St. Patrick’s Day: Article and activities for students

Joanna Rodzen-Hickey
By Joanna Rodzen-Hickey

St. Patrick’s Day is today, March 17. We have a post written especially for students with a short follow-up exercise at the end.

Decorative leaf of clover, trefoil, shamrock leaves on wood background, close up. Happy St. Patrick's Day holiday symbol.; Shutterstock ID 1331479001; Amministratore Fatturazione: Martina Nordio; Progetto: Nuova Pearson Academy; Dipartimento: Marketing; ISBN/Progetto: WF155 N1604

You probably know that St. Patrick’s Day (also known as St. Patty’s Day or St. Paddy’s Day) is not traditionally an American holiday. It is an Irish holiday, but Americans simply love it! St. Patrick’s Day was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants in the XIX century. It eventually became so popular in the United States that it evolved into a special day when many Americans across the country celebrate the Irish-American culture and heritage. 

Many Americans attend special parades on St. Patrick’s Day. St Patrick’s Day parades in the United States are typically big events with hundreds, even thousands, of marchers, Irish dance groups, and bagpipers (a bagpiper is a person playing a bagpipe, a traditional wind instrument with reed pipes). Most cities and bigger towns organize St. Patrick’s Day parades. But if you can’t go to a parade, you can always don a green outfit or a T-shirt that says, “Kiss me! I’m Irish!” And, no, you don’t have to be Irish to wear a T-shirt like that! Many Americans love to say that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. 

Just like with most holidays, food plays an important role in the celebrations. Many Americans enjoy eating corned beef and cabbage, as well as soda bread on St. Patrick’s Day. But did you know that corned beef isn’t a traditional Irish dish? You most certainly wouldn’t eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin! Corned beef actually originated in the United States. Nonetheless, it’s a delicious dish that consists of beef, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, all boiled together in one big pot. 

leprechaun

There are a number of symbols associated with St Patrick’s Day as well. One of them is the leprechaun, a tiny red-headed, bearded man dressed in green that loves to play tricks and pranks on people. If you ever find that the milk in your fridge has turned green, or the furniture in your living room has been turned upside down, a leprechaun has probably visited your house. So waste no time, and set up some leprechaun traps in your home because you never know what kind of joke that mischievous creature may choose to play on you next time! And if you are lucky enough to catch a leprechaun, he will have to grant you three wishes. A pot of gold is also a symbol associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Leprechauns hide pots of gold at the end of rainbows, and only the luckiest are able to find them. Yet another St. Patrick’s Day symbol is the shamrock, or a four-leaf clover. It is believed that if you ever find a shamrock, you will have the luck and blessings of the Irish. So start looking for these tiny plants right away. You never know, you may find a pot of gold, too! But if you don’t, a pot of delicious corned beef and cabbage should make you just as happy! 

Now let’s try this short comprehension activity. Choose the correct word to complete each sentence. Good luck! 

1. A leprechaun is _______.

  1. an ingredient soda bread 
  2. a type of plant only found in Ireland
  3. a tiny man with red hair and a beard

2. A shamrock is _______.

  1. a green milkshake typically consumed on St. Patrick’s Day
  2. a four-leaf clover
  3. a lucky rock hidden at the end of a rainbow

3. A dish many Americans eat on St. Patrick’s Day is called _______.

  1. corned beef
  2. a pot of gold
  3. green beans 

*ANSWER KEY: 1c; 2. b; 3. a 

If you answered all three questions correctly, the luck of the Irish may be coming your way! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Joanna Rodzen-Hickey has served as an ESL teacher and consultant for nearly 20 years. She has taught adult learners in various community colleges and universities across New Jersey. Currently, she teaches ESL at Hackettstown High School in Hackettstown, New Jersey. In addition to teaching, Joanna has been involved in ESL program development, ESL curriculum development, ACCESS test administration, as well as teacher mentoring. Additionally, Joanna has been collaborating with Pearson Education for several years. She has served as a reviewer and content developer for a number of titles, including Educational Psychology, Wall Street English, and Focus on Grammar. Joanna earned both her MA in Applied Linguistics and MAT in ESL Education from Montclair State University. She also attended Adam Mickiewicz University in her native Poland, where she majored in English Philology. 

Leveraging the Transfer in Transferable Skills

By Lia Olson, Ph.D.

There is no question that teaching transferable skills can be powerful. In many ways, it is the cape we don to prepare our diverse adult learners to meet the varied needs and goals that will make them successful in any endeavor they pursue. After all, the skills they are learning are transferable.

We know there is truth to this, despite my hyperbole. According to The National Research Council in its synthesis of the literature on the subject of transferable skills, “Business leaders, educational organizations, and researchers have begun to call for new education policies that target the development of broad, transferable skills and knowledge” (2012).

We have responded to that call. First, we adopted College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (2013) and purchased quality instructional resources to promote rigorous learning. Then we combed our textbooks, googled “transferable skills lists,” and read the WIOA legislation (2014) cover to cover to discover the identity of those transferable skills that would pack the most punch. We added them to our curriculum, our daily lessons, our learning goals, our learning tasks, and our assessments. Finally, our learners have been practicing them in class and even mastering them on our assessments.

Yet, our lamentation still rings out: “Why don’t my students apply what they have learned?” This lamentation clearly puts the ownness on the students, for we know we have done about everything we could do. And, after all, according to our assessments many of them learned it. But…(long pause here)…did they learn it?

The lists we consult, the learning goals we outline, the tasks we design focus on the skills in transferable skills. Indeed, this is a crucial element. But, isn’t its modifier equally crucial? The National Research Council (2012) states that learning that is transferable must “include both [emphasis added] knowledge in a domain and [emphasis added] knowledge of how, why, and when to apply this knowledge to answer questions and solve problems.” In other words, transferable skills must transfer.

The idea of transfer

So, what is transfer? We know what it looks like in everyday life: we transfer money from one account to the other, we transfer from one bus to another, one job to another, and one customer service rep to another and another and another.  In every instance, we are called upon to use what we know about the first situation, how it is connected to the next, and how to use what we already know when we get there. This transfer is successful, according to the National Reacher Council (2012), when the “ability to recognize familiar elements in novel problems allows them [expert learners] to apply (or transfer) their knowledge to solve such problems.”

If they are not practicing transfer, they are just learning skills

According to the National Research Council, that transfer becomes possible “when effective instructional methods are used.” What are these “effective instructional methods”? Many of them we are already using. We are already teaching the knowledge and skills in rigorous ways to engage our learners in productive struggle. Yet, we can teach our learners transferable skills all day long, but if they are not practicing transfer, then they are just learning skills. By the same token, we can teach any skill and make it transferable when our learners practice transfer!

So, what does it mean to “teach” transfer?  Let’s look for guidance from two gurus of the constructivist theory, the theorist Jerome Bruner and the philosopher John Dewey (p. 137).

Teaching specific topics or skills without making clear their context in the broader fundamental structure of a field of knowledge is uneconomical.  ~Bruner (1960)

To grasp the meaning of a thing, an event, or a situation is to see it in its relations to other things: to see how it operates or functions, what consequences follow from it, what causes it, what uses it can be put to.  ~Dewey (1933)

Creating a formula for transfer from their combined wisdom could, then, look like this:

Formula for transfer
Formula for transfer

In some ways, we already do this. We have tasks to activate prior knowledge, application tasks, and expansion activities. But are we leveraging them to focus on transfer? How often have we shortened or skipped one for the sake of time? Do these tasks transfer the learning to multiple contexts, or better yet, contexts of the learners’ choosing? We are still largely driven by the content we need to cover, and our students are still largely assessed on what they learn within one context.

Leveraging transfer

Leveraging transfer takes a paradigm shift in our thinking about instruction and instructional planning. No longer are we satisfied with a focus on knowledge and skills if it does not include an emphasis on transfer. In this way, we make time for transfer by including learning tasks that allow students to contextualize the content they are learning in multiple ways, make connections between the content and other content, and apply the content to multiple situations.

How do we do this? The good news is there are already many tried-and-true tasks we can leverage to maximize student practice in transferring knowledge and skills. Here are some examples:

KWL+

The KWL chart, sometimes with the addition of the plus, is an activity to effectively support and evaluate student learning from the start of a lesson to its finish.

KWL+ chart
KWL+ Chart
  • The K can meaningfully extract the prior knowledge students have, not just about the topic at hand but about other topics that relate to it or are relevant to them.
    • What other things do you know that can help you understand this topic/learn this skill?
    • What learning have we done that will help you learn about this topic/learn this skill?
  • The W can include a question starter that helps students connect the current learning to other relevant areas in the lives.
    • How does this information/skill apply to __?
    • How will this information/skill help me ___?
  • The L can maintain its context-dependent stance to focus on the objectives of the lesson within the context to set the stage for greater transfer.
  • The + column can be expanded to include how the topic/skill relates to learners’ goals, needs, and interests.
    • How do I apply this knowledge/skill to __?
    • How do I use this knowledge/skill to __?

Activate Prior Knowledge

Often lessons begin with a discussion or prompt to help students connect the new learning with what they already know. Adding the K questions from the KWL+ chart above leverages this activity to include other knowledge and skills (including learning strategies) that students can connect to as they begin the lesson.

Venn Diagram

The Venn diagram is used to explore connections between things, specifically how they compare and contrast. Strategic placement of a Venn diagram task in the lesson allows learners to explore the connections between and among contexts by identifying the knowledge and skills they have in common and considering how those knowledge and skills would be used in other context(s).

Venn Diagram
Venn Diagram

Brainstorm

Who hasn’t done a brainstorm? What about one that specifically asks where else learners can use the new knowledge or skill?  This activity can be done before the learning to get buy-in and show relevance or after the learning as a way for students to reflect on how the learning can transfer to other areas of their lives.

Brainstorming graphic
Brainstorm

Expansion

We plan for expansion activities all the time. Often, they are the task that gets cut when we run out of time. In addition, they often don’t expand beyond the context at hand. Instead, learners apply the learning to a new situation within the same context. Leverage expansion activities to move students beyond the current context to explore other contexts that are directly relevant to them. Students can choose the context and discuss how the new learning would transfer. What knowledge and skills could they use in that context? How could they use them? What adaptations would they make to what they learned to fit this new context?

Exit ticket

One common closure activity is the exit ticket. This can take the form of written or oral answers to 1 – 3 summary questions; a think-pair-share where students think of one thing they learned in class, pair to talk about it with a peer, and then share out with the class; or a turn-and-talk partner exchange to summarize the learning of the day. Including a question around where and/or how students are going to transfer the learning from the lesson means that students leave the classroom with transfer at the forefront of their thoughts, just when they need it the most.

The heart of the matter is that without transfer, transferable skills are just skills. They only become magical when we create the opportunity for transfer.  When our lessons brim with the lively exploration of concepts, connections, and contexts then, just maybe, the cape fits…and we should wear it. After all, we and our learners are up against a lot. We need all the leverage we can get!

References

Bruner, J. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: Henry Holt.

National Research Council. (2012). Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/13398.


Lia Olson, Ph.D., has served as an ESOL classroom teacher, professional developer, curriculum design specialist, author, and consultant. She has taught adult learners for more than 20 years at St. Paul Public Schools Adult Education. In addition, she is an adjunct professor for the Teaching English as a Foreign Language program and Adult Basic Education licensure program at Hamline University. As a curriculum design expert, Dr. Olson has developed curricula and teaching materials for ESOL students at all levels that integrate English language acquisition with numeracy, technology, and work-readiness skills.

5 Halloween-Themed Activities for Your Young English Learners

image of pumpkins

It’s almost Halloween and the ghosts and vampires will soon be coming out to play! Did you know that although we often associate Halloween with pumpkin carving and eating candy, the festival has much older origins?

Samhain is an ancient Gaelic festival which celebrates the end of the harvest and the start of winter. This is why people often associate the colors of orange and black with Halloween: orange is the color many leaves turn in autumn and black is the color of the darker winter months.

People used to believe that spirits walked the Earth on the night of Samhain. The tradition of dressing up as ghosts and demons started as a way to hide from the spirits who walked the streets. Similarly, people used to leave treats outside their houses for the spirits and from this came the tradition of trick-or-treating.

It’s always fun to engage with students in Halloween activities to get them into the Halloween spirit while they learn English. Even though many programs are teaching remotely during the Covid crisis, we can still engage in fun Halloween activities. Here are a few ideas to get students playing and learning, even when remote.

1. Who or What Am I?

In this activity students will practice using descriptive words and learning Halloween vocabulary. Search images online that include Halloween imagery (jack-o-lantern, pumpkin, ghost, black cat, bat, vampire, etc.) Email each student one picture ahead of the class. During class, give each student one to two minutes to describe their picture to the class without telling others what it is. The student who first guesses the object correctly gets a point. Play until everyone described their object. After each guess is completed, you can show the picture to everyone on your shared screen. The student with the most points wins the game.

2. Pumpkin Oranges

Pumpkin carving is fun – but it’s also messy and pumpkins can be really heavy! Instead, have students use an orange and a black marker! Get them to draw a scary face on their orange and then write a short text describing it. Here’s an example you can share with your students:

pumpkin orange

My pumpkin orange, Ghoulie, has two big eyes. He’s got a small nose and a big mouth, with lots of teeth. This Halloween, he’s going to sit outside my house. He’s going to scare people but he doesn’t scare me! I think he’s very funny!

3. Let’s Play Halloween Bingo!

This is a great activity to review the Halloween vocabulary. Email students a blank bingo board or have them draw one on a piece of paper. Then have them draw Halloween items, one for each box. You might want to give them some ideas, such as ghost, black cat, pumpkin, bat, etc. Then play bingo, calling out different Halloween-related words. Students listen and mark their boards if they have the item that was called out. The first person with five in a row wins the game.

4. Halloween Theater

This activity will let your students be creative while they are practicing modals. Put students in small groups, and give each group a scary scenario. For example: Frankenstein has stolen your lunch. A big black hairy spider is chasing you. A vampire asked you to go for a walk with him. Have the groups discuss what they would do in each situation. Encourage them to use modal verbs (should, could, would). Then have groups share their ideas with the rest of the class.

5. Tell a Scary Story

Have the class create a scary story. Students take turns adding one sentence to the story. For example, Student 1: One night I was home alone when the lights went out. Student 2, All of a sudden, I heard a big bang coming from the basement. Continue until everyone contributed to the story. For a larger class, you might want to put students in groups to work on their story, write it down, and then present to the whole class. You might also want to give students sentence starters or some vocabulary to get them going.

Q is for Questions

Q is for Questions

by Dr. Ken Beatty

When is a question not a question?

This is not a zen koan, or mystery meant to make you to reflect on the meaning of life; the answer is “When it’s a rhetorical question.”

Rhetorical questions are one of many question types that language learners find challenging both to understand and, in this case, to answer. It does not seem to help that the students will likely have been exposed to rhetorical questions in their first languages; there is often little or no transfer. This is perhaps because an intense focus on trying to understand and participate in conversations distracts language learners. They struggle to give an answer to a rhetorical question when none is expected.

Like other question types, rhetorical questions have a range of specific purposes. The first of these purposes is to stimulate the listener into considering the answer and, if the speaker is successful, coming to a common conclusion. Consider these examples of rhetorical questions, all of which can be confusing to the second language learner:

  • Do cows fly?
  • What will the future bring?
  • Why are some people still ignorant about climate change?

The first example is used to indicate that the answer to the question being asked is obvious. If someone asked you, “Are you hungry?” and you replied, “Do cows fly?” it would be perceived as a clever way of saying no. This is because the answer to your question — “No, cows do not fly.” — is both obvious and in the negative, so it says no by extension.

“Why didn’t you just say ‘no’?” the frustrated language learner might ask.

The second rhetorical question has a different purpose. It’s an example of a question for which the answer is either unknowable or so broad as to be unanswerable. Instead, this type of rhetorical question is often used to set up ideas that follow. It ensures that speaker and listeners have a common focus. In this case, the common focus is on the future and listeners can expect the speaker to share additional questions and ideas on that topic.

The third example, about climate change, narrows the topic by setting out a point of view. Listeners will recognize that the speaker will likely follow the question with criticisms of some people’s ignorance of science. The question may pique your interest in the topic but, if you are neither intrigued nor of the same opinion, you might decide that you do not want to hear any more and stop listening.

As the above questions show, wh‑ words are often used to front questions, as do forms of the verbs be, do, and have. In particular, be, do, and have are often used in tag questions, where a statement is followed by a couple of words to check agreement.

  • That’s a flying cow, isn’t it?
  • Cows fly, don’t they? (Note that do after cows is understood and can be omitted.)
  • You’ve seen cows fly, haven’t you?

Tag questions also have negative forms. Note how the affirmative and negative forms of the verb are balanced in opposition at either end of the sentence in the examples above and below.

  • There aren’t any flying cows, are there?
  • You don’t ever see cows fly, do you?
  • You haven’t seen cows fly, have you?

Modals, such as can, could, may, might, should, and would are also used to form tag questions.

  • You should be careful around flying cows, shouldn’t you?

Along with who, what, when, where, why, and how, modals are used to form questions, but language learners often think the only purpose of such questions is an earnest request for information.

Wrong.

Questions have many purposes, and understanding speakers’ intentions is necessary for true comprehension of deeper meanings.

Like rhetorical questions, an impolite question such as, “Are you a fool?” neither needs an answer, nor does it deserve one. Instead, a listener has to understand that the speaker’s intention is to criticize, reprimand, or ridicule. Similarly, when I was young, a common question in my home was a rhetorical question used to reprimand me, “If your brother jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff too?” referencing my somewhat wilder older brother’s tendency to do excitingly dangerous things that I would often imitate. Though two years younger, I was somehow expected to be more sensible (but I probably would have jumped off a cliff if my brother did it first).

Less offensive questions include hypothetical questions. These resemble rhetorical questions because they sometimes deal with obscure or impossible ideas but often have another purpose: they may be thought experiments. Consider this question:

  • What would chairs look like if our knees bent in the opposite direction?

Hearing this, you might be tempted to reject the question altogether. But this was an actual task at a leading design school, and the purpose was to get students to think outside of the box, testing their design skills against a novel problem. It was meant to break the habit of recycling old ideas of, in this case, what a chair should look like and do.

With all questions, and perhaps particularly with hypothetical questions, it’s common to ask follow-up questions, which, in interviews, are sometimes called probing questions. Language learners often struggle with asking follow-up questions. In a conversation, they may ask a question, get an answer they do not understand, and then worry that everyone else does understand. So they remain quiet rather than take the risk of embarrassing themselves. Of course, this happens to many native speakers as well, but it’s especially unfortunate in the language classroom, which should be a welcoming space where students feel comfortable asking questions and making mistakes. However, at the same time, conversational etiquette discourages someone from asking so many questions that overly interrupt a speaker’s flow during a speech or lecture.

  • Hypothetical question: What would farms look like if cows could fly?
  • Question: Do you mean that cows would have wings?
  • Answer: Yes!
  • Follow-up tag question: Then, in terms of physics, the wings would have to be enormous, wouldn’t they?

Follow-up questions are often clarification questions, where only one detail needs to be confirmed:

  • By wings, do you mean like bat wings or feathered bird wings?

This clarification question is an example of one of the two most common question types: closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions are ones for which there are only one or two basic answers such as yes or no:

  • Would you like to see a flying cow?
  • Yes! / No!

Open-ended questions give the speaker more of an opportunity to share ideas:

  • Why do you think cows might want to fly?

With open-ended questions, a simple binary answer is not possible, and the conversational expectation is that you will think more deeply on the question.

Another type of question that can be troubling for language learners is reduced-form questions. These questions assume that both people in a conversation understand the context, so one or two words can take the place of a question.

  • I just saw a flying cow!
  • Where?

The full form of the question would be “Where did you just see a flying cow?” but the reduced form makes for more efficient discourse and, if other speakers do not understand, then they can always ask a clarification question.

With so many question types, it’s important for language teachers to use a mix in their classrooms and that students get the opportunities to ask and answer them.

Just be careful about flying cows.

Tasks for Teachers

  1. Record one or more of your classes. Then check how many questions you have asked and whether they are spread across a range of question types or whether they are more limited to factual questions and closed-ended questions. Do you give students time to answer the questions you ask? Check how many seconds typically elapse before you volunteer an answer yourself.
  2. Before a class, consider your topic and prepare a list of questions using each of the types listed above. Try fitting them into the class and see how natural or difficult it is to do so. Consider Bloom’s Taxonomy and ask more creative and analytical questions rather than just factual ones.

Tasks for Learners

  1. The Feynman Technique is an approach to learning that starts with asking yourself what you know about a topic and then listing all the questions you have. Try this at the start of a week in one of your classes and see how many of your questions are answered. Ask other students and your teacher for answers to your remaining questions.
  2. Play a follow-up question game. One group begins with a simple statement, such as “There are many stars in the universe.” One student from the second group asks a question, such as, “How many stars are there in the universe?” Another student from the first group has to guess or answer (more than 100 billion), and the third student asks a follow-up question about the answer. The game continues until one of three things happens: the first group cannot think of an answer; the second group cannot think of a question; or either an answer or a question is repeated. Keep score!

Dr. Ken Beatty, teacher trainer, writer, and TESOL Professor, has promoted best teaching and learning practices from primary through university levels in 300+ sessions in 33 countries. Ken is author of 140+ textbooks, including books in the Pearson series Learning English for Academic Purposes (LEAP).

 

Is Your Content Challenging Your Learners?

Sara DavilaSara Davila

Learning Without Progress

I worked overseas for a number of years in a variety of settings, spending the longest time in Korea with students at almost every point on their language learning journey from kindergarten to university. One thing that was always fascinating to me was how much time learners devoted to language study versus what little progress they would make over the years. When I asked my A2-level university class how many years they had spent studying English, a majority of students reported that they spent roughly 10 years learning English, many in private schools or with private tutors. It was an alarming amount of study devoted to learning a language with little progress made. At the time I found myself asking why and dug in a bit more to understand the problem. Countless hours of research, interviews, and analysis of course materials later, I came to the conclusion that my students were never challenged beyond what they could do. Once they had achieved a certain ability, much like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, every English class was a constant repetition of information my students had already learned. With this in mind, it becomes even more important for teachers to have a sense of their learners’ level of ability so that they can provide content that will appropriately challenge learners in the classroom.

Content Creation and Challenge

In my last blog I spent a lot of time talking about communicating students’ ability to perform in English. To recap, using the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), we can give a quick, easy-to-understand, description of learner performance using a validated, publicly available scale. When talking to colleagues and peers in the field I no longer say my students are “low-intermediate.” I say they are “B1.” For those in the know, this provides a great deal more information about what a teacher can expect students to be able to do in the classroom. The Global Scale of English (GSE) allows me to get even more specific about the skills and abilities of my students by providing a data-driven teacher-calibrated bank of descriptors in three distinct categories: General Adult English, Academic English, and Professional (Business) English. Continue reading