New Teacher Tips on Teaching ESL Students From Kenneth Beare’s ESL Guide

ESL guide for About.com, Kenneth Beare talks about his work as an ESL (English as a second language) teacher and educational writer.

Dorit: Kenneth, thanks so much for participating in today’s interview. What is your background in ESL?

Kenneth: I worked as an ESL teacher for 20 years. I started teaching in Germany in 1984 and continued in New York City for the New York Association teaching Russian immigrants of the former Soviet Union vocational English, as well as in Italy in the 90s.

For the past ten years I’ve been developing English language teaching materials for special courses administrative purposes. I haven’t been teaching for the past five years. I also work as a content creator and consultant for English language development products.

With regard to my work at About.com, I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Since 1997, I’ve developed thousands of pages of curriculum free of charge for ESL teachers and students to use.

Dorit: Your answer actually leads me to my next question. What are some of the primary needs and concerns of ESL students and teachers who visit your site?

Kenneth: 60-70% of the students want to improve their communicative skills in speaking. They also come with a more traditional mindset when it comes to learning English and love the traditional quizzes on a wide variety of topics.

The ESL teachers are using industry specific dialogues such as specific situational content at the dentist office which has become a huge hit. ready to go lesson plans are also very popular with teachers. I also have requests for EFL learning and teaching resources and I will point people to those resources.

Dorit: How do you see the development of online language teaching and learning?

Kenneth: I’ve been involved in a number of startups and I’m amazed by the lack of entrepreneurial spirit with regard to online language teaching. Teachers need to be aware of how their online personalities come across. You have to engage and help and create a relationship. That is where I see the future of online language training moving.

On the other hand, students expect teaching to be traditionally taught online. With regard to my online content development, I’m not sure if what I’m doing always makes sense pedagogically. We will be at a turning point ten years down the road as people grow into the technologies.

Dorit: Yes, it’s certainly is interesting food for thought. What are you thoughts about teaching needs common to both EFL and ESL teachers?

Kenneth: Often the meeting point between EFL and ESL is when teachers teach vocational materials involving shared materials and setting similar instructional goals. Language chunks and standard phrases, and particular jargon to various areas are all part of this development of global English. The cultural consideration of the status of English should also be taken into consideration as English is used more and more as a lingua franca. It is also important to take other issues into consideration such as needs analysis as students recognize their own particular learning goals. For example, are they learning English to successfully perform in a job?

The needs analysis is very important and that dictates your curriculum, your teaching purpose and finally, determines success.

Dorit: The same needs analysis is also important for teachers, right?

Kenneth: Yes. You need to have instructional objectives in order to achieve goals and in different cultural classrooms, teachers need to think about this. Adding materials and completely going off on your own shows on one hand that you are a motivated teacher but too often, teachers do not set appropriate cultural standards for the needs of their students. For example, do students need and want to learn about British culture in an EFL setting?

In high school, a lot of students wanted English learning material on a global level that opened itself to contextual communication such as discussing what is happening in Iraq now.

Dorit: Well we’re out of time for now but I’m sure your information will be very helpful to ESL and EFL teachers and students if it hasn’t been already. Well, thanks so much Kenneth for your time and participation in this interview. I always enjoy speaking to passionate teachers and educational writers like you.

Kenneth: Thank you, Dorit.

Tips for Teaching History With Historical Fiction Movies or Books

Teaching history from a textbook can become boring for both the student and the teacher at times. When learning about the past is reduced to memorizing meaningless names and dates, it becomes drudgery for everyone. But sometimes that's all that the curriculum provides. And teachers are left with an overwhelming task of getting a classroom of bored students engaged in unmotivating topics.

One way to spark interest is to use entertainment in the forms of historical fiction books or movies. And some video documentaries are high quality enough to also fit in this category. When you add the human element of emotion, fear, risk, and intrigue, you transport the student into that world to feel those feelings or experience vicariously the thrills or anguish of the moment. Then instead of random memorization of inconsequential details, the student can't help but remember the important facts, the dates, the people, and the scenario of particular historical significance that have been encountered through media.

Movies are easiest to use in the classroom, since the entire class can experience the story all at the same time. Rather than watch it all in one sitting, consider splitting the movie into segments, and have a purpose behind each segment. Allow ample time for historically-based discussion on each segment in the same class period immediately following the clip. Ask factual questions that relate to the scenes, such as "In what year did this happen?" or "How many years after [a major war or another significant event] did the movie take place?" or something similar. Questions with definite right or wrong answers are good and get people thinking.

Beyond the factual questions, also plan on questions that would involve the students on a more human, emotional level. Questions like "What was going on in the world that may have motivated the main character to make those choices?" or "How did people think about that situation that is different than our society today would view that same situation?". These types of questions do not necessarily have right or wrong answers, but encourage the students to delve deeper into what was really going on in the world at that particular time and how people thought about life issues. Sometimes it can lead into discussion of what kind of technology was available at the time (Ie, telephone or telegraph, automobile or stagecoach, etc.), when those technologies came into existence, and how things may have been different if other technologies were available . At other times, discussion can revolve around what parts of the movie did not line up with the true history of the time period.

Historical fiction books provide the same types of motivation, but usually need to be used in a different way since an entire class cannot read the same thing together all at the same time. The closest scenario is if the class reads the same chapters for homework, and then the same types of discussion used with movies can still apply. If the students are reading a variety of book choices from a reading list the teacher has provided, feedback is usually restricted to a homework writing assignment or a class presentation of some kind.

Not only are history and historical themes being taught with these methods, but the student is also encouraged to analyze data. Critical thinking comes into play during class discussions. With this in mind, all students' input should be respected, and if a student's statements need to be corrected at any point, a teacher should take care to do so in a way that does not demean or embarrass. Treating all classroom input with respect makes other students feel confident that they can also speak up without fear of humiliation if they get something wrong. Opening the door for class discussions can draw even the most reluctant student into the subject being taught, and entertaining movies and books provide a great doorway to do so.