Teaching English As A Second Or Foreign Language/Esl Language Instructor ESL Teaching Tips

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ESL Teaching Tips

ESL students often develop sticking points or plateaus in learning English. To work past the difficult stages, teachers can try these classroom-tested techniques that work with all age groups. Don’t be afraid to introduce a game to your adult students, especially if you teach evening classes for working students. Introducing short, active periods to spread the subject of the textbook wakes up (literally) tired students and refreshes their interest and motivation in class. Here you will find methods and ideas for working through particular sticking points, increasing the speed of recalling vocabulary, and spelling, pronunciation and listening skills.

tongue twister Alliterative sentences where each word starts with the same letter can be a fun and useful way to practice clear pronunciation and enunciation. “Peter Piper picked up a piece of pickled peppers,” “Sally sells seashells by the seashore,” and other tongue-in-cheek phrases make for a delightful break from textbook work. Introduce a new tongue twister once a week. Search the Internet using the keyword “tongue twisters” to find many possible tongue wriggling phrases.

R and L for Asian speakers. Asian speakers often struggle to produce the correct sounds for the letters “R” and “L”. Hearing you say the letters over and over won’t do the trick. The easiest way for them to get the correct pronunciation is to show the physical difference in the production of the sound. Have your student look at where your tongue is placed in your mouth as you say these letters. Do that to make the sound for the “L” the tongue goes to the roof of the mouth; for the letter “R”, the tongue stops. Make sure your students are close enough to you to see the difference in tongue action.

Just whisper. Interestingly, whispering is a very effective way to allow students to enunciate more clearly. Students who have difficulty pronouncing words or letters correctly often benefit from trying to say the same phrase or letters in a whisper first. Naturally we make a more conscious effort to form the letters more carefully when we whisper. The whisper also softens the pronunciation slightly so differences like those between the letters “j” and “g” become more distinct.

Play hanging in class. Plan your class time to include a 5-minute session of a modified version of the game “Hangman” to improve vocabulary and spelling. Choose words from a previous class. Take spaces for each letter and then set a limit to the number of guesses. When your students state their guess letters, write the correct guess letters on the spaces you drew and the incorrect guesses on the side. The goal is for students to guess the correct word before they run out of the allotted number of guesses. As your students become familiar with the game, select a different student to run the game each time you play. Call the student and say the word. So they take it from there.

Do apply. If you have adult students who work, practice the vocabulary of their professions. Include practical everyday situational vocabulary, such as checking writing terms and spelling of numbers, driver’s manuals, and forms that might be filled out to apply for a job, visa, bank account, etc. Students are highly motivated to be able to handle the language of everyday life.

Exposure is key. As with so many other skills we learn, exposure and practice are critical to enabling students to develop their growing language skills. In addition to practicing in class, assign listening “homework.” Listening is such an important part of learning a language. If your students have access to the internet, have them visit a website you have chosen and play a particular podcast or short video you have chosen. They can listen as many times as they want. Their job is to say what the podcast or video was about. Another way to get the same kind of practice is to provide a “mystery” phone number. Choose a phone number that is answered by an automatic answer that gives the caller menu options. Have your students write down what the automated message said. Again they can listen as many times as necessary until they know what was said and your student does not need to talk to anyone, because they do not need to feel apprehensive about it. The next time you meet, your students can reveal what the “mystery” number was.

Buzzing with excitement. Counting and numbers are very important skills in any language. Practice numbers by having students form a circle, introduce a sequence of numbers, and have students say the next number in the sequence as they work around the circle. Start with straight counting, then do simple sequences like odds, evens, 5 and 10. When your students are comfortable with simple sequences, play the “Buzz” game. Announce the “Buzz” number at the beginning of the sequence. Whenever a student receives a number that includes the selected number; they say “Buzz” and the game passes to the next player. For example, if the number “Buzz” is 2, players say “Buzz” for numbers like 2, 12, 20, and so on. The goal of the game is to get as far down the sequence as possible before making a mistake.

Build a natural rhythm of speech. A very common situation for speakers who are learning English is the application of the speaking rate of their native language to English. The result is highly accented English with unusual speech patterns. There are a couple of techniques that help foreign language speakers gain the rhythm and stress patterns of English. The first is to introduce nursery rhymes. One per class session or more provides a break from more regimented language practice and gives students a chance to hear the natural rhythms of English. The nursery rhymes are short, easy to memorize, and can be said in a cadence that helps students pronounce the words more clearly and hear the natural pauses between words. Another technique is to use a call and response exchange between the teacher and the students. An example would be:

Teacher – How long will it take?

Students – It takes a lot of time.

Teacher – How long will it take?

Students – It takes a lot of time.

Together – It takes a long, long time.

Hymns, marching cadence calls, some folk songs, poems, or other rhyming sequences may be suitable for this use. Teachers can write the sentences on the board to help students learn new call and response exchanges. Clapping to keep the rhythm is also beneficial in this exercise.

Applying these techniques while working with students will make your classes fun, challenging and, best of all, successful.

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