When I first heard the term ergative verbs, I thought to myself, What?! I worried that perhaps I didn’t know something every other ESL/EFL teacher knew. Well, although I wasn’t a new teacher by the time I discovered ergative verbs, it turns out that I wasn’t alone in my lack of familiarity. Since then, I’ve met other ESL professionals who also had the Erga-what? reaction upon hearing this term.
I decided to be very open about my late discovery in a recent YouTube grammar lesson. I made ergative verbs the focus. I admitted that what I was teaching wasn’t a part of my knowledge when I first got certified to teach. But that raises the question, “Why learn this? Is this topic really necessary to study?”
As much as I love the subject of grammar, I believe there are times when too much terminology hinders learning. But I also believe that metalanguage is a very useful tool. We should be able to talk about the language we use for daily communication, and there are students who want to have these discussions. As an online teacher, I’ve encountered some very knowledgeable ELLs who make use of various reference books and resources on the web. I consider terminology a part of my teacher vocabulary, and learning new terms better prepares me for questions that get sent my way week after week.
Reason 1: It’s useful to build your vocabulary, metalanguage included.
More important, terminology gives us names for concepts. As language teachers, we need to recognize and understand patterns used in speech. If there’s a category of verbs, then why not be familiar with the patterns those verbs follow? Then we can teach and practice these patterns in the classroom.
Reason 2: To teach grammar, we need to understand grammar, and that assumes strong familiarity with how language works.
A term like “ergative verbs” may be a mouthful to say, but stumbling over the pronunciation isn’t as bad as breaking the pattern these verbs follow.
Why would I create a whole lesson devoted to why and because?
Because answers to why vary.
‘Cause pronunciation varies.
Cos informal variations in spelling are used as well.
I created a whole lesson devoted to this topic because two of my students needed to build confidence asking and answering questions with why.
This lesson on why and because was shared on YouTube. As part of my basic English playlist, I worked on camera with Flavia and Andreia, my two courageous students who agreed to study with me to supplement their school studies. Our small group format affords them more speaking practice and the opportunity to request help at any time. In return, they’re helping me model the real process of trial and error, the benefits of taking risks, and the need for review and repetition. Their language production during the lesson reminded me of the specific challenges related to this topic. We had a small segment on pronunciation, and without using too much terminology, I conveyed the choice of giving only the adverb clause — typical in conversation — or stating a full sentence to explain the reason for something. The video lesson includes a short open answer exercise at the end.
Here are three more ideas for meaningful practice.
Why & Because in 3-2-1
– Select 3 photos in advance.
– Show all three photos. In pairs, students can write 2 why questions for each photo.
– In a large class, pairs will exchange papers. Then in 1 minute, students will try to give short answers to all six questions. Partners can take turns answers the questions as they read them:
Why is she wearing a hat? – Because it’s sunny.
Why is he happy? – Because he’s having fun.
Why are they wet? – Because it’s raining.
Choose photos that lend themselves to the language students know. For example, I haven’t practiced the past tense yet with my two beginners, so I made sure photos I used could be discussed in the present tense. In an alternative format, students can practice writing the long answers without a time limit so that they learn to construct complete sentences.
– Students can work in small groups.
– Students will choose 2-3 personal items and place them on the desk in front of them.
– Taking turns, students will ask the person to their left one question with why about one personal item. Why do you need this key? Why is your phone (turned) off? Etc.
After an item is discussed, it can be removed from the table. For fun, you can switch directions after the first round of questions.
Gapped Why Questions
Version 1 – Inspired by Mad Libs. Students can work in pairs supplying missing words according to the clues (plural noun, action verb, a color, a number, etc.) Reading and answering the completed questions will often be humorous and illogical. See Gapped Whys 1_handout for suggested questions. You can create your own.
Version 2 – Students receive slips of paper with incomplete questions. Challenge them to finish them however they wish. As a class, they can work together to match questions to answers. Silly combinations are possible. See Gapped Whys 2_handout for suggested matches. You can create your own.
My basic level students, Andreia and Flavia, are gaining comfort with me and with the whole experience of filming for YouTube. (See my Basic English playlist.) They start each lesson with smiles and willingness, but it certainly helps to warm up, and so I’ve had a fun time doing simple speaking tasks to get us all in the right frame of mind. I continue to post new lessons, so in good time some of the warm-ups we’ve done will be publicly available for other students and teachers to watch. I’ve fallen back on a few favorites, and put some twists on others.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t (There is/are)
I know other teachers have done variations on the game where you identify objects on a table. One option is cover a set objects with a cloth and then do the recall in the present tense: There’s a fork, a pen, and a pencil on the table. I brought a bag of household objects to our lesson. As I pulled them out, we named them. Some objects were familiar, but others were new. I threw in a hair elastic and a pair of chopsticks to balance all the office supplies. I also found some plastic utensils at home, so those were added to the bag. Good thing I did because the ladies needed to review knife, fork, and spoon.
To review the past forms of BE, I decided on this sequence:
– The teacher places several objects on the table. The students have a moment to memorize what’s there.
– The teacher can take a photo to recall exactly what was on the table before removing the objects from sight.
– The students then either take turns or work together to recall all the items: There was one knife. There were two pens. Etc.
Like, Love, Enjoy (verb + noun, verb + gerund/infinitive)
A very simple ice breaker used in many settings, even far outside the ESL classroom, is to take turns addressing the group with everyone stating their name and one or two personal facts. I decided to use this basic format as an opportunity to get to know my students better and to make sure they could accurately use the verbs like, love, and enjoy.
The fun challenge is to make it a memorization game:
– The teacher starts by stating one things she likes. (I’m Jennifer, and I like chocolate.)
– The first student repeats what was just said and then adds what s/he likes. (This is Jennifer, and she likes chocolate. I’m Andreia, and I like cats.)
– The second student repeats the two facts previously said and then add what s/he likes. (This is Jennifer, and she likes chocolate. This is Andreia, and she likes cats. I’m Flavia, and I like the beach.)
– The pattern repeats for what we love, what we don’t like, and what we enjoy. You can add in what you hate as well if you wish.
As the game goes on, it becomes challenging to recall all the facts previously stated. If you forget something, you can ask, “What do you like? What do you enjoy?” etc.
Seeing the Good, Finding the Better
As my students and I moved into comparatives and superlatives, we had fun giving our opinions about different things. Activities are less stressful when there isn’t a right or wrong answer. For example, is tea better than coffee or is coffee better than tea?
– The teacher creates word cards in advance with things students can quickly compare to similar items (bananas vs. other fruits, coffee vs. other drinks, Friday vs. other days, the beach vs. other places, etc.)
– The first student picks up a card and states one thing that’s better or one thing that’s worse: Bananas are good, but apples are better. OR Mondays are bad, but Sundays are worse.
– The others can agree or disagree: No, I think apples are better than bananas. No, Mondays are the worst.
– The next student picks up a new word card and the pattern repeats: opinion > agreement or disagreement. Make sure each opinion includes a comparative adjective.
I chose to do one round with X is good, but Y is better and then a second round with X is bad, but Y is worse.
For upper level students, the word cards can have more complex ideas: a dress code, failing an exam, getting 100% on an exam, spilling coffee on a report, winning $50 on a lottery ticket, missing your bus, etc.
– Having a dress code isn’t good, but wearing a school uniform is much worse.
– Winning $50 on a lottery ticket is great, but earning a big bonus at work is a lot better.
The statements can become springboards into full discussions.
It’s been seven years since I last decided to create a series of online lessons for beginners, and I clearly remember the challenges I faced the first time. (See 2012 post.) Apart from the physical challenge of trying to find a place with a board to write on, I had to decide how to teach basic greetings and whether or not to introduce cursive writing. Is ‘Hello. How are you?’ enough? Does anyone write in cursive anymore? Every “easy” topic led to not so easy questions I mulled over.
I ended up posting 65 YouTube videos that covered some of the most elementary topics such as numbers, the alphabet, and subject pronouns. I had hoped to study more with my brave, but eager student (a friend from Russia), but her family moved and her new home was simply too far for us to continue our lessons. A question I faced from online learners since then has been, “What should I study after Lesson 65?”
It’s taken all these years for me to decide it’s important to continue my work and it’s worth finding new students to teach on camera. I’m delighted to have a second go at this format and film my unscripted attempts to teach real students real lessons. New videos from our first filming session have been posted. (See new Basic English playlist.) I hope to produce at least a dozen or so more.
What I didn’t expect the first time was the added benefit of providing new teachers with a model. I’ve heard that some teacher trainees have watched my on-camera efforts and have used the videos to observe how I modify my speech, how I explain things with limited language, how I set the tone for the lesson, and how I do my best to bounce back from the unexpected. But probably the most valuable aspect of these authentic lessons is the inspiration factor. The brave women who have agreed to go on camera with me inspire other learners to overcome their fears and continue their studies. I’m so grateful for their willingness to expose themselves this way. Viewers no longer feel alone in their struggle to learn English.
The fact that each lesson will reach thousands of learners puts the onus on me to deliver quality content as effectively as I can. There’s pressure to get things right. We film topics in one take. Just like a private lesson or a group class, I don’t have a script in front of me. I have a general lesson plan, but I allow for digressions when I see a learning opportunity. In that sense, we’ve sometimes gone “off script” in our filming.
I’m especially happy to have a second chance to expand on skills taught in the original playlist of 65 lessons. I invited my new students, Flavia and Andreia, to go on camera because they’re at a slightly higher level than where my first student was. It’s the perfect place to pick up with Lesson 66! And so the first lesson of 2019 reflects my updated view on greetings. I know that my students’ interaction is presently limited to neighbors, other students, and the staff the the English school they attend. There’s little need for formal language, so we practiced friendly, informal exchanges they can immediately put to use. I considered advice given by Robyn Brinks Lockwood, a colleague who embraces descriptivism, and made sure I was presenting expressions I myself use and hear. Back at TESOL 2018, I benefited from hearing Robyn’s approach to creating dialog, and in my first basic English lesson of 2019 I guided my students to make natural-sounding choices within the limitations of their proficiency.
One interesting cultural aspect came up during introductions: handshakes. Are they always necessary? This was another seemingly easy topic that led to one or two questions without a clear-cut answer. Since I’m working with two students on camera rather than one this time, I had the opportunity to cover how we introduce one person to another. I decided to model both possibilities, with and without the handshake. As women in the U.S., we’ll often shake hands during introductions, but especially outside of the workplace and particularly when informally meeting a number of people at one time, handshakes might be omitted. “Hi. How’s it going?” along with a smile and a nod might suffice.
What challenges have you faced when teaching basic English? Feel free to comment.
Many TESOL sessions deserve a full summary, but the sheer volume of take-away is too much to capture in the context of this blog. At this point, I’d like to give a shout-out to knowledgeable presenters who made sure attendees walked away with at least one golden nugget to apply to their teaching. I thank them all for making my convention experience a true form of professional development.
Q: How can we be less monolingual and more plurilingual?
TESOL President Luciana D. de Oliveria gave the morning plenary on Day 1. Her talk Developing Expertise in TESOL: Local-Global Considerations, challenged us to reflect on how we teach English as global language without discounting local needs and dynamics. She promotes teaching as a “plurilingual practice.” Since we all use vocabulary from different languages and we all modify our language for different audiences and contexts, we are all plurilingual. Thus we should avoid compartmentalizing languages. Do we rely unnecessarily and unwisely on monolingual practices in the classroom, in our textbooks, and in teacher education? Luciana encourages fluid language practices that work in tandem with linguistic and cultural diversity. Her comments regarding native-like fluency reminded me of the numerous times I’ve replied to online comments about sounding like a native speaker. I’ve told many of my online followers that I’m one of many possible models. A native speaker isn’t necessarily the ideal, and losing one’s “accent” doesn’t have to be the ultimate goal.
Eli Hinkel of Seattle Pacific University is a wonderful example of a capable NNES educator in our field who provides a model for many ELLs. I make an effort every year to attend one of her sessions, and in Atlanta I went to Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching and Learning Multiword Expressions, which Eli presented with Brent Green of Brigham Young University. Whether you call them multiword expressions, collocations, prefabs, or chunks, I’m sure you’ll agree that helping students learn this vocabulary is crucial. As the presenters stated, multiword expressions are commonly used, but since their meaning can’t always be readily understood, study and practice are necessary. Eli reminded us, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it surely helps.”
Q: How can we helps students learn collocations?
Brent has done considerable work with his students in the language lab to help them learn multiword expressions. If you’re interested in more details, the presenters have generously posted several PDF files on the TESOL 2019 app, including their presentation slides. They not only explain what OER (Open Educational Resources) Corpora are, but they also provide instructions for creating one. The idea is to have a collaborative learning experience in which students notice, question, and practice the patterns. The process also builds learner autonomy. As for helping with accuracy, Eli noted that there are collocations dictionaries; one other resource is an online search. I’ve done this myself in moments of doubt, and I have demonstrated Google searches for private students. The basic idea is to compare and examine search results: a higher number of results can confirm a collocation. I’m glad to know Eli approves of this approach!
Another educator whose sessions I often gravitate towards is Keith Folse of University of Central Florida. His talk Academic Word List: What Every Teacher Needs to Know drew a big crowd. We teachers were amused by how little we knew about the renowned AWL. Keith quizzed us partly to remind us that knowing the high frequency words on the GSL and AWL only gives a learner 86% coverage of a college text, but that’s only the ability to recognize words, not necessarily understand the whole context. Keith encouraged us to consider using the updated NAWL and NGSL, which can boost coverage to 92%.
Q: What vocabulary exercises are worth recommending to our students?
Attendees at Keith’s session received links to AWL resources (just a few of the many sites out there) that offer practice. Konan University was one; English Vocabulary Exercises was another. Whether we’re recommending, using, or creating a vocabulary exercise for our students, we can bear in mind the importance of multiple encounters. The golden nugget for me to take away from Keith’s talk was the idea that some exercises can appear superficial, but the process of completing the task is another opportunity for the brain to encounter key words.
Melanie Gobert of Higher Colleges of Technology echoed the importance of repetitions (7-10) and creating opportunities for retrieval of new words. In her presentation New Activities for Recycling Vocabulary, Melanie also touched upon spaced repetition, which was a topic promoted by a couple of other speakers in Atlanta. Melanie suggests recycling vocabulary with longer intervals.
Q: What other word lists are teachers using?
Marlise Horst presented Mastering the Vocabulary of School: Insights from Research and Practice. She explained how to find the Middle School Vocabulary Lists (MSVL) through Lextutor (select the “VP-Classic” mode > see MSVL lists). She also reviewed the process of actually learning new words, making sure we understood the key ideas: noticing, retrieval, and elaboration.
Q: How do we help students create pathways for retrieval? How do we help them make connections to existing knowledge?
Marlise recommended a number of retrieval activities, reminding us that multiple encounters lead to automaticity. She noted that memorization activities are trending once again, and flashcards can be gamified for higher engagement. We were also reminded to review key words from each lesson, not just at the end of a lesson, but the next day as well. I felt compelled to ask myself, How consistent are you about including reviews at the end of a lesson? Guiltily I answered, Not as consistent as I should be. Thank you, Marlise, for reminding me of this important step in vocabulary learning.
I wish I could pass along even more, but I think the present post is already bursting at the seams! I hope you appreciate the take-away as much as I did!
Attending a session in Atlanta made me reflect on how my understanding of grammar has evolved. In the beginning, I was like a kid with a Lego set who followed the instructions and gained satisfaction from seeing my final construction perfectly match what I saw in the manual. I didn’t realize how much there was to explore and experiment with.
As a teacher trainee, I didn’t stray far from what was put before me as the standard. I went to classroom observations of experienced language teachers to see how teaching was done. It never entered my head that I could question the methodology I was seeing. I don’t mean to say that what I saw was wrong in some way, but rather I didn’t think about there being multiple approaches — not until much later.
Similarly, when I started teaching grammar on my own, I stuck closely to the textbook given to me. I understood that my job was to impart the rules and structures to my students. I did my best to make presentations and practice engaging, but I didn’t think much about going beyond what was printed in the charts for quite some time.
I remember first learning about “grammaring” and discovering that grammar instruction didn’t have to be so rigid. Diane Larsen-Freeman helped many of us view grammar not as static knowledge, but as a skill that people use to communicate. Language teachers can help students develop and master this skill. Attention to form, meaning, and use has helped me build and teach many lessons over the years. Is there anything more to discover beyond those three dimensions of grammar?
How about the concept of hidden grammars? That’s right — grammars in the plural. That was the focus of Hidden Grammars and How to Teach Them, a session presented by Colin Ward and Alice Savage of Lone Star College in North Harris, Texas. Prompted by Larsen-Freeman’s work with complex systems, Colin and Alice pose the question about the existence of multiple grammars. At the TESOL convention in Atlanta, they identified two: lexical grammar and discourse grammar. Both are hidden in a sense because they’re not addressed in traditional grammar materials. They’re less rule-based and more descriptive in nature. It’s also in their nature to overlap; they aren’t distinct at all times. Unfortunately, Alice wasn’t able to be present at the session, but Colin competently took the helm, armed with his and Alice’s presentation slides. Colin explained what each “hidden” grammar entailed and demonstrated ways we can teach them.
Lexical grammar refers to how we use chunks of language in meaningful ways. Colin took participants through the exercise of trying to read a sentence with single words being flashed one after the other, and then allowed our brains to read the same sentence with words in chunks, i.e., thought groups. The difference was night and day. Isolated words were hard to connect in meaningful ways, but our minds deftly processed the thought groups. It was a demonstration of stability within a complex system, the heart of the Complexity Theory.
In short, teaching students to identify phrases and clauses as thought groups allows them to find stability within the dynamic language system and put that stability to use in their communication. After marking thought groups as a “class,” Colin had us simulate pair work and read sentences aloud, with partners marking the thought groups they heard. (See handout here.) Such practice, said Colin, “primes their brain for these patterns.”
Colin and Alice recommend preteaching lexicogrammatical chunks. Before starting a reading passage, meaningful chunks can be studied. Highlighting phrases like “sitting on a surfboard” and “swim in circles” will make it easier for students to process those phrases in the context of a long sentence when they read a narrative account about shark attack. Another exercise is to ask students to prescan a reading for chunks and find the missing words: sitting ___ ___ surfboard / swim ___ circles. Lastly, students can use those same chunks to create new sentences, demonstrating their ability to put words together meaningfully. Colin showed a model of a “builder box” that allows students to select chunks from each column to form a logical sentence: It’s fun to OR It’s dangerous to / sit on a surfboard OR swim in circles/ because… OR when… .
Discourse grammar refers to patterns speech follows at the paragraph level. Colin showed how scaffolding facilitates acquisition of this hidden grammar. In a noticing task, students can scan a reading for prepositional phrases and underline them. If the teacher asks the students to note the position of these phrases in a sentence, students will better understand their function and the information they give. A second noticing task is to present a text without paragraph division and then ask students to mark where the writer should start a new paragraph. (See handout.)
Moving beyond readings, Colin explained how to develop students’ ability to recognize patterns in conversation. Again, it’s a matter of searching for stability within a system of multiple possibilities. Colin and Alice invest the time in examining speech acts with their students; in such acts as complimenting and apologizing, formulaic expressions are used. If students learn to understand how conversation follows patterns, they can master the formulas and plug them into the appropriate situations. As part of his demonstration, Colin had us work in pairs once again, and we read short dialogs aloud. We “students” had to identify who was talking, where this was taking place, what the intention was, and what formulaic language was used. (See handout.)
I encourage you to view the full handout on Colin and Alice’s website English Endeavors and browse their rich content, including short downloadable reading texts, play scripts, and other teaching materials.
I’d like to thank Colin and Alice for one of the most informative presentations of TESOL 2019! They have generously allowed me to share highlights here.
Did you know it’s National Poetry Month? I feel fortunate that I was among the attendees at one of the last sessions of the TESOL 2019 convention because the topic was…yes, poetry! Quite a number of us decided to attend The Uses of Poetry in the ESL Classroom at 5:00 p.m. on the final day. Our presenter, Janusz Solarz of Indiana University, rose to the challenge of engaging us at this late hour and sending us off with both smiles and teaching ideas.
Perhaps the secret appeal of poems is tied to a fact that Janusz pointed out: poems are often the first type of reading we experience in our childhood. Isn’t that true? As kids, we enjoyed hearing them, learning them by heart, and reciting them. I remember the nursery rhymes that hung on my bedroom walls. I loved the colorful drawings, but they became even more special when I could start reading them.
Janusz encourages teachers to tap into poetry as a collection of authentic and creative texts. Why not work a poem into a lesson? Janusz suggested a few different ways to do this. Avoiding complexities that would only work against our objectives as ELTs, we can focus on practical or “utilitarian” purposes of poetry, as Janusz calls them. For instance, a short poem can serve as a warm-up or a means to lead into a lesson topic. The examples Janusz shared were all poems that followed a clear rhyme scheme. When the teacher reads with the appropriate rhythm, the pattern of rhyming is easier to follow. So when the final line is omitted, students have a decent shot at predicting the ending. This activity works particularly well with limericks. Participants enjoyed collaborating to suggest possible endings for a number of humorous limericks. Janusz rightfully stated that such activities appeal to students’ creativity.
Even so, supplying a whole line can be a challenge. A simpler one task would be to omit the final word in an ABAB or AABBA scheme. Either way, filling in a missing word or line tests comprehension and develops pronunciation skills. Do students have a good sense of the rhythm and rhyme accurately? Working together, students will have their collective word bank. I’d like to throw out the idea of allowing them to use a rhyming dictionary, as there are a number of them. RhymeZone and Rhymer.com are just two. Other participants voiced their own suggestions, including a Mad Libs-like approach, in which a number of words are omitted and new words are substituted as long as they’re grammatically appropriate (e.g., singular noun for a singular noun).
Janusz demonstrated the prediction and completion activities with a couple of poems by Odgen Nash. A Flea and a Fly in A Flue is short and playfully illustrates the use of homonyms and homophones. A Word to Husbands is an concise view on harmony in marriage, which would likely produce chuckles and reactions, which you could build on should you wish to have a larger conversation about relationships.
Judith Viorst was another poet highlighted, and her funny poem Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog can be used in part or in full. Similar to Nash’s poem about a husband’s wisdom, Viorst pokes fun at a child’s ability to argue and persuade.
Which other poets does Janusz favor? He mentioned his fondness for works by Richard Wilbur and Russel Edson. He has used Edson’s The Fall to develop students ability to think outside the box…in English. Such a poem is not inaccessible to an ELL and interpretations can be discussed as a class. The works of some poets have published on YouTube, and Janusz has followed two writers whose verses push the audience to think beyond: Billy Collins (Do a search on YouTube. I found one playlist.) and Todd Boss (see created playlists).
I’d like to thank Janusz for entaining us and informing us in Atlanta. I’m especially grateful that he has allowed me to summarize his presentation. I couldn’t include every little golden nugget, but many have been passed along.
Monica has two basic aims when she brings art into the classroom. She recognizes the need to develop visual literacy, and as students learn to “read” artworks, they must then be able to discuss what they see. Monica builds learners’ word banks by teaching them to talk about artistic style (e.g., “similar to” and “lifelike”), facial expressions, poses or posture, clothing, settings, objects, mediums (e.g., photo or painting), colors, and scale (the size of a work). She guides students through four steps so that they can participate successfully in group discussion: (1) they observe a given work of art, (2) they interpret what they see, (3) they connect the artwork to their own experiences or tap into their world knowledge, and then (4) they conclude with their point of view.
The beauty of such a task is that the students develop more than language skills: they walk away with a deeper understanding of culture and history, which will then allow them to understand other figures and events in the proper cultural and historical context.
Emma and Kathleen took the time to share their reasoning for bringing artwork into the classroom. An arts-based pedagogy prompts students to reflect, and in doing so they engage in discussion and interpretation. Critical thinking and analytical skills are put to use. Works of art, the presenters noted, are authentic materials and studying them expands one’s notion of input. Lastly, as stated in the summary of Monica’s session, art provides insights and deepens a person’s sociocultural understanding.
One of the recommended activities was for students to play the role of curator and select a few pieces for a special collection. The artworks could follow a theme, for example, the sea. Emma and Kathleen noted that many of the works of art have short descriptions, which could aid students in their search for a unifying theme and in their preparation to explain why they selected certain pieces for their “exhibition.” More extensive reading is possible if you steer students toward a website feature called Timeline of Art History, which pairs artworks with detailed chronologies.
When students present their collection to the class, Emma and Kathleen suggest allowing for peer feedback. Classmates’ comments can be kept brief; limit them to one thing the presenter did well and done thing the presenter could improve on (e.g., body language, speaking rate, speaking with expression).
A very special thank you to Monica, Emma, and Kathleen for reminding me how powerful art can be in language instruction and for kindly allowing me to share their ideas here with you.
Two different sessions in Atlanta addressed skills that are challenging to acquire and teach: humor competence and political correctness.
The first was a poster session presented by John Rucynski of the Language Education
Center at Okayama University in Japan. I made it a point to arrive promptly as I knew an interesting topic could gather a crowd, and I was counting on good insights from Incorporating Humor Competence Training into the Language Learning Curriculum John and his colleague Caleb Prichard have done research on evaluating and improving ELLs’ understandings of different types of humor used in the target language. They conducted two 1-hour training sessions.
John Rucynski at TESOL 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia
In their first study, they focused on detecting satirical news. Attendees at the poster session saw a sample test that challenged students to identify headlines as satirical or real news. News items could be offbeat, but still real. Content was pulled from actual sources, mainly The Onion and The Rising Wasabi. Other possible sources such as social media and late night shows were mentioned in our small group discussion. The results from the study showed a significantly better performance by those students who were taught typical features of satirical news, namely:
– subject matter that wouldn’t normally be newsworthy;
– exaggeration and completely unrealistic ideas;
– language that is too vague or too informal for the news. Tip: Teach students what to look for and give them practice separating real news from satirical news.
The second study focused on detecting sarcasm and verbal irony. Again, students in one group were given an advantage. They were taught to identify prosodic, verbal, and visual cues. John and Caleb used their own photos with various facial expressions as well as images from online media, including memes. (Apparently, Willy Wonka memes work effectively!) Tip: John noted that students don’t need to learn complex vocabulary like “an averted gaze.” It’s enough to sort photos based on the emotions being expressed. Simply ask students which faces look like the speaker is being sarcastic.
In part one, she teaches learners that what is acceptable in one culture may not be acceptable in another. She presents about a half dozen scenarios for discussion that force students to reflect on the appropriateness of certain statements, including:
– hate speech;
– assumptions about where someone is from based on their race;
– insensitive remarks about gender or sexual orientation.
Noga’s follow-up questions are often, “Why is this offensive?” and “Is this hate speech or a personal opinion?” Tip: Noga doesn’t hold this training in political correctness early in the semester with a new group of students. It’s better to wait until familiarity and trust have been built.
In part two, Noga asks learners to match non-PC terms to PC terms. Going over the answers is an opportunity for clarification and discussion. Noga explains that the effectiveness of the discussions depends on a teacher’s willingness to welcome questions and readiness to face the uncomfortable. Simply put, if a term is something you’d personally never say and don’t want to hear, you should explain why. Tip: Some non-PC terms aren’t really offensive, just antiquated, like waitress.
In the final part of her training session, Noga moves deeper into questions. What questions can be offensive? This may tie back into some of the scenarios discussed earlier. As all three parts are done in a single training session, it seems that making connections and drawing comparisons would be very desirable. Noga has received positive feedback from her students, whose confidence in social settings has increased thanks to addressing political correctness directly.
The poster session and the teaching tip shared the same end goal: to build learners’ cross-cultural communicative competence. By having open discussions with their teachers, students gain cultural insights and decrease the chances of being embarrassed or causing offense in real-world situations.
I thank both presenters for their helpful information and their permission to share session highlights here with you.
TESOL is in full swing, and I’ve attended a number of informative sessions. I’ll do my best to share valuable take-away over the next few weeks. Let’s start with the well-thought-out approach to listening and speaking presented by Takako Smith of University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Takako teaches within PIESL (Programs in English as a Second Language).
In her session Surprises Make Listening andSpeaking Fun and Engaging, Takako demonstrated how to use silly and almost unbelievable lawsuits to prompt interactive listening and speaking. The key element is surprise. Takako had us recall the famous 1992 McDonald’s case in which Stella Liebeck sued the restaurant chain after she spilled burning hot coffee on herself. Since then, other surprising and outrageous cases have earned a so-called Stella Award. Takako forewarned participants that an online search for Stella Award recipients would yield a mix of real and bogus cases, so a bit of additional research is necessary to identify actual cases we can share with our students.
Cases are summarized online; however, Takako explained how she rewrites a text and modifies the level of difficulty according to her students’ proficiency. She not only replaces challenging words with higher frequency ones, but she also typically shortens a long last name to a simple initial, such as Mr. I. The first step then is to modify the case summary in order to reduce cognitive overload.
Takako has developed a two-day activity that makes use of two different lawsuits. She splits her students into two groups, A and B.
– On Day 1, Group A listens to description of the first lawsuit after Group A leaves the classroom to complete another activity. The teacher reads the summary more than once, but the students in Group A do not see the text. They only listen. Vocabulary is addressed as needed.
– When Group B returns, Group A must retell the lawsuit. Takako encourages Q&A between the groups. My understanding is that the teacher can decide how best to organize the students depending on the numbers (pairs, trios, etc.)
– The teacher then checks Group B’s comprehension. Questions are asked to check for accuracy. If Group B lacks accurate understanding, communication is called into question. Was something heard incorrectly or explained unclearly?
– As a whole class, key words are reviewed.
– On Day 2, the roles reverse. But before that the teacher gives a short vocabulary quiz to test students’ understanding of the key words in the first text.
– So what happens when half the class is asked to leave the room? Takako challenges each student to take a photo of something interesting or different from their own culture. Photos are emailed to the teacher. Photos are shown to the class in random order after each lawsuit is retold. As time allows, students are asked to address the class and explain their reason for taking the photo. Through this mini-task, speaking and listening increases.
Takako has found this approach to be effective and engaging. The activity targets listening and speaking, but it also develops cultural literacy. Students gain some understanding of the U.S. court system and particularly through the photos, they make cultural comparisons.
I would like to thank Takako for sharing her creative ideas and for allowing me to post them here for you.