Archive for the ‘Teaching ESL’ Category

Asking Good ESL Conversation Questions

September 29th, 2008

1 Comment »

Every ESL teacher knows that some questions stimulate great conversation, while others just get blank stares. How to ask good ESL questions to stimulate conversation in the ESL classroom:

1.  Make sure the question is at the appropriate level.

It’s tempting to want to ask questions that you personally find interesting, but if your questions are at a higher level than your students, you won’t get a good response.

2.  The question needs to be something that the student has an answer for.

If you ask a student a question about the economy for example, they might not even know how to answer the question in their own language, let alone in English.

3.  Make sure that your question isn’t culturally sensitive or something that may cause embarrassment.

These questions can be fun to ask, but without the right class, you won’t get the response you are hoping for.

4.  Your question should be one that the student finds interesting.

You will have to play around a little bit to see where your class is.  Pay attention to what seems to get them excited.  Remember that the same things you find interesting could very well not be the same as what the students find interesting.  I used to run into this problem a lot.

Teaching ESL Online - What You Should Consider

September 19th, 2008

1 Comment »

Online teaching opportunities for ESL are popping up all the time as technologies like Skype get cheaper and faster. Teaching online has several advantages over traditional teaching:

1. No commute - this obviously saves a lot of time and money

2. You can wear what you like - no one will know if you are teaching in your underwear; another time and energy saver.

3. Flexible hours - Since neither you nor the student needs to commute, you may be able to arrange a deal where you teach spontaneously. If you happen to both be online and free, you could agree to teach right then and there.

The supply of online teachers will soar because many native English speakers still living in their home countries will be competing for jobs. This excess supply will dramatically lower the price that ESL teachers will be able to charge. If you want to earn a reasonable salary teaching online, you need to differentiate yourself from the less experienced teachers. You will also want to look for opportunities where the students are less price sensitive. Some students will be learning online to save money. If that’s the case, they will be more likely to choose lower priced teachers. Other students will be learning ESL online in order to save time. Business executives may be in this boat for example. These students will likely be looking for better teachers regardless of the price, within reason of course.

As a teacher, you should be well prepared and have excellent ideas planned in advance. Many online teachers just log on and hope for the best. A good online teacher will be able to stimulate conversation and also give homework. It’s a great idea to give your student something to practice on their own time so that you have something to talk about when you meet online. Designing a good program will allow the student to improve much more quickly, without adding to your workload. A little thought will go a long way. If you do a great job, it’s quite likely you will get good referrals from their friends. Discussing the free podcasts offered on this website, including the business English ones, is an excellent way to teach online. Get your students to download and listen to a podcast 3-4 times. Then ask them to write down any questions that they have about the lesson. When you meet online, be prepared to discuss the episode and ask the student some thought provoking questions about it. Both you and the student will enjoy the session and the time will fly by.

Teaching Listening in the ESL Classroom

September 19th, 2008


Good listening skills are essential for any ESL learner. Here are some tips for an ESL teacher to keep in mind when teaching their students listening skills:

1. Make sure the listening material is at the right level

If the material is too difficult, students can spend hours listening without making any improvement at all. They won’t just “pick up” the language if it is too hard. Imagine yourself listening to native speakers talk in a language you don’t understand at all. It just sounds like noise and you won’t learn much if anything from it. Many expats who have lived in China for over 10 years can barely utter a few sentences in Chinese even though they hear it all the time. If the material is too easy, students won’t learn much either. Their listening speed might improve a bit, but that’s about it. The key is to teach students to listen to something that challenges them but doesn’t overwhelm them. The first time through, understanding the general idea is great. After the second time, they should be able to understand more than the first time. After listening 3 or 4 times they should be able to understand about 70-90% of what is being said. That level will allow them to get the gist of new words in context.

2. Make the enjoyable and interesting to listen to.

Listening to sentences like, “Today is a beautiful day. I feel so happy when it is warm and sunny” is boring. No one talks like that anyway. Just because the students aren’t great English speakers yet, doesn’t mean deserve to be bored to death. Sentences like “That girl is really good looking. I always get nervous when I see her” is more interesting but no easier. You should make things age appropriate of course, but just remember that easy doesn’t mean boring.

3. Teach students to discuss what they heard

After getting the students to listen to something 3 or 4 times, ask them some questions about what they heard. You can start by asking some simple content questions to give them some confidence and make sure they understood the main idea. Then slowly add more thought provoking and opinion type questions. You can ask ask the boys if they get nervous around pretty girls for example. Then you can ask they girls why they think the boys might be nervous. Again, you need to know your class and what kind of content they would like. Just make sure you are providing interesting and relevant material to listen to. Don’t forget that we are in the 21st century. Listening to old fashioned language and opinions is not a great way to teach.

Try listening to some of the podcasts on this website and give your students a chance to hear them too. They are designed with all of the above points in mind. Tens of thousands of students from around the world listen daily. The talk show style of each show makes the listening experience enjoyable, and the students soon forget that they are even learning.