Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Useful Tool for Turning Out Hard-to-Create Unscramgling Worksheets

Last weekend, the keynoter at the San Diego CATESOL Mini-Regional Conference brought up the value of using scrambled sentences in ESL classes. I was not surprised at the enthusiastic response from fellow teachers who heard Dr. Keith Folse, chiefly because of the thoroughly engaging effect of employing the unscrambling technique.

Following the conference, Deidre, who teaches in the night program on the main campus, wasted no time in finding a good website for generating really nice worksheets for her class. Her group of students were so into unscrambling the sentences that they didn't even realize it was almost 9:25pm. "Unheard of!" Deidre reported. She had such good results using the worksheets she wanted to make sure everyone knew about this web tool:

In an email to me, Deidre wrote these instructions, "Click on the link [and scroll down a bit], name your worksheet and start typing sentences. Then click 'create worksheet.' It creates a PDF and you click on the top right hand corner [where the double chevron icon] for print [and download] options. I love that it offers a page with the unscrambled sentences side by side for easy correction. [My students] LOVE working on [the worksheets], and it creates a fun competitive vibe because, of course, the groups are very competitive with each other."

I've since used this wonderful web tool to create worksheets and thought I'd share my evaluation of it.

Excellent, user-friendly handling; free with no software to download; allows you to enter well-chosen, level-appropriate sentences on the fly; allows you to teach the word order of all kinds of sentences; allows you teach the start-of-sentence capitalization and the end-of-sentence punctuation; allows you to randomize the same worksheet between each printing so that you could give each team a worksheet with the same sentences and yet a different mixed-up order; allows you to teach coherence, the logical order, or the organization for an academic paragraph as long as you enter sentences of a well-chosen model paragraph; allows you to download your worksheet as a PDF; worksheets so generated are for the higher levels of learning on Bloom's Taxonomy; worksheets conducive to a high-level student engagement.

After you hit the "Create worksheet" button, if you use your browser's printer button rather than the worksheet's own print option, you will end up printing your screen including the unwanted ads but not your whole worksheet. Also, even when I chose the right print option from the menu within the worksheet window, I got a blank first page printed out before my desired worksheets. Finally, no online storage space as I have to download and save all the different versions of a worksheet - it doesn't look like I can create a free account on the website to save and access my worksheets right on their site.

The Bottom Line
Worksheet Genius's mixed sentences tool does not disappoint at all. In fact, it can be a powerful addition to every teacher's toolbox. A huge thank you to Deidre for pushing the student-engagement envelope in her ebullient way.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Report from the San Diego Mini Regional Conference

(Posted on behalf of Marcel Castillo)

Dr. Folse's Lecture
Dr. Keith Folse, a professor at the University of Central Florida, posed the question to the audience on what grammar concepts should we teach for a great writing class and how should we teach grammar to our students.
 In pairs the audience tried to come up with some interesting answers to his question.  What came out for most was the following: verb tenses, articles, word order, subject-verb agreement, adjective clauses and prepositions.  To understand to teach grammar in writing, Dr. Folse challenged us by posing more questions: (1) which grammar should be taught in writing, (2) what are the teacher’s options in dealing with grammar in writing class, (3) which grammar points might deserve more attention and which might be omitted from our classes, and finally (3) what decisions should we make to make grammar work for our writing class.  He believes that it is the “learner” who should run the show in terms of grammar.  We need to ask ourselves what do our students need to be able to do with writing in English.  Do they need to (1) pass a test?, (2) function in freshman comp?, (3) write lab reports?, (4) communicate via email or similar?, (5) write a research paper?, or (6) respond to a piece of literature? From that point teachers will know what direction to take in teaching what their students in writing will need.  Then when the students write, how then do we correct their papers and how do we address the grammar problems?  Dr. Folse gives us various options.  We can (1) ignore it completely, (2) assume it will transfer from the grammar class, (3) teach the writing in the grammar, (4) teach grammar tied to that type of writing, (5) mark all errors, (6) mark only certain errors, (7) teach lessons based on student errors, or (8) do mostly grammar and then some writing.  The option is definitely on the teacher, but he adds that there are some factors to consider: many students show that adult learners want All errors corrected; how can you NOT correct certain errors sometimes? and feedback on an error is needed because not all errors are obvious, even when pointed out at first.
According to Dr. Folse, choosing which grammar to teach comes down to two approaches. First, we need to look at student errors and if student needs will be determined by their errors. Second, we need to look at our goal in teaching grammar and realize that a student’s need means a need to do, not a need to correct. Dr. Keith Folse first tackles the issue of teaching verbs.  He begins by reminding us that there are 12 verb forms or tenses in English, but the native speaker does not use or need all 12 forms on a daily basis.  So he proposes that we should teach verbs based on their frequency of use and taught in the following order: (1) Simple present + passive, (2) simple past + passive, (3) present perfect + passive, (4) present progressive + passive, and (5) past progressive.  By doing so we eliminate verbs that are hardly ever used by native speakers on a daily basis.  Dr Folse reiterates that verbs should be taught on how frequent they are used and not because there are 12 kinds of verbs and they should all be taught and learned by all ESL students.
Dr. Folse’s next grammatical point is on how to address “articles” because they are unique in English and should be taught well to ESL students.  He states that the way to teach articles is to declare that all singular count noun MUST have something in front of them: a, this, my, the, one, etc. and that you make plurals plural.  To have students understand the notion of articles, Dr. Folse invents a hypothetical “Vulcan” language that does not have articles.  The task of the students is to identify the errors that an English speaker would make in this “Vulcan” sentence: “In Malaysia, a person who wins an Olympic gold medal is the most famous person and will be in the news all the time.”  By giving this as an example, Dr. Folse’s aim is to get the students to understand how one language, the “Vulcan” language, does not allow articles whereas English does.
Teaching the “-ing and –ed/-en” adjectives has always been a burden and a challenge for many teachers and causes many ESL students to be confused and bewildered on how and when to use them.  Dr. Keith Folse states that teaching the difference between “ing vs ed” adjectives like “interesting vs interested” will always be a challenge if not confusing to any ESL student.  He has proposed the strategy of teaching “-ings” first and then teaching the past participles second since they can be used as adjectives.  This will lessen the confusion and the frustration of the students and ease the pedagogy and angst of teachers.
In terms of sentence structure and building better sentences, Dr Folse proposes the idea of putting 3 sentences color coded and broken up to many pieces in an envelope.  The task of the students working in pairs is to unscramble the words or phrases and make sense of the color-coded sentences they create.  This allows the students to figure out and make sense of the grammar based on the unscrambled words or phrases they see and to create meaning into a logical sentence.  Another way to get students to build better sentences is to have students put 3 phrases that the teacher has created together and to create a better sentence.  For example: (1) Checkers is an easy game to learn, (2) Battle is an easy game to learn, and (3) Many people believe this.  The resulting sentence could be: Many people believe that Checkers and Battle are easy games to learn.  This type of exercise forces the student to make sense of the grammar and build a better sentence that could be complex or compound-complex.
I enjoyed Dr. Keith Folse’s lecture because it has taught me that grammar could be taught on what the students need and their purpose for taking grammar.  His lecture has given me more ideas on how to logically structure my grammar lessons so that students can understand better, i.e. teaching only the most used verbs forms in daily life, teaching simple verbs + passive and simple past + passive in that order, and putting scrambled color-coded phrases or words in an envelope for students to unscramble and build a logical sentence that makes sense.  No doubt Dr. Folse’s lecture made me think of more creative ways to get students to understand better and to retain the information based on their needs and purpose.

Katrina's Poster Presentation

During the poster session I was able to spend time with Katrina to talk to her about her goal as a teacher and her project at Palomar.  I wanted to write about it because her poster really caught my attention to her skills and dedication and it made me understand her goals better as a teacher at Palomar.  I also wanted to support her as my colleague at Palomar.
She states that with technology students have, teachers can engage language learners in active communication through self-reflection.  All they need is a cellphone, a digital camcorder, and a digital voice recorder.  According to her, the camera enables the student to reflect on much more than just his/her textbook knowledge of the target language.  I thought this was a powerful statement because for a photographer and a videographer, the camera not only catches what the photographer sees but it also reflects on what the photographer understands of himself or herself based on what he or she sees.  In other words, photography is a two-way street.  Her project states that students in this project will engage and communicate with a larger community.  In other words, the media extends beyond the classroom.  She further states that the camera empowers the students because the camera is like a painter’s brush. The student is in control of what he/she sees and he/she will be able to paint what he/she interprets “life” as he/she sees and understands it.  With the camera, the students become embolden when they are engaged in the interview process when holding the camera and video taping the subject.  In the process the activity promotes technology literacy because students are exposed to and learn how to utilize the camera, phones, USB drives, and computer applications/software.  I thoroughly agree with this dynamic approach as the student becomes the painter, the photographer, the journalist, the editor, the writer, the producer, and the story teller.  Being engaged in this project her students must attend class and dedicate themselves to fulfilling their part in the project.  Through this project the students engage in five steps: (1) journal/pair practice, (2) self-reflection, (3) reaching beyond comfort zone, and (4 + 5) outcome reflection.  When all the interviews and video taping are done, then the students get to present their final product to parents, relatives, friends, and fellow teachers during “Recognition Night Celebration,” which will be held on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.  In my estimation Katriana Tamura has created a magnificent way to integrate technology, writing, interaction, team effort, editing, producing, scripting and story telling that involve the attendance, creativity, and dedication of her students.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Flipped Classroom Pedagogy

An effective pedagogy of a flipped ESL classroom, or any classroom for that matter, has been illuminated in a recent article by Christina Cavage, an ESL professional. According to Cavage, the "i" in the word "flipped" stands for "intentional." Using Bloom's taxonomy as a template, Cavage advises us how best to reverse the coursework process. We should not spend entire class periods covering only the lowest two Bloom's levels and then give homework that exclusively reflects and requires the tough higher levels.

There are ways we can be more intentional and deliberate about pushing real learning in this restructuring model. For example, with the video projects for her level 3 students, our very own Katrina has created a real learning-centered environment where the learners reach the highest levels of learning on the Bloom's chart.

At Chaffey College, faculty develop a DLA (directed learning activity) about some basics of thesis statements and then require their students to complete the DLA at a "Success Center" (i.e. a "tutoring center" as is called at Palomar) during week 2. In the classroom during week 3, students actually write and evaluate thesis statements. The potential for collaboration between our innovative faculty and our capable tutors can make the ESL flipped classroom a new reality at Palomar, too.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to Access TESOL Quarterly for Free - An Update

Visit Palomar College's homepage at
-> locate "Quick Links" drop down menu on the upper right corner
-> select "Library" and click "GO"
-> click on "Articles" (which is to the right of "Catalog" on the horizontal bar in the top center) or "Databases / Articles" (which is the third choice from the top in the vertical panel on the left)
-> scroll down to "EBSCO A-Z List of Ejournals" to open the database
-> type "TESOL Quarterly" in the search box and click "Search"
-> choose one of the two links to click, depending on whether you want to see the most recent issue or a historical one dating back to 1967 (see what this screen looks like below)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What Life Lessons Does This Chinese Woman Provide?

Receiving more than nine million hits, the following 10-minute video clip is the story of a Chinese woman born without arms. Although it is in Cantonese, the life lessons provided by this most resilient woman know no boundaries.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

San Diego Mini Regional CATESOL Conference

So many choices, so little time! That’s the theme of this year’s San Diego Mini Regional CATESOL Conference, to be held at the beautiful new Rady School of Management at the UC San Diego campus on Saturday, 4/12. The keynote speaker is Keith Folse, author of more than 50 books on teaching ESL writing, grammar, and vocabulary. Other highlights include a workshop on effective job strategies sponsored by the conference organizers, the CATESOL San Diego Chapter. There will be publishers' exhibits, a poster session, and plenty of presentations on topics relevant to adult ESL and other levels. Pre-registration deadline is 4/1, with a rate of only $20 for CATESOL members and only $25 for non-members. On-site registration is only $5 more, however. Breakfast is included with registration. Parking at UCSD is free on weekends. To register, go to