Journal Topics for Writing Class

As a writing teacher, I love having my students write in a journal for the first 5 minutes of class. It establishes a routine of how we will begin class each time and also gets them in the habit of writing. I find that the only time most students write is for formal assignments. Journal writing can help them experience writing their feelings and thoughts on papers, knowing there is no right or wrong answer and knowing that their grammar won’t be corrected. I have my students buy a composition notebook and only use it for journaling. I collect it every Wednesday (for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class) and give 2 points for every journal entry completed. They can not make up journals once I have collected them for the week. (This saves me from grading 30 journal entries for each student at the end of the semester!) This is an easy yet useful way to get points. It usually ends up to be about 70 points at the end of the semester.  I also make it a response journal. They write and I respond. It’s usually just 1 sentence asking a question or making a comment, but they know that I read it and care about what they write. Sometimes it creates whole conversations and really helps you to learn about your students. I actually enjoy grading these! So that’s how I utilize the journal writing process in my classroom.

Here are some topics I use for my freshman composition class, but they can also work for ESL writing classes, who would also benefit very much from journal writing:

– Why is writing important?  (this is always my first  AND last  journal topic)

-What is your biggest fear?

– What is your  favorite childhood memory?

-What is the most appealing non-physical quality of the opposite sex?

– What is one thing you would change about your personality?

-What is one thing you wouldn’t change about your personality?

– What is the one country you would love to travel to and why?

– Do we depend on technology too much?

– If you were stranded in a foreign country with no money, what would you do?

– Is lying ever ok?

– Do you believe in ghosts?

– Tell about a time when you got undeserved criticism.

-Does racism exist today?

– If you could live in a different time period, which time would you choose and why?

– Explain why attitude is everything.

– What do you use to make a first impression of someone?

– What’s something really good that has happened to you lately?

– Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

– What is your life motto?

– If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

– Tell me about your hometown.

– What makes a person dependable?

– How have you changed since coming to college?

– If you could go back in time and meet any person, who would it be and why?

– If you had to live outside your home country for a year, where would it be and why?

– Describe the most interesting person in your family.

– Describe a funny moment in your life.

–  How does the media affect our body image?

-How do smart phones affect relationships negatively?

– Do you think the phrase “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is a good way to live?

– What do you think about immigration to the US?

– What was your most embarrassing moment?

 

ESL students usually take longer to write a journal entry. They may take 10-15 minutes. So, if you don’t want to spend that much class time on it, you may want them to do a complete the sentence activity. I write this on the board at the beginning of class, and they can either write about it or think about it (usually they choose to write), and then we discuss it, which incorporates the speaking aspect of course. It usually takes 5-7 minutes total. They key is that they only have to complete the one sentence.  Here are some ideas for complete the sentence:

– I get angry when…

– Last summer…

-My parents…

– In high school…

– When I was a child…

– I am really looking forward to…

– My favorite vacation was…

– When I have free time…

– I get stressed when…

– I think people should…

– I see my greatest weakness as…

-I see my greatest strength as…

– Being a friend means…

– I feel lonely when…

– I am most talented at…

– My favorite hobby is…

I hope these were helpful. If you have any journal topics you have used that you found to be quite successful, please share! And, as always, please share via social media if you have some teacher friends you think could benefit from reading this.

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Why Do Asians Always Do The Peace Sign?!

I sent a few pictures to my Dad of my recent field trip with my ESL students. He said, “Why do Asians always do the peace sign in pictures? They always did it when you lived in China.”

Anji, China

In China

 

“When you visited Korea and Japan, they did it too. ”

Koreans Doing Peace Sign

In Korea

Japanese people doing the v

In Japan

“They do it in the US. What does it mean and why did it start?”

I was able to explain that it actually is a “v” for victory, not a peace sign. But what does it really mean, and when did it start? I wasn’t able to give an explanation. So, I thought I’d do a little research on the topic.

The V sign began to be used during World War II by Allied troops.  Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian Minister of Justice, suggested the V sign on his 1941 BBC news broadcast as a way to rally support for the war. It spread through Belgium and moved on to France and the Netherlands and eventually all of Europe. Even Winston Churchill used the V for victory sign.

US President Richard Nixon went on to use the V sign for victory in the Vietnam War. However, protesters and hippies who were against the Vietnam War, changed the v from “victory”  to “peace” by holding up the same sign but saying “peace” as they did it as a subtle protest of the war. They wanted this hand gesture to change from its meaning of war to a meaning of positivity and happiness. 

The V sign probably became popular in Asia through an ice skater named Janet Lynn, who was a peace activist. She was often photographed in the Japanese media in the 1970s doing this sign.  Although the Japanese knew the V sign as victory because of WWII, Janet Lynn often displayed this sign as peace.

Another story says that a famous Japanese actor named Jun Inoue starred in some camera commercials in the 70’s where he flashed the V sign, thinking it was popular in the West, and it caught on from those commercials.  All in all, a lot of Asia copies Japan. And more importantly, Asia copies the West. Whether or not it was from seeing this ice skater make the V sign and thinking it was a popular thing to do in the West, we may never know.

China, Taiwan, and South Korea are also well known for doing this sign in photos. They say that the symbol means “yeah!”, like they are feeling good. But, really, Asians do so many poses for photos. They have the need to do hand gestures  in almost every informal photo.

There is one that guys do in China that means handsome. They might even just throw up a fist.

Chinese guy pose for photo

My students Cole and Soul doing the handsome pose and a fist

 

When girls do the V sign, it is usually close to their face. My Chinese friends told me it is a good chance for them to cover up some of their fat face. (Having a fat face is a big issue that many Asian girls dread).

Asian girl doing peace sign

 

I had to include this photo of me and my friend Ben in a bowling alley in China. Here I am being all fierce and competitive, and he told me he was doing a pose like a flower!

bowling in China

 

I even started doing the V sign after living in China for 2 years and traveling there in the years after.  It just became natural. In fact, it was nice to actually have something to do in a photo instead of just standing there awkwardly with my hands down to my sides.

Americans in China

Not a single Chinese person in sight, but here we are in China doing the V sign

 

American and Chinese on Great Wall of China

 

So the general rule of thumb is for that every month you live in Asia, you are 5% more likely to throw up your V sign in a photo. And, actually, it can be kind of fun. :] So I’m still not sure I fully understand why Asians do the V sign, but hey, sometimes with cultural differences, we don’t need to and can’t fully understand certain phenomenons, and there’s a real beauty in that.

Spritz and Spreeder

I just learned about speed reading apps, specifically  Spritz and Spreeder. It only shows one words at a time, and each word is in the same spot on the screen. This allows us to speed through reading. Spritz’s website explains it much better than I can:

“Reading is inherently time consuming because your eyes have to move from word to word and line to line. Traditional reading also consumes huge amounts of physical space on a page or screen, which limits reading effectiveness on small displays. Scrolling, pinching, and resizing a reading area doesn’t fix the problem and only frustrates people. Now, with compact text streaming from Spritz, content can be streamed one word at a time, without forcing your eyes to spend time moving around the page. Spritz makes streaming your content easy and more comfortable, especially on small displays. Our “Redicle” technology enhances readability even more by using horizontal lines and hash marks to direct your eyes to the red letter in each word, so you can focus on the content that interests you. Best of all, Spritz’s patent-pending technology can integrate into photos, maps, videos, and websites to promote more effective communication.”

The average reading speed is about 220 words per minute. I’m a pretty quick reader, so I’d say my reading speed is somewhere around 300-350. Speed readers can help you read up to 600 words per minute! When I tried it, I was able to keep up at 600 and comprehend. I think I would need to practice though to read articles or whole books that quickly. I’d probably stick to about 500 wpm.

Another similar site is Spreeder. It’s a little more advanced than Spritz, because they are actually ready for you to copy and paste whatever you want to read on their site and choose your reading speed. And, it’s free!

http://www.spritzinc.com/

http://spreeder.com/

I really want to try this. I could read journal articles for work a lot faster. I could read news articles online for fun at a quicker speed.

Have you ever used a speed reader before? What speed did you use?

I really want to show this to my ESL reading class and even my domestic students. Everyone could use a little boost in their reading speed, especially students, who are required to read so much!

 

I’ll Take One Order of Mice Please!

For  the ESL courses at our school, we generally use textbooks that are specifically made for English language learners. However, there is one exception- our reading textbook, and it has proven to be hilarious on some days for us.

In reading class yesterday, we were doing an activity in which we needed to understand how topics are related so that we can better comprehend how paragraphs are organized. The activity asked us to mark out the word that does not belong in the group and then to say a very specific topic in which all the words could belong.

The words were cows, sheep, pigs, mice, goats, and chickens. The students should have marked out the word mice and the topic was “farm animals that are kept for meat.” My Chinese student thought this was a very poor question, because, in fact, some Chinese people do eat mice, especially in Guangzhou province. We probably laughed for ten minutes about this. So, all textbooks are not created equal. 😉 

Helping ELLs in the Mainstream College Classroom

Let’s face it. Most college professors have no  training in working with English language learners. So in order to help my colleagues better support the ELLs in their classroom, I sent an e-mail to all the faculty and adjuncts with the just a few ways in which they can help these students.

Give extra time to take a quiz or a test.

>For these students, it takes much longer for them to read and comprehend what the questions are asking. If you feel comfortable, please give them extra time.

Do not write in cursive.

> I have had several international students come in and ask me to read the feedback from their teachers at the end of their papers. Most people who learn English only learn print letters, not cursive, so cursive is usually unreadable to them.

Use visual aids, gestures, and write on the board as often as possible.

>Writing key words and even homework assignments on the board is so helpful for these students. Showing instead of only telling can really assist these students as well.

Simplify your language and slow your speed.

>This does not mean you have to “dumb down” your language. Try to use less slang and idioms, which hinder comprehension for these students. Try to watch the speed of your speech. I know I am guilty of speed talking sometimes when I get going in a lecture!

Offer supplementary materials.

>This might be offering an outline of the lecture of a copy of the PowerPoint. Listening comprehension is often most difficult for these students, so they may have trouble catching all the details of your lectures. Introduce them to a top student in the class who would be willing to share their class notes.

Get to know your international students.

>Take a minute to talk one-on-one with these students, so you can gauge their English ability and their comprehension of class material. You may think they are understanding and keeping up, but most of the time, to be polite, they will just nod and pretend to understand. Did you know that in some cultures, especially Asian cultures, it’s rude to tell the teacher you don’t understand, because you are basically accusing the teacher of not teaching well?

These were just a few quick and dirty tips I wanted the faculty to know. I hope you can make use of a few of them too if you have ELLs in your mainstream classroom. Are there any you would add? Please share with others that might find this helpful.

 

Foreign Students, ESL

Russian Police Officers Are Trying to “Get Lucky”

Like many people, I was interested to watch the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The opening ceremony for the winter Olympics is usually not as grand as the one for the summer Olympics, but Russia really wanted to try and outdo its buddy, China. I think they put on a high-quality performance, which highlighted Russia’s contribution to dance, literature, and music. It was strange at times, but I think, overall, it stayed pretty classy with the ballet and the opera. However, they didn’t show one very, um, interesting performance on television here in the US. There was a choir of Russian police officers who sang Daft Punk featuring Pharrell’s hit from the summer “Get Lucky”. Not only is the performance very awkward, but the song choice is very awkward, in my opinion. And as an ESL teacher, I have a theory on it. They chose an upbeat song to try and show Russia’s fun, carefree side. However, they really have no idea what the song is about! Most non-native English speakers know the word “lucky”. In fact, luck is often talked more about in countries outside the US, because people strongly believe in luck.So, perhaps the Russians were thinking this was a fun song about luck. Maybe they thought this song would bring luck to their Olympic athletes. Here are the lyrics to the chorus of the song:

We’re up all night ’til the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky

This song is talking about a hook-up, about sex! I am almost completely sure that the Russians don’t realize this. They don’t know that “getting some” and “getting lucky” are synonymous with casual sex. How could you know these idioms unless you’ve learned them before? I highly doubt that the Russians would want their country to be known for police officers singing about having sex as they present themselves to the world during the opening ceremony. It also surprised me because the Russians are so conservative about many things, sex and homosexuality being just a few of them. Maybe this is something only an ESL teacher would think of; I don’t know.

Here is the video:

It’s strange to watch. Some members of the choir look like they were forced at gunpoint to sing this song. And there are some parts that I can’t quite understand what they’re saying. What are your thoughts on the performance? Are you a non-native English speaker who didn’t know what “get lucky” or “get some” really meant? If you’re an ESL teacher, do you think your students would know?I don’t think most of mine would. Oh well, I hope those police officers get lucky from being so famous for their performance! Share this post with those who you’d like to see this fun performance!

Acronyms for the Teaching English as a Second Language World

When I first started getting into teaching ESL, the amount of acronyms was overwhelming! I knew ESL stood for English as a second language, but I wondered what TESOL, ELL, and EFL stood for. As with any profession, there are abbreviations or words that only make sense to people in that field. So I’d like to provide a few explanations of acronyms for those of you who are as confused as I was when I first started in ESL.

  • ELL- English language learner; Anyone learning English is referred to as an ELL. 
  • EFL or TEFL- (Teaching) English as a foreign language; Although ESL and EFL are often used interchangeably, they are, in fact, different. EFL is teaching or learning English in an environment where English is not spoken by the majority. So, teaching English in the US or the UK would be ESL. Teaching English in China or Costa Rica would be EFL. This is similar to learning French in high school as an American student. 
  • TESOL or ESOL – (Teaching) English to speakers of other languages; This refers to teaching English to anyone whose native language is not English 
  • TESOL, Inc.- An international,  professional organization of TESOL teachers. 
  • TOEFL- Test of English as a foreign language; This is a common test worldwide to gauge English ability. Most universities require a TOEFL score for admittance if English is not the student’s first language. TOEFL iBT is the TOEFL internet-based test
  • IEP- Intensive English program; This type of program is solely English classes focused on helping ELLs master the English language. Most IEPs are found in university settings. 
  • CALL- Computer assisted language learning; Language learning done through special software on the computer or online
  • SLA- Second language acquisition; the process of learning a second language
  • L1- first language; Example- Spanish is the L1 of someone from Colombia. 
  • L2- second language; Example- English is the L2 of someone from Colombia learning English. 
  • NNS- non-native speaker; anyone who does not speak a certain language as their first language 
  • ESP- English for specific purposes; this is English for certain jobs, such as English for medical professionals, English for tourism, ETC.  

 

Hopefully these were helpful to you. I’ll try and post another set in the near future! Share on your social media site if you think you have friends that would find this useful! Thanks for reading.

English Proficiency in the US

“Everyone that lives in the US should learn English or get kicked out!”

Have you ever heard someone say that, or have you maybe even said it yourself? There are many people that are residing in the US that self-report not speaking English well.

9% of the population in fact. 

The Migration Policy Institute just released a new study that determined that 9% of the population of the US is not proficient in English. It was at 6% in 1990.

9% of the US population is about 25.3 million people, which puts it into perspective a bit more.

63% of these LEP (limited English proficient) are Latino, and 20% are Asian. 13% are non-Latino white, and 3% are black.

About half of these LEPs live in California, Texas, and New York, which have always had large numbers of immigrants. In fact, 1 in 5 people in California have limited proficiency in English, which puts California at having 27% of the LEP population. And, of course, larger cities have larger populations of non-proficient speakers. Cities such as DC, Miami, and Chicago have large populations of LEPs.

Limited English Proficient Population

limited English proficiency states

While many LEPs are foreign born, about 19% were actually born in the US.  That leaves 81% that are foreign born.

Separately, there are an additional 2.8 million LEPs in Puerto Rico, which is part of the US.  (When I visited Puerto Rico, I was surprised that hardly anyone spoke English fluently since I had read that both English and Spanish are the official languages there.)

Does not being able to speak English while living in America hurt LEPs? This study does show that they are more likely to be living in poverty or be doing menial jobs. Many LEPs work in construction, transportation, or the service industry. They are less likely to hold college degrees. Is it difficult to live their day-to-day lives? I am sure it is. Many LEPs have children that are proficient in English from going to school, and their children must help them do simple tasks, like pay bills. It is taxing on the parents and the children.

However, not everyone has the time or the opportunity to learn English. If you’re working 60 hours a week, it’s very difficult to squeeze in time to learn English. Additionally, many people don’t know how to go about learning. Some don’t realize there are many free classes to help them learn English. And another major reason is that learning English can be intimidating. It’s hard to admit that you don’t know the language, and then go to a class and feel like a toddler while learning the basics. (I can relate to that while living in China and trying to learn Chinese!)

This study goes to show that there is a definite need for qualified ESL teachers. There is also a need for volunteers to teach English. There are so many organizations with which one can volunteer to do this. They will give you basic training, but the teaching will be simple, and any native English speaker would be able to do this easily. One example is Pro-Literacy America.

So instead of getting angry when people can’t speak English,  think about what you can do to help. Also, be considerate of their circumstances. It may very well be their first day in the US, or they may be taking classes but their ability level is still not very good yet.  Put yourself in their shoes, and be considerate of their feelings and situation.

I hate when people say that everyone in the US should know English, “because English is the official language goshdarnit!”  If you’d do your research you’d know that the US does not actually have an official language. So, chew on that little tidbit for a while.

I hope this post was informative. I got my information (and the images) from this website. So check it out if you’d like to read more if you’re a language/English/teaching nerd like me.   :]  And please help me out and  share on your social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.) if you enjoyed this post.

Eastern vs. Western Learning and Education

I’ve had a few requests to share what I do to help train teachers to go to China. This is my 5th year helping with this training. It’s the program that I went to China with way back in 2006. They help teachers find jobs in China and train them to go. The training includes things like the history and culture of China, information on living in China, and teaching in China. To be a teacher in China, you need a bachelor’s degree in any subject area. It doesn’t have to be in education. However, in the last few years, many provinces in China are starting to require either a teaching background, teaching experience, or a TEFL certificate. Therefore, we now require all our teachers to go through some sort of online TEFL training that China will recognize.

So, my job at orientation is to give them detailed information on teaching ESL, and, more specifically, teaching English in China. I do four sessions that are about an hour each.

In the first session I teach, I try to help the teachers understand the different mentality between the east and west when it comes to teaching, learning, and education. The difference is quite vast!

For example, the concept of the teacher is extremely different between the East and the West. In America and Europe, the teacher is more of a facilitator. The teacher leads a discussion, as opposed to dominating it.  In opposition, in Asia, the teacher is “the sage on the stage”. The teacher is the authority on everything and shouldn’t be questioned. That was such a strange concept to me as an American teaching in China. I could literally write the word “kat” on the board and no one would dare correct me.

Americans are very individualistic as a whole. We focus more on me, me, me. In the educational world, this translates to being very competitive in the classroom. In the Eastern world, students are more group-oriented. They work together more and help each other more often. This also translates to more cheating, because they feel the need to help their classmates.

In China, students are most often respectful and polite in the classroom. Students are eager to please the teacher. As we know, Americans are like this when they are very young, but, usually, after elementary school, this sadly disappears.

In the West, students are taught to think outside the box, to do their own thinking, and to challenge existing ideas. Whereas, in the East, students usually memorize, usually take official answers without questioning them, and have trouble being creative in the classroom.

These are just a few of the differences in learning and education between the East and the West. If you plan to go to Asia to teach, knowing these differences is extremely essential. You might try a teaching method or a way of managing your classroom and it just doesn’t work and you don’t get why. Culture affects learning. Expectations affect learning. Learn these differences before you go and teach. These concepts are also helpful even if you teach in the US and have Asian students in your classroom.

More teacher training to come!