Online Course: Second Language Acquisition: Myths, Beliefs, and What the Research Shows

Use this discussion thread to post your response to the question below from the ELL-U online course, Second Language Acquisition: Myths, Beliefs, and What the Research Shows. Please share your comments and feedback on the course.

  • What are some teaching techniques that you have used that seem to really promote second language acquisition? What stories can you tell that show that these techniques promote SLA?  Any examples of student work is welcome!


Two things:

1. After 30 years of ESL teaching and learning about teaching ESL, I have found one aspect of instruction that often gets short shrift is oral fluency development. Recent research is showing that oral fluency development enhances acquisition of the other skill areas (listening, reading,writing) as well. At lower levels this involves lots of oft-disparaged repetition, drills, and dialogs, as well as level-appropriate communicative activities such as student-to-student interviews. As the level advances, more complex guided practice and communicative tasks accomplish the same thing. And of course, all of these tasks should culminate in a writing activity.

2. All too often, teachers skip the guided practice and jump right into communicative. Without plenty of guided practice first, students do not have the foundation to accomplish communicative tasks.

Hi Alison,

  I have been teaching ESL to adults for 5 years and consider myself a beginning ESL teacher. You made two very interesting observations. You said that many times developing oral fluency is overlooked and not enough time is spent on guided practice and commnicative tasks. Can you please share with me teaching techniques/exercises that I can use to help my ESL students develop better oral fluency? Also, what are some techniques/strategies I can use for more guided practice and communicative tasks? Presently, I am tutoring adults and how to help them develop oral fluency is something I want to learn more about. I would greatly appreciate any information you'd be willing to share. Thank you!


Hi Velina, I would be more than happy to give you some ideas. One of my main goals for this time is to help new or at least interested- in-improving-their skills ESL teachers become better at what they do. I am just leaving on vacation, but will send you a packet I use for a three hour workshop on oral fluency when I return. I suspect developing oral fluency is more of a challenge for one-on-one tutors than for classroom teachers who can design lots of interaction among students. However, I have been thinking about this for some time and am certain we can identify which practices can be adapted to tutoring.

I'll be back in a couple of weeks!


Hi Allison,

I am new to this site. I saw your offer to send an information packet concerning oral fluency and would appreciate if you could send to me also. My students always want to work on fluency and pronunciation. They tell me they want to sound "near native" and seem willing to do the practice and the drills. How can I make it easy for you to send this info to me?


Hi Allison,

I would also love to get a copy of this. My program is currently recognizing that this is something we need to improve so any materials are helpful. You could send it on here or to my email:


Rebecca Lawrence

Hi Allison,

I am also very interested in getting the packet you have developed to improve oral fluency.  Our literacy program has had a significant increase in requests for ESl tutoring.  We would appreciate this information to help our ESL tutors.  You can send the information to

Thank you,


Co-coordinator READ Program

Alpena George N. Fletcher Public LIbrary

Allison, Can the information be downloaded for printing? Would also appreciate your information packet on fluency when you return. Thank you in advance!

Hello Allison, please send me your training packet as well. I am experimenting with ways to increase my beginners' oral fluency and I would love to try your ideas. Thanks! Shelley Lee

Hello there,

As a new teacher, I could really use your packet too.  Thanks so much for sharing your information.  Many teachers and students will benefit!

Thank you, Kara

Hi, Alison. I'd really appreciate it if you'd send me your training packet on oral fluency. It sounds like just what I need. I'm a new ESOL teacher, and I'm looking for any and all ideas for working on fluency with my students. I'm doing one-on-one tutoring now, but in the future I'll most likely be working in a classroom setting with a dozen or more students. Thanks for your help!

Sharon K

Hi Allison,

Thanks so much for your willingness to share your knowledge.  I, too, would be delighted to receive your packet on oral fluency.  I'm a Peace Coprs volunteer in China who will be teaching teaching Oral English to college freshmen this fall so I'm sure I'll greatly benefit from such resource.  Thanks in advance for sharing your wealth of knowledge.  My email is:

Hi Allison, I would also like to have your packet on developing oral fluency.  I would love to read and develope some creative and fun ways to help my students practice oral fluency.  Thanks


Tricia Quynn

Chester County Family Literacy

Allison, your hands must be tired from typing so many emails to those who wish to have your packet.  Each fall I start out with a large class and by spring the size of the class has diminished considerably, making oral practice difficult and repetative for the class, so if you are not too worn out, I, too would like a packet.

 Thank you

Ruth Peterson

Dear Allison.

I am interested in the packet you mentioned.

It would be a possibility that you kindly send it to me too?

I would really appreciate it.

Thank you,


Gabriel Vallee


Hi Allison,

I struggle with innovative ways to increase language fluency. I would very much appreciate your packet. My email is

Our non-profit, adult literacy center provides tutor training for volunteers.  We would sincerely appreciate your packet.  It would be a great resource for our new volunteer tutors.  Thanks so much for offering to help us.  If it can be sent electronically, please send it by e-mail. Thank you.


Mid-Valley Literacy Center


Hi-- my focus is largely on adult ESOL learners.  I have found that some beliefs about second language acquistion in adults do not fit very well with the reality of the adult ESOL classroom.  My own research on learners indicated a not-surprising fact: that often because of either low (or NO) formal education or because of culturally determined ways of learning, a great many adult ESOL learners have limited metacognitive skills and metalinguistic awareness.  Therefore, expecting them to generalize and/or self correct from re-casts or other indirect feedback, or expecting that they can identify not only the way they learn best but the aspects of language that are giving them the hardest time is unrealistic.   Cultural conditioning causes many to be passive learners, expecting that the teacher will correct them and that showing up in the classroom will somehow lead to language learning. 

Another aspect of adult language acquisition that neuroscience research helped me understand more fully is the extent to which the adult brain needs repetition and practice to create neural pathways that permit fluency and ease in use of language, whatever the skill.   My own long experience in the classoom with educated, high level ELLS confirmed that metacognitive awareness of what needs to be studied and how it needs to be studied can indeed result in spectacular language learning among these adults.  These students create their own ways to do intense repetition.  But adult ESOL learners by and large do not practice outside the classroom, and no teacher-fronted classroom can ever provide the practice all students need to retain and master even elementary grammar forms and vocabulary.  

And of course we know that adult ESOL classrooms, even ones that are supposedly "leveled" have students of all everything: ages, education levels and experience with formal education,  exposure to English,  needs for English, motivation to be in class and cultural--and belief- backgrounds affecting learning and teaching.   How can these factors be encompassed and SLA still be accomplished?

For several years now, I have been using and training others in the use of learning centers in the adult ESOL classrooms.  Centers, a practice that comes from K-12 and was introduced in the 60's to provide self-directed, interactive learning opportunities that allowed students to move at their own pace, have been widely used for decades, but not in adult education.  Some ESOL teachers in the mid-Hudson region of NY state and I have worked for over 7 years now to make centers the primary mode of learning in their classrooms.  This is an enormous shift for many teachers, who themselves have long experience in teacher-fronted language instruction.  But they, and teachers in many other states as well, have seen excellent results from this shift: much better student retention, much reduced irregular attendance, early instead of late arrival, clear gains on the BEST-Plus, happier teachers and engaged learners!!  

Centers, which comprise games and other hands-on learning activities, provide many elements discussed here and elsewhere in SLA. They provide scaffolded, explicit practice in target grammar and content. Because games require multiple repetitions of phrases and other English, and the activities can be engaged in many times, the centers provide the intense repetition needed for SLA, but painlessly.  ( I was writing about this elsewhere and recalling my language training for the Peace Corps:  8 hours a day of memorized dialogues, substitution drillls and other scripted learning-- all of which resulted in and FSI 3 rating-- able to order theater tickets in French in Paris, but unable to buy soap when I arrived in Senegal....).  

In my study, in my trainee teachers' classrooms and in my own classroom here in a tiny program in rural Maine, learners report that they LOVE the social nature of centers, where they laugh and talk and solve the activity together or interact naturally as they play a game.   All this is well supported by not only recent views on foreign language instruction, which emphasize the need for natural language use, but by a small but good body of research on the effectiveness of games in foreign language learning.   And as those of you know who teach adult ESOL, nothing breeds language learning success like having students persist and engage.   Maine has mandated that all ESOL teachers and programs get training in using learning centers, and a number of other state initiatives have requested the same.   

I think it is awfully important to continue to search out ways in which adult ESOL learners can be best served given the range of challenges teaching them presents.   This methodology is tweaked and personalized by each teacher learning it, but it continues to meet a lot of the requirements for successful language acquisition.

Robin Lovrien (Schwarz)

Milbridge, ME









I am very interested in your comments on the use of teaching centers in the adult ESOL classroom.  You mentioned that teachers in Maine are receiving training on this topic - can you share more details on the training?  I am wondering if there is a way to bring that type of training to our instructors here in Delaware...



Betsy Jones

Betsy-- I prefer to call them learning centers or stations, which is the term used in K-`12--partly because it emphasizes the learner-directed nature of the centers and activities.  I am gratified you are interested in them.  They do work well, but can take some time for teachers to get used to using.

Training usually consists of informing teachers of the supporting research which tells us that this approach should be able to satisfy many needs of adult ELLS, as I mentioned in the long posting.  Then different types of centers and different ways of organizing and developing centers are explored. Finally, teachers are guided in making their own activities and centers to try out in their classrooms.  Where I have the luxury of follow up and sustained PD, teachers are urged to try a few and begin to dedicate a certain amount of time to using centers, then gradually expand that.  In NY, I have had the great fortune of being able to visit teachers in their classrooms for over 5  years and coach them about problems or help them develop centers for specific ideas and many other things.  We often have group sessions as a follow up to the visits so I can address problems or issues common to several teachers, such as over-using a particular kind of activity or assuring that the vocabulary or content of the centers is as relevant as possible to the learners.

While I have no current plans to do trainings in the vicinity of Delaware, if you contact me off-list, I can give you more information on training and materials.


Thank you again for your interest! 




I am also very interested in learning more about using teaching centers in the ESOL classroom. I teach in Boston and haven't heard of teachers here using this approach. Do you know of programs/teachers in the Boston area who use teaching ceters? Thanks. I'd love to observe one and learn more about it.

--Kathleen O'Connell

Kathleen -- I am happy you are interested in knowing more about learning centers.  There are a few teachers who came to sessions at Quinsigamond CC in Worcester who had some brief training in centers, but I am not sure who is actively using them.  There are a few, one of those at least who is expert, in New Hampshire.  If you are interested in contacting her, please contact me offline at    

Thank you,  Robin Lovrien

PS==the games I described in an earlier post today are examples of "centers"--activities which 2-4 students can engage in to practice some specific aspect of English. 

Allison--thank you for your comments.  I agree that centers work wonderfully as reinforcement activities for direct teaching lessons where a class has a certain level of homogeneity and can profit from group lessons.  What I really like centers for the best, though, is the way they allow one teacher to manage a truly multi-everything classroom. 

You mention that they are good for lower level students, which is definitely true, and higher level students appreciate the independence they afford.  In fact one of the most consistent comments in the literature about why students preferred centers over direct teaching was that the fast students said they did not have to wait for the teacher to help the slow ones catch up or catch on.   I find higher level centers work extremely well for allowing students to do the all-important vocabulary building that no amount of direct teaching can manage.  Centers also work extremely well for providing extensive reading and reading comprehension for higher level students. Games can be readily developed to allow students to develop the oral proficiency you were mentioning in your first post.  Students can use structures for conditionals, cause and effect, present perfect etc in games to great effect.  (I took a course for my special ed degree titled "Games for Instruction"--I often wish I had a video of students' final projects in that course-- amazing stuff at all levels of education.)

I don't know how many of you are familiar with the teacher training videos on New American Horizons Foundation website . One of the teachers in one of those videos was a colleague at a huge ESL school for adult immigrants in DC. She was a whiz at developing games for higher level grammar.  One of her most successful was a game where students decide whether a gerund is used as subject or object in a sentence.  In fact, she was quickly able to guide students to be able to make the cards for this game themselves.  They created sentences about themselves and classmates.  As I tell teachers I work with, I defy you to come up with a direct teaching activity that is as challenging and meaningful as having students creating sentences together using gerunds purposefully as subjects or objects and then having classmates use them for a game!  (the game is a board game. Students pick a card, read it aloud and say whether the gerund is object or subject.  Then they take a turn moving around the game board.). 

A teacher I just observed in May in NY had a wonderful activity with  a result clause on the front of cards followed by a "because"  and then they had to match the cause clause card to that card.   Many were  interchangeable ( I was late to work today because (my car had a flat tire.) (There was a traffic jam on the Sawmill Parkway.) (The babysitter was late getting to my house).   Students practiced these in small groups and then quizzed each other on the causes (Why were you late to work today? )  .  The students using these cards told me they LOVED this  activity (they were very highly educated Haitians) as it gave them unlimited, self-chosen practice (scaffolded obviously) with longer utterances that they often do not get right.  

There are some terrific books out--one that is a complementary volume to the Betty Azar books--that have already-developed games for practicing high-level grammar.  They include game board templates, call cards, etc.   so teachers do not have to re-invent the wheel when it comes to games.  (It is still necessary to personalize games however, for maximum engagement). 

There is virtually no limit to the content of centers-- especially when teachers and students work together to make activities to practice something the students need, as did one student who was a waitress at a country club and needed to learn to pronounce and recognize names of wines and other alcoholic beverages on the menu.   It is a rare traditional class that can personalize lessons to that degree.  It is why so many of my teachers soon become great enthusiasts of learning centers. 



I have been developing games in a hit-or-miss fashion from tongue twisters (lots of vocabulary and grammer come out of these!) to interactive questions. I give students questions or directions like Find someone who. . . and they try to work out what questions they need to ask to get the answers. We put together a student contact list and introduction speeches using the answers to the questions. The improvement I've been seeing is pretty dramatic. I want to find more resources to help me make better use of their class time.

 I have also noticed how much more fun the students have when they practice and learn together and then share it with me. 

Holly Ueda

Prescott, AZ


        HIgh level grammar games of all types can be found in :

   “Fun with Grammar --Communicative Activities for Azar Grammar.” Woodward, Suzanne. (1977) Prentice Hall.

Also:  "Grammar Games: Cognitive Affective and Drama Activities for EFL Students"  , Rinvolucri, Mario 

And " More Grammar Games: Cognitive, Affective and MOvement Activities for EFL Students,"  Rinvolucri, Mario


Both the Rinvolucri books were published in the late 90's I think-- I ordered them on Amazon.   All of these come with ready-made cards, game boards, detailed instructions etc.   The Rinvolucri books are designed mostly for group activities such as the question activity previously described.  The Woodward Book has games that pairs or small groups can use.  

Once you get the hang of creating games of any kind using English grammar or target vocabulary, anything can be included.  One of my favorite examples from a teacher in DC is a simple board game in which the students draw a card with a statement or question using a gerund:  "Watching TV is my favorite activity in the evening."  " I like watching TV more than going to the movies."    The student who draws the card must decide if the gerund is the subject or object of the verb in the sentence.   What was even more creative was that this teacher made a few model cards and then turned the card-making over to the students.  They made sentences about themselves and classmates and many were very funny.  Imagine the great language/grammar work that goes on as several students work together to make the cards and have to consciously use gerunds as subjects or objects!!   The students LOVED it and as far as I know, the teacher continues to do this every semester!   

For students who are less educated than the typical higher ed or community college credit ESL student, I suggest sticking with a limited repertoire of games so that the students know the games themselves very very well, and do not wrestle with new rules and new content at the same time.   I usually recommend

**Go FIsh (in which a player collects sets of  four items that belong together),

**Board games (in which the variety can be ramped up by using interesting and fun boards--which should be generic and not limited to one game-- and the content is varied by using cards in different ways-- think Monopoly-- a teacher/trainer in NH uses cards of four colors and has squares on the game board of four colors or dice with four colors so students are directed to pick up cards of a specific color.   The colors have different things --or can be different levels of difficulty.),

**Concentration--which starts out as simply matching face-up cards that make pairs: simple form of irreg. verbs and past tense;  pairs of words such as knife and fork, shoes and socks, etc.  (remember John Nation's caution against doing opposites for the sake of doing opposites-- he contends we don't learn language that way really-- just a teacher-- contrived activity); pictures and words, Questions and answers  etc (these latter two used to great effect in NY by teachers teaching the EL  Civics curriculum/ lesson on problems in a house or apartment).  Then when the content is a little familiar, the game becomes real concentration.  And the last game is

**Bingo-- regular bingo where the student covers what he or she hears is useful for introducing vocabulary or terms and helps with receptive language;  what I call "indirect" bingo is more challenging-- the student hears a prompt and must make a change or process something:  The student hears an answer to a question and must find the correct question on his or her board (I do this in reference to a picture-- and the game is used to practice some grammar: present continuous, simple present, present perfect);  Or the student hears a short vowel but must cover the word that is changed when the silent e is added:  hear: hop  cover:  hope (or vice versa);   Except for highly literate students, the bingo card sheet should be only 9 or 16 squares (those patterns have a central "free" square and have diagonals-- the free square isn't really necessry, but the diagonals make for more interesting play.)  Blank cards are available on line-- as are programs that will create bingo sheets for players-- a rather challenging activity as all must be slightly different from each other or no one wins.    I use cards from the above- mentioned concentration to do "instant" bingo-- one half of the matching deck is divided among 2-4 students and set out in a grid of 6 or 9 cards in front of each student.  Then the other half of the deck is used as the call cards.  For example, if the students are learning the words for names of fruit, they could have the names on the cards on the table and then must name the picture of the fruit from cards in the other half of the deck--which has been previously used as a concentration game one day, as cards for a board game another day--and, if you have designed the deck carefully, can be used for Go FIsh as well-- hence four ways of practicing something with one set of cards.   

These games are adaptable to virtually anything and as I said, once the students know how to play the games well, the content and the target vocabulary and/or grammar becomes the focus and not the procedure of the game.  

Robin Lovrien 



As a great supporter of integrating games in the classroom, I am enjoying this part of the discussion immensely. I think there is a great tradition of using games for learning English and it is great to see these examples.

I am also interested in if any of you are using computer games and what your opinion is of using serious educational-oriented games?  I actually don’t hear much about their use and although I might have missed it, I didn’t see much of a mention of them here. If you have used computer-based games or apps, how have you used them?  If not, I would also very much like to hear why it might be they are challenging for teachers to integrate. Feel free to reference any related research either way.

Steve Quann

Senior Advisor for Technology in Education

World Education, Inc.

STeve-- Computer games can be amazing, if they are good ones.  One of the very few studies I found for my literature reveiw about using centers or center- type classroom set-ups for adults was from a literacy program in England, in which students played computer games to increase very basic literacy skills.  The engagement and enthusiam was so high and the outcomes so good that the funder of the program decided to expand the use of computer games to all sites within their district.  

Some of the teachers I have worked with have incorporated Smart Boards into the concept of centers very well-- the board is one center among many, allowing students to move words into place or answer questions using their fingers on a Smart Board.

I am sure there must be a zillion good apps and games that could be pe personalized or otherwise used for  English practice.  I am just starting to explore the uses of iPads in the adult ESOL classroom.   I was shown some apps for practicing phonics that were designed for children, but they were inaccurate and boring, so I did not have the adults use them.   I hope some on the list will chime in with suggestions.  


Robin Lovrien

As a retired educator, now a volunteer ESL teacher, I also struggle with lessons that increase oral fluency. I would like to have the packet to help with my instruction.

As a retired educator, now a volunteer ESL teacher, I also struggle with lessons that increase oral fluency. I would like to have the packet to help with my instruction.

As a retired educator, now a volunteer ESL teacher, I also struggle with lessons that increase oral fluency. I would like to have the packet to help with my instruction.

Our small program usually has one class for all levels. An oral fluency packet would be a great resource for our volunteers and teachers.

I think we forget that many of our conversations are really "dialogs" we've learned. Here are some (plus responses) I teach to my beginning ESL literacy students:

What is your name? (first / last)

Where are you from?

When is your birthday?

How old are you?

Where do you live?

Are you married or single?

What's your address?

What's your phone number?

I incorporate the answers into short stories I write about myself (My name is..., I am from...) for the students to read. I also put the questions on strips of paper, which the students pull out of an envelope and either answer themselves or ask someone else.

Very rich discussion, indeed! Thanks, Allison and all who are participating. 

I like the idea of modeling the information about yourself in short stories your give your students. Often we forget to model activities before just asking the the students to practice a structure or vocabulary.

 I have a question, however, about questions such as "how old are you?" There are situations where these questions -  useful as they are for practing numbers  and wh questions- may  not be appropriate for adults. When you ask these questions, do you explain the contexts where these questions are appropriate, such as at the doctor's office, and where they might not be, such as when you meet a neigbhor and start talking informally?

Seems like a great opportunity to bring in the cultural context here as to what is appropriate and in which contexts and what is not.





We often do forget to model and that is such an important component in the adult ELL classroom.  Although cultural context is extremely important, it is not so easily conveyed to the very beginning adult learner.  Sometimes, it is more important to just get the student speaking and listening. Even telling stories about yourself to lower level students is too much and can be very frustrating to the beginning learner. I like to tell teachers to use caution when it comes to giving information.  Never assume a student understands what you are trying to teach. 

I teach my beginning and high-beginning ESOL students "I'd rather not say" as an acceptable response, from the beginning of class. I over-exagerate to get a laugh and we practice, so that it becomes a totally appropriate, fully-accepted, fun thing to respond--with no stigma attached. This is important for traditionally tricky questions such as age or income, but essential for many other questions as well--why or how did you come to the US, talking about family, prior school experiences, etc. Questions that may be perceived by the asker as innocuous could be too personal or unpleasant for our learners (many of whom have histories of trauma). They should always have a way "out" that does not call attention to them or warrant further explanation. This is part of how a teacher builds safe space in their classroom, and (at least as important!) a tool we give our learners to stay safe outside the classroom.

I have developed a method to teach EFL which is both bilingual and phonetic, taught/learned in a step by step fashion. My method is based upon a number of factors including the fact that English is very difficult to pronounce. Many students feel timid or even ashamd to speak because they feel that their pronunciation may make them appear "stupid".

All my students receive and use my texts which guide in the pronunciation of a Basic Vocabulary at first. And I now have a "stand-up" routine that is quite comical when I show how to make certain sounds. Humor works very well in encouraging people to make what to them are very foreign sounds, particularly G and J, V, L and R, "th" combination, short i, short u, and words that begin with S followed by a consonant.

In my view, once a student has learned pronuncation to a certain extent, then the rest becomes easier, such as grammar.


Here are links to Elaine Kirn's (Elaine Kirn Rubin) classroom tested materials for teaching ESL students Oral Skills and Phonetics. Click on any Title, look for samples near bottom of page. Try before you buy.

Oral Skills:

Phonics and Spelling:


Arthur Rubin

Spouse and Business Partner

Hello everyone,

 I am back from vacation and am pleased so many would like a copy of the packet. Does anyone know if there is a way to up load it to this site? If not, please send an email to and I will be happy to send it to you. Also know, I am available to come do workshops at your locations! I will be presenting a shortened version of the workshop at the annual CATESOL in San Diego in October.

hi. I want to respond to Miriam's query about asking questions like how old are you. With higher level students the Jazz Chant about personal questions is an excellent point of departure for talking about such issues. However my beginning literacy students can't manage that. That said, I've never had a problem with students hesitating to answer personal questions... especially when I give them the same information about myself (and I tend to be older than any of my students). We often joke about age, marital status (only 1 husband??) and other personal questions. For me, the need to be able to answer these questions when they're asked (and when they're important) outweighs concerns about information sharing.


The comments by everyone about my own experiences teaching the behaviors and small talk expected of them as they interact with others in their new settings.  My perception has changed.  What I thought when I was teaching is different now that I have had time to reflect on those days.  I have enjoyed learning from professional development experts in ELL like Abbie,  Miriam, Paul, and Robin whose comments are always helpful. 

I started as 19 year-old teaching English in isolated rural areas of the Dominican Republic (Peace Corps).  Since those days I never stopped teaching English to people who (now I know) were isolated in one way or another.  From my experience, students of the beginning levels were able to access more than I thought they could initially.  It was not necessary to explain why we don't ask certain questions.  Students picked it up by doing the exaggerated comical theater we did in class using, as Abbie mentioned, Jazz Chants (Small Talk too), and books of that type.

Most of my students in US-based adult education programs had little or no exposure to formal schooling.  But, this may have their favor and not against them.  The students in my classes who had been exposed to "formal education" in their countries had experienced rote memorization, teachers who frightened them with whippings, schools with an environmnet that discouraged parent involvement, and on and on.  Those who did not have formal education did have a tendency to depend more on others, but they were also just as likely to interject with helpful guidance that was not conventional.

I had an embarrassing experience shortly after returning from overseas.  In the country I was living during that epoch, it was a compliment to tell someone they were looking "heavy" because that meant they were considered to be in good health or prospering financially.  Upon returning home I met a friend who, when I left them a couple years earlier, was very thin because they were battling a serious stomach illness.  This friend had gained weight because they were better now.  I blurted out how happy I was to see they had gained some weight!  Immediately I realized my mistake when I saw their expression!  This is all to say, that I would probably have benefitted from an ESOL class or two!


Many years ago my wife and I were in a West African country as part of a mission program.  I kept hearing people ask others "Do you hear me?  I felt some were hearing me but did not understand what I was meaning.  So, I would ask, "Do you understand me?.  Soon someone told me I was making a grave error and was insulting the person to whom I was speaking.  I had to find another way to ensure being understood.  Finally I would ask the person to tell me what I said.  Another instance when I make an error came be cause I was trying to learn the local language.  I had often teased my children by saying they were no good.  One day while walking through the village on marke day, I was talking to a young man who worked in a neighbor's house.  The young said something to me and I said, "Oh, you're no good."  I did not notice it then, but my language teacher came to me the following day and told me I had done a bad thing and had insulted the young man.  All who heard me had thought I was talking about his character.  I probably made other errors unintentionally, but these stand out at the present time.

Hello all,

I am not sure if my posts are going through or not (I don't seem to see my last reply comment in the thread when I return to it) but I will try again here.

Finding ways that are both fun and effective gain momentum on their own.  

One such technique that has worked well for online classes is what I've dubbed as Transcription Chats.  

I've facilitated probably at least 100 of these by now, have yet to tire of them, am consistently impressed by what transpires.

Any adult learner is invited to join in if it fits your schedule = native speaker or otherwise.  I list it here <<>>

The following link includes discussions with recaps of several prior Transcription Chat classes, many include audio which you are welcome to use in your classes. 


Basically, the idea is simple, and could be tweaked for in-class/f2f interactions, too.

[I would recommend groups no larger than 7]

Each participant selects a sentence, any sentence (guidance may be needed in sources for the sentences, in length, etc.) that he/she believes to be written in correct English.

Sentences may be selected to target known pronunciation challenges, to introduce or ask about unfamiliar vocabulary/idioms/grammar, and so on.

One participant volunteers to be 'first' (or else the facilitator may choose to go first).  

That person reads/speaks their sentence two times.

EACH/ALL of the participants types what he/she HEARS (even if what they are hearing does not seem to be a word or sound combination they are familiar with).  

The person with the sentence then repeats his/her sentence s l o w l y, trying to enunciate more clearly.

The facilitator may intervene with pronunciation suggestions (Try the third word in your sentence with second syllable stress, etc.) or may actually pronounce one word or phrase to help out.

The goal, however, is for the speaker to repeat and repeat with ever-increasing fluency, in an ever more natural voice, the entire sentence until one of the other ELLs correctly transcribes it. 

On Skype, with all participants seeing all of the other participants typing, it is often quite hilarious.

The laughter, the misunderstandings, and then the marvelous "aHa!" moments when they realize WHY the misunderstandings occurred AND learn how to correct for them, are highlights of my week.

I hope this is clear enough, and hope to glean new ideas from many of you,


Charlottesville, VA, USA



Hi. When I first started teaching I thought I needed to make bingo cards for my students... a major chore in order to have each person have a different one. Then I realized they could make their own. I draw the basic grid (9, 16, 26 depending on the level of the class). Then for higher level students I might dictate the words (all words they've studied, of course) to put on the grid, with instructions to put each word anywhere (the first time we do it I'm careful to demonstrate that). Alternatively they could copy the words from the board. My literacy students use picture cards which they have labeled on the backs. After they've used the cards for a while, they're ready to copy the words from them. For higher level students I might give them a definition or description (which they would have practiced in an earlier matching exercise); for literacy students I say the word. I have them put a small X in the corner of the appropriate square the first time through. Then we use the same "card" a second time and put an O in a different corner. And we play a third time just putting a slash across the word. I feel like this justifies the time we've spent preparing for the game and allows for more "winners."  It also gives those who didn't quite catch on the first time to fully participate.

Abbie-- I have done a similar thing to create bingo sheets that have words, giving the students a list of words to put on the blank bingo sheets and they choose-- I emphasize that they don't have to--should not-- follow the list from top to bottom--and sure enough, every sheet is different.  The only drawback was that students' writing was often difficult for others to read and it was a challenge at first to get them to write the words in the MIDDLE Of the space and not in a corner in tiny writing.   We use the sheets as part of the class collection and use glass "gems"--the glass pieces you can get by the bagful at a craft store-- for markers.  Pennies work well, too.   The list for calling is already made, and the caller--always a student--marks with a pencil or other utensil the words that have been called. 

I love the idea of dictating to the students, too--and if the students' pronunciation is adequate, they could use that version instead of list copying as an activity in itself.  

All of these provide a lot of extra exposure to and work with the target vocabulary in addition to the game itself.  Plus I find that there is a very high degree of ownership when the students create the bingo sheets and are not just supplied with them.  In fact , that is a principle I try hard to incorporate often--they are adults after all, and can do work at least as  good as mine.   Many teachers fear the time factor-- it will take too much time to have students create the bingo sheets or other games and not enough time to actually get at the game.  But as I say,  I think the time working with the words or whatever-- making sure they are copied or transcribed correctly etc., plus thinking about how the game works-- are invaluable learning for the students, far more valuable to them than my time spent hurriedly making game sheets!!

Robin Lovrien

From my perspective as a teacher of literacy and beginning students, I feel like I have to control the vocabulary and context of games my students play. I tend to use them as a culminating activity for a unit, which means (to me) that they should stick closely to what we've been working on. That works well for bingo. With picture cards (which my students have labeled copies of) I use the pictures printed on card stock with other small cards that have the labels  to play concentration. First the literacy students match them face up (no concentration there). Then with labels up and pictures down. Later with both pictures and labels down (but maybe not as many cards). This activity is an ongoing way to practice rather than an end to a unit. I find that my students like to use cards and strips of paper.

One other note about games: I find that the first time a class plays any game, it takes a long time for everyone to catch on. After that, even though the context and vocabulary are different, the game part is easy.