections – headings that I could write under. This is how I went about it:

1. PRE-COURSE
a. Pre-course task
b. Interview

2. DURING THE COURSE
a. Input sessions
b. TP Observations and feedback
c. Tutorials
d. Written feedback on assignments
e. Peer observation tasks
f. Trainee progress

3. POST-COURSE
a. Trainee reports
b. Post-course evaluation

Once I had divided the essay into these broad headings, I started looking through the notes I had made before and during the course for each of these topics. In the end, all I had to do was select the relevant portions from my notes, add commentary, and plug it into the evaluative piece. Sounds pretty easy, and it was. Polishing it up and ensuring that it flowed smoothly took a bit of time but I think I was able to wrap this up in about 3-4 hours.

Here’s the finished product – my sweat and sleepless nights summed up in 1500ish words. Read and enjoy but please don’t be a monkey and copy (Cambridge is strict about it and I’ll be pretty upset if you plagiarize my work). You can download my Evaluative essay here.

 

 

CELTA TRAINER-IN-TRAINING: Tutorials

This is the last in the series of tasks I had to do as a Trainer-in-Training. Well, the last one I had to do on the course. There was a mammoth of an evaluative essay I had to write after the CELTA was over, but hey, the CELTA was over by then. Read that again with an accompanying drumroll and fireworks show – the CELTA was over, finally! That’s how relieved I was at the end.

Getting back to the task on hand (see what I did there?), there are two standard tutorials for each trainee during the course – these are called the Stage 1 and Stage 2 tutorials. On an intensive course like the one I trained on, the Stage 1 tutorial happens mid-week in Week 2, and the Stage 2 tutorial happens mid-week in Week 3. As you can see, there is very, very little time in between the two tutorials but what a difference a week makes.

The Stage 1 tutorial was done in the form of written feedback in trainees’ CELTA5 booklets. To be honest, neither the trainers nor the trainees really have time mid-course for two sit-down sessions of tutorials, so it was just as well the Stage 1 tutorial was just a few lines of (mostly encouragement – it’s only Week 2 after all!) feedback from the course tutor.

The Stage 2 tutorial was more serious (more…)

CELTA TRAINER-IN-TRAINING: Trainee Progress

This was one of the most interesting of the During CELTA tasks (a complete list is here) primarily because it allowed me, as a Trainer-in-Training, to track trainee progress along with my predictions and reflections throughout the course.

I had to pick four trainees in the first week of the course and reflect on their development through the four week intensive CELTA course, noting strengths and weaknesses in their teaching practice and response to TP feedback.

The course tutor had asked me to prepare a Find Someone Who for the first day of the course, as an introduction and ice-breaker activity. For this, I had to go through the candidate application forms and isolate interesting facts they had mentioned in their personal statements. I also needed to profile all the candidates before the start of the course for the Trainee Progress task. So I combined my efforts and made this killer table, killing two birds with one stone. (more…)

CELTA TRAINER-IN-TRAINING: Written Assignments

We’re getting ever closer to the end of the endless CELTA Trainer-in-Training tasks :D. Now you know why I canceled my two-week holiday to Hong Kong before the start of my training in August last year.

The Written Assignment task was the eighth in the series of tasks I had to do before and during the intensive CELTA on which I did my training. And the one I almost didn’t do. There were two parts to this task:

TASK 1: Shadow marking of written assignments
Before you begin shadow marking, look again at the criteria for the assessment of written work in the CELTA Syllabus. Include the copies of these assignments and your comments in your portfolio.

TASK 2: Designing written assignments
In the latter stages of the course, design two written assignments which you think could be used on future courses. Attach these to your portfolio.

I avoided marking the assignments because I hadn’t done the Pre-course task related to this, and therefore felt under-prepared to dive into the assignments during the course. Essentially, I had to do the pre-course task and familiarize myself with the written assignment assessment criteria before I could mark the assignments.  (more…)

MA and morning sickness

So I did start my Masters almost exactly a year ago but unfortunately, I had to withdraw. I found out I was pregnant not long after I started the MA and when first trimester symptoms hit, I was caught quite unprepared for the misery that became my body.

Everyday I woke up feeling I had been hit on my nose by a cricket bat – and I know the feeling, because when I was about 13, I was actually hit on the nose by a leather cricket ball that came flying off some punk’s bat (I passed out, as one does in such blinding pain). And everyday I felt ready to tear my guts out of my system. I had heard of morning sickness but when it hit me, I realized (and then read online about) what a misnomer ‘morning sickness’ is, because what hit me was all day, all night long, debilitating sickness.

It’s a surprise that women get maternity leave but not morning (bah) sickness leave, because I know I couldn’t function at all for the month I suffered. Mercifully, I had been very sick for the two months before and was therefore on reduced hours, no teaching duty for a month. And then, I was on holiday for two months which took me into my second trimester (what a breeze that was!).

Anyway, since the morning sickness hit me soon after I had started my MA, I had to withdraw. But not before one cracker of an assignment. I’ll post it here soon. Perhaps that will be my legacy. Unless I can one day go back to the MA (which seems like a dream now that I have a newborn).