A Few ESL Teching Tips

Posted on January 30, 2009
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Some ESL classroom tips from Celia Webb

ESL students often develop sticking points or plateaus in learning English. To work past the difficult phases, teachers can try these classroom tested techniques which work with all age groups. Do not be afraid to introduce some game playing to your adult students, particularly if you are teaching evening classes for working students. Introducing short, active periods to breakup the textbook subject matter reawakens (literally) tired students and freshens their interest and motivation in the class. Here you will find methods and ideas for working through particular sticking points, increasing vocabulary recall speed, and spelling, pronunciation, and listening skills.

Tongue twisters

Alliterative phrases where every word starts with the same letter can be a fun and useful way to practice clear pronunciation and enunciation. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”, “Sally sells seashells at the seashore”, and other tongue scrambling phrases make a delightful break to text book work. Introduce a new tongue twister once a week. Search the internet using the keyword “tongue twisters” to find lots of possible tongue wriggling phrases.

R and L for Asian speakers

Asian speakers often struggle with producing the correct sounds for the letters “R” and “L”. Listening to you say the letters over and over does not do the trick. The easiest way for them to pick up the correct pronunciation is to show them the physical difference in the production of the sound. Have your student watch where your tongue is placed in your mouth as you say these letters. Point out that to make the sound for the “L” the tongue goes to the roof of the mouth; for the letter “R”, the tongue stays down. Make sure your students are close enough to you to see the difference in the action of the tongue.

Just whisper

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

Play hangman 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. Draw blanks for each letter and then set a limit to the number of guesses. As your students state their guess letters, record the correct letter guesses on the blanks you have drawn and the incorrect guesses off to the side. The goal is for the students to guess the correct word before they run out of the allotted number of guesses. As your students gain familiarity with the game, select a different student to run the game each time you play. Call the student up and tell them the word. Then let them take it from there.

Make it apply

If you have adult working students, practice the vocabulary of their professions. Include practical everyday situational vocabulary as well like check writing terms and spelling out numbers, driver’s manuals, and forms they might have to fill out to apply for a job, visa, bank account, and so forth. Students are highly motivated by being able to handle daily living language.

Exposure is key

Just as with so many other skills we learn, exposure and practice are critical for enabling learners to develop their budding language skills. In addition to practice 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 picked out and play a particular podcast or short video you have selected. They can listen as many times as they wish. Their job is to tell you what the podcast or video was about. Another way to achieve the same type of practice is to provide them a “mystery” phone number. You pick a phone number which is answered by an automatic answering machine which gives callers menu options. Have your students write down what the automated message stated. Again they can listen as many times as needed until they know what was said and your student does not need to speak to anyone, so they do not need to feel apprehensive for that reason. The next time you meet, your students can reveal what the “mystery” number was all about.

Buzzing with excitement

Counting and numbers are very important skills in any language. Practice numbers by having students form a circle, introduce a number sequence, and have the students state the next number in the sequence as they work around the circle. Start with straight counting, then do simple sequences like odds, evens, 5’s and 10’s. When your students are comfortable with simple sequences, play the game “Buzz”. Announce the “Buzz” number at the start of the sequence. Each time a student gets a number which includes the selected number; they say “Buzz” and play proceeds to the next player. For example if the “Buzz” number is 2, then players would say “Buzz” for numbers like 2, 12, 20, and so on. The goal of the game is to get as far along the sequence as possible before a mistake is made.

Building natural speaking rhythm

A very common situation for speakers learning English is the application of the speaking rhythm of their native language to English. The result is heavily accented English with unusual speaking patterns. There are a couple of techniques which will help foreign language speakers gain the rhythm and stress patterns of English. The first is to introduce nursery rhymes. One per class session or so will provide a break in the more regimented language practice and give the students a chance to listen to the natural rhythms of English. Nursery rhymes are short, easy to memorize, and can be said in a cadence which helps students both pronounce words more clearly and hear the natural breaks between words. Another technique is to use a call and response exchange between the teacher and students. An example would be:

Teacher - How long does it take? Students - It takes a long time. Teacher - How long does it take? Students - It takes a long time. Together - It takes a long, long time.

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

Applying these techniques as you work with students will make your classes fun, challenging, and, best of all, successful.

About the Author

Celia Webb, President of Pilinut Press, Inc., publishers of advanced readers for children and ESL students. Check out Pilinut Press for more vocabulary tips, word searches, and other vocabulary activity sheets.

Superlative Adjective Drills

Posted on December 1, 2008
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Superlative Forms

Teacher/Leader: fast
Class/Group: fast

Teacher/Leader: the fastest
Class/Group: the fastest

Teacher/Leader: lucky
Class/Group: lucky

Teacher/Leader: the luckiest
Class/Group: the luckiest

Teacher/Leader: exciting
Class/Group: exciting

Teacher/Leader: The most exciting
Class/Group: The most exciting

Teacher/Leader: That car’s fast!
Class/Group: That car’s fast!

Teacher/Leader: That car’s the fastest in town.
Class/Group: That car’s the fastest in town.

Teacher/Leader: She’s lucky.
Class/Group: She’s lucky.

Teacher/Leader: She’s the luckiest girl I know!
Class/Group: She’s the luckiest girl I know!

Teacher/Leader: The roller-coaster’s exciting.
Class/Group: The roller-coaster’s exciting.

Teacher/Leader: The roller-coaster’s the most exciting ride in the park.
Class/Group: The roller-coaster’s the most exciting ride in the park.

Teacher/Leader: One syllable - fast.
Class/Group: One syllable - fast.

Teacher/Leader: Add - the -est - the fastest.
Class/Group: Add - the -est - the fastest.

Teacher/Leader: Two syllables y - lucky.
Class/Group: Two syllables y - lucky.

Teacher/Leader: Add - the -iest - the luckiest.
Class/Group: Add - the -iest - the luckiest.

Teacher/Leader: Three or more syllables - exciting.
Class/Group: Three or more syllables - exciting.

Teacher/Leader: Add ‘the most’ - the most exciting.
Class/Group: Add ‘the most’ - the most exciting.

Teacher/Leader: Exceptions to the rule
Class/Group: Exceptions to the rule

Teacher/Leader: good - the best
Class/Group: good - the best

Teacher/Leader: bad - the worst
Class/Group: bad - the worst

Teacher/Leader: far - the farthest
Class/Group: far - the farthest

Verb + Infinitive Drills

Posted on November 12, 2008
Filed Under grammar, infinitive | Leave a Comment

Teacher/Leader: ING
Class/Group: ING

Teacher/Leader: like doing
Class/Group: like doing

Teacher/Leader: I like reading.
Class/Group: I like reading.

Teacher/Leader: love doing
Class/Group: love doing

Teacher/Leader: I love dancing!
Class/Group: I love dancing!

Teacher/Leader: HATE doing
Class/Group: HATE doing

Teacher/Leader: I hate working!
Class/Group: I hate working!

Teacher/Leader: avoid doing
Class/Group: avoid doing

Teacher/Leader: He avoided answering.
Class/Group: He avoided answering.

Teacher/Leader: finish doing
Class/Group: finish doing

Teacher/Leader: He finished playing tennis.
Class/Group: He finished playing tennis.

Teacher/Leader: practice doing
Class/Group: practice doing

Teacher/Leader: He practiced playing the piano.
Class/Group: He practiced playing the piano.

Teacher/Leader: try doing
Class/Group: try doing

Teacher/Leader: We tried dancing!
Class/Group: We tried dancing!

How Questions Drill

Posted on October 20, 2008
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Questions with ‘How’

Teacher/Leader: How!
Class/Group: How!

Teacher/Leader: How much?
Class/Group: How much?

Teacher/Leader: A lot!
Class/Group: A lot!

Teacher/Leader: How many?
Class/Group: How many?

Teacher/Leader: A few.
Class/Group: A few.

Teacher/Leader: How often?
Class/Group: How often?

Teacher/Leader: Sometimes.
Class/Group: Sometimes.

Teacher/Leader: How long?
Class/Group: How long?

Teacher/Leader: Two hours.
Class/Group: Two hours.

Teacher/Leader: How far?
Class/Group: How far?

Teacher/Leader: Twenty miles.
Class/Group: Twenty miles.

Teacher/Leader: How are you?
Class/Group: How are you?

Teacher/Leader: Fine!
Class/Group: Fine!

Teacher/Leader: How do you do?
Class/Group: How do you do?

Teacher/Leader: It’s a pleasure.
Class/Group: It’s a pleasure.

Teacher/Leader: How much is it?
Class/Group: How much is it?

Teacher/Leader: $20.
Class/Group: $20.

Teacher/Leader: How many are there?
Class/Group: How many are there?

Teacher/Leader: Ten!
Class/Group: Ten!

Teacher/Leader: How!
Class/Group: How!

Question Words Drill

Posted on October 9, 2008
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Remember that through the use of repetition and having fun together (be as crazy as you like) students will improve their ‘automatic’ use of the language. Using a drill is straight-forward. The teacher stands up in front of the class and ‘chants’ the lines. It’s important to be as rhythmical as possible because these rhythms help the brain during its learning process.

Teacher/Leader: Go!
Class/Group: Go!

Teacher/Leader: Who goes?
Class/Group: Who goes?

Teacher/Leader: He goes.
Class/Group: He goes.

Teacher/Leader: Where does he go?
Class/Group: Where does he go?

Teacher/Leader: He goes to school.
Class/Group: He goes to school.

Teacher/Leader: When does he go to school?
Class/Group: When does he go to school?

Teacher/Leader: He goes to school in the morning.
Class/Group: He goes to school at in the morning.

Teacher/Leader: How does he go to school?
Class/Group: How does he go to school?

Teacher/Leader: He goes to school by bus.
Class/Group: He goes to school by bus.

Teacher/Leader: What does he do at school?
Class/Group: What does he do at school?

Teacher/Leader: He learns lots of things.
Class/Group: He learns lots of things.

Teacher/Leader: Why does he go to school?
Class/Group: Why does he go to school?

Teacher/Leader: Because he wants to learn.
Class/Group: Because he wants to learn.

Have to and Must for Obligation

Posted on September 30, 2008
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Have to / Don’t Have to & Must / Mustn’t

Many students often confuse the use of the modals ‘must’ and ‘have to’. While the meaning is generally maintained in incorrect usage in the positive forms, a mix-up in the negative forms can cause confusion.

Here you can use daily routines and an interviewing game to help students master these important modal forms.

Ask students to talk about their daily routines. Have them make a list of five things that they have to do every day.
Introduce the grammar by having the students take a look at the grammar sheet below.
Discuss the differences between ‘have to’ and ‘must’ in the positive form. Make sure to point out that ‘have to’ is used for daily routines while ‘must’ is used for strong personal obligation.
Discuss the differences between ‘don’t have to’ and ‘mustn’t’. Make sure to stress the idea that ‘don’t have to’ expresses the idea that the person isn’t required to do something but may do so if he/she would like while ‘mustn’t’ expresses the idea of prohibition.
In order to encourage students to favor the use of ‘have to’, spend the rest of the lesson focusing on daily responsibilities in the following exercises.
Ask students to take out the list they created earlier and re-write the list using ‘have to’.
Ask students to choose a job from the list provided (you might want to first check that students are familiar with the jobs listed) and think about what a person working in that profession has to do.
Once you have given students a chance to think a while, play a variation on the 20 questions game. You can begin by choosing a profession and having students ask you 10 or 15 questions about what you have to do in this job. Questions can only be answered by ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ’sometimes’.
The student who guesses the name of your profession should be the next to be asked the 15 questions. Another variation on this game is for students to play the game in pairs.

Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Posted on September 20, 2008
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The correct use of the comparative and superlative forms is a key part of learning how to express opinion or make comparative judgments. The following focuses on first building understanding of the structure - and of the similarity between the two forms - inductively, as most students are at least passively familiar with the forms. The second phase of the lesson, focuses on using the comparative and superlative forms actively in small group conversation.

Aim: Learning the comparative and superlative

An inductive grammar learning exercise followed by small group discussion

Activate students’ awareness of the comparative and superlative by comparing three objects of your choice. For example, compare life in the US, the country where you are teaching and another country of your choice.
Ask students questions based on what you have told them.
Have students pair up and ask them to complete the first exercise on the work sheet.
Based on their completion of the first task, ask students to give you the rules for the construction of the comparative form. You will probably have to point out that a three letter word following the CVC (consonant - vowel - consonant) form will double the final consonant. Example: big - bigger
Have students complete the second exercise on the work sheet.
Based on their completion of the second task, ask students to give you the rules for the construction of the superlative form. Make sure that students are aware of the similarities in construction between the two forms.
Have students get into small groups of three to four and choose one of the topic headings for their group.
Ask groups to then decide on three objects in the topic area to compare and contrast verbally.
Have students write five to ten sentences based on their conversation using the comparative and superlative forms. It might be useful to ask them to write a specific amount of both comparative and superlative sentences.

Comparatives and Superlatives

Exercise 1: Read the sentences below and then give the comparative form for each of the adjectives listed.
Tennis is a more difficult sport than Rugby.
I think John is happier now than a year ago.
Could you open the window, please? It’s getting hotter in this room by the minute.

interesting ___________
weak ___________
funny ___________
important ___________
careful ___________
big ___________
small ___________
polluted ___________
boring ___________
angry ___________

Exercise 2: Read the sentences below and then give the superlative form for each of the adjectives listed.
New York has got to be the most exciting city in the world.
His biggest desire is to return home.
She is probably the angriest person I know.

interesting ___________
weak ___________
funny ___________
important ___________
careful ___________
big ___________
small ___________
polluted ___________
boring ___________
angry ___________

Exercise three: Choose one of the topics below and think of three examples from that topic - for example: Sports - football, basketball and surfing. Compare the three objects.


Posted on September 3, 2008
Filed Under grammar, passives, verb tenses | Leave a Comment

Presentation : How is milk made?

Materials: Rods; empty milk carton; pictures of countryside (Vocab book); pictures of farm activities

Warmer: Tell Ss to sit back, relax, close eyes . . .”Drive out of Istanbul..no traffic, no buildings, no city . . .”
Ask Ss what they can hear . . . smell . . . .see?

Put Ss into two grps with 2 artists per grp up at the W/B
Give the grps pictures of the countryside to dictate to the artists
Artists listen and re-create picture to W/B
Set time limit . . . grp with best picture is the champion

Look at pictures on W/B to elicit vocab . . . farm / framer / tractor / cow / field / shed

Ask Ss why we have cows . . . for meat and milk

Ask ss how we make milk . . . elicit anything they know

Ask 8 Ss to stand up . . . give each S an A4 size paper with verb on…
Ask other Ss to try & order the 8 Ss standing up

Take the cows to the shed
Milk the cows
Pump the milk to the tanks
Pasteurise & Sterilise
Bottle the milk
Put the bottles on the trucks
Take the milk to Migros
Sell the milk

Point out these are all verbs…quickly drill V#3

As Ss sit down get them to stick the verbs on the W/b in the right order
Leave on the W/B for Ss to refer to if necessary

Sit on floor . . .get all Ss to also sit on floor..no books…no pens..
Set up farm on floor..as you set up ask Q’s to clarify what these are..
Eg: “big green area…what’s this…..field.” “black building near field…shed” “from the shed to the tank…..pipe” “parked outside tank…truck” “big shop in the village….Migros”

Identify Farmer Brown, Mrs Brown and Joe Brown
Place some cows in the field
Ask Ss “Does Famer Brown work on the farm one day or everyday?”
Elicit which tense…present simple

Drill thru the daily routines of the Brown Family using the rods – in the active
Ss can refer to the W/b too
Famer Brown takes the cows to the shed
In the shed, Mrs Brown milks the cows
Then she pumps the milk to the tank
Joe Brown then pasteurises and sterilises the milk
After that he bottles the milk & puts the bottles on to the truck
Finally he takes the milk to Migros and the shop assistant sells the milk

Make sure the Ss are familiar with the process

Give a S an empty milk carton & ask “Who made this milk..Famer Mustafa..Farmer Ahmet…etc..”
Elict “We don’t know..we don’t care..” Ask Ss “Are we interested in the milk or the farmer..are the people important or is the routine of milk important?”

Throw away the members of the Brown family symbollically

Elicit same routine in the passive
Drill each sentence….highlight be and V#3..and pron
Drill thru but keep stopping and backtracking..choral + individual
Finish off with a chain drill

Put Ss into grps..give grps rods..Ss sit and practice milk process

Elicit 1st and 3rd sentence to W/b
Highlight form

Ask Ss to think of other farm activities…”What’s done everyday?”
Elicit feed the animals..collect eggs..clean shed…

Before the lesson put pictures around room of farm activities (Basic English In Usage Exercises – Grammar book)
Put Ss in pairs
Get Ss to walk around the room and write one sentence per picture
Eg: The eggs are collected

If you can’t find pictures, mime activities and elicit verbs on to W/b:
Collect eggs
Clean the shed
Feed the animals
Cut the grass
Water the flowers
Wash the animals

For feedback put Ss into grps of 4….peer check

Grammar Drills - Third Conditional

Posted on September 1, 2008
Filed Under conditionals, grammar, third conditional | Leave a Comment

Grammar chants can be a lot of fun to use in classes. They are especially effective to help students learn problematic forms, words, etc. through repetition the right side of the brain engages its ‘musical’ intelligence.

Third Conditional (Past Unreal Conditional)

Teacher/Leader: Yesterday
Class/Group: Yesterday

Teacher/Leader: Yesterday, was such a bad day.
Class/Group: Yesterday, was such a bad day.

Teacher/Leader: I got in trouble …
Class/Group: I got in trouble…

Teacher/Leader: … because I laughed in class
Class/Group: … because I laughed in class

Teacher/Leader: If I hadn’t laughed, …
Class/Group: If I hadn’t laughed, …

Teacher/Leader: If I hadn’t laughed, I would have got …
Class/Group: If I hadn’t laughed, I would have got …

Teacher/Leader: If I hadn’t laughed, I would have got an A on my test!
Class/Group: If I hadn’t laughed, I would have got an A on my test!

Teacher/Leader: I wish I hadn’t laughed!
Class/Group: I wish I hadn’t laughed!

Teacher/Leader: What would he …
Class/Group: What would he …

Teacher/Leader: What would he have done …
Class/Group: What would he have done …

Teacher/Leader: What would he have done if he had had the time?
Class/Group: What would he have done if he had had the time?

Teacher/Leader: He would have gone …
Class/Group: He would have gone …

Teacher/Leader: He would have gone to Mexico …
Class/Group: He would have gone to Mexico …

Teacher/Leader: He would have gone to Mexico … if he had had the time!
Class/Group: He would have gone to Mexico … if he had had the time!

The Second Conditional

Posted on August 30, 2008
Filed Under conditionals, grammar, second conditional | Leave a Comment

Presentation #1

Preparation: Picture of old, old man.
Picture of young, armed thug.

Show Ss picture of old man. Elicit name and adjectives and abilities & board them.

With help from students draw a night sky and some city elements on the whiteboardto place the old man in a dangerous side street at night.

Introduce the thug. Elicit name and his abilities/disabilities, and ask Ss what he’s going to do.

Ask what the old man can do to save himself.
Ask: Is he young? “No.”
Ask: If he was young, what would he do? Board the answer: “If he was young, he would kick that guy’s butt.”
Highlight that he isn’t young.

Have Ss make similar sentences using the list of adjectives/abilities previously boarded. And drill.

Highlight grammar structure, negatives and questions.
Have students board questions and ask them in pairs.

What would he do if he knew karate?
What would he do if he could run fast?
What would he do if he wasn’t partially paralysed with Multiple Sclerosis?

Have Ss tell others what they would do
…if they were the old man.
… if they were the thug.
… if they were a neighbour who saw what happened.
… if they were the old man’s son or daughter.
…if they were a policeman.

To avoid any confusion, highlight that they aren’t any of these people.

Second Conditional – Presentation #2

H/O Picture of s.o. doing a lowly job (street cleaner, “Rag and Bone Man” etc - one can be found in “Images”.

Elicit What’s his job?
Is he happy?
Why? Why not?

Discuss Ss speculate on man’s life from series of prompts (maybe on H/O) eg
-What time does he get up?
-What are his friends like?
-What’s his favourite drink?
-Has he got a TV / car etc…

WB Draw man asleep in bed with dream bubbles coming from his head. Inside bubble eg
-a yacht
-posh car
-beautiful girlfriend

Ques What’s he doing? Dreaming
What’s he dreaming about? (As above)

Has he got a yacht? No
Has he got a lot of money? No
Does he want a lot of money? Yes
Target sentence

If he had a lot of money he would buy a yacht

This can be elicited / given from cues
Or: handout words cut up on card and Ss rearrange words to make the sentence

Highlight Form of 2nd conditional

More sentences: H/O more cut up sentences and ss reorder

Negatives: If I didn’t have a lot of money, I wouldn’t buy a car.
Highlight form negative
Drill: Ss drill through with sentences on floor


WB “If I wrote a book, I’d write about my life”

Elicit Q. If you wrote a book, what would you write about?

H/O Gap-fill type questions which Ss complete with correct form
“If you ________ a book, what ______ you write about?” (Verbs can be given as verb 1)

Speaking Ss can then ask and answer the questions as a mingle activity or in pairs

Practice ideas “Tears in Heaven”
Brainstorm Eric Clapton. Do as gap-fill where Ss insert “If, would and past simple verbs as appropriate”

Pre-teach vocab then Ss insert into song.
Give prompts form song which Ss complete using second conditional eg
“If there was no war…………”
“If there was no heaven……..”
Ss can then go on to discuss the issues (in groups) using prompt cards eg
“What causes the most wars?”
“What does living for the day mean? Is it a good I idea?”

Revise “should” for advice, then replace with “If I were you I’d…….”
Can be tied in with “might” in the context of giving advice to a tourist coming to Istanbul.
“If I were you I’d bring an umbrella because it might rain” etc.

What would you do …?

Complete the sentences with the correct form of the verb and add two questions of your own. Then ask and answer.

1 ……. you ……… (find) a spider in your bed?

2 ………. your mother ………….. (become) a stripper?

3. ………. you ……… (fall) in love with your best friend’s boy/girlfriend?

4. ………. you …… (have) an aeroplane?

5. …….. you ……. (see) a ghost?

6. …….. you ………. (jump) out of the window?

7 …….. you …………. (wake) up one morning and ………………. (find) an alien with two heads in your bed?

8 ………… you ………..

9. ………. you ………….

Another activity for second conditionals:

1) Think up some “Scruples” type questions e.g. Would you keep a wallet if you found it in the street? Would you pose nude for $5,000? etc.
2) Make a table with three columns: Question/Me/My partner. Write out the first couple of questions in full, but use prompts for the rest and leave a couple of blanks for the students to write their own questions. Photocopy and distribute.
3) Students read the questions and write yes or no in the “Me” column. They then decide what they think their parter will answer and write yes or no.
4) They then ask and answer the questions with their partners and win a point for each correct prediction. Highest score wins.

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