Students Reflect: Challenges in the First Year of U.S. College

Another academic year is close to the end. For many students in my introductory composition course, it was the first time being away from their home countries and families, the first time being in a different culture, and certainly the first time studying in a new academic environment. I wanted them to reflect a little bit on their first year in college, and asked them two questions:

  1. “What was the biggest challenge you faced this year in college?” and
  2. “How do you think the university or professors can help you and other students with similar challenges?”

Students’ thoughts and ideas were quite illuminating. I asked their permission to share their responses. Here they are:

Challenge: The biggest challenge for me was not knowing how to plan ahead.
Solution: Professors can send notification emails to remind us what is going to happen next; they can also do weekly “what’s up?” sessions telling students about the main schedule for the week; and, finally, they can give small lectures about planning.

Challenge: It was difficult for me to find the purpose/reason behind going through the exam-oriented education. I find that the individuality is very prominent in the U.S. People strive too much to obtain greater GPA without taking into consideration the value of education (not everybody of course).
Solution: Professors should construct a learning environment that would encourage students to have the liberty to choose/self-propagate in pursuing knowledge instead of feeding students with things that will be tested in exams or quizzes. They should also put emphasis on the theory of knowledge.

Challenge: I didn’t want to go to bed on time. I didn’t want to study until the last minute.
Solution: I think these problems come most from myself. I need to change it myself.

Challenge: The biggest challenge in my first year in college would be making friends. The way of having classes in college is very different from the way in high school. It seems that in a big lecture room all students come on time before class and leave right after class. It makes it hard for me to chat with people.
Solution: I think the university can have more activities to let domestic students and international students interact more, or even have a program that would let domestic students show American culture to international students. Instead of being a single event, these activities should continue throughout the academic year.

Challenge: The biggest challenge for this academic year was that I didn’t know whether I chose the right major for me. This challenge kind of kept me away from major-related courses, and when my mind was set, it was somewhat late.
Solution: Maybe professors should provide help to students like me, or the university should appoint counselors to students like me to help them figure out what they want to do.

Challenge: Time management was the biggest challenge for me this year. I could not sleep when I had too much homework.
Solution: The university could offer a course on how to manage time wisely. Professors could also make homework easier.

Challenge: The biggest challenge that I had this year was that I found America was like a big countryside, but everything was expensive! When I was in China, there were big cities everywhere, and even in small cities we had taxi everywhere, and big squares and supermarkets everywhere. Everything was cheap and in good quality. But in America I can hardly see cabs on the street, and everything is awfully expensive! But the irony is that everything here is “made in China,” and those things are actually the same things that I bought in China! And also, in America, you cannot go anywhere without a car, and cabs are super expensive! So I was stuck on campus for about a year!
Solution: I just need to get a driver’s license next semester, buy a car, and ask for more money from my parents!

Challenge: The biggest challenge for my first year at Purdue was to study in an entirely different way. In middle school or high school, I used to study by following my teachers’ instructions step by step. Teachers would see how my study was going and helped me immediately. However, in the U.S. college I could only depend on myself for most of the time. Professors or TAs are usually busy, so they cannot focus on a single student. I went through a hard time getting used to this new study mode and did poorly on the study at first. Now it’s still challenging for me but it seems to be much better.
Solution: Maybe professors are not the ones who can help much with this, but I know the university provides some resources that international students can reach for help. However, many students are not aware of these resources when they are going through their hard times. So I think the university should give students information about how to get help to get used to the new mode of study.

Challenge: Communication and networking were the biggest challenges for me. I know I have to break my shell and socialize with other people, maybe in the classroom, or clubs, or career fairs. Also, it’s challenging for me to understand other peoples’ thinking.
Solution: Some courses should provide recitation where there would be small groups of students working together, or give some tips as a guidebook or motivate students to socialize.

Challenge: The biggest challenge that I had was socializing with the locals (Americans). It’s because they share very distinct and different values from what I thought before coming here. In my mind, I would prioritize the relationship between friends and I would always keep in touch with them, but in this local culture people are sort of individualistic. If they don’t feel like being friends with you, they would not be friendly to you. Thus, I will try to change my own perspective and integrate myself to the local culture better than I did.
Solution: I also think that the university can have more social events, such as sports or conferences that group up students of similar interests regardless of their backgrounds. I believe that with this approach, locals and international students will be able to mingle more together and build better relationships.

from TESOL Blog

Automotive Language Lessons Can Give Your Students the Drive to Learn

Cars hold a high position in the American culture’s teenage psyche. Cars may be necessities for students attending schools in rural areas or background noise to kids in cities, but you’re not likely to find a student who is completely apathetic about automobiles. They can symbolize freedom, a rite of passage, a future career, or just things students think are cool. Whatever the situation, they can be a nice break from dry academic activities or a nice way to keep the students engaged during a short week.

So when you need an “evergreen” activity, or if you want a fun writing activity, here are some car-related categories of activities I found to be effective.

1. Morphology and Language Change. Since cars are newer inventions, the English names for their parts are often simple compound words that explain their function—windshield, hubcap, airbag, rearview mirror—which you can put together, take apart, and define as separate units and combined words. More advanced students may enjoy learning the etymology of words like “dashboard” or “glove compartment” that are still in use even after their literal meaning has changed. This is one situation where I love using my Oxford Picture Dictionary due to its excellent graphics on everything from types of vehicles to the parts of an engine.

2. Descriptive Writing. Students who are hesitant to write their opinions or analyze a piece of prose may be enticed into writing about their dream cars. Depending on the students’ levels, you can offer pictures, a framework with questions to determine the color and features, or even some research about their favorite make and model.

3. Direction Writing. A simple map, either of the local area or an imaginary one, can give your students an easy subject to write about. I like to start these activities by having them describe simple trips with only a few turns to more complicated routes where they have to point out landmarks or avoid tricky situations like traffic or construction. Intermediate students may enjoy using MapQuest or Google Maps to connect this to a real-world activity that requires simple straightforward writing.

4. Situations and Scripts. Before they can drive, students will have to venture to their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to get a license, and possibly negotiate to buy a car, get insurance, or handle an accident. These allow for lots of speaking opportunities—beginners can start with simple scripts, and more advanced students can improvise or collaborate to create a skit to demonstrate their negotiation skills.

from TESOL Blog

Mind Map It: Aiding ELL Vocabulary Acquisition

A guest post by Elizabeth Mosaidis
In this blog, Elizabeth Mosaidis shares how she used the free online mind-mapping tool Coggle to help her ESL/EFL students better learn vocabulary and improve their essay writing.

After reading some disappointing essays in my intermediate ESL reading/writing class, I surveyed the students to determine what they considered their greatest hurdle to overcome in essay writing. I discovered that 9 out of the 14 students found a lack of vocabulary to be the most challenging factor in writing. Several students expressed frustration in trying to remember new vocabulary words, while others mentioned not knowing the words in English to accurately express their ideas. Some felt stifled because the words wouldn’t flow. As one student described it, “I come to the English class, but the English class doesn’t come into me.”

With this in mind, I considered how I could help the students to better remember and retain new vocabulary words. We had tried several methods already—online flashcards, vocabulary BINGO, and a vocabulary journal—to some degree of success, but I still wasn’t reaching all of the students. Since my classes are fairly small, ranging from 13–18 students, I had some flexibility with the type of activity that I chose. However, I had to consider the diversity of my student population, with a typical class being made up of college-aged students from Saudi Arabia, China, and Kuwait, so I needed another method that could appeal to learners from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. After doing some research, I decided to teach the students how to mind map as a tool for them to learn new vocabulary words.

Mind mapping, which is a way of visually representing the connections between words by hand or through a software program, can help students increase their vocabulary by appealing to students with different learning styles, especially visual learners (Gomez & King, 2014, p. 72). In addition, research done on how learners acquire vocabulary shows that students can develop their vocabulary proficiency by not just learning the definitions of words, but also by making connections between words and seeing their relevance in different contexts (Gomez & King, 2014, p. 73). Mind mapping is one method that can be used to show these relationships and allow students to be actively involved in their own vocabulary acquisition. While the students are making the mind map, they determine how the words should be grouped, form connections between words in a way that makes sense to them, and add images to help them remember the words.

To introduce the idea of mind mapping, I had the students map a list of thematic vocabulary words by hand in small groups. None of my students had tried it before, so it took them some time to get the hang of it. After they were comfortable making them by hand, the next step was to incorporate technology by having them use Coggle to make their mind maps. I chose Coggle because it is free and user friendly, while also retaining important functions to aid teachers and students. Coggle requires a Google email account to set up, but after that, the user can store their mind maps and share them easily with others. In addition to sharing, Coggle also has a revision history feature, so the teacher can go back and see how the students revised their mind maps. Finally, another attractive feature is that Coggle can be used on a smartphone, which appeals to students, as they can work on their “Coggles” anywhere—on the bus, in the car, or while waiting for a class.

Student mind mapping example using Coggle

Student mind mapping example using Coggle

Overall, mind mapping for vocabulary acquisition went well in my classes. As my students were discussing which words and images they wanted to use to associate with the various vocabulary words, I noticed that they were working with the words in a different way than I had seen before. Some of my students mentioned that normally they try to memorize the words, but when they memorize them, they don’t fully understand how to use the word in the appropriate context. With mind mapping, they were exposed to a new way of internalizing vocabulary and were excited to create and share the mind maps with the class. In addition to heightened energy in the classroom, the students’ vocabulary test grades also increased. For instance, the scores on a test in which the students used mind mapping to study were 5.75% higher than a test where the students did not use mind maps to study. Over time, the most noticeable benefit was how much easier it was for my students to express their ideas in their essays.

Altogether, I had a favorable response from my students through written surveys, improved test scores and essays, and through energy that I observed in my classes. One student said, “It’s very creative and fun. I’ll show it to my family and friends.” Another student said, “This is exactly what I’m looking for to learn more English.” I encourage you to try mind mapping as one tool to teach new vocabulary words in order to appeal to the different learning styles of your students. Help your students expand their vocabulary without memorization. Coggle it!


Gómez, M. I., & King, G. (2014). Using mind mapping as a method to help ESL/EFL students connect vocabulary and concepts in different contexts. TRILOGÍA. Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad, 10, 69–85.

Elizabeth MosaidisElizabeth Mosaidis has been teaching English as a second language and foreign language since 2003.  A year-long volunteer experience grew into a love for teaching, and an impetus to teach abroad.  Elizabeth has taught in Japan, South Korea, Puerto Rico, and Spain, before settling down in the Phoenix area, where she currently teaches ESL at Arizona State University.

from TESOL Blog

Create Engaging Video Lessons With Zaption

Whether it is for listening practice, the basis for a discussion or writing assignment, an extension of a reading activity, or something else altogether, videos are an excellent, often underutilized, resource at our disposal. Despite that fact that there is an enormous number of educational videos available online via YouTube and other websites, it seems that I could always make more of an effort to integrate them into my classes. While I do not want to give up valuable class time to video viewing, I also want students to engage with the content while and directly after they watch. This is where sites like eduCanon, EDpuzzle, and now Zaption come in to play.

Zaption was recommended to me by fellow Dakota TESL member, Amy Franz, and I have been looking forward to testing it out. The site’s tagline, “Don’t just watch. Learn.”, sums up exactly what I look for in such tools. Registering for a free account is simple and, if you would prefer to sign in with a Facebook, Google, or Edmodo account, you can. That is all you need to get going.

To get an idea of what you can do with Zaption, browse the Zaption Gallery found under the Lessons tab. These video lessons have been created by other users and are ready to go. Searching for ESL brings up 49 results, which is a good place to start, and obviously there is room to grow. You can be part of that!

To add to the collection of ESL video lessons, create new lessons. Start by finding at least one video you want to use. Trim it down to a specific section if necessary. Add text, image, or drawing slides throughout the presentation to scaffold the video content and put your own spin on it. Add questions or a discussion box for students to engage with as they watch. Replay and jump can be added for advanced navigation purposes, too! Everything seems to operate on the basic drag-and-drop principle, and there are so many ways you can customize these lessons.

When you are pleased with your lesson, there are just a couple more steps. First, publish and get a shareable link or present it live. Presenting it live does not necessarily limit you to the classroom either, because students can join the session on any computer or mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone, using the presenter’s code. Assuming you can share that via email or LMS, the presentation could be done during another time period—perhaps a lab or something similar. This is a fantastic feature! After students have participated in your video lesson, the analytics will help you determine student understanding and/or mastery, and where to go next with your class.

Once you try Zaption out, take a look at the premium accounts that are available for instructors, teams, and campuses. The biggest benefits I see in upgrading to a premium account are in the amount of student data and analytics visible, the ability to upload private videos, and the advanced sharing and permissions settings. If these things are not important to you, stick with the free basic account and see how far that takes you.

How do you use videos in the classroom? What video resources would you recommend to other TESOL educators? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

from TESOL Blog

Authentic Text Time in Adult Ed

Adult learners, especially immigrants who have various competing priorities which may take precedence over English, need to see an immediate application for their new language. In many contexts, English can be a luxury; for adult immigrants, it cannot be. As teachers, we must approach it with an urgency and immediacy that might be unusual in, say, a business EFL program. A student-driven environmental/authentic text time is one way to add relevance, immediacy, and authenticity to your adult English classes.

The implementation is simple: Set aside a portion of each week, maybe 15 minutes, for students to bring in authentic texts. These could be anything from bills and notices that have come in the mail to student-made cell phone recordings of the announcements on the subway, to photos of billboards, to email correspondence. Anything that they’ve encountered in the world around them and felt a need or desire to understand.

You’ll probably get a lot of ideas, so encourage students to prioritize amongst themselves: Mine is just something from the back of the cereal box, but Carla has something from her son’s teacher, so she should go first.

Use these texts as starting points for teaching language points, pragmatics, and, importantly, other literacies. It’s increasingly expected that we will incorporate life skills such as financial literacy, digital literacy, and systems navigation skills into our English classes. This can be daunting for those of us who consider our area of expertise to be English, and who may be intimidated by the prospect of teaching in these other areas. But this kind of activity can help us to recognize that we really are qualified to teach many of these basic literacies, and they give us a concrete starting point.

A caveat: Teaching responsively and with authentic texts, it can be really easy for 15 minutes to turn into 45, and that’s not what we want here. Make sure you focus primarily on comprehension and pragmatics and limit the form-focused instruction to one or two of the most broadly useful language points.

from TESOL Blog

9 Strategies for 21st-Century ELT Professionals

Recently, I gave a keynote talk at the Thai-TESOL 36th Annual Conference (January 2016). It was a well attended conference as Thai-TESOL leaders always do a fantastic job in organizing their annual event. The theme was “Empowerment Through Glocalization,” with the objective focused on how to empower ELT professionals in the changing landscape of ELT. After some contemplation, I came up with nine strategies as number nine is a lucky number in Thai culture. I encourage you to share your thoughts after reading this blog.

Strategy 1: Value the Changing Perspectives on ELT
About 50 years ago, the ELT field started to see changes in our views of English language learning; this has become more evident over the last 20 years. The old term of ESL has been changed to ELL or EAL (English as an additional language) as ELT educators recognize that many learners know more than two languages and English is not their second language anymore. Code-switching was seen as language error, but now has been recognized as a valuable bilingual and translanguaging resource. An accent, instead of being viewed as deficiency, now reflects identity. Today, standardized assessments utilize different accents in their listening comprehension tests. The purpose of English learning has moved away from mimicking “inner circle” speakers as closely as possible to successful use of skills and strategies to be effective and competent communicators for a globalized workforce.

Strategy 2: Embrace Changes in Goals of English Teaching and Learning
With the changing perspectives on ELT, the goals of ELT have also changed from focusing solely on developing language skills and mimicking native English speakers to fostering a sense of social responsibility in students. Recent research and educational programs have focused more on the importance of developing English speakers as fully competent language users, critical thinkers, and constructive social change agents.

Strategy 3: Integrate 21st-Century Teaching/Learning Approaches
In recent years, more schools have put the 7C skills, outlined by Trilling and Fadel (2009) in their book 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, at the center of learning. The seven Cs are:

  1. critical thinking and problem solving,
  2. creativity and innovation,
  3. collaboration, teamwork, and leadership,
  4. cross-cultural understanding,
  5. ccommunication and media literacy,
  6. computing and ICT literacy, and
  7. career and learning self-reliance.

In addition to the seven 21st-century skills, the ELT field nowadays is also referred to as the Postmethods Era, where the focus of teaching is on eclecticism (Kumaravadivelu, 2001, 2006; Brown, 2007; Larsen-Freeman, 2000; Mellow, 2002). Eclecticism involves the use of a variety of language learning activities, each of which may have very different characteristics and may be motivated by different underlying assumptions. Some “hot topics” nowadays are Common Core, “glocal” needs, standards, pathways, ESP/EAP, flipped classes, project-based learning, and integration of digital literacy in language teaching and learning.

Yilin Sun

Yilin Sun

Strategy 4: Understand Changes in Research Approaches
The research field has witnessed significant transformation over the last 20 years. ELT research studies have moved from a sole focus on the designs and methods of quantitative empirical research to the inclusion of qualitative and other alternative approaches, with designs that incorporate both quantitative and qualitative elements. Today we see more mixed-method studies and the field as a whole has also become more open to hermeneutic (nonempirical interpretive) inquiry. New alternative theories and perspectives have emerged from research; these can be seen in SLA, SLW, and ESP studies.

Strategy 5: Expand the Dimension of Communicative Competence
Recent research publications illustrate the expanding framework of communicative competence. Some scholars have introduced their new way of looking at SLA as “multi-competence” (Cook, 2012). Others (Byram, 1997, 2009; Corbett, 2003; Kohn, 2013) focused on the importance of intercultural communicative competence. The implication here is that when teaching intercultural communicative competence, teachers need to teach both local and international cultures. The goal is to produce effective language users to use English as a global Lingua Franca, not just learners who mimic the “inner- circle” countries’ language and culture.

Strategy 6: Teach and Learn in a 21st-Century Context
There are rapid changes in the skill set needed to compete in today’s workforce: technology; globalization; workplace; demographics; and personal competence, risk, and responsibility headline these changes. Individual performance is evaluated on leadership ability, working collaboratively with others, and problem-solving skills. In a globalized world, it is just as common to form a team of four people from four different continents as it is from four departments of an institution. Educators need to be aware of the changes to better prepare students with 21st-century skills to compete in the competitive globalized workforce.

(L to R) Dr. Thanaporn Pantawi, Maneepen Apibalsri, Leslie Barratt, Yilin Sun, Suchada Nimmannit

(L to R) Thanaporn Pantawi, Maneepen Apibalsri, Leslie Barratt, Yilin Sun, Suchada Nimmannit

Strategy 7: Apply Macro Strategies to Enhance Assessment
Many schools have implemented standards-based assessment programs, which measure success based on student learning (achievement of standards) rather than on compliance with rules. Darling-Hammond, Hightower, Husbands, LaFors, and Young (2002) advocated that the reform of assessment of student learning needs “top-down support for bottom-up reform.” Once this happens, educators will be empowered to apply macro strategies to enhance assessment. The assessment tools should be designed to engage students in active learning and demonstrate their skills in real-world performance-based projects.

Strategy 8: Be Ready for Rapid Development and Integration of Information Technology in ELT
Rapid developments in technology and the use of cell phones and multimedia devices have opened endless possibilities for English teachers to access information. The Internet, YouTube, Web.2.0, and e-books have helped teachers prepare lessons and classroom activities. With ready-made materials with the stroke of a key it is possible to bring real life into the classroom. Appropriate integration of technology in the classroom encourages students to use language in different ways and brings real-world issues into the classroom. Learners from different parts of the world can get connected and exchange ideas. Many students may know more than their teachers about how to use technology, and yet they need proper guidance from the teachers on how to select, analyze, and utilize the right information to achieve their learning goals.

Strategy 9: Embrace Changing Roles and Increasing Responsibilities of Teachers
In the 21st-century classroom, teachers have multiple roles and responsibilities as facilitators of student learning and creators of a productive classroom environment in which students can develop the skills they will need for the 21st-century workforce. Many teachers integrate content-based, project-based approaches, and changes in classrooms such as coteaching, team-teaching, and collaboration with other teachers have shown advantages. These innovative approaches are providing educators with excellent resources and opportunities. Teachers need to embrace new ideas to effectively teach in our ever-changing societies. This also prepares teachers to be reflective practitioners and constructive social agents in the world of globalizing the English language (Sun, 2014). It’s more important than ever that teachers receive real institutional support with funding and time to attend professional development activities.

These are nine strategies that I want to share with you; in return I would like to invite you to share your thoughts.


Brown, H. D. (2007). Teaching by principles. New York, NY: Pearson Longman.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Bristol, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.

Byram, M. (2009). The intercultural speaker and pedagogy of foreign language education. In D. K. Deardorff (Ed.), The Sage handbook of intercultural competence (pp. 321–332). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Corbett, J. (2003). An intercultural approach to English language teaching. Bristol, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.

Cook, V. (2012). Multi-competence. Retrieved from

Darling-Hammond, L., Hightower, A. M., Husbands, J. L., LaFors, J. R., & Young, V. M. (2002). Building instructional quality: Inside-out, bottom-up, and top-down perspectives on San Diego’s school reform. Unpublished manuscript for AERA annual meeting. Retrieved from

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2001). Towards a postmethod pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, 35, 537–560.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding language teaching: From method to postmethod. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kohn, K. (2013, March 15). Intercultural communicative competence: An English as a lingua franca perspective [PowerPoint]. TESOL Arabia. Retrieved from

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Mellow, J. D. (2002). Towards principled eclecticism in language teaching: The two dimensional model and the centring principle. TESL-EJ, 5(4), 1-19. Retrieved from

Sun, Y. (2014). Major trends in the global ELT field: A non-native English-speaking professional’s perspective. Language Education in Asia, 5(1).

Trilliing, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21st century skills: Learning for life in our times. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

from TESOL Blog