Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Speaking Activities

This entry focuses on speaking resources that are available on the web to ESL learners.

ESL Speaking Lesson
This website is a great place for teachers to turn when they are looking for prompts for communicative activities. There are several communicative worksheets provided that can be printed out and handed to the students. The students then use these to practice having conversations with their classmates--or can even take it home to use for conversation outside the classroom. Several of the worksheets are structured such that the students has to ask a particular question to various people in order fill in their answers in the worksheet. For example, the "Find someone who likes washing dishes" gets the speaker practicing asking questions, listening for responses, and sharing what they do and don't like. This is good practice toward normal conversation. I would say that these worksheets are appropriate for Intermediate learners.

Learn American English

This resource is a good one for independent learners. It covers a range of levels--because some knowledge of English is helpful for navigating, it is probably most appropriate for high beginners and beyond. It is not strictly focused on speaking, but it does include an option that students can use to record their answers to questions. They can then send the audio file to the teacher related to the website, Paul, for feedback. That particular resources is at this link and, because of directions being all in English, would probably be most appropriate for intermediate learners. It would probably be especially useful for learners who do not have access to much authentic input and feedback in their surroundings.

Spoken Skills

I like this site because it addresses the fact that some learners are looking for general English speaking, whereas others are looking for English for specific purposes and want to practice speaking accordingly. It provides fairly structured input ranging from Business English to idioms to minimal pairs. I especially liked this section, a option for students to listen to polite and rude versions of certain phrases. It shows the learners the difference that intonation can make on meaning in American English. After listening, the learner can practice speaking--and can record and play back their own speaking for comparison.


For a very analytical learner who wants to hone in on pronunciation practice, this website provides very detailed information and demonstrations of how to form the sounds of the English language. It shows in animation the way the mouth and tongue move while forming each sound, and demonstrates each sound alone and in a word. While this website is not for everyone, it can certainly be a perfect resource for either very beginner students who receive plenty of supervision and step-by-step help while navigating around the website, or advanced learners that really want detailed help with specific trouble sounds.

ESL Discussions

This website is a simple one. However, I believe that what it provides could be quite useful to ESL instructors. Here one will find a stockpile of discussion topics with multiple questions provided to help conversations develop on these topics. There are 650 topics to choose from and each topic includes ten questions for student A to ask and ten questions for student B to ask. I believe these questions could be used for pairwork, or could also be helpful in the ESL/EFL classroom for whole class discussion. This certainly helps students develop speaking skills using a communicative approach.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reading and Writing Activities

This week we turn to resources to help with reading and writing. See what I have compiled below after scouring the internet. Of course there is a staggering amount out there, so I'd love to hear your suggestions on these topics.


Many Things
This is a great website for all kinds of ESL related resources. In this entry, I'm focusing on Reading and Writing skills, so I'll highlight a particular text that I found appropriate in terms of level of difficulty and relevance to the topic of reading! The pace at which the speakers talk is very easy to follow, and would probably be most appropriate for high intermediate learners. A great feature of these texts is that you can either use them exclusively for reading, or you can listen to the text as you read, thereby hearing the sounds of the English words. This is a terrific place to go for either in class use (print out the text if that helps) or for out of class work.

This website has a variety of resources, but from my research this link will bring you to the most pertinent exercises for advanced esl readers. The reading passages are followed up by a list of key vocabulary (it would be nice if a link to a dictionary were provided), as well as some comprehension questions to see if the reader is following the content of the passage. There are several topics students can choose. I recommend the one about the presidential elections, but there are others worth checking out as well. There is even an entry an improving your reading skills.

Here's a resource that has several passages that are appropriate for the adult esl learner.
I'll highlight a few of the passages that I think are appropriate, although students may find many of them interesting and appropriate.

1. Tenants Watch Building Burn
2. Take This Job and Shove It
3. Take Me Out to the Ball Game

1. Because it presents a real life situation that could happen when we least expect and leave us confused and scared. What would we do in the circumstances described?
2. What NOT to do in a job interview? American culture: it's not always wise to speak your mind. Also, consider that some things are a means to an end. What would you do in these circumstances? Would you take a job in an unpleasant environment in order to have steady pay or would you pass the opportunity up?
3. Some things are illegal but you don't think you'll ever get caught. What is scalping?

These kinds of questions (and more, of course) can become discussion topics, or writing assignments for our students


If you'd like to give your students a good way to practice the building blocks for their writing, here is a website that helps them practice forming grammatical sentences. For high intermediate or advanced learners, the constructions this website tests should be pretty familiar. A website like this one might be a good place to "warm up" before writing a paragraph or essay. Or if you have collected essays from students and notice particular problems, this is a good place to send them for practice.

Here is another helpful website
for writing. This one is authentic--useful for native speakers as well as advanced non-native speakers. It covers a wide range of writing related subjects--from choosing your subject to organizing your writing. This is especially appropriate for advanced students who may need some help on how to progress through the writing process.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Focusing on Listening Activities

In this post I provide you with a few places where you can find some listening materials that may be useful for adult learners of ESL. For the most part, I selected websites that have materials that are directed toward adult learners or at least are appropriate for adult learners. Because my target learners are already in the United States and are trying to learn American English, I focus on finding sites that have the sounds of American English.

Voices of America

This is a solid, no-nonsense resource for instructors wanting to provide interesting input for ELL's that they can listen to either in the classroom or on their own. The audio clips tend to be around ten minutes long and contain stories either from American culture (the story of Paul Bunyan, for example), history or are simply entertaining. The speech in the recordings is modified for ELL's--it is slower and clearer than natural speech, but should be approachable because of these factors. Prelistening and postlistening activities should prove easy for the instructor to create, since the stories are rather thought-provoking. If you want to get your students talking, this might be a good place to turn!

Shaggy Dog Stories for ESL Learners
This website has several short stories recordings that the advanced ESL may find entertaining. While the website does not have some of the extra flair that some others do--no prelistening or postlistening activities--the stories are short and can easily keep the interest of the listener. One drawback is that the speech in these recordings may not be entirely natural and informal. However, the accent is accurate, and by listening to these stories, learners can hear the ways Americans pronounce a wide variety of words. In addition, these stories are ones that native speakers would be happy to listen to--they are not "watered down" for ELL's. These stories also have a wonderful potential for springboarding into discussion. Instructors can ask questions that stimulate learners' thoughts by applying some underlying concepts to the learners. The stories would be useful to ESL instructors for playing in class and then discussing; or, if the students have internet access, for extra outside-the-classroom listening practice.

NPR--All Things Considered

If your learners are fairly advanced and are really ready for completely authentic listening material, here's a great place to send them. Following the link I provided, they can go straight to a plethora of listening materials. One of the wonderful things is, your learners can choose their area of interest, and listen to something they'd really like to know more about. Want to engage your learners in meaningful discussions? Or want to help them understand more of the culture around them (perhaps lessening some social distance they may feel?)? For all of these purposes, NPR is a terrific resource. If you'd like to get into health topics with them, head to the Health section, if you'd like to talk about the economy, they can go to the Economics section. What about books--and hearing authors read from and discuss their books? There's a section for that too! These topics will interest the listeners and provide great content for discussions.

This is a terrific website to give to students to use on their own, especially if some of your students are independent learners. The website has recordings appropriate for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners and the topics cover a wide variety of topics. The website's creator, Randall, seems to work hard at supplying the learners with audio clips that are relevant to daily life activities. Learners can listen to a clip of a man leaving a voicemail message, a man going to a barber shop for a haircut, a young woman talking with a man about a babysitting job, or many more. A great feature of this website is that it provides prelistening and postlistening activities to go along with the audio clips. After taking the postlistening quizzes listeners can get immediate feedback on how well they are answering comprehension questions.

The Moth

Like NPR, this website offers very authentic material that is geared to an average native listener. If your students are pretty advanced and want a place to go that is more than just special, "sanitized" speech or fabricated conversations, this website has some great material to offer. Americans tell stories, the stories are recorded, and here you listen to them. The stories are about fifteen minutes long, are unscripted, and have to do with real life experiences. These are great recordings for in or outside the classroom use.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Maiden Message

Dear All,
I'd like to provide you--ESL teachers, tutors, volunteers, etc--with links to helpful resources that you might use while working with adult ESL learners. These activities, while probably not the mainstay of your instruction, may serve as a helpful cache of tools to use when a student needs or wants more practice. Alternatively, they may serve the purpose of becoming handouts in class or homework assignments. Better yet, they might stimulate ideas of your own, or get you thinking of similar activities and challenges that you might be able to tailor to your teaching context. Whatever the way you find it most productive to use this blog, I hope to provide you with a toolbox of materials that are always at your fingertips to aid your ESL learners. Please feel free to comment with your own ideas of activities or challenges to add to the ESL learning environment. Also, feedback on how you adapted or implemented these activities would certainly help the rest of us. Support and enthusiasm for the activities found at these links, or suggestions related to how to enhance them is of course welcome as well. Hopefully anyone related to ESL teaching (and learning!) will free to chime in and help us all learn from each other!