Tag Archives: ESL

Learning and Teaching Summer Course–Year 1–The Thematic Approach

As summer approaches, it’s time to consider if I will teach a summer course for the fourth year, or if I will take the summer off. It has been a great way to supplement my income during the vacation period and up until now, my son could attend with me. This year, however, he has reached the cut-off age of 13 and although he has volunteered to be an assistant, I think that our time might best be spent in other educational activities.

The first year that I taught English during a 5-week summer course was extremely challenging. I had 22 students that ranged in ages from 5 to 13. All my students were ESL learners with an extremely mixed level of English abilities. Therefore, I had to be creative with my English language teaching approach.

I decided to use a thematic approach. Each day would have a different topic. All activities would be centered on that topic. There would be a variety of activities so that all the students could participate to the best of their abilities. It would be fun because, after all, this was a summer course.

pirate kid

One day our theme was pirates. We sang (I played the piano) some rousing pirate songs. We learned pirate words. We talked about commands in English grammar. We role-played. We made eye patches and hooks. We designed a pirate ship. We made treasure maps. It was great!

farmer kid

Another day our theme was farming. We sang Old MacDonald and played the Farmer in the Dell. We talked about present tense. We planned our gardens and farms. We talked about animal sounds and names. It was great!

circus kids

Yet another day was about the circus. We talked about conditional tense and imagined “If I were in the circus, I would…. ” We sang The Man on the Flying Trapeze. We drew clowns. We made a construction paper big top. We learned circus words. It was great!

And so on and so forth. I must admit it took an incredible amount of planning for each class, but the result was well worth the effort. The school also offered music, P.E., cooking, art, and computer classes to round out the day. Those students that attended were disappointed when our summer course was finished. And that’s the way a good summer course should make a student feel.




Filed under Education

Failing at your own business–Freelance Essay Writing

doing homework

Last year we had the goal of putting the second story roof on our house and, therefore, needed a bit of extra money to get’er done. The unearthly hour that my son started school in the mornings meant that I arrived at my own job nearly 3 hours before my first class. Since I was there and had internet access I started sending out my resume for online jobs. To my surprise, I was offered 2 jobs almost immediately. Eagerly, I accepted both and hoped I would have enough free time.

The first position was with a company based in China that indicated that I would be assisting non-native speaking students with their English essays. As I have quite a bit of experience with ESL learners, I was excited at the prospect of revising their work. My first assignment was a “sample” assignment that would pay $60 whether or not the client accepted the completed work. The topic was on gender differences in conversation. I was to decide if there were provable differences between the sexes or not and defend my point of view. I was sent 4 pages to read with a list of additional resources to include. I went to work, although its been years since my last college essay. I submitted an outline, however, it was returned with a different outline that the client wanted me to follow. That was ok with me. I changed my focus and wrote what I felt was a passable essay, complete with references, and sent it along.

Then I was assigned another essay and this one was a doozy. Explain why President Obama continued to use drone strikes and how it violates the international humanitarian laws. As I had no idea what the current policy for drone use was, this paper required quite a bit of research. It took me the better part of a week to just get the research done. Before I even finished, I was assigned another essay, but it was a simpler topic and shorter, only 2 pages. I was to go to a public area and observe young teens in their natural habitat. But the pressure was starting to get to me. I managed to meet the deadline for the humanitarianism paper but had some issues with the formatting. I didn’t know how to send the completed essay to the right person in China, so I attached it to an email. I also asked when I would receive the payment for the first completed essay. I received a response that said they needed my Paypal information to pay me and that I needed to resend the essay in Microsoft Word because the client couldn’t open the file. So I sent the revised file and the requested information.

I didn’t have time to go to a park until Saturday afternoon. I took my son and he met a friend to play while I did my observation. Then I had to hurry back and write it up before my next class. I wasn’t quite finished with it on Saturday, so I had to come back to town on Sunday to work on it. The paper was rejected on the basis that I had spaced twice after periods instead of once. The administrator “fixed” the paper since it was dangerously close to the due date in China, it being in another time zone and all.

In the meantime, I was instructed to download the program DropBox, which I did. It’s a file sharing program. I saved my latest essay in the indicated folder, but as there were no guidelines to names, I had named it incorrectly. I was admonished that I must submit the papers appropriately or I would not longer be working for them.

I sent an email expressing my concerns about the time zone differences and mentioned that I hadn’t been paid for the sample paper yet. I was also starting to rethink this job. I had gone into it thinking I would be correcting already written papers, not writing the entire essay for the student.

I was assigned another paper. This one had a client generated outline that I was to follow. The information I received also included the course syllabus so that I could double check that I was meeting all the requirements, which I did. The topic was on the United States interference in East Asian conflicts. I wrote what was on the outline and added an additional 5 sources. I had it done a full day before it was due. I saved it correctly in the DropBox folder. I only spaced once after periods. The administrator wrote that I needed to add another 2 pages. I explained that I had included everything on the outline and added a considerable amount as well, besides which the course syllabus indicated that the paper should be 4-6 pages, not that it needed to be 6 pages. I rewrote the ending, adding a bit, but apparently, it wasn’t enough.

The next morning I received an email that I had been assigned an essay, however, it was the same essay I had completed. Then a message that the administrator had finished the essay. I checked the page where the money accumulated for finished jobs, and the money was there. Then I received another email saying that since the company had not heard from me, I would need to send my Paypal information to be paid for the work I had done. I sent the information again and minutes later I received a deposit to my Paypal account. However, it was only the total for 2 jobs, not the 4 I had done. So I tried to log back into my employee account, only to find myself denied. Guess that was their way of giving me the boot!

Well, I wasn’t going to get all bent out of shape over it. I received a little over $100 and happily spent every last cent.




Filed under Employment

Learning and Teaching–Language

pig laying egg

My concept of teaching language has evolved over time from teaching vocabulary, structure and spelling, to teaching communication, which includes teaching these but goes beyond them by making sense of the language. That may sound elementary, but I assure you, communicating in a language other than your own, can be fraught with unimagined communication perils.

My experiences with language (in both teaching and learning) have mostly been with the American English language and with the Mexican Spanish language. These languages are full of strange usage and even stranger vocabulary that come from hybrid (as compared to standard) language development. Both languages owe much to varied and multiple indigenous roots and have evolved with exposure to other foreign languages. Because of this, translating between the two can be difficult.

Much of how I now teach English, comes as a result of how I have learned Spanish, with a communicative rather than grammatical approach. In my classes of beginning level English, we start with small lists of related vocabulary that can be easily illustrated by TPR or graphics and are particularly relevant to the student. The use of songs and stories help reduce the fear of using a language even for adults.

Charlotte Mason touches on language instruction when she writes “Young children find little difficulty in using French vocables, but at this stage the teacher should with the children’s help translate the little passage which is to be narrated, them re-read it in French and require the children to narrate it. This they do after a time surprisingly well, and the act of narrating gives them some command of French phrases as far as they go, much more so than if they learnt the little passage off by heart.”

It is important to clarify that this “translation” process is not a direct translation from one language to another, but more of a bridging activity, helping the students make sense of the ideas, not just the words and structure.

To illustrate this, take for example this common Mexican phrase “Fijate si puso la puerca.” Literally translated the phrase reads “Go and see if the pig put.” which doesn’t make sense. However, if it is explained that the verb poner can be used to refer to laying eggs, we can now translate the phrase as “Go and see if the sow laid eggs.” But there is obviously still some problem with this literal translation since pigs don’t lay eggs. It is not until it is explained that this phrase is used when someone is bothering you and in meaning is more along the lines of the American English phrase “Go fly a kite!” that the phrase is correctly translated.

The narration in the second language mentioned by Charlotte Mason is a gradual process, not just for young children, but for beginning learners of all ages. After having made sense of a passage, students can first retell it in their native language, then with teacher encouragement, use small phrases in the second language in the retelling, moving eventually to complete sentences in the second language in the retelling, truly making the language their own.

In one sense, I must disagree with Charlotte Mason when she writes“But a child cannot dream parts of speech, and any grown-up twaddle attempting to personify such abstractions offends a small person who with all his love of play and nonsense has a serious mind.” I have found it useful to personify some grammar points that are particularly difficult for Mexican speakers. For instance, with the auxiliary verbs “do, don’t, did, didn’t, does, doesn’t, can’t, can, etc.” in illustrating their grammatical use by saying that these are servants since they do the work of the main or master verb who then becomes so lazy it refuses to change (She goes home. She didn’t go home.) I have found that students make fewer errors in the use of the auxiliary verb and main verb and often hear them chanting under their breath, “servant does the work, so master doesn’t change.” It is much easier remember a story personified than a grammar rule and in fact, in American English with native speakers, we have all sorts of mnemonic devices to aid us with correct language usage. (i before e, except after c, or when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking) There is no reason, therefore, to take the play out of language learning.




Filed under Carnival posts, Education, Teaching