Thoughts on: Meeting with students via Google Hangouts


Midterms sort of snuck up on me this semester, and I told my students on Thursday that the midterm exam would be on the following Monday. We reviewed everything we’ve studied this semester on Friday by playing a jeopardy game and working on a review packet together, but I wanted to offer my students another opportunity to ask questions and get answers before the test on Monday. I decided to hold a Google Hangout today (Saturday) from 1pm to 2pm where my students could come and ask questions about anything we’ve been studying. I didn’t have high hopes of participation, and I made the event totally optional, but I had one student RSVP on the Google+ event and show up this afternoon.

It was a great opportunity for him to ask questions about the review materials we had been working on in class, and I could have another chance to measure where this particular student was in his understanding. The idea came to me after my boyfriend had a Saturday hangout for one of his online classes. It seems like a great way to offer students additional support, even though it means giving up an hour on the weekend.

Even though only one student took advantage of the opportunity, it was an enjoyable experience, and I would definitely consider doing it again in the future. Perhaps I can give midterm reviews/grade updates via Google Hangouts to avoid scheduling difficulties with meeting in person on campus.


Thoughts on: Using an L1 in the ESL classroom


I have to admit that I feel inclined towards an English-only classroom, for the most part. My current students come from a variety of countries and first languages, so my own language skills do not allow me to be of much assistance in their L1s. However, today in class I decided to allow the use of my students’ various L1s during a writing assignment. Their assignment was to write imperative sentences describing how to do a task. We had watched various “How-To” videos and practiced making sentences together (in English). However, the variety of possible topics for the “How-To” writing assignment left many of the students lacking the basic vocabulary to express themselves. The basic idea behind assigning their writing in their L1 was that they could focus on meaning for the first draft, and then we could all work together to work out the specific vocabulary in English.

So far, the assignment seems to be going alright. The students had no problem writing their first draft in their first language, but the process of changing their sentences/ideas into English was laborious at best.

What are the benefits of allowing students to use their L1 in the ESL classroom? What are the drawbacks? Would it have been easier and more effective teaching to practice only certain verbs for the imperative sentence practice (most of the students chose to write about making food anyways)?



Using Pictures to Practice “What’s this?” and “What are these?”


It is the end of the third week of my Intro level ESL class, and we have been studying “be” verb for about two weeks now. We have done activities ranging from fill-in-the-blanks to describing videos using the correct forms of the “be” verb. Today we did something a little different.

The Activity: We started class by reviewing the “What’s this?” “It’s a ________.” construction together on the whiteboard. After briefly reviewing, I asked the students to raise their hand if they had a cell phone that could take pictures. All but one student did (my phone is quite old and doesn’t have email capabilities, so I was fine with that), so I asked the class to get into two groups. I then asked the two groups to leave the classroom for about 30 minutes and take pictures (at least 4) of things around campus. I explained the pictures had to be of things so we could talk about them using the “What’s this?” construction when they got back.

The students left the room excitedly and went around campus to take pictures. When they returned, each group had about 5 pictures they emailed to me via their smart phones. I then spent a couple minutes putting the pictures into a Power Point presentation. This part of the class could have been more well thought out as it took a few minutes to complete and it might not have been the best use of class time.

Once the pictures were all in the same place, I gave each group about 2 minutes to write one question and one answer for each picture (there were 10 pictures). I instructed the groups to write the questions according to the “What’s this?” construction, and the answers according to the “It’s a…” construction. We used the “What are these?” and “They’re….” constructions as well.

After we got through all the pictures, the group took turns giving their questions and answers for some of the pictures. The groups got to work together to fill in the vocabulary gaps that they might have had and they ended up creating some really great sentences.

Reflection: I had planned on doing some kind of picture activity about a week ago, but I wasn’t quite sure what shape the activity would take. When I began planning, I just knew I wanted the students to take the pictures and engage with each other to create sentences using the “It’s a…” and “They’re…” constructions. I knew that time was a big consideration, and in retrospect I probably should have given less time to complete the picture-taking portion of the activity.

When the students returned from taking their pictures, they seemed energized and excited to share them with the class. I suppose there should always be a good balance between creating excitement and creating good opportunities for language production in the ESL classroom, but I can’t help but feel like the more excitement the students have for the activity, the more comfortable and willing to use English they will be. This, I’m sure, will not be the case for every activity, but isn’t there something awesome about engaging students in activities that they enjoy? I would bet it varies from class to class, but I have noticed that my students interact in English more (even though many of them speak the first L1) when they are excited about the activities we are doing in class.

While the two groups were writing their questions and answers about each picture, I noticed a lot of interaction that seemed to result in good, grammatical English sentences. I would be interested to hear the interactions that went on more closely and examine them for examples of uptake. There is something pretty great about low-level students being able to work in small groups and use their strengths to interact with other low-level students and create excellent English together. In the small groups, each student has the opportunity to be the teacher and the student.

Overall, I think the activity was fun for the whole class, and it gave the students an opportunity to create language around a digital artifact that they created together (the pictures of things around campus). The activity also allowed us to practice the “What’s this?” “It’s a…” construction in a context that the students chose themselves. Aside from the more formal language production I was trying to elicit, the students were also given the opportunity to communicate less formally to negotiate meaning as they decided which pictures to take and what questions and answers to write about each picture. Some new vocabulary words were looked at, and while time management could have been more thought out, the activity appears to have been a success.


Wiki Project: Pictures make everything more fun


We worked on our class wiki today in the computer lab. My students had been asked to finish their profiles last week, and only one or two students did as much. I was feeling kind of discouraged about their seeming lack of interest in the wiki, but today revitalized my hope that the project may be a success after all.

One issue that students were facing was a lack of motivation and sometimes the technology to access the wiki outside of class time. During class today we did some online practice with parts of sentences and then I showed them how to take pictures with Photo Booth and upload them to the wiki. Everyone immediately got either super excited or super frustrated with the task. The students that had more previous experience with online social media tools that allow for pictures to be uploaded took off with the task and proceeded to take a series of great photos of themselves and our class. The students that seemed to have less experience with social media and computers in general became frustrated, probably because they felt left behind. With a little assistance, all the students managed to upload a picture to their profile and the level of engagement with the wiki increased overall.

Photo on 2013-02-06 at 11.40