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 Trainer-in-Training: Teaching Practice Observations

Here’s another one in the series of CELTA T-in-T preparation posts.

This task was the meat of the month long intensive course. This is where I had to observe trainees on their teaching practice (TP) along with the main course tutor and assistant course tutor (or tutors, as may be the case. On my course, due to unavoidable circumstances, we had three!), and shadow write the feedback.

According to the guidelines in the CELTA Trainer-in-training handbook, I only needed to make a note of 2-3 strengths and a similar number of points to focus on. The main course tutor, however, sent me a template of the feedback form (I’ve attached the template file below) she used and it was a lot more detailed – with a running commentary on the lesson. Later, I found out she was a shorthand specialist (she used shorthand for her Teaching Literacy input session) and was able to make very detailed notes in no time during the lessons. I guess it also helped she has more than ten years experience as a CELTA tutor. (more…)

Top ESL Learning Tools

Here are my favorite online tools. Click on them to find out how to use them in an ESL classroom.
Top100_2  Top100_3  Top100_6  Top100_7  Top100_8Top100_10    Top100_12    Top100_13   Top100_14Top100_15    Top100_16  Top100_17

According to the 8th annual survey conducted by the Center for Learning and Performance technologies (C4LPT), Twitter is the #1 learning tool. Strangely enough, I haven’t found a way to use Twitter in the classroom. Here is the slideshare published by the folks at C4LPT that introduces all the learning tools voted in the top 100 for the year 2014.

Real world, Mobile learning, ESL Classroom

Most ESL classrooms have a no phone policy. There are posters such as this one in every classroom at my school. I remind students on the first day to put their phones on silent, NOT vibrate – silent – before coming to class. And we do this to create a distraction-free learning environment.

But one of the other strains in our classroom talk is linking our learning to the outside world. We constantly tell our students to use the language, the skills learned in the classroom outside. And in order to make the learning transferable, we use authentic texts and videos and simulate real-life situations.

Then why the disconnect when it comes to using phones in class. Shouldn’t we try to find a way to integrate smartphones usefully in the learning process rather than ban them altogether, just in the spirit of connecting the real world and the classroom?

I watched a TEFL video recently about using TPR to make language memorable, and the instructor used digital cameras to inspire learners to use real language. Nowadays, every student has a powerful camera in their pockets and photo and video-sharing sites such as Instagram and Snapchat have become so popular, it’s a wonder so few teachers are still averse to using them. (more…)

Smartphones in the ESL classroom

Most teachers, and I include myself, consider smartphones a distraction in the classroom. We ask our students to put away their gadgets at the start of class rather than integrating them, and using them to spark the learning process.
Of course, at the moment, students in my class only check their phones when
a. they are bored
b. they get a notification or call
And of course, smartphones will continue to be a distraction unless we, as teachers, learn how to seize the opportunities they hold within them and deploy them to our advantage (and our learners’) in the classroom and beyond.
Our fear of technology probably stems from our own experience with technology. In the last twenty years, computers have taken over our lives (and even in the language I’ve used in this sentence, I can sense my own prejudice, perhaps a nostalgia for the old days).
One of the things we need to remember is that the smartphones our students have in their pockets are a thousand times more powerful, more reliable, more responsive, and more interactive than the first technology we were exposed to. And this is the least powerful gadget they’ll ever own in their entire lives. For generation we teach, whether we like it or not, smartphones and tablets and laptops are as indispensable as electricity.
I’ll examine these reservations as well as practical solutions and ready-to-use ideas in upcoming posts.

CELTA Assignment: Lessons from the Classroom

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I decided to take the CELTA because it seemed like a fairly easy way to make some money while I traveling. However, a mere month’s exposure to teaching has given me the confidence to pursue teaching English as a serious career alternative, should I ever get sick of political antics and swindlers’ conspiracies. All through my life, people told me I would make a decent teacher. Now, I believe it. I believe it because I have braved the utterly nerve-racking schedule of assignment submissions and lesson planning and teaching without falling apart. Though I learned a lot from our wonderful trainers (full credits to Gabbi and Maureen) and my absolutely wonderful classmates, I really have miles to go before I sleep (literally).

A month is a very short time to learn something but it is admirable that all of us have had such a tremendous growth curve. Personally, I know I have become much more confident about standing in front of a classroom full of students and talking about the finer points of the English language. (more…)

CELTA Assignment 4: The story

Written sometime in mid-2009:

The last of the four assignments we did during CELTA was a piece of cake. The only horrid part about it was that we had to do it in the last week, when we also had to present our hour-long lesson plan, which had us all in a frenzy! In the midst of all the excitement, the end of the course and all, we also had to deal with the Fart Machine madness.. hahaha. Fernanda, the crazy Brazilian teacher doing the CELTA with us, was intensely fascinated by all things nubile. She bought a fart machine to use on her students back in Americana (near Sao Paolo) but used it in class with us first! hahaha…. I have to admit, it was fuuuuunny, and I was her partner in crime 😉

Anyway, so in the midst of the madness, we had to do this assignment on lessons we’ve learnt during the CELTA. Again, there were all kinds of arbit guidelines we had to follow.. it was intensely stupid, but the only way to ensure my $2500 did not go in vain was to follow the guidelines. Sigh.. bureaucratic paperwork! (more…)