ESL Teaching

Ambitious Teaching and Learning in ESL

 

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare

My main takeaway from this lovely quote is that there is a potential for greatness in each one of us. And for the purposes of our context, we can tweak this quote to read…

Some are born great teachers, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

I know for a fact that I delivered some shockingly abysmal teaching in the first few months after completing the CELTA. But then, most of us did. Did. Not anymore. 😉

I think the watershed moment in any teachers’ career is when they stop thinking about the quality of their teaching and assess lessons based on the quality of their students’ learning. All those utterly boring lesson aims (should) have one goal: students should come out the other end having learned something.

If we push this idea a bit further… (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…)

Train ESL students to speed read – Teaching scanning skills

This is the fifth in the series of techniques to help students develop and practice their reading skills. Here’s the first post on the difference between ‘reading quickly’ and skimming, the second one on raising awareness about eye movement in speed reading, the third on obscuring textual margins and tricking / teaching the brain to skim texts, and the fourth on teaching students to map texts to make scanning easier.

Teach scanning skills

The mantra for teaching reading (and every other skill) is ‘task before text’, i.e. set the task learners are expected to complete before you give them the text. The completion of the task is their objective or aim, and to achieve their aim, students must activate and use a range of skills such as skimming, scanning, and close reading.

Now, while a lot of teachers are familiar with this mantra, what they seem to do is simply hand out the questions on a piece of paper, then immediately proceed to hand out the text, set the time limit and boom – it’s time to start. (more…)

Train ESL students to speed read – Mapping the text

This is the fourth in the series of techniques to help students develop and practice their reading skills. Here’s the first post on the difference between ‘reading quickly’ and skimming, the second one on raising awareness about eye movement in speed reading, the third on obscuring textual margins and tricking / teaching the brain to skim texts.

For long sections of text, it’s useful to teach our learners to map the text. Essentially, this is a breaking down of the text into smaller digestible chunks by identifying the main idea being talked about over one or two paragraphs. When mapping a text, it’s a good idea to divide it into sections using a horizontal line between paragraphs and writing a keyword or two that sums up the main idea in the margins. (more…)

Train ESL students to speed read – Obscure the margins

This is the third in the series of techniques to help students develop and practice their reading skills. Here’s the first post on the difference between ‘reading quickly’ and skimming, and the second one on raising awareness about eye movement in speed reading.

A lot of students find it difficult to focus on keywords or move their eyes from top to bottom and bottom to top because they are so used to reading texts word for word. This is especially true if the text is perceived as challenging and students feel the need to understand it word for word.

To give the brain an additional impetus to skim and NOT read word for word, ask students to fold in the margins of their text so as to hide a little bit (half an inch or so for an A4 size paper) of the text on either side. By removing the beginning and ending of each line of the text, we are quite literally (I think the use of the word is quite justified here) forcing or tricking the brain into reading only the keywords and forcing top-to-bottom eye movement.

Next time, I’ll talk about a cool technique called mapping the text to divide long texts into more digestible chunks.

Train ESL students to speed read – Eye Movement

This is the second in the series of techniques to help students develop and practice their reading skills. Here’s the first post on the difference between ‘reading quickly’ and skimming.

Students generally read left to right, or right to left (if their L1 is Urdu or Arabic). Skimming a text involves reading from top to bottom, and then from bottom to top, and then top to bottom again. Open up an unfamiliar text on the screen (a news or blog article perhaps) and skim it quickly to decide (a) the genre (b) what it’s about (c) whether you’re interested in reading it or not. Pay close attention to the direction in which your eyes move while skimming the text. I’ve done this experiment multiple times with peers, friends, and students and found the following:

  • we read the headline or title (if there is one) word-for-word.
  • we gather contextual clues from the picture and the caption
  • our eyes wander over the text for organizational details such as sub-headings, bold, italicized or boxed text
  • we snatch keywords from various sections of the text to get an idea of text flow

All of the above only takes a reader reading in L1 about five or so seconds, depending on the length of the text. With students, I often give them an unfamiliar text in their own L1 and bring their attention to these details in the first or second reading lesson and then ask them to replicate the same process while reading in L2. Raising awareness of the automatic eye movement while skimming in L1 helps learners in translating the same skills to reading in English.

Next up, I’ll talk about a little trick I learned on a recent workshop on reading. This one really helps in tricking the brain to skim rather than read the text word-for-word.

Teaching Reading and Developing Reading Skills

Reading is a dying art, they say, but I think what they are referring to is the reading of literature. In fact, people are processing more and more information off the page and on the web – much, much more so than we did in the past. Students of ESL are confronted with a vast amount of reading material on the internet every day but are we, as teachers reigning supreme in the ESL classrooms, preparing our students to confidently and efficiently interact with the plethora of reading material available to them?

Do we teach or test reading skills?

In my first couple of years of teaching ESL, I grew very comfortable doing reading and listening skills lessons – much more than when it came to teaching writing and grammar. For the most part, I ignored explicitly teaching speaking and pronunciation although every lesson obviously included some speaking and pronunciation work.

So much so, that when it came to being observed by managers, I invariably chose to teach an easy reading or listening lesson – learners spent plenty of time engaging with the texts, working in pairs and groups, there was always some vocabulary that could be culled from the text to showcase my strength in CCQing and drilling, and the lesson was rounded off with a chunky speaking task at the end: all elements of a receptive skills language lesson and communicative teaching were easily checked and the observer, students, and I all went home smiling for the rest of the evening. (more…)