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Messages - brennaw

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If anyone is looking for lesson ideas for adults at a pre-beginner level, I was impressed by this course plan put together by Literacy Minesota was available totally for free, available here:

They describe their unit as "[building] literacy skills through regular practice with print concepts, phonological awareness, phonics and word recognition, fluency and comprehension." They do ask for an email and your contact information before they let you download the unit, but it provides 25 pdfs with an absolute ton of activities, readings, and handouts.

Their lessons are built around very functional things that a new arrival in the US would need to know how to do, while also providing a lot of focus on phonetics to build the foundations beginners need. Even if the lessons themselves aren't your thing - they do have some materials assumed to be in textbooks that not everyone may have access to, I think the ideas of how the content and language aims are laid out could be beneficial for a lot of people working with adult learners.

Attached are some screenshots of the objectives and lesson plans, if anyone is curious without downloading!

One way that I have seen ESL students get very invested in creative writing in a public school setting was through connecting their creative writing for their ESL teachers to their other content areas in school.

This is a relatively basic concept at heart, but when I saw it play out at the middle school level, I was honestly impressed at the level of motivation students were expressing, and the level of work that they were putting in. Making more of your content collaborative with your students' other teachers, when possible, is a great way of selling students on the relevance of the content.

The example that I saw was a connection to students' history class - during a unit on a specific historical period, each student was assigned a different imaginary persona from that historical period. Students had to write a series of diary entries from that persona's perspective, each entry corresponding to another event in that stage of history. By having students feel connected to that persona across multiple assignments, students were putting a ton of effort into emotional descriptions that was really cool to see.

This could be used to connect with historical events, other books that are being studied in ELA classes, through creating fiction based around science concepts that are being studied, and more, reinforcing the concepts used in those classes as well as building English writing skills.

Prereading Activities / Pre-reading activities for older students
« on: May 04, 2020, 05:13:36 PM »
Pre-reading activities have an important role in building reading skills, but as someone who has done a good amount of ESL tutoring with older students, some of the commonly promoted pre-reading activities can sometimes feel like they're more geared for younger ages. So when I saw this article aimed at prereading activities for international college students, I was interested.

Here are some activities from Maunsell's 2019 article that I thought were most interesting:

Activating prior knowledge activities:
  • "Prereading Plan": Provide students the central takeaway of a reading in the form of a brief sentence, then have students discuss whether they agree, what they know about the topic, then brainstorm the vocabulary they have related to those themes. This can allow students to collaboratively share their background knowledge with each other directly.
  • "The Turning Wheel": Students are divided into groups, and each group is given a large piece of paper on which a different subtopic of a reading is written. Each group takes 1-2 minutes and writes down everything they know about that subtopic before passing the paper to the net group.
Analyzing text features activities:
  • "Textbook Scavenger Hunt": Students are given a list of key terms or items to find in the text to be read, and have to search for the information and write down how they found it. However, the terms they search for should be chosen based on how they clarify what the text is going to be about and how it's organized.

Developing Vocabulary:
  • "Word Sort": Students copy vocabulary terms onto note cards, and then, either on their own or in groups, create categories for the different vocabulary words, and have to discuss the reasoning behind their different categories. They can also create visual illustrations of the meaning behind the category. This activity is designed to help students build connections behind the vocabulary words presented themselves, not just memorize vocabulary in isolation.

Reference: Maunsell, M. (2019). Academic prereading activity menus to support international ESL students in higher education. The CATESOL Journal, 31(1), 1-12.

Vocabulary / Using Anki for spaced repetition flashcards
« on: May 04, 2020, 04:31:35 PM »
Flashcards are a classic tool, but I know when I was studying language, after a couple years I reached a certain point where the pile of flashcards I had became overwhelming - I simply had too many to store! Even using virtual tools like Quizlet, it doesn't escape the issue of not knowing what to review - you can have 30 different vocabulary lists, but when should you go over them, and how can you remember?

Spaced repetition apps attempt to manage that for you, and have become very popular over recent years, but they all have different degrees of usability. I'm here to sing the praises of a system called Anki:

They have a web client, desktop app, and an Android version available for free; iOS users unfortunately have to pay. It's also, admittedly, not the most user-friendly software of all time. However, Anki has a degree of flexibility that isn't matched by anything else out there. 

You can create flashcards with multiple fields and completely customize how they display - if you want to include sample sentences, collocations, whatever is needed for deeper vocabulary learning, you can do so with Anki.

Anki will also manage your review schedule for you. Every day, it will present you with a set of vocabulary cards to review - you can answer whether you got the card wrong, correct but it was hard to remember, correct but easy to remember, etc. Each time you answer for an individual card, Anki will adjust the amount of time it will wait before presenting you with that card again. The continuous exposure to vocabulary and managed reviews make it a great tool in my opinion.

However, I have a few tips for making the best use of Anki, based on my own experience:
  • If you want to use Anki in a classroom setting, I'd only recommend it for older students, it takes some training, and you'll want to create the decks of cards yourself for the students.
  • It's absolutely worth including information like synonyms, example sentences, and collocations on your flashcards - it helps prevent the issue where you only remember the word in the context of the app!
  • Be very careful about how many new vocabulary words you add per day. Any more than ~10 words per day can quickly snowball into a very large amount of words per day to review, and that can become very daunting and time consuming, making people less likely to continue with the app.
  • Anki isn't meant as a drill tool to cram before a test! If you want to use it that way, you can tag vocabulary cards with information like the textbook chapter it came from, and create custom study sessions outside the normal review schedule to practice more.

Anki has a bit of a learning curve, but I genuinely think it's worth it. It also has excellent documentation, available here:

One thing I've noticed when teaching ESL writing to graduate students is that, when they're working on research papers, it's very hard for some students to really assess the reliability of their sources. There are a lot of challenges even when working only with journal articles - not all journal websites are easy to navigate, nor is it always easy to find on their websites what their review process really looks like, especially with smaller journals.

As such, I've often had students push back a little bit about the need to investigate source reliability for their research papers! Some of them will tell me that if it's published in a peer reviewed journal, it's fine.

This article, published by Gizmodo, talks about two journal articles that were deliberately written to be awful, and discusses how the authors successfully managed to get these articles that easily should have been caught by a peer review process published... in supposedly peer reviewed journals!

One of the articles is very silly - it's titled "What's the deal with birds?" - and one is seemingly more serious, but was deliberately written to have ethical and methodological holes. I think these two can be combined into a good activity to help motivate students to investigate reliability further. The sillier article can be used as a warm up, maybe asking students to evaluate the quality of the article - before revealing that it was a 'successfully published' article. Students can also be asked to investigate the author and their qualifications to talk about birds, the reputation of the journal, and so on. This could also be a chance to segue into different tools students might need when determining source reliability for their research writing.

There are a lot of companies that are offering free use of their various resources during the coronavirus. While these resources will (hopefully, strangely!) not always be free, this could be a good way to test out different resources and see if there's anything you might want to use.

The website is here!

This list is huge and absolutely overwhelming, so here are some resources that stood out to me:

Bamboo Learning seems to offer a bunch of narrated stories and exercises for different levels of English; it's not all ESL specific, but it could provide some multimedia listening comprehension exercises for students!

Nico Languages is offering free online grammar courses up to a 7th-grade level, and it's meant to be ESL friendly. They're making different courses free as time rolls on in quarantine, and they're offering printable grammar handouts that could be useful.

Woodpecker Learning is a site that is designed around using authentic videos to learn languages, and ESL is one of the available. It allows students to rewind videos by sentence to practice their listening skills, as well as create various flashcards.

Just scrolling through this doc for a little introduced me to a ton of websites that I wasn't familiar with, so even after quarantine is over, this might still be a good resource for finding new tools!

One additional reading activity that could be done could involve small annotation tasks for students. One possible way of doing this would involve the teacher breaking up the article into small 1-3 paragraph chunks that seem relatively connected. For each chunk, students could try to write a small sentence that summarizes the main points of that subsection.

While this can also be done on a paragraph-by-paragraph level, that can take a little bit of time! With larger chunks of text, it's possible it might save students a little time, and it also might help students look at ideas in more connection with each other.

When doing this though, teachers should definitely model what is considered a 'good' summary annotation - otherwise you might get everything from four words to four sentences.

The Hobbit stuff / Re: A Bilbo Diary Entry
« on: February 06, 2020, 11:50:24 AM »
I like this idea - it's very scaleable to different levels or class purposes. If there's a grammar point or vocabulary to work in, you could easily do so while students still get to feel creative. They could focus on descriptions, or emotions, or whatever else you need, or even illustrate. Definitely fun and flexible.

The Hobbit stuff / Re: Using Runes: History and Fun Writing Prompts
« on: February 06, 2020, 11:47:26 AM »
I love this idea! Runes are just kind of cool on their own, and I think that students could get excited by them. I think you could even have fun with having students create their own runes after analyzing them.

The Hobbit stuff / The Hobbit's 'Old-fashioned' Vocabulary Guide
« on: February 06, 2020, 09:21:14 AM »

This site here: [size=78%][/size] provides a ton of guidance for some of the more archaic vocabulary in the Hobbit that some students might find challenging. Older/more advanced students might be a better fit for this resource, but I like that it includes a simpler definition of the term, as well as providing the context the word is found in!

Megale, I. & Sunardi, D. (2017). The development of Bilbo Baggins' Character through leadership in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Journal of Language and Literature, 17, 133-143.

The site won't let me post the link due to thinking it's spam.... But this journal article, while obviously too advanced for most classroom contexts itself, provides a great map of how Bilbo changes over the course of the novel. I feel like this could be used as a great graphic organizer or a timeline activity for students to help make sure they're noticing the changes, and also providing good discussion opportunities for an important topic.


The website this link takes you to contains a lot of free resources in terms of graded readers, with both text and audio files available (and some quizzes I think!). They sort things into a lot of different proficiency levels, with estimates on how many words students of that level are expected to know.

That's useful on its own, but I think this particular tool on the site was most interesting to me. It serves a similar function to the other text analyzers pinned at the top of this forum, but with a few tweaks. It allows you to input a text, select a proficiency level, and then be given a) an estimate of how many words on average are outside the specified level and b) what the specific words are. Teachers can then decide whether or not to edit those words on the spot and run the check again.

Here's an example analyzing the first chapter of Harry Potter:

I think this could be useful in multiple ways. For one, if there is an authentic text that teachers feel may need slight adjustments, this is a good tool to help make choices about what needs to change. There are definitely mixed opinions about graded readers out there - it's possible that it might be better to start with an authentic text and then adjust. Even then, if you're looking to avoid graded readers, this can serve a similar function to other text analyzers to help find out if something is an appropriate level.

Especially for extensive reading, where you want to insure students are reading with just a couple words per page that are new to them to keep the focus on fluency, the percentage estimates that this tool give could be useful.

One potential caveat is definitely the quality of the word list the site is using. I couldn't find direct information about where the list comes from, but the site does specify that it continuously analyzes the exported, edited texts that teachers create, checking to see if the words that teachers change align with their word lists. That might help!

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