Thoughts on: Using an L1 in the ESL classroom

Reflection

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)?

 

 

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

Reflection

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.

 

#EAPchat: Does gaming have a place in the EAP/university curriculum?

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I have taken part in a couple Tweetchats since the advent of my Twitter obsession, and I have to admit that I’m quite taken with how easy it is to collaborate with so many people in such an easy medium. I’m so thankful for Tweetchats (like #edchat and #ellchat), but I’ve been disappointed at the lack of discussion within the adult ESL field. Where are the voices of teachers in universities and community centers?

Alas, I have found #eapchat! I have high hopes for the discussion today, and I hope to engage with some people interested in English for academic purposes via Twitter.

I will attempt to summarize the chat this afternoon, but further discussion and a summary can also be found at the #eapchat blog.

 

Wiki Update

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Last week I implemented a wiki into my Intro Level adult ESL class. I pitched the idea to the students the previous week and tried to explain that we can interact on the wiki in a less formal way than we do during class time. I set up profile pages for each student to edit and make their own, and I set up discussion pages where we can post topics of interest and talk about them together. We spent our computer lab day last week exploring the wiki and editing our profiles. So far, only one student has added pictures and finished his sentences on his profile.

I know that some of the students have just arrived from their home countries and they have yet to get their own computers, but I’m sort of surprised at how slow the involvement has been so far.

We will spend our lab day next week working on posting and commenting, but I hope I can convince my students to engage with the wiki outside of class time.

The Quest: An Introduction

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The Internet can be a vast place full of wonderful and frightening prospects. While there are many facets of the great inter-web, I am interested in exploring the dark, dingy, and somewhat unorganized corners that relate to the field of teaching English as a second language (TESL). It seems that the Internet provides an infinite spring of information, resources, and communication across many fields of study and professional interests, and there are many brave souls who have ventured into the inter-webs to collect and curate the best and brightest tools and information in those fields, including the field of ESL.

My goal and ultimate quest is to contribute to the organization of information and resources available for teachers of ESL with this humble blog. Undoubtedly, I will owe my efforts in large part to those brave professionals who have ventured before me, and I hope that I can carry the torch of information and professional development well enough to reach instructors and educators who wish to participate and collaborate in this exciting medium.

Throughout this endeavor, I welcome any input and collaboration from interested parties. After all, without curious and adventurous professionals there would be no larger online learning community, and my personal quest would be seriously misguided.

All of that being said, here goes nothing!

I raise my glass in a toast to this ongoing endeavor and to the endless steam of information to be had online.

Cheers!