Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Classrooms & Technology - Using TED Videos

I am often inspired by the words of visionary individuals who have innovative thought. A great resource to tap into some of this visionary thought is TED.com, which showcases "ideas worth spreading." The goal of TED is to "foster the spread of great ideas" on a variety of topics, including education. Two TED talks relating to education that I enjoy are as follows:

I recently watched a TED talk by Ken Robinson on his thoughts about how schools kill creativity. He asserts that creativity is as important as literacy, and it is our role as educators to ensure that we are not "educating people out of their creativity."

Another TED talk that I enjoy is Dave Eggers' "Once Upon a School", which showcases how a group of creative individuals instigated an opportunity to provide free tutoring for youth. Eggers also shares how this idea spread to colleagues across the nation, and he concludes by sharing his wish for listeners to use their innovation to get involved in public schools in their communities.

TED talks have teaching application in the classroom. (See Teaching with TED and click on a topic or talk on the right sidebar. For additional resources on Sir Ken Robinson's talk, click here. For more information on Dave Eggers' "Once Upon a School," click here.) In addition, administrators have used applicable TED videos for in-service training meetings with teachers and staff to inspire, educate, and instill vision.

To check out more TED videos on your own, go to ted.com and enter a topic in the search box, or peruse the categories on the left side of the home page. (To see Richard Byrnes' recommendation of fifteen TED talks for teachers to watch, visit his blog post here.)

(See another blog post that includes a TED talk here.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ESL Lessons - Listening and Speaking Activities - Classwork and Homework

I was going through some old files and came across a handout I prepared for an ESL training I conducted in Hualien, Taiwan on Listening and Speaking activities. On the handout, I included different ESL lessons, activities and exercises that can be used both in class and for homework. I've included the table below:

Listening and Speaking Skills and Activities
Activity Types
Listen for:
  • the main idea
  • details
  • vocabulary in cloze activity
Classmates’ presentations:
  • take notes
  • selective listening
  • Activities on the chalkboard
Listen to English:
  • TV programs, the news, movies
  • radio, English songs
  • internet (i.e. radio stations, NPR)
Communicate in English:
  • Talk to native speakers, other English-speakers, classmates
Group work/Pair work:
  • Generate interview questions; interview classmates
Flashcards (vocabulary words, pictures of vocabulary words)
  • Categorize
  • Identify
  • Pronunciation practice
  • Games
Student presentations in class
Talk to native speakers:
  • Interview
  • Survey
  • Narrate/share experience
  • Picture prompts
  • Internet
  • Categorize by topic, parts of speech, etc.
  • Identify words you know and don’t know
  • Cloze
  • Categorize
  • Matching
  • Identify words you know and don’t know
Pronunciation points taken from context of listening activities:
  • Explicitly identify in listening samples
  • Explicitly integrate into speaking practice
  • Flashcards
Integrated into:
  • Speaking activities
  • Listening activities
Grammar points taken from context of phrases learned:
  • Explicitly identify in listening samples
  • Explicitly integrate into speaking practice
Phrasal verbs and idioms
Integrated into:
  • Vocabulary worksheets
  • Speaking activities
  • Listening activities
Phrasal verbs and idioms

In the presentation, I also presented a "process" or routine that could be followed in a listening/speaking lesson. The process in skeletal form is listed below:
1. Introduce the topic (such as "introducing yourself")
2. State the objectives
3. Provide listening practice (via sound/video recordings or in-class lecture/presentation)
4. Vocabulary/Phrases practice
5. Grammar review
6. Targeted pronunciation practice
7. Speaking practice (applying the skills just learned in a real-life context)
8. Listening review
9. Assign and discuss homework: vocabulary, speaking, and listening practice

Of course, this process can be adapted to meet the individual needs of students and teachers, but the process demonstrates the need to integrate the teaching of vocabulary and phrases, grammar, and pronunciation in an ESL listening/speaking lessons.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Improving ESOL Students' Pronunciation

There are quite a few ideas out there regarding how to improve ESOL students' pronunciation. I came across a few interesting resources in a discussion list I am a part of. One resource includes an article posted on the CAELA Network which discusses interesting points to consider when teaching English pronunciation. The article includes a couple of interesting tables, one of which provides a pronunciation checklist to identify ESOL students' areas of weakness which can then be used to help students set goals for improvement. (See Table 1 below.)

Another interesting resource is a document that lists core items of English pronunciation to teach as suggested by Tran Thi Lan, PhD, at Hanoi University of Foreign Studies. The information is specific to native Vietnamese speakers, but I would consider many of these aspects to be relevant and adaptable to teaching speakers of other languages, as well. The document can be found in full here.

The core items listed by Lan are as follows, with particular emphasis given to the first seven items:

1. The English alphabet. A focus should be put on the following letters which [Vietnamese] students confuse the sounds of: R, I, E, G , J, H, K, Q, W, X, Y

2. Familiarization with the English phonemic chart. Essential as it helps students to be able to know the pronunciation of words from dictionaries. Teachers should encourage students to use monolingual dictionaries made by reputable publishers.

3. Voiced and unvoiced sounds. Students should be taught this to help with the pronunciation of ‘s’ and ‘ed’ endings.

4. Long and short vowels. Students need to be able to confidently differentiate and produce these as they are both challenging and have an effect on meaning.

5. Word final consonants. Vietnamese students often neglect these and constant exercises on final endings should be done attentively during any course.

6. Consonant clusters. These are not a feature of Vietnamese and therefore are challenging. ‘sts’, ‘ts’, ‘str’, and ‘tr’ appear to be the most challenging for many students.

7. Suprasegmental level: Word stress, sentence stress, and intonation are essential items to address. Tonic intonation should be given special care as changes alters meaning. Sound linking is important, but not essential. When learners say the words correctly, they will link sounds naturally themselves.

8. English sounds not found in Vietnamese. For example, the interdentals /d/, /q/, can be mixed up with /f/ or Vietnamese /th/, though this may not influence comprehensibility.

9. /l/ and /n/ can be mixed up in the northern dialect (Hai Phong, Hai Duong, Hung Yen, Quang Ninh etc.).

10. Initial /j/ like in yes, young, yellow may be heard as in zes, zoung, zeallow. This sound can be a bigger problem for learners from the south or central provinces of the country.

11. /r/ The Hanoi accent does not distinguish between /r/, /z/, or /gi/. Some people in the central part of Vietnam, such as Nghe An, Quang Binh, Hue, or Danang, can say /zed/ instead of /red/.

12. The difference between aspirated and non-aspirated ‘t’. Initial ‘t’ in English is aspirated as in ten and tea. After ‘s’ as in stop and steel, ‘t’ is not aspirated and is more similar to its Vietnamese counterpart. This is advisable to teach, but not in a short course.

Table 1: Pronunciation Checklist
Pronunciation Always Sometimes Never
Mark “x” where applicable, according to frequency of error

th (e.g., thin—not[t])

th (e.g., then—not[d])

s & z (e.g., sue vs. zoo)

r (e.g., rice vs. lice)

l (e.g., parrot vs. palate)

Final consonants
Voiceless, voiced (e.g.,nip . nib; seat vs. seed; lock vs. log; larch vs. large)

final l (e.g., final, little, sell)

final s (e.g., pupils, writes, schools)

-ed suffix to mark past tense

Vowel variation
hill vs. heel

cut vs. cart

cot vs. caught

pull vs. pool

pen vs. pan

Use of rising intonation: yes/no questions (e.g., Are you coming?)

Use of falling intonation: statements (e.g., Yes, I am coming); wh questions (e.g., What are you doing?)

Mark “x” where applicable, according to frequency of error

Audibility level
Too loud

Too soft

Fading out at end of statements

Pitch and range

Other comments

Note: This checklist was designed by Nora Samosir & Low Ee Ling (2000) as a means to assess teachers’ oral English proficiency.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Educating Students in Underserved Communities

Occasionally with my job, I get to attend conferences either to present or exhibit. Yesterday, I attended the KIPP conference in Las Vegas as a vendor, which afforded me the opportunity to talk to some of the teachers and administrators of KIPP. KIPP is an organization that serves kids in underserved communities by educating them. The objective is to help these kids reach their full potential by getting these students to and through college. The individuals who I talked to from KIPP about the organization were very confident about the difference the schools make for these kids.

I always enjoy learning how organizations such as these begin. Without fail, it seems to start with a passion to make a difference. To see a video about how KIPP started, click here.