Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Can you eat rice with these?"

Yesterday someone from Saudi Arabia asked someone from Korea if he used chopsticks to eat. So today, for a conversation activity, I had the Asians teach the Saudis to use chopsticks.

I brought some old pairs from home; I have a lot. I wondered what I could use for them to pick up. I had to settle for cotton balls. "Can we eat these?" they joked.

It was a fun activity with chances for Lee and Steven to talk and teach.

Some students chose to keep the chopsticks, to practice.

A couple of them asked, "Can you eat rice with these?" They were used to a drier rice, not the sticky kind Asians eat--and they were picturing picking up pieces of it one by one. At that rate, we agreed, one meal would take all day!

Rules for Living

One of my basic rules for living is: Don't set your expectations too high; that way, you won't be disappointed.

Now I have a corollary to that, for ESL teachers: Never plan an activity that depends on a particular student for its success.

Why? you ask. Last Thursday I told my class to prepare short skits about going to the doctor. They worked in two groups, writing them, choosing roles, and practicing.

Ali was great in his role, very spontaneous, dramatic, and funny. I couldn't wait for the "performance" on Friday. Well, on Friday he was absent! So we still did the activity, but it lacked a certain luster.

Oh well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Roses Are Red and Violets Are Actually Purple

The midterm went well. Everyone did fine, and each student received a personal report on what they can improve. That seems to make them try harder in conversation. It's very nice.

I have not implemented my new idea of having them memorize poems. Why? Because one student told me our conversations in class are "good, but little." In other words, not enough! The exact trap I was trying to avoid. Once again, I've fallen in. Once again, I start over. I give them a topic and some simple questions. They take turns talking.

I did it today. It was okay. I'll keep doing it.

One irony. The student who asked for it was absent. C'est la vie, eh?

They did read one poem today, too, several of them, out loud. Our topic is health, so:

Early to bed and early to rise
makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

You know, it was a good, short pronunciation exercise.

I wanted to change "a man" to "people" and make it non-sexist, but they might have looked at me uncomprehendingly, and I just wasn't in the mood for it today.

Oh, by the way, we have a new student! He's from Saudi and very jolly. His fictional name will be Ali.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Tomorrow is our midterm exam. I will have a conversation with each student, on a topic they have chosen from a group of six I offered. They will give me a list of vocabulary, ten words they will probably use in their talk, with part of speech and definition. I think they will all be fine!

Then next week we start the second half of the term. Sometimes things get sluggish at this juncture. I think I'll rev it up a notch. I'm not sure how, yet. One thing I might do is give them poems (short, simple ones) to memorize--for pronunciation. Since next week is Valentine's Day, maybe I'll start with a simple one:

Roses are red,
and violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet,
and so are you.

Later we'll get to The Wasteland.

What do you think? Good idea?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Science 2

February 3, 2006

Another hypothesis disproved. Today is Friday (TGIF), and we had a good activity—yet today’s class was okay, just okay.

One student was absent. We had time for three people to tell their itineraries. One person followed the directions, telling his itinerary from morning to evening, with times, places, and prices. He also had photographs on his Play Station of the places he visited. He did a great job, and he gets a check plus. Another student talked in general about the place, its attractions, and its history. This was interesting, but he didn’t make an itinerary. Check. The third was very spur-of-the-moment, unplanned and vague. Sadly, the grade will have to be check minus.

So, the class was not unpleasant, but the overall quality of the presentations was a little disappointing. One thing I was happy about, though, was that students asked questions, good questions. Said was particularly good; his questions cut to the chase: “Okay, it’s nine a.m., and I’m hungry. Where do we go?”

We will finish up this activity on Monday (in spite of my vow never again to do conversation on that day).

Hump Day

February 3, 2006

Yesterday was Wednesday, called “Hump Day” by people who work Monday to Friday. It’s the middle of the week. Once we get through Wednesday, or over the hump, it’s almost the weekend. Thus, we feel good on Wednesday.

I think it’s the same with my class. Wednesday was a good day. People were relaxed and outgoing.

The activity was to write an itinerary for a day in Carbondale, assuming you had a friend visiting. You had to plan the day, spending less than $25 per person.

“There’s nothing to do in Carbondale,” someone said, summing up the thoughts of many. But I said they had to use their imaginations. I helped them brainstorm by putting on the board categories of tourist places—restaurants, parks, museums, shopping—and naming some of those places around here. I also gave them the entertainment sections of some newspapers.

The task was accomplished in two small groups, with much talking and laughing. And that’s the whole point, so I was already satisfied with them. Toward the end of the class period, each group presented its plan, and again there was laughter. One group amused us because they kept taking two-hour breaks throughout the day. Maurice went to church on the morning of his tour, with the bonus of a free breakfast afterward. Ahmed’s group went to the Golden Corral for lunch. He commented on how fat the customers there were.

“But you’re going there because you want to eat a lot?”


“Be careful!"

Anyway, it was good. Students were using the direction words we’ve been studying in a natural way: go straight, about two blocks, across the street, etc.

I got the idea for that activity from Dave’s ESL Café on Monday evening when I was in despair over my class that day, searching for lively ideas.

I refined it after seeing Rachel Ray’s Forty Dollars a Day show on TV.

Et voila! They got into it.

Was it because it was a good plan, or because it was Hump Day?

Maybe a little of both.

Friday, they’re going to do itineraries of their own cities, for $50. (The price keeps going up!)

It should be good. It’s got everything going for it—TGIF, plus the chance to brag about their cities, plus they know what they’re doing now.

But I don’t take anything for granted. We shall see.