Craigslist and the Art of Asking Questions

In a blog post last summer, I described a mnemonic device one of my students invented to help her classmates master the ability to pose grammatically accurate questions in the simple past. Here’s another fun way to practice questioning skills with your students using craigslist*, an online resource they can use to find a new apartment, look for a new job, or buy a used car.

Craigslist is a classified advertisements website with sections devoted to jobs, housing, items for sale, personals, community events, and more. Local versions of craigslist are available not only for many American and Canadian cities but for dozens of countries around the globe.

With a handful of exceptions, most of my low-intermediate students had never heard of craigslist and had never used it. To whet their appetite for exploring this website, I started by demonstrating how to use the “free” section, where used furniture, electronics, and other “cast-offs” are available for free on a first-come-first-served basis.  Students were intrigued by the idea that they could swing by someone’s house and pick up a used couch, a dresser, a TV, or a rug for free. I gave them a few minutes to pull out their smartphones and browse through the “free” section on craigslist to see if there was anything available that they actually wanted or needed.

Once their curiosity was aroused, I switched gears for a few minutes to demonstrate the use of the Question Hand (PDF), a mnemonic device designed by proponents of X-word grammar to help students remember the order of words in a question in English, regardless of tense.  I asked my students to raise their right hand in the air and showed them how:

* The thumb stands for the “question” word in information questions (who, what, where, when, why, how, how many, how often, how long, etc.).

* The pointer stands for the X-word (“helping,” “modal,” or “auxiliary” verbs: have, has, had, do, does, did, am, is, are, was, were, can, could, will, would, shall, should, must, might, may) that is used to start a yes/no question or that follows the question word in an information question. For yes/no questions, I teach students to fold down or hide their thumb, so that the pointer finger is used to begin the question.

* The middle finger represents the subject.

* The ring finger stands for the main verb.

* The pinky stands in for everything else.

I also made copies of the Question Hand to give each of my students and projected a large version of the Question Hand on the white board at the front of the class.

To gain confidence using the Question Hand and formulating questions, I then put students in pairs and gave them free reign to explore the “For Sale” section of craigslist on their smartphones or tablets. I asked them to find something that they might want to buy and to work with their partner to formulate five questions that they would want to ask the seller before deciding whether or not to make an offer.

Everyone was interested in the same section—“Cars and Trucks”—and worked enthusiastically on developing the questions they would need to ask the seller. When they had finished formulating their questions, I then had them pair up with a student from another group and dictate their questions to their classmate at the white board for us all to examine, admire, and critique.

Some groups were able to quickly grasp how to use the Question Hand to accurately pose Yes/No questions:

  1. Is the title clear?
  2. Is the cost negotiable?

Others struggled with their questions, no doubt because “have” can serve both as an x-word and as a main verb:

  1. How many miles have your car?
  2. How many owners have your car?
  3. May see the car this week?

We then used the Question Hand to collectively “improve” (i.e., fix) the inaccurate questions. The discussion for Question #3 above went something like this:

Q: “How many miles” is represented by which finger?

A: The thumb or the question word(s).

Q: So what needs to come next?

A: The pointer or x-word, “does,” for all verbs in the Simple Present (except for “to be” and “to happen”)

Q: Then what?

A: The middle finger or subject, “your car.

Q: Then what?

A: The ring finger or main verb, “have.

Q: So how could you rewrite the question?

A: “How many miles does your car have [on it]?”

For Question #5,  “May see the car this week?, I asked the students to review each finger on the Question Hand with a partner and see if they could figure out what was missing.  Sure enough, most noticed that the author of the question had omitted the middle finger or subject, “I.”

A great way to extend this activity is to put students in pairs and to give them a chance to role-play their negotiation, with one set of students playing the role of sellers who have advertised an item on CraigsList and the rest the role of prospective buyers.

Mastering the art of accurately formulating questions takes time and repeated practice, and certainly isn’t learned in a single session. But I have found that using authentic materials like craigslist helps keep students interested and motivated as they practice this important skill.

What authentic materials do you use to teach the art of posing questions?

 *This activity is for adult learners; there are sections of the craigslist website devoted to “personals” and other adult topics that would be unsuitable for young learners.

 

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Four Tips for Teaching English Through Music

One effective method of teaching language to your ELs is through music and songs. It is remarkable how quickly children pick up words and sentences and remember them for a long time when music is integrated into a lesson.

Here are four tips for teaching language through music to Pre-K–5 ELs.

Provide comprehensible input through music.  This can be accomplished when teachers preteach the key vocabulary in a song and provide visual support of this vocabulary when the song is sung.  This can be done through realia, drawings, pictures, and photographs. It’s not productive for ELs to learn words to a song if they have no idea what the words mean. Content-area material can also be taught through music as long as comprehensible input is provided. An example of this is a K–2 lesson on my website  entitled Ribbit! Ribbit! A Thematic Unit on Frogs.

Choose songs that have simple lyrics and provide lots of repetition. ELs need to hear the lyrics over and over again. When ELs feel comfortable with the lyrics, their affective filter will be lowered. In fact, music increases ELs’ confidence with oral production and makes them more eager to participate. Constant repetition of songs will also help ELs learn language chunks and increase their fluency and pronunciation in English. One resource that  I have used to teach ELs through music is Singing Machine. My students loved singing the words to songs into the microphone and hearing themselves sing when it was played back.

Include songs that lend themselves to movement. Movement adds a huge dimension to learning through music. Many of the popular children’s songs are on YouTube, and using them to introduce a song to your students is helpful. You want to be sure that the songs are not sung too fast. Try songs such has the Hokey-Pokey and Old MacDonald Had a FarmIf You’re Happy and You Know It, and Wheels on the Bus.  These are all excellent examples of the use of movement with music.

Teach songs in the languages of your students. The music you teach does not have to be in English.  Music connects children across cultures. Karen Nemeth, a national expert on early childhood dual language learners has this to say:

Early literacy experts focus heavily on the value of music for supporting language and literacy for ALL young children. I object, however, to mixing two languages in the same song. We know from research about young children’s language processing that their brains will focus on the familiar language and tune out the new language when they are presented simultaneously. I support singing in one language or the other so that children can focus on whole phrases and sentences and get used to pronouncing strings of words.

Have your ELs or their parents demonstrate a song from their home language to your students. This will help students appreciate the culture of the other children in their class. It also adds a sense of community to the classroom. Be prepared to search for songs that are not sung too fast. Many songs in English for young children have been translated to other languages. Here is the Wheels on the Bus in Five Languages.  Colorín Colorado has an excellent list of children’s songs in Spanish.

Do you have favorite songs in the first languages of your students that you use in your classroom? Please share them with us.

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An ESP Project of the Incoming TESOL ESP-IS Chair

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

One of the benefits of being on the steering committee of the ESP Interest Section is that you are able to meet all of the other leaders. In previous blog posts, I have focused on current and former chairs of the ESP-IS including (in order of service) David Kertzner, Najma Janjua, Yinghuei Chen, and Kristin Ekkens (current chair). (I was chair after David. I am currently community manager.)

In this blog post, it is my pleasure to let you know a bit more about the work of Jaclyn (Jackie) Gishbaugher, who will be chair after the TESOL 2015 convention. In doing so, I will draw upon material in an article that will appear in the next ESP-IS newsletter. (I encourage you to read the entire article in ESP News for important ESP project insights in addition to Jackie’s bio and contact info!)

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In Jackie’s forthcoming article, which is cowritten with Robert Eckhart, she describes their ongoing ESP project.

In November 2013, we began meeting with representatives of a large Japanese manufacturer who wanted to centralize their English language training program for transfer employees in North America. The company had been operating here for decades, but each factory had contracted out their own language training for transfer employees, who came from Japan for 2 to 5 years at a time. Local autonomy had its benefits, but after the CEO of their worldwide operations announced that the official language of their company would be English, this raised the stakes for administering a single, cohesive program, and their North American division solicited proposals for a sole organization to provide English language training to all factories in North America. The Ohio State University Combined ESL Programs—in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Human Ecology—submitted a proposal and was selected in early 2014 to offer a technology-based EOP training program.

Our proposal was based on creating online modules tailored for learners at several levels, with the modules about workplace English, everyday/casual English, and TOEIC prep. Borrowing a term from project management, our biggest finding to date is…

Our program reaches more than 300 learners, who are employees at one plant in Canada, 11 in the United States, and 2 in Mexico. They all share Japanese as a first language, but they represent a variety of departments, positions, and English proficiency levels. The client’s goals for the program are three fold: improved workplace communication, increased TOEIC test scores, and a higher quality of life outside of work. It’s an ambitious project, and thus far it has presented a variety of challenges. We’ve woven together best practices from ESP and online learning and come up with some of our own that meet the specific needs of these learners.

[Our] article talks about the four biggest hurdles of creating a totally-online EOP language training program and the effective practices we’ve developed along the way.

When you read their article, you will be able to learn more about four points:

  1. Self-paced Learning vs. Supervisor Reporting
  2. Traditional Learners vs. Nontraditional Learning
  3. Face-to-Face vs. Saving Face
  4. Speaking Needs vs. Reading, Writing, Listening Format

Be sure to read the article when it is published, as I have intentionally omitted much of the content. (You can find issues of ESP News here.)

After you read the article, you will know even more about Jackie’s work, so be sure to contact her at the annual conference held in Toronto in March. The best time to see all of the leaders is at the Open Meeting.

Find ways to become more involved in the ESP-IS! For me, the ESP-IS has become a place to achieve visions in collaboration with others.

All the best,
Kevin

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Building Bridges: Journey to a Better Future for TESOL

Dr. Sun will deliver the Presidential Keynote address, titled “Building Bridges: Journey to a Better Future for TESOL,” at the TESOL 2015 International Convention & English Language Expo, 8 am, Friday, 27 March 2015. 

The last 50 years have marked significant transformation in the field of TESOL.

  • What will happen in the next 50 years?
  • What will TESOL International Association look like in 50 years?
  • What will the TESOL field look like in 50 years?
  • What should TESOLers like you and me do to build bridges for a better future for TESOL?
  • What are the trends and strategies that ELT professionals should be aware of on our journey to build a better future for TESOL?

These are the questions I will address at my keynote address on Friday, 27 March, based on studies I have conducted.

A Personal Journey

The theme for this year’s convention is “Crossing Borders, Building Bridges,” which has a very special meaning to me on several levels. First, on the personal level, exactly 30 years ago in 1985, as a young EFL educator full of dreams, I crossed the ocean from China to Toronto, Canada to pursue a graduate degree in TESOL and applied linguistics at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)/University of Toronto. In Toronto, I lived and worked with many immigrants and experienced firsthand the challenges and struggles that many immigrant English learners face. It was in Toronto that I studied and worked with many well-known ELT scholars whose work I read and respected, and it was in Toronto that I became the first graduate student from mainland China to receive a PhD from OISE/University of Toronto, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. My life and work experience in Toronto marked the beginning of my professional journey as a TESOLer who is committed to building bridges and crossing borders for a better future for TESOL.

A Better Future for the Association

Second, at the association level, this is the first time since 2000 that the TESOL International Convention has been held outside the United States, crossing the national borders between the United States and Canada. This move is significant. By crossing borders, we can examine differences and challenges in the ELT field while exploring new opportunities for development and constructive transformations. Change is made possible through not only crossing borders but also building bridges. As the TESOL convention program states, “Bridges are passage ways that connect the old and new, multiple experiences, and shifting perspectives.” The development of the TESOL field and the TESOL association has reflected the importance of building bridges. By crossing borders and building bridges, TESOL has grown from a solely U.S.-based organization with 104 members 49 years ago to where we are now, with more than 13,000 members and 117 affiliates representing 162 countries worldwide, and nearly 50 years of history behind us.

A Better Future for the Field

Last but not least, the TESOL professional field has witnessed drastic changes over the last 50 years, especially during the last 20 years. In teaching approaches, the field has evolved from traditional grammar translation methods to communicative language teaching approaches (where the focus of language teaching is on meaningful language use in a broad context) to where we are now, the Post methods Era (where the focus of teaching is on eclecticism and cross-disciplinary collaborations, and the integration of technology and information and media literacy). Such changes also reflect in our research approaches.

Nowadays, more and more research and discussions have focused on the issues of “World Englishes,” English as a lingua franca (ELF), critical discourse, and cross-disciplinary examinations of second language acquisition and language teaching.

Please mark your calendar and come to my keynote session at the TESOL 2015 convention. I’ll be highlighting strategies for building bridges for a better future for TESOL and for ourselves as TESOL professionals. I look forward to seeing you at the convention!

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Using Journals and Magazines to Teach About Audience

Today I’d like to share two simple activities that can help second language writers apply the concept of audience. The first activity is suitable for students of intermediate and higher levels of proficiency; the second one is designed for beginners (but can certainly be used with advanced students as well).

Activity 1

Class time: 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the class and the number of the samples)

Materials:

  • Journals from various fields of study, such as psychology, engineering, medicine, sociology. You can find a variety of journals through online databases or in a local library.
  • Student Worksheet (PDF)

Procedure:

This activity requires that students move in class, so you need to set up the classroom in the way it is described below.  However, if your teaching context does not allow for reorganizing the classroom space, modify this activity as you see fit.

  1. Reorganize the desks and chairs in the classroom: Each desk will represent a “station” that the students will work at. Therefore, the reorganization will depend on your classroom space, but you should make it possible for several students to work together as a team at a desk.
  2. On each desk, put a journal face down, so that the students won’t be able to see its cover. If you had prepared several journals from each field, you could “assign” a certain field of study to a particular station. For example, you may have a psychology station, a linguistics station, a medicine station, etc.
  3. Divide the students into small groups. Give each group the student worksheet.
  4. Each group will start at one station and work for about 5-7 minutes. The assignment for this activity is the following: The students will examine a journal (or a set of journals) and as a team they will discuss the type of readers for that particular journal. Encourage them to examine the images, titles of the articles, graphs, and other visuals. The students will also fill out the worksheet. Remember: The students are not allowed to look at the journal cover!
  5. After the students are done with their first station, they will move to the next “station” (clockwise, for example).
  6. After the activity is completed, discuss the results as a class. Allow the students to look at the cover pages of the journals and check if they made correct guesses.

Suggestion:

If you work in a computer lab, you can turn computers into stations, with each computer displaying an electronic version of a journal (of selected parts of it). In this case, the students can work individually as they move from one computer to another.

Activity 2

Class time: 20-30 minutes

Materials: Magazines and newspapers. For this activity, the students will cut the magazines and newspapers; make sure you bring the ones that you no longer use. Some of the examples of newspapers and magazines are: Times, Good Housekeeping, National Geographic, Taste of Home, Woman’s Day, People, AARP The Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Daily News. However, the choice of the magazines and newspapers is up to you.

Procedure:

  1. Divide students into small groups or pairs.
  2. Pass out the magazines/newspapers and scissors. Depending on the class size and the number of the magazines or newspapers you prepared, each team may receive up to several magazines or newspapers.
  3. Explain to the students that they will have to “sort out” the material from their magazines and newspapers according to the audiences. Assign four audiences:
    1. business people
    2. politicians
    3. college students
    4. sport fans
  4. Once again, the types and the number of audiences may vary.
  5. Ask students to scan through the magazine(s) or the newspaper(s) and look for the images, company or product advertisements, logos, inspirational messages, article titles, etc. that will correspond to the types of audiences you assigned. Have students cut those parts from their magazines and newspapers and organize them into four piles, each of one of the four audiences.
  6. After the activity is completed, ask students to share their findings with the class. Since the magazines and newspapers for each team were different, it will be interesting to see what students have found for the four audiences in their magazines and newspapers.

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Be a Super Teacher With Simple Tech Tools

A SMART Board training session I recently attended quickly turned into a great collaborative discussion about classroom tools. Super Teacher Tools was one such promising resource that was mentioned, and it is my pleasure to share it with you today. Super Teacher Tools’ tagline is ‘Teaching is hard. Technology Shouldn’t Be,” and while I do not know if everyone would agree with that first part, I think we can all agree with the second half, so it is just wonderful that resources like this exist.

It is easy to create an account and the site is free to use, but donations are accepted to help fund it. There are three main categories that teachers will find useful: games, tools, and extras. There are four game types, including a Jeopardy-like game and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? First, choose a game type and then either create the content for your students or browse the library to see versions that others have made. Use previously made versions as is or copy and adapt to better suit your needs. The second category, tools, consists of classroom management resources including a group maker, and the third, extras, can help you with timing or sharing activities.

The look and feel of the site seem a little dated to me, but everything I tested functioned properly and there is a help page where you can read the answers to questions that have already been asked or submit a question of your own. Everything seems very straightforward and would work well either projected on a screen or, presumably, on a SMART board. Play around with the site and your in class technology to see what works best. Turn boring practice and review activities into engaging games or fun competitions with this great website.

Have you ever used Super Teacher Tools? What resources do you like to use? Share your comments with us in the chat below.

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