Friday, April 17, 2015

A Board Game to Enhance Your Students' Classroom Experience

As a program coordinator, I have the privilege of observing fellow teachers in action. I learn something new every time I observe one.

Recently, I was in a level 4 classroom and saw Trevyan showcase an activity that incorporates fun to increase participation, sustain students' interest, strengthen group interaction, and expose students to more of the targeted grammatical structure. The fun activity was a teacher-prepared, superlatives board game. Trevyan brought in paper game boards inserted into plastic protective sheets along with Ziploc bags, each containing several multicolor chips and a die in them. She put students into groups and gave each group a set of the playing material. The rule was very easy to follow, and soon the whole class roared with excitement.

So impressed with that, I quickly searched the Internet for an editable board game template, the next chance I got. I wanted to enhance teaching practices through board games. Fortunately, I was able to find and download a free "monkey and croc" Word file and produce my own superlatives board game in practically no time. Then, I was also able to duplicate the success of my same-level colleague.

Now, I am thinking this fun and instructive tool can be used to practice other topics that we discussed regularly. For example, we can type in general statements and the players must generate specific details to support the generalizations. It has been a struggle to get some of our ESL students to figure out levels of specificity in academic reading and writing.

By the way, in case you are wondering, the web site that I went to to download  the free editable game board is

Monday, April 6, 2015

Preparing Our Students for Academic Demands

Academic or professional language is different from everyday language. That is one of the reasons why students come to school to learn, both orally and in written form.

At a recent San Diego regional CATESOL conference, Dr. Kate Kinsella gave a keynote speech to emphasize the necessity of facilitating students' academic interactions, starting with us teachers modeling professional vocabulary and providing language frames for them to emulate. This recent publication of hers in the Language magazine, though geared towards K-12 educators, describes tasks that may have a very relevant classroom impact for us.

As well, for one's writing skills to be college ready, we need to expand students' command of precise vocabulary, adjective clauses, and nominalization, among other items.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Curriculum Alignment

An important goal of our CDCP Noncredit Certificate of Completion program (i.e. our NESL 301 to NESL 304 sequence) is to get our noncredit students into (better) employment or a college major.

At recent statewide faculty forums organized by the Board of Governors Task Force for Jobs and the Economy, it was pointed out that a topic missing from the thread of structured career pathways is how to align basic skills curriculum, including ESL, with workplace skill requirements. ESL faculty at the listening events expressed frustration that current ESL curriculum still feels a bit too irrelevant.

Not coincidentally, some more academic-oriented ESL departments of community colleges have sought to bring their ESL curriculum in alignment with their English counterparts. LA City College is one such example. Dr. Lane Igoudin, who teaches at LACC, has just published an article in CATESOL News to describe a few strategies for aligning ESL with English. Click here to read more.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Do the Right Thing by Investing in Others

Could money buy happiness? Spending it on others might well be the answer as the benefits are mutual. Such is the gist of this TED talk I watched recently.
A year-old Atlantic monthly article, How to Succeed Professionally by Helping Others, further suggests that those who empower others also help themselves succeed professionally. See the last vignette about Allen in particular. Talk about positive interdependence!

These two resources have obvious implications for student engagement and retention as well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

From Spoken Language to Academic Writing

How to teach our Generation 1.5 and other ESL students to stop writing the way they talk for the academic world? At a recent teaching conference, our colleague Jorge Villalobos identified a smart way that focuses on modifying vocabulary, especially those ubiquitous qualifiers (e.g. basically, a lot, etc.), repeated words, and reporting verbs.

In the latest issue of a Cambridge newsletter, author Nigel Caplan offers another smart way: use more adjective clauses. His article can be accessed here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Involving Learners Before They Quit

Between trends that future generations will insist on solutions to accumulated injustices and problems and intellectual capital for knowledge creation will become the primary value in society, 160 educators, including a sizable entourage from our dept., gathered on Sat. for Palomar's second annual active learning conference.

Keynoter Dr. Alan Daly of UCSD got everyone started by equipping them with a positive attitude. He opened with an activity where participants asked someone they had not known before for his or her strength. He wanted all people to be part of a connected community that cares about each other, learns from each other, and thinks outside of the box in order to effect changes for the common good.

Our very own Katrina demonstrated a system where she divided her students into random groups by using color index cards and facilitated a process of developing group tests to exchange with other groups. This testing method will not trigger a negative reaction from the students because there are no trick or mean questions from a teacher.

Jorge Villalobos, who now teaches ESL 102 as well as English 50 and English 100, shared his own way of engaging his generation 1.5 student writers, who typically don't see the differences between spoken language and academic writing and couldn't care less about learning grammar and usage. He came up with a nicely-worded 5-rule strategy set to help his students develop their own awareness of the need to write clearly and concisely. Unlike Katrina, Jorge divides his students into groups in a very strategic way when they do peer reviews. A group will be designated to look at grammar, another group at punctuation, still another at meaning, etc. Members of a group are chosen based on their demonstrated strengths or needs.

Suzanne Woodward, another ESL colleague and a popular presenter, showed participants three new ways to force students to do reading homework and then engage with their classmates in the next class period.

Question Exchange 
Upon reading an assigned article as homework, students must write a question on an index card. In the following class period, the teacher can collect the cards and pass them out randomly for answers. Or students can mingle and ask and answer the questions. With each new partner, they exchange the cards they have after their Q and A rendezvous. A variation of this activity is for the students to create two cards - one with the question and the other with the answer. In the classroom, the teacher collects both cards from all and redistributes them for a matching game.

Three Questions
This is an activity that is totally different from the one above. Students are to write three different questions on their cards:
  1. factual comprehension question
  2. opinion question
  3. extension question, i.e. one about something not in the article read, but related to the topic
In the next class, the teacher puts students in groups, collects the cards from each group, and redistributes them to a different group for answers.

Students write a summary of what they read. In class, they turn in their individual summaries to the teacher, then get into groups to rewrite a group summary without referring to the original article (or their individual summaries, which have been turned in). They then must negotiate with group members regarding what info to include and what to leave out. Both individual and group summaries receive points.

Angela and Sheri also presented about our student mentor program.

What the participants learned were ways to motivate and empower our students so that not only will we not lose them, but they will become confident enough to take responsibility for their learning at school and beyond.