Literature in ELT: Integrating Literature into Language Learning

2014_Sybil_MarcusSybil Marcus

This content first appeared on the TESOL Blog. © TESOL International Association. Reprinted with permission.

We’re all wired to enjoy a good story with intriguing plot lines and an individual prose style. So, it’s a pity that many teachers either ignore or are unaware of the creative possibilities that literature offers for language learning.

In this post, I’ll talk about some of the ways I use stories to teach critical thinking; encourage animated discussion; and hone vocabulary, grammar, and writing practice. Continue reading

Teaching Consonant Blends, Digraphs, and Trigraphs

John_Caine
Professor John Caine
SUNY, Suffolk Community College

More than any other request, my students ask me to help them with pronunciation and vocabulary. After my first few semesters, I realized that a key factor in helping them was to start with consonant blends.

A consonant blend (also called a consonant cluster) is a group of two or three consonants in words that makes a distinct consonant sound, such as bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, pl, pr, qu, sc, sk, sl, sm, sn, sp, st, sw, tr, and tw, We can group these into “l” and “r” blends, which are the most frequent and convenient to categorize.

A digraph is a single sound, or phoneme, that is represented by two letters. A trigraph is a phoneme that consists of three letters.

Consonant digraphs include ch, ck, gh, kn, mb, ng, ph, sh, th, wh, and wr. Some of these create a new sound, as in ch, sh, and th. Some, however, are just different spellings for already familiar sounds. Some consonants have “silent partners”: for example gh is a different spelling for “f” and mb is “m” while wr is still the “r” sound.

Sometimes reframing the concept in familiar terms lowers the affective filter encouraging self-scaffolding. Our goal is to encourage students to use the language they’re learning, and making the language fun to use is a great way to do that. Blends are fairly straightforward because they keep their phonemic structure. But sometimes helping students to vocalize these blends can be daunting. Teaching decoding helps them recognize and form new words.

But, there are so many blends and digraphs in English. Where to begin? Ah, the one reliable go-to connection for teaching—food. This is something familiar, something students can relate to, and something they can practice using since they come in contact with these items every day. Continue reading

Literature in ELT: Navigating a Sea of Choices

2014_Sybil_MarcusSybil Marcus

This content first appeared on the TESOL Blog. © TESOL International Association. Reprinted with permission.

When I first started using literature in my ESL/EFL classes, I thought all I had to do was teach the stories I enjoyed reading.   But I soon found that even my favorite stories wouldn’t always work in class.  Sometimes, they lacked sufficient depth for a 2-hour lesson, they failed to engage my students, or I couldn’t find a good way to organize the discussion.

So, how do you compile a successful syllabus for a literature-based course? If you focus on short stories (as I usually do), you can find thousands of them in anthologies, in textbooks, and online.  The sheer number of options can be a challenge, which I hope to help you with in this post.

1. Group stories into themes

Connecting stories thematically is an effective way to organize your course.  As an added benefit,  it allows for class discussions and writing assignments centered on comparison and contrast.  Some umbrella topics might be:

  • Relationships: Stories dealing with relationships between parents and children, spouses, siblings, and lovers hold universal appeal.
  • Social Issues: Some of the most animated discussions in my classes have been inspired by contemporary topics including war, discrimination, gender, euthanasia, and women’s rights.  Although many of these are hot-button issues, I encourage students and teachers not to shy away from them.  Because I particularly appreciate the role of social issues in increasing cultural awareness, I’ll be devoting an entire future blog to this.
  • Stages of Life: Shakespeare wrote about the Seven Ages of Man. I’ve found that students respond well when dealing with the various stages of life: childhood, the teenage years, young adulthood, maturity, and old age.  Your students will relate directly to some of these; others will require more imagination and empathy.

2. Look for layered stories.

While many stories are fun to read, they may not have sufficient texture for a complete lesson.  I always ask myself how much I can get out of a story.  You need complexity to go beyond a discussion of plot to an analysis of theme and style.  Too frequently we underestimate our students, who are generally hungry for sophisticated material. I like to challenge them with stories that engage them intellectually and emotionally, while stretching their language level. Continue reading

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G is for Games

Ken BeattyDr. Ken Beatty

“Why are they playing games and not learning something?”

Games are among the most misunderstood pedagogical strategies in the teachers’ toolbox. Parents, other teachers, and administrators can misinterpret students’ enjoyment of games as having fun at the expense of more serious and productive learning. But the opposite is often the case; the casual competitive nature of games suppresses students’ self-consciousness and helps them focus and learn more than during other classroom activities.

However, to be fair, sometimes teachers play games in the classroom without a perfect understanding of the benefits that games carry and the ways in which they can be tailored to better address student needs. In such cases, teachers may only use games as filler activities, as a way of keeping more able students busy while others catch up. Alternatively, games might only be used at the end of a class when there is extra time left.

Motivation

Because games are inherently motivating, they are useful as a reward or a break from other classroom activities. Some games add excitement, such as kinesthetic ones that require students to stand up and participate as a group. An example is Simon Says, in which students have to listen carefully and follow a leader’s directions as long as they are prefaced with the words, “Simon says (touch your nose).” If the words Simon says aren’t said by the leader, students have to remain stationary or find themselves out of the game.

The pedagogical purposes of Simon Says-type games are usually to encourage discrete listening and also to reinforce language students have already learned around actions related to identifying body parts (touch your knees), types of motion (shake your head; close your eyes), and actions (sit down; stand up). As with most games, there are opportunities to tailor the game to the target vocabulary students have recently covered. Reinforcement through a game is important because it stores the information in another part of the brain. Beyond reading, writing, listening, or speaking, the kinesthetic aspect helps make the vocabulary more memorable. Continue reading