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30 October 2012

Using Dictionary Entries Creatively

When I was a kid, I always asked my mom how to spell a word I didn't know. If I ever asked my dad, he'd say, "Look it up [in the dictionary]!" And my mom always just told me how to spell it. It seemed silly to me (as an elementary and middle school student) to search through a dictionary to find a word that I didn't know how to spell. I think my exact response was, "But if I don't know how to spell it, how can I look it up?!?!" Even at a young age, I was fighting with the illogical spelling of English words. That said, now I'm not a bad speller, despite my whining and utter refusal to learn spelling "rules." (i after e except after c? double the letter when adding -ing with some words but not others?? I wasn't buying it...)

I recognize now, as a teacher, how wise my father was with his encouraging my sister and I to use a dictionary for our questions. I am so comfortable using a dictionary, I used to take it for granted, but as an ESL teacher, I realize how difficult they are to use, especially for students with different alphabets (or no alphabet!) in their native languages. That is why I believe it's important to incorporate as much dictionary work as possible into class work.

Today I'd like to share an easy way to get students used to looking and reading dictionary entries. It is also a good way to teach/enforce word parts (suffix, root, prefix). Before I use this with students, I will do a few dictionary lessons and practice activities, so that they know what they're looking at. For more advanced students who already have a working knowledge of dictionaries, you may be able to skip this step. However, I never assume a student can decipher an entry...

First, I take dictionary entries and cut them into slips for each word. This includes the word, pronunciation, part of speech, whether or not it is an academic word, and the definitions (I like to include all definitions, unless they're really long). I use ESL dictionary entries, as they are made specifically for our students.
When choosing which words to use, I like to focus on prefixes, suffixes, and roots. I try to get a variety, which means I may have 2-4 entries with the parts that we've been exposed to from any readings or listenings we're encountered. For example: pre- (see above), -tion (see below), -cre-, ex-, phon-, or whatever you'd like to use, really. How how many word parts you want the students exposed to or how many students you have will determine how many entries to make. My higher level students usually have 15-20 students, so I have made a lot. This allows me to vary the entries I'm using.

After you have your entries, you can be really creative in how you use them in the classroom. The first thing I did with a group was to give each student a slip and have them find somebody who had the same prefix or suffix or root as he/she did. Then they would have to identify how they matched, i.e. they have the same suffix (for prediction and creation, -tion) or same root (for incredible and credit, -cred-). After they have told me how they match, they move onto the next activity or whatever I want them to do. After getting students exposed to this method, I then use it as a way to partner them up. This takes out the decision making from the students or myself--it's random. AND they're getting accustomed to reading dictionary entries!

Now I am the one saying, "Look it up in the dictionary!"

I will post more later about different dictionary activities, but this one is fun and creative. Does anybody else utilize this method? Something similar? I'd love to hear new ideas!

27 October 2012

Peace Corps in Ukraine

My dear friend, Sandra Russell, is a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. She has just begun her adventure, and she has been documenting it  on her blog, Official Circular: 27 Months in Україна

Her reflections are honest, thoughtful, and extremely well written. If you are interested in Peace Corps, travel, culture (shock and exchange), Ukraine, or teaching, I highly recommend this blog. 

25 October 2012

Using Debates to Teach Rhetoric

What's a better way to identify and discuss rhetorical strategies than to use presidential debates?! Utilizing the debates and speeches also introduces the American political process to students who (may) have little experience or knowledge of the democratic process. 

Here's a link to the 3rd and final presidential debate between President Obama and Govenor Romney. 

Any suggestions for using video in the classroom? I would love to hear about new ways to teach rhetoric, especially using current events. 

24 October 2012

"I lean forward to catch the drift of it"

Here is a lovely poem from The New Yorker. I first read it when I had just started studying for my MA in TESOL. I still love how well it captures language learning and teaching. 


I carry America into these young heads,
at least some parts that haven’t yet got there—
Hawthorne’s Salem, Ellison’s blacks and reds,
Bishop’s lovely lines of late summer air.

The students take quick notes. They pause or dive
for dictionaries and laptops, or turn to ask
a friend as new words constantly arrive.
The more they do, the more complex the task.

They smoothly move from serious to blasé
and back again. I love the way they sit
and use their bodies to nuance what they say.
I lean forward to catch the drift of it.

When it’s ended, they’ll switch back to Czech,
put on their coats and bags, shift wood and chrome,
and ready themselves for their daily trek
across a continent and ocean home.

via The New Yorker

The Choice

Have any of you been following the NYTimes blog, The Choice? It discusses college admissions in the US. For The Envelope, Please , eight high school students from around the world blog about their college search process. Students hail from the United States, South Africa, and India. How fascinating to read about their thought processes and what goes into their decision making! If you haven't taken a look at this yet, I highly suggest it, especially for those in higher education. 

The Choice - Getting into College and Paying for it

How cool would it be for students to read these and compare/contrast their college search? I think reading about the process for American students would add an interesting cultural aspect to any class.  ESL high school teachers could assign students to create their own blogs about their own experiences and processes. Teachers of higher education may ask students to blog first about what they went through and then what they are going through in their first years in college (or graduate school or the current university). Has anybody used blogs in the classroom? I have tried, unsuccessfully; however, this has inspired me to give it another go next semester!

23 October 2012

Intercultural Horizons Conference: Intercultural Strategies in Civic Engagement

As promised, I am finally posting about my experience at the Intercultural Strategies in Civic Engagement conference at the SUNY Global Center in New York City. I have posted the abstract and how excited I was to go, but now I would like to share what happened and what I’ve learned.

(On left: Dr. Thelen, me. On right: Dr. Cameron, Ms. Ritz)

At the beginning of October I had the privilege to attend and present at the Intercultural Strategies in Civic Engagement conference. A few months before the conference I spoke with Dr. Peggy Thelen of Alma College* about her plans to speak at this conference about the work she has done promoting service learning at Alma College (both on and off campus) with two of her colleagues. After chatting, I asked if I could go along and present with them. I was interested in presenting because I had participated in a service learning experience at Alma College while studying for my bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. My role would be to present about service learning from the perspective of a student and its impact on my learning and career.

I was also looking forward to attending other sessions, as I have become interested in finding ways to incorporate volunteerism into the courses that I am teaching at the English Language Institute at Central Michigan University. I am also the Conversation Partners Program coordinator, so I am also looking for opportunities for international students and their conversation buddies to get involved in the community together. At this conference I hoped to learn more about how service learning can help students, and how I can implement effective service learning opportunities into my courses and  in the CMU ELI Conversation Partner Program. And just as importantly, this was my first international conference and presentation. Previously, I had only attended and presented at events in Michigan, so I was excited to meet people from around the country and discuss with them what they have implemented in their programs and universities.

(Below: Times Square)
We arrived on Wednesday evening so that we could get checked into our hotel ad check out the location before the conference started on Thursday. Our hotel was near Times Square; the lights were an awesome welcome to Manhattan. On Thursday morning we got up and went to the SUNY Global Center, which is deceptively large! From the outside it looks like a small venue, but the inside is expansive and modern. We presented in the afternoon, so we got to spend the morning attending other sessions, including the keynote address.

 (Below: Dr. Cameron, me, Ms. Ritz 
in front of the SUNY Global Center)
The keynote speaker, Kwame Anthony Appiah of Princeton University, spoke first. He discussed honor and the honor code. I attended a few sessions given by community college and university instructors who integrated service learning into their curricula both at home and abroad. One presenter took her students to Kenya and another had her students act as volunteers yielding immigration questions for members of the local community. Another speaker was a coordinator and English teacher for an international program in rural, mono-cultural Utah, a community that seems similar to Mt. Pleasant. He discussed the importance of integrating international students with the local community for mutual benefit. This resounded with me because the CMU Conversation Partner Program also strives to integrate our international students with the American students and surrounding community. I believe this helps students better understand not only the target language but also the target culture. All three presenters discussed the importance of reflection through journals, discussion, and blogs to promote, monitor, and evaluate learning.

Finally, after lunch we presented. A lot of people strolled into the session late, which I think this made me even more nervous than I had been! First, the Alma College Service Learning Coordinator, Anne Ritz, introduced the college’s commitment to service learning through curriculum, integrating courses with volunteer opportunities, as well as month-long courses devoted to service learning. Next, Dr. Elizabeth Cameron, a professor of business and law, presented how she integrates service learning with her business classes. Her focus is getting students actual experience and encouraging community engagement. Then Dr. Thelen discussed the different ways she has required her students of education to learn through service. She has also taken students abroad to Argentina, to teach elementary classes. Both Drs. Cameron and Thelen talked about the importance of reflection for student learning.

One interesting point that came up was how to evaluate learning. The consensus was that it can be challenging to evaluate learning based on service, especially because learning from service is often delayed. Dr. Cameron mentioned an instance where a student didn’t fully appreciate the value in what he had done until years later when finding a job. Both professors stressed the importance of using reflection, observation by a supervisor, and outcome of project as a basis of evaluation. Dr. Thelen said, with a laugh, “They still have to do the work!” This is a strong point because so often (in my experience) students don’t do the work, or they only do the bare minimum. To prove how effective service learning can be, Dr. Cameron provided an excellent example. She had two sections of the same class, and only one section took part in the service-learning component. The students in the service learning section had higher overall grades on the tests, quizzes, and papers because they had the actual experience of using the concepts from class.  Dr. Cameron also mentioned a student who found their career path because of a service learning opportunity. Although there are challenges, I learned from the ladies that I presented with that the benefits abound.

I was last to present. I discussed my experience as an undergraduate when I traveled to Quito, Ecuador to volunteer at an after school program. During the two months I was there, I learned how to speak Spanish, communicate with few words, and adapt to any situation. Because of this opportunity, I decided to become an English language teacher. My experience as a student in a service-learning course helped shape my career path. Without that, I don’t know if I would ever have known how much I would enjoy working with diverse populations. Furthermore, that experience has helped me stand out from other students. When I was applying to student teach at local high schools in Ann Arbor, I was chosen by a well-respected teacher in a prominent high school because of my service-learning experience. Finally, I discussed my experience with conversation partner programs, both at the University of Michigan and a Central Michigan University. I believe that all four of us had such unique experiences, which centered on service learning that we were able to provide a distinctive look at service learning in Mid-Michigan colleges and universities.

(Mid-town Manhattan from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

I am excited to get a chance to teach a course in which I can implement service learning.  I am planning to require volunteer hours and reflection in the next integrated skills (speaking and listening) course that I teach. After attending this conference, I now realize how valuable it is for students to get out of the classroom and apply what they are learning in it.

Be on the lookout for more posts pertaining to service learning and volunteering. If you’re affiliated with CMU, check out the CMU Volunteer Center; they do great things!

*Dr. Thelen is my mom, if you couldn't tell from the photo

(All photos taken by me)

18 October 2012

Rhetorical Analysis Assignment

I am working on the post about my presentation the Intercultural Strategies in Civic Engagement Conference at which I presented about two weeks ago. Our presentation was called "A Collaboration in the Pursuit of Civic Engagement through Service Learning." I won't give away too much, but we discussed some of what Alma College does in terms of service learning. I posted the abstract in August, if you'd like a little bit more information before my full post about the experience.

In the mean time, I have been busy planning for, grading for, and teaching my three grammar classes and one freshman composition class. I have posted a bit for grammar, but I thought I would share what my composition class is up to.

We are now working on rhetoric, and their current assignment is a rhetorical analysis. I believe most English 101 teachers provide options for their students for the essay which will be analyzed; however, I took a different approach. I decided to let the student choose an editorial they were interested in. I guided them toward good options (posted links on Blackboard, showed examples in class, etc.) and let them decide. They are required to send me three options for approval. The first few fell flat (i.e. they weren't editorials), but  they are finally sending me true opinion articles. It has been fun and informative to read the editorials because it gives me a glimps into what they're interested in, and what they'd like to write about. I will write more later about the writing process of the rhetorical analysis and resulting student critical thinking. Stay tuned!

17 October 2012

In-class games: Line Ups

I think there are two kinds of grammar teachers: those who love Azar and those who don't. While the importance of language learning in context cannot be overemphasized, and I use books which use readings for grammar learning, I LOVE Azar. The explanations, charts, and examples are clear and abundant. There is so much to teach in grammar, and Azar has as many explanations and lessons as one could ever need. That said, sometimes Azar can be rather bland, of not supplemented correctly. There are some interactive activities and listening exercises, but they mostly discreet activities, rather than interconnected by a theme.
HOWEVER, the Azar Grammar Games book is amazing. There are lots of fun, interactive activities that get students up and moving and using the target grammar.

One of my favorite activities is called "Line Ups." Each student gets a slip of paper with a question or prompt, depending on the target grammar. (The slips pictured above are for modals.) You divide the class in half and line the students up across from each other. I like to use different colored slips of paper... it just makes dividing and lining up a smoother process. The students then read their slips to each other, and the person across from him/her responds appropriately. After each student has asked and answered for the pairing, they wait for the teacher to indicate it's time to move. Usually I give students a couple of minutes then I say "switch" or "rotate" or some easy cue. Then one group of students moves while the other group stays (this is also where the colors come in handy, i.e. yellow stays and blue rotates). Each student will get to ask and answer a question for half of the class (everybody in the other group).

This activity can really be done with anything, with a little imagination. I think you could use vocabulary words and definitions in a reading or listening/speaking class or main ideas and examples in a writing class.  I have had good luck with this activity, especially at higher levels. The only downside is that it can get loud and difficult to monitor what the students are saying. A follow up writing activity, which asks students to report the answers they received, may be worth while. I would also encourage them to actually remember what their classmates said!

If you're an Azar fan (or not but are looking for resources), I would recommend checking out Here teachers publish their own classroom materials, including worksheets, handouts, powerpoints, and my favorite song lessons.  

Do you have any sure-fire activities or websites with quality lessons and activities which can be adapted or adopted? I'm always looking for fun ways to engage students!