Saturday, June 22, 2019

Book reading for beginning students - An experience

In January, after reflecting about my previous years teaching beginning levels, I realized I should focus more on reading and writing skills. I talked to my coordinator Jennifer Loewen about that and she gave me a wonderful idea: to create a book reading list.

I really liked this idea because I am a strong believer in helping students become more autonomous in language learning. In fact, my Master's thesis in Linguistics was about autonomy, language learning strategies, and computer assisted language learning.

As my school provides funding to buy great resources for our classrooms, I ordered lots of photostories books for adults from Grass Roots Press. They have a great selection of books on various topics including romance, humour, health, and others. I keep all these books in two baskets so my students have easy access to them in our classroom.

As many students are not used to reading a lot, I had to think about something to encourage them to start reading. I started by raising their curiosity and told them some hints about the books so they would get interested in reading them. The idea was to do something similar to what we experience when we watch movie trailers. I believe the idea worked because soon they started reading and laughing with the humour series books! :-)

I leave the lists on the bookshelf so each student is responsible for choosing a book, copying its title, writing the date, and writing yes or no to say if they liked the book.

I told them they could read books if they finished a task or activity early, and during breaks or lunch time. I also told them that, if they wanted to learn a language, reading books was extremely important. They could learn new vocabulary, spelling, and much more.

In the end of the term, we had a reading assessment about the books and the students answered questions about the number of books they read, their favourite ones, their least favourite ones, some characters, words, and sentences they learned, and anything else they wanted to share. My coordinator also gave me the idea of asking them to draw a poster about their favourite character and talk about them.

All the students really enjoyed this experience of reading books and learning English with them. I was very happy when I saw that some students read more than 20 books in 18 weeks! As the results were very positive, I plan to continue with this activity.

Do you encourage your students to read too? What do you do?

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Social media platforms and ESL beginning students - an experience in Winnipeg, Canada

The Canadian ESL program for immigrants and refugees aims to help them learn English for their daily lives. As social media platforms are present in the daily lives of many people, learning how to use English there is important for ESL (CLB 2/3*) students too.

So I am going to tell you how I have been helping my beginning students use English in social media platforms since most of them chose the theme "technology" in their recent needs assessment.

After I had discussed with them what they wanted to study specifically, I had some ideas for listening and speaking activities (talking about broken cell phones, tablets, computers and laptops in a computer store). However, as I could not think about any nice ideas for reading and writing, I talked to my coordinator Jennifer Lowen about that and she gave me a great idea about using a "Facewall" with my students.

Before I go on talking about this "Facewall", it is important to mention that, in order to ask my students to write something, I always give them plenty of texts with the textual genre to be read and analysed first. As my objective was to help my students write a paragraph about themselves, I provided them with various stories about people.

I chose the materials for this objective using an ESL Library lesson. This lesson has various stories about a teenager, his best friend, his sister, and his parents (I have already asked the ESL library team to create lessons based on adults and they told me they are working on it).

I like to use these materials because they have nice pictures to be used before the students read each story. I display the pictures using my Smartboard (I am so thankful for having this amazing tool in my class!). We discuss about the pictures and they get curious to check if their assumptions about the characters were true or not. After they read the stories, they answered questions.

We read these stories for two or three days so they could have time to process the patterns and the genre. After that, they answered questions about themselves and wrote a paragraph with the answers. They also had the opportunity to draw themselves. I believe using art is a good practice in order to activate certain parts of our brains that are often forgotten.

During these days of story reading, we had the opportunity to have a Skype conference with Katherine Heikkila's students from Kingston, Ontario. Before the video conference, we reviewed and practiced how to introduce ourselves and how to ask and answer questions. The students got very interested and practiced English a lot.

The Skype conference was a real success and one of my students asked if Katherine's students had Facebook profiles because she wanted to continue to interact with the new friends. Then Katherine suggested the creation of a Facebook page so our students could interact more. Maybe we are going to do that soon. You can see some pictures of our interaction below.

Photos of my students during the Skype conference.

Katherine's students used a laptop to talk to us.

With this idea about a Facebook page, I decided to help my students practice more their writing skills using the "Facewall" idea. I read each student's story and talked to each one individually to provide feedback. After that, I gave them a sticky note so they could copy their stories and stick them on our classroom wall. The students could write more if they were willing to (many were and really impressed me).

After the students posted their stories on the wall, they stood up to read their stories. It was great to see their interest in their classmates stories. They made interesting comments while reading the stories. This made me believe that the use of stories was very meaningful to them.

Finally we had a writing assessment and they were supposed to write their stories on paper like they would on a Facebook page for ESL students. I got very happy with the results and various students wrote more than I expected. The students were also proud of their stories in English.

As you can see, the results were positive and the scaffolding provided a great support for students to improve their writing skills in meaningful ways. The next step is to open a Facebook page so they can interact and write more.

Do you use social media platforms in your classes too?

*CLB - Canadian Language Benchmarks

Saturday, March 31, 2018

An ESL Pen Pal Project for Adult Beginners in the Same School in Canada

"Interacting with others" is one of the competencies that adult immigrant and refugee students have to learn and practice here in Canada. Since they interact a lot with their classmates five hours a day five days a week, I thought it would be a good idea for them to exchange letters with students from other classes in our school. I talked to the other teachers and two of them decided to join the project.

Even though they are in different levels, the experience was very meaningful to everybody because they wrote about themselves to a real reader instead of just writing to their teacher. So it was a real world task since many people all over the world still exchange letters with their pen pals or e-pals.

Besides writing the letters, the students also followed instructions and learned how to address an envelope and to use the website of Canada Post to look for the correct postal code. As you can see, all these skills can be transferred to their workplace context.

Before the students wrote their letters, they read one that served as a model. We discussed the characteristics of a letter and checked the parts to be changed by each student according to their stories.

After that, the students wrote a draft of their letters and had a peer correction activity. Then, I checked the letters and they wrote the final version.

We kept the letters in this beautiful box 

A few days later, they got very excited when they received the letters from their pen pals. They read,  showed them to their classmates and helped each other to understand new words. This activity encouraged collaboration among the students and I gave support when necessary. 

After writing two letters and receiving three, we scheduled a day for the students to meet face-to-face and talk to each other. Before the meeting, we discussed and practiced the questions they wanted to ask and how they would answer their questions as well.

When preparing to meet their pen pals face-to-face, they created more complex questions and answers than I expected. For example: S1: Why do you like Canada? S2: It is good. S1: Why is it good? S2: Freedom... I was not expecting this question from a CLB* 1 level student. Maybe this happened because they were really engaged with the task, I think. Or maybe because they were talking about their own lives...

We also discussed about appropriate behaviour in meetings in Canada. We talked about shaking hands and appropriate questions as well.

The face-to-face meeting was an excellent opportunity for all the participants to interact and talk about their lives and experiences. The students enjoyed the moment and were able to practice their listening and speaking skills.

My students were very happy they could understand and interact with students from other classes. They felt proud of themselves and realized they were learning English a lot. Besides having new colleagues at school, they also have another person to practice English with during the breaks. As the results of this project were very beneficial and meaningful to the students, I will continue to provide these kinds of interaction with students from other classes.

Do you encourage your students to have pen pals too?

*CLB - Canadian Language Benchmarks -

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Skyping in ESL/EFL classes for real beginners? An experience among newcomers to Canada and Brazilian undergraduate students

Providing a variety of opportunities for my students to experience "real life" is one of my objectives in my classes.

As my ESL literacy and CLB 1* students have chosen to learn about "Looking for employment" in their needs assessment, we are learning various things in order to help them succeed in this area in Canada.

First, they learned how to read a job ad. Then, then they learned how to fill in a job application form. After that, they learned how to understand a job interview invitation call (even though they are not required to use the phone in English at this level, they have asked me to learn it, so we decided to try it.). Finally, they learned what to say in a job interview.

It is important to mention that for each goal, the students have skill-building activities before performing each task.

So, in order to provide my students with the opportunity to talk to various people and provide the undergraduate Brazilian students of the Teaching English as a Foreign Language program at Universidade Federal do Pará with the experience of talking with ESL learners in Canada, Professor Walkyria Magno e Silva and I decided to create a project so our students could interact using Skype.

On November 1, 2017 they had the first Skype meeting and it was a huge success! The students introduced themselves and said something they liked to do.

Each student's turn to speak was received with excitement and joy by all of the participants. The students clapped the hands and showed signs they liked the experience and were able to understand each other. Both Professor Walkyria and I felt the contentment of our students. We also got extremely happy to see each other! Juliana Ribeiro, a great volunteer in Brazil, was also in the classroom in order to provide support. She had been my student and it was great to see her too!

The experience helped my students use discourse markers such as "uh", "well", and "um" with confidence and naturally. I felt very proud of them and the interaction made my students so excited that one student asked me if we could have Skype conferences every day. :-)

You can see some pictures below:

The second meeting happened on November 8th, 2017. We changed the layout of our classroom so all the students could be seen in the video. The students talked about their favourite sports and free time activities. We could see that the students felt more confident and they interacted more.

You can see some moments here:


Do you provide your students with Skype conferences too? I would love to read your experiences!

*CLB 1 - Canadian Language Benchmark 1 - Canadian Language Benchmarks

Friday, June 30, 2017

Do your ESL/EFL students need to learn how to apply for jobs? Let's have a Mock Job Fair!

You need to prepare your ESL/EFL students to seek employment and you would like to offer more real-life opportunities for your students to practice. Let me share an amazing project you can do in your language school, college or university to achieve this goal.

My coordinator Jennifer Loewen created an amazing project in which beginning and intermediate students can play the role of either employees or employers. It is a "Mock Job Fair" where all the groups meet and interact. All the steps are carefully presented and practiced with the students in class and all the participants (teachers and students) can assess all the phases of the project.

If you have beginning students - they will be the employees. They learn how to read and understand job advertisements, where to look for jobs, how to apply for positions and how to answer interview questions.

If you have intermediate and advanced students - they will be the employers. They decide what kind of business the class wants to open (hair salon, bar, restaurant, daycare, coffee shop, etc.) and they learn how to create job advertisements, application forms, job interview questions and posters for the job fair. All the intermediate and advanced classes open a different company and "hire" for various positions.

I had the opportunity to prepare my students for both roles and they got very excited to learn about all the steps of the project. I am also very happy because some students became more confident and applied for real jobs after our project and guess what?.... They got the jobs!

Some students' impressions about the project: it improved their confidence, they learned a lot of contextualized vocabulary, and learned about how to apply for positions in Canada. Even though it was a mock job fair, almost everybody felt it was like a real one. Some even got a bit nervous during their job interviews!

You can see some pictures of my students' participation in two fairs below:

Beauty Centre - Winbeauty

Coffee Shop - Golden Cup

If you teach in Canada, you can find all the details for this project in Tutela  . If not, I can send you all the files, just let me know your email in the comments.

Do you have job fairs like these too? Please share your ideas in the comments. Thanks a million!

Friday, June 23, 2017

When students teach - An amazing experience - Part 2

After my students' short presentations, they had opportunities to improve and to reflect about their own presentations. They also provided constructive feedback to their classmates. These are very meaningful ways the Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA) suggests that ESL teachers work with adults in Canada. I believe these activities encourage students to become more autonomous and this behaviour can be transferred to their workplace in Canada as well.

As my students decided to study about travel this term, I asked them to create tour packages that could be "sold". In order for them to "market" their packages, I asked them to prepare 20-minute presentations with information about the destination, including landmarks, attractions, accommodations, places to eat, among other things. I was happy that even some students who were not very familiar with digital technology were able to use Power Point and Prezi very well.

Every class, one or two students presented their tour packages and everybody was very excited to "travel" to amazing places around the globe. My students were very committed, creative, and passionate about showing amazing pictures, giving excellent suggestions, and sharing great stories. Some students went so far as to bring typical food ingredients for us to try some recipes at home! Rice paper, Vietnamese coffee, chocolate, Indian food, and Guatemalan desserts were some of the treats offered after some presentations!

Credit: Olga Krouguer

My students presented about these cities:
Jing - Singapore
Nina - Tel-aviv, Israel
Amy - Ho Chi Minh City - Former Saigon, Vietnam
Angelica - Churchill, Canada
Tong - Beijing, China
Vicky - Manchester, England
Olga - Jerusalem, Israel
Kate - Kiev, Ukraine
Li - Istanbul, Turkey
Gagandeep - London, England
Monica - Tikal and Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
M'Hamed - Casablanca and Marrakesh, Morocco
Mohammad - Sylhet, Bangladesh
Mohsina - The Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
Bing - Stuttgart, Germany
Tina - New York, The US
Debbie - Palawan, The Philippines

Their feedback was excellent and many students mentioned that they had learned a lot about many places and also about how to give great presentations. It was very interesting to see how my students developed their presentation skills with this project because even my shyest students were able to shine!

We concluded our project by writing a letter to our best friends. This letter would accompany a small box with some souvenirs from our trip. It was a great opportunity for my students to practice informal writing and to remember the amazing places they had visited. I have learned so much from them and I am going to give more opportunities for my future students to present and share their expertise too.

Do you encourage your students to present?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

When students teach - An amazing experience - Part 1

One of my students asked me to let them give class presentations this session. I admit I sometimes avoided doing this kind of classroom activity because I do know many people fear giving presentations in front of other people. Instead, I have been asking students to give small group presentations and they have been doing a very good job.

As I always try to personalize my classes as much as I can, I decided to give it a try. Since my students are in a Canadian Language Benchmark 7/8 class, they are expected to give presentations up to 20 minutes long. Of course, some students felt uncomfortable when I suggested we would have this kind of presentation. Some of them mentioned nervousness and other negative feelings. I told them I would guide them through the whole process until they felt comfortable to do so. We would learn how to use Power Point, how to make effective presentations, and other aspects of presentations. After that, they all agreed to try.

We started this process by watching and discussing some videos about effective presentations and how to overcome the fear of public speaking. They took notes and discussed them in small groups. I even prepared a reading assessment using an article about tips to give effective presentations.

We have also been spending some time in our computer lab creating our Power Point presentations. The students are looking for the content of their presentations as well as pictures to illustrate them. As one of our themes for the session is "Travel", I encouraged them to pretend they are salespeople and they are supposed to sell tour packages to a destination anywhere in the world. They have to present about the place, its landmarks, attractions, two places to stay there, two places to eat some typical food, and any other interesting things they can mention to try to sell the package.

In order to prepare for the long presentation, I thought it would be a good idea to give my students the opportunity to make a short presentation about any topic they thought would be relevant for newcomers to Canada. I told them to be creative and to follow the tips we had been discussing.

I am very happy to let you know that I was very surprised and amazed by the results of the activity. They were simply brilliant! Even though I hadn't requested the use of Power Point, most of them used it and put a lot of effort to prepare them. I was also very proud of the topics they chose to present. I have learned so much from them!

Let me share the topics I have learned about:

-"Meet up" app
-"Think Dirty" app
- Benefits and risks of using credit cards in Canada.
- Manitoba Health Card coverage
- The Best Medicine
- How to use the Leisure Guide
- Guatemala
- India
- Sun protection
- Manitoba Driver's License
- Entry Program
- Public Transportation in Winnipeg
- The Cadets program in Winnipeg
- How to make your own yogurt
- How to make a calling card
- Cancer causing foods
- The senses and food products

For each presentation I wrote comments and gave suggestions for improvement. I also asked them to write a reflection and self-assessment about their presentations and asked them what they would like to do to improve them.

I can tell you that I was not expecting a lot from them since it was just a practice exercise, but I felt very happy and proud of them. They showed me that they have a lot of expertise and that I should let my students do this more often.

I am glad my students learned a lot from each other and they are even changing some habits because of all the learning that has been taking place in our classes. I couldn't be happier! I was also very impressed with some students who told me they were very nervous and scared of speaking in public but they did great! I can't wait for their long presentations!

Do you encourage your students to present? Please share your experiences!

Image result for meet up app                                                         Image result for think dirty app