Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Speed Dating

by AJ

Today I discovered a fantastic way to encourage speaking English. Ive been very frustrated recently with my classes. When I put them into groups, many speak only Thai. This means they are getting absolutely no English practice... neither listening nor speaking.

But today I had my students-- ALL my students-- speaking non-stop English for one hour.

The idea came to me during a conversation last night. I was describing an experience with "Speed Dating". Speed dating is a matchmaking technique. A large number of men/women come toegether. They are put in rows, men on one side, women on the other.... facing each other. The moderator then says "go" and each person talks about themselves for 2 minutes or so. After two minutes, the men stand up, shift down the line one space, and everyone does it again.

I modified this for my classes. I put them in two facing lines in their desks. I then gave them a mini-situation. For example, "You are interviewing for a job and must talk about yourself for one minute..... talk about your strengths.... you have one minute... go!" One side then starts talking like crazy. Meanwhile Im pacing back and forth and encouraging them, "dont stop speaking,... faster..... keep going". After sixty seconds I yell "stop". Then the opposite row talks for a minute. I give them no time to think or pause. I say, "stop".... and then yell "switch" and then "go".

Then I have one row stand and shift one desk down the line. I give them another mini-situation such as "You are applying at a matchmaking service, in 60 seconds tell why you would be a good boyfriend/girlfriend.... go!"

Both my classes did this for one hour today. No one spoke Thai. No one stopped talking. After this activity, I put them in their groups and they easily and willingly spoke in English.

Why I think this worked:

1. Very short time period: The students only have to speak for 60 seconds. At this level, all of them can easily do that.

2. Speed and Excitement, no time for thought (monitor): I purposely rushed them. There was no pause... they were either talking, listening, or moving to the next chair. This gave them no time to think or be nervous.

3. Anonymity: Because everyone is talking at once... there is no focus on any particular student. This creates a very noisy class, which is good. It means more shy students can speak loudly but still not be noticed by the class at large.

4. Focus on confidence, not language: I told the class to imagine that the listeners were evaluating them on confidence, not language. I stressed that eye contact, posture, and speaking volume were most important. I joked that they could say, "Me very good. You like me. Me smart"... so long as they said it clearly, loudly, and confidently.

5. Variety: I changed the mini-situations. Some were serious (job), some not (dating). Sometimes I told them to lie as much as possible... or to exaggerate as much as possible.

All of this worked better than my wildest dreams could have imagined. The activity destroyed the "affective filter".... no anxiety, no hesitancy, no shyness. And once they had done this for an hour... and hour of talking confidently and quickly in English... they were ready to speak English in their smaller groups.

I plan to use this technique often from now on. Its a great way to break the fear of making mistakes.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Another Plug for Reading (for fun)

by AJ

The great advantage reading has over direct vocabulary and grammar study is that reading (for fun) delivers authentic meaningful context-rich language.

When you memorize definitions, you do no really learn a word's full meaning. You learn a rough approximation. But you miss the context. You miss the emotional flavor of the word. You have no idea in what kind of situations it is used.

But when you read for fun, you encounter the word in many different contexts. You unconsciously learn the subtle meaning of the word. You learn its emotional flavor and the types of situations it appears in.

This occurs gradually. The first time you see a new word when reading, you might have no clue what it means. Then you see it again and make a guess. You see it a third time and have a little better idea. After 5, 6, 7 times you often have a clear idea of the basic meaning. But after 10-20 times, you get a fairly subtle understanding.

All of this happens automatically as you read and enjoy the story. No need to look up every unknown word in the dictionary. No need to study a glossary or word list. No need to memorize synonyms or definitions.

Its a very pleasurable way to improve grammar and vocabulary. And even better- research shows that its far more effective (in terms of words learned per minute) than is direct vocab study.

So forget the vocab lists and grammar charts. Find a good book in the target language. You should understand about 90% of the words.

And that's all you need. Kick back and enjoy.

(For oral language, movies/TV shows can be used... follow the same 90% comprehensible rule).


Sunday, June 26, 2005


by AJ

Re-reading (for pleasure) is an excellent self-study strategy. This is something that most children and parents do. For example, I can remember reading "Green Eggs and Ham" again and again and again. My Mom read it to me many times. Eventually I could read it myself. I almost had the book memorized!

When I got older, I reread "Lord of The Rings" several times. Actually, my 4th grade teacher read it to our class the first time. But the school year ended before she could read "Return of the King"! I wanted to know how the story ended! So I tried to read Return of the King by myself. It was too difficult and I gave up.

But in 7th grade I read the Hobbit and all of the Lord of The Rings by myself. I read all four books again in 8th grade, and again in High School. When the movies came out recently, I decided to read the books again. I reread them all last year. Each time I read them, I understood more. I understood more of the vocabulary and more of the subtle messages of the writer.

Now Im tyring the rereading strategy with Spanish. Im reading a small children's book called "Abuelo y Los Tres Osos" (Grandfather and the Three Bears). Ive read it twice now. The first time, I didnt understand many of the words. But I understood a little more the second time.

I plan to read it every night before I go to bed (just as many children read a book before bedtime). Each time, I hope to understand just a little bit more..... until eventually I understand the entire book.

I recommend this strategy to my students. If there is an English book that you love, read it again. Read it several times. Your vocabulary and grammar will improve, and so will your understand of the story.


Very Helpful

by AJ

I love the blog format. Im getting great feedback from my students. Of course there are always class evaluations at the end of the semester. But by then its too late, I can do anything about the class.

But with the blog (and also the feedback Im getting on the learning plans), Im able to assess my teaching immediately and adjust quickly.

The big theme of all the feedback is the desire for more interaction-- especially role plays and small group work. So we (all of my classes) are going to do much more of this.

Group Work: Each student completed a learning plan in which they chose two things (anything) they wanted to learn more about. The students then mingled and formed "affinity groups"-- small groups of students with similar interests.

Each week, these students will bring in articles, books, internet printouts, etc. related to their topic of interest. They will share this information with their affinity group. They'll pass around the articles and read them. They'll summarize the main points. Then they'll discuss it all. Finally, the group as a whole will present what they learned that day to the entire class.

Role Plays: I will use role plays to focus on the content specific to each course. So for the airline class, we'll start doing a lot of role plays related to working at an airline and applying for a job at an airline. Other classes with focus on more everyday communicative situations.

Portfolios and Assignments: Students will make portfolios and present them as part of their affinity group work. They will also do a portfolio & presentation on some aspect of the course content (ie. each student in the airline class will write a report about some aspect of the airline industry).


Friday, June 24, 2005


by AJ

Ive been getting a lot of good suggestions from my students. The most common suggestion is that students want more interaction. They want to speak more to me and each other.

So I will try to include more interactive activities... especially discussion groups and role plays. However, I need to find a way to encourage them to use English, rather then Thai, during these activities. If they speak Thai to each other, they are getting absolutely no English practice (not listening or speaking). At least when Im talking, they are hearing English.

So I must find a way to make sure students try to speak English during these activities (perhaps hypnosis would work).

We will see what happens next week.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005


by AJ

Most people tend to think in terms of "teacher" and "students". The teacher controls and directs the class, while the students dutifully finish their assignments. But I think this is an outdated idea.... especially at the University level.

My students are highly intelligent, creative, and have advanced English skills. They attend the best university in Thailand (OK, co-best with Chula). They do not need to be controlled or directed.

In fact, in 1-4 years they will graduate and be on their own.

So I prefer to think in terms of "we" instead of "me" and "them". I view the class as a team. Yes, Im the coach. Its my job to lead and inspire. But just like in a soccer team, the coach cant actually play the game. He can cheer. He can think of a good strategy. But the players play the game. They are the stars. They make the plays. The do the hardest work.

Creating a good class is therefore a team effort. We must all do it. I must listen to the students. I must discover what they need and want. I must try to cheer them and inspire them and give them a good strategy. But they will do it. Its their game. They are the stars. Its not my job to control them... its my job to encouarage them to be their best. Its my job to let them do what they do best.

Luckily, Im coaching some very good teams.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Not Enough

by AJ

I can't escape the gnawing feeling that my classes are merely "above-average". I know for certain that they are not "great" and they certainly are not "transformative".

I also know that from a big-picture, philosophical, glaring-in-the-face-of-the-infinite perspective, it doesnt matter.

But while Im here, while Im alive, while Im enjoying teaching... I choose to immerse myself in it. I seek excellence for its own sake... for the joy of the effort, vision, and collaborative process (with the students). Im also selfish.... if Im going to spend 15-18 hours a week in class, I want those hours to be fun, transformative, ecstatic, and interesting FOR ME.

But Im no where close. This bugs me and motivates me.

I want my classes to be something more than just "English class". I want more than good test scores (truthfully, I dont give a damn about test scores).

I want engagement. I want involvement. I want to inspire and be inspired. I want energy and enthusiasm and wonder and curiousity.

But how? How do I, as the acknowledged leader of the class, catalyze (help create) these? How do I transform the class from a boring language class into something GREAT?

I know one thing, I can't do it by myself. I must find a way to unleash the creativity, energy, and power of the students.

But how?


Saturday, June 18, 2005

School Is Boring

by AJ

This comes from an interview with Dennis Littky on Tom Peters blog:

I think that every single kid needs an individual plan with a personalized curriculum that addresses his strengths, weaknesses, and interests. There needs to be less emphasis on a standard content for everyone and more emphasis on using content to engage kids. Schools typically aren’t interested engaging kids. In an EdWeek survey, students were asked to describe school in one word. The number one response was "boring."

The interesting thing is that whenever I'm speaking at a conference and I mention the survey, everyone knows what the one word will be. So it's even more sick to me that not only do the kids think it's boring, but everyone around them knows it's boring. And, as we all know, you don't learn when you're bored. So how do you get kids involved in their own learning? That's what you want. You want them to love learning and to be committed to the community.

When I read that I felt a surge of panic. Is this how students would describe my class? Am I boring them?

Sadly, much of the time I think I am. Uh oh.

So how do I get students involved in their own learning? How could I redesign my classes to enable the students to choose their own content?

Random ideas off the top of my head:

* More free reading. Increase free reading time to 30 minutes out of every 90 minute class. Students bring anything they want to read (in English)... ANYTHING.

* Student led activities. Ask students (or groups of students) to create short social/communicative lessons for the beginning of each class. They design the activity, they lead it.

* Aggressively solicit anonymous comments and suggestions on this blog.

* In class, have each student write an individual learning plan.... they would identify things they were interested in... things they wanted to learn more about. This might include anything from romantic relationships to physics. Up to them.

I could then have them read about these topics (in English) and prepare lessons, portfolios, presentations, field trips, etc.... related to the subject.

Im VERY curious to hear what my students think. How can we individualize your learning? How can we make it easier for you to study things which interest you specifically? And how can we make sure you also learn the basics required to pass the course?

I welcome all suggestions!!!! The crazier the better!


What Im Reading

by AJ

I am currently reading "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy.

As the title suggests, this is a story about a dying man. Ivan Ilyich is a very respectable judge in Russia. He lives a very conventional life. He lives his life according to society's rules.

But when he begins to die, he has many regrets. He wonders what his life has meant. He regrets that he didnt live a bolder and more interesting life. And he resists and resents the approach of death.

Obviously this is not a happy or light book!! But I find it very interesting and thought provoking. Its good to be reminded that we will die. Its good to remember that everything is transient and changing.

This book is encouraging me to think about my own life. Have I been bold enough? Will I regret my life when it is time for me to die? How should I live now so that I can die peacefully, with no regrets?

This book is causing me to ask many such questions.


The Power of (Pleasure) Reading

by AJ

One of the best ways to self-study... perhaps THE best way.. is to read for fun. Reading for pleasure is a powerful way to improve your English skills.

Research studies show that light reading improves grammar, writing, listening and reading comprehension.

Research also shows that reading is superior to direct vocabulary study. You learn more words per minute from reading than you do from studying vocabulary lists!! That should be good news for most students-- because most of us don't enjoy studying vocabulary lists.

So forget the vocabulary books. Forget the grammar books.

Instead, go to a library or bookstore and find something that is interesting to you.

Here are a few ideas:

*Graded Readers: These are simplified (easier and shorter) versions of English books. They come in many different levels of difficulty.
*Popular Novels: Things like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Romances, Adventures, Mysteries,....
*Magazines: Celebrity mags, auto mags, fashion mags,....
*Newspapers: BKK Post, The Nation, USA Today, The New York Times,....
*The Internet: Commondreams.org, other news sites, hobby sites, chat rooms, email,...

Anything will help.

But for the best results, choose material that meets the following conditions:
1. It is interesting to you. You enjoy reading it.
2. It is 90% understandable. You should understand about 90% of the words (or more).

Good Luck and happy reading!!


Student Suggestions

by AJ

A student recently made several excellent suggestions (see the previous post's comments).

Most of the suggestions seemed to have a central theme: the student wanted more social opportunities in class. S/He suggested rearranging desks into a U shape (great idea), playing social games (great idea), and having students do some of the reading instead of only me (great idea).

I plan to follow all of these suggestions. The student did make one suggestion that I probably won't follow, concerning free reading,... but I tried to explain why in my response comment.

So here are my questions: How can I create more social opportunities for students? How can I help you make friends with classmates? How can I help you connect with each other in class? How can I help you connect with each other outside of class?

Here are a few ideas:

1. A class email list.
I could pass around a paper and have everyone write their email address. I could then add all of you to the Effortless English email group... so you could easily communicate with each other via email.

2. Form a social club in each class.
I could ask for student volunteers to organize a club for the class. The volunteers could schedule social events (go see a movie, go out to eat) and social/study sessions (ie. study for the midterm).

3. Warmup Games
At the beginning of each class (promptly :), I could do a short social game... to help you learn each other's names and learn more about each other.

4. Student Teacher
What if I had a STUDENT lead a game at the beginning of every class? The student would need to plan a short (10-15 minute) social activity... to encourage students to talk and get to know each other. A different student could lead the activity each class.

5. Your Ideas
What do you think of these ideas? If you have other ideas for social activities... please comment and make a suggestion!


Tuesday Book Club and Office Hours (Ta-Prachan)

by AJ

Every Tuesday from 3-5 pm I will be at "Coffee & More" on Phra Atit Road..... just down the road from the Ta Prachan campus.

I will use this time to read, chat with students, and relax. Please join me. Bring a book and we can discuss it. Or just come by and talk with me and each other.

"Coffee & More" is across from the park... it is located in an old house. I'll be sitting inside every Tuesday afternoon... either writing or reading a book.

All of my students (and their friends) are invited to join me.


Online English Club

by AJ

I have created a google group for my students. If you would like to write to each other, practice English, socialize, or plan social events... please join the "Effortless English Club" at the address below:


I will occaisionally post social ideas on the club's site. I might also write about my favorite books.

But mostly this group is for you.

Use it to make friends. Use it to practice writing English.

Use it to schedule social events: movies, clubbing, meetings, anything.

Any English student may join the group (not only my TU students... so invite your friends).


Friday, June 17, 2005


by AJ

A loose explanation of the term backwash is: "teaching to the test". In other words, the teacher and students focus on the test rather than on learning the language.

This is very very common. Its a challenge for me. I know what works. I know that comprehensible input is the key. I know that reading aloud (interactive reading), free reading, storytelling, and the movie technique work.


My department makes the tests. I know my students would do well on a general English test. But will they do well on the midterm and final? These exams not only test English, they test linguistics.

The freshman English exams, for example, will contain questions about comma splices, writing topic sentences, subordinating words, and the like. Luckily this is only a small section of the exam. Most of the questions will relate to reading or vocabulary... my students should do quite well on those sections.

To address the linguistics/grammar section.... I am assigning some grammar exercises as homework. At the beginning of a few classes, I review the homework and give a fast explanation. Then I move on to Comprehension based techniques (reading articles, TPR storytelling, free reading, discussion).

In other words, I choose to resist the temptation to "teach to the test". I am devoting only a miniscule amount of time to the grammar/linguistics section.

As a research study... I hope to compare my students scores on the exams to the scores of other students who are in more traditional classes. My hope is that my students scores will be, on average, the same or higher.

We will see.


Finding the Right Level

by AJ

People acquire language when they understand it. Seems simple. The idea is, in fact, very simple.

But like many simple things... it is not necessarily easy.

My challenge as a teacher is to give my students understandable English at a level just a little above theirs. If my language is too difficult, they will not understand and therefore they will not acquire more language. If my language is too easy, they won't learn anything new.

How do we know we are speaking at the right level? The most direct way is to ask comprehension questions. I do this often when I use TPR storytelling. Im asking many more questions now. Im very confident that most students understand these stories.

But in other situations questions dont work well. Its fine to ask a question to the whole group when using storytelling, because I know the story is fairly simple and there will be a lot of repetition. But I dont like to ask direct questions to only one student. This makes them nervous. I do it sometimes because I need to know if they are understanding. I also, sometimes, have a student retell my story.... to see if they are hearing it and understanding it.

Im less confident about the articles we read. The TPR stories use very simple language... with some new vocabulary added. But many of the articles contain complex vocabulary. It can take some time to get through them. I fear this is boring the students.

It may be that the articles are too difficult. How do I know what is the right level?

My most recent idea is to have the students choose articles. As homework I tell them to find a short article (on any subject). They are to read the article and identify unknown vocabulary. They also must write 1-2 discussion questions about the article.

Im hoping they will choose articles that are more interesting to them and at the right level.

In class, we will use these articles as follows:

1. I may choose a few and read them aloud.... paraphrasing difficult passages.

2. I will then put them into pairs/groups. Each student will verbally summarize their article to the group.

3. Then the students will swap articles. They will read each other's articles (each of which will have a short list of new vocabulary along with a simple definition-- to aid comprehension).

4. After the pair/group has read everyone's articles, each student will lead a short discussion of their own article (using the questions they wrote).

5. I will then have the students find new partners and repeat the process again.

I tried this today with my "English for Russian Majors" class and it went fairly well. The only problem is that last week I told them to bring articles about Russia.

That was a mistake... because many of the students might not be interested in Russia or Russian news. Even if they are interested, they might not be able to find an article they like that is about Russia. As a result, many of their articles were very serious and difficult... maybe too difficult.

So for next week I told them to bring any article on any subject that interested them.

I have assigned this same homework to most of my other classes.

Im curious to see how it works.

[All classes will also be doing free reading at the end of every class period].


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Student Feedback

by AJ

I dont like authority. Never have. This is especially true in an education setting. I view my students as partners and myself as their coach, not their boss.

Ideally, I would like an open exchange between them and me. I would like to hear their ideas. Id like to hear what they enjoy doing and what they find useful. Id also like to hear what they dont like.

But its not so easy, especially in Asia. Asian students tend to be very respectful. This is nice... I appreciate it. But it also means they are reluctant to criticize or give suggestions. Since I will eventually give them grades, I cant blame them :)


I will attempt to use this website as a feedback channel. I am giving the web address to all of my classes and Im encouraging them to leave anonymous comments.

Im not sure if any will respond. But hopefully they will. This would benefit my teaching tremendously... would help me to adjust to their needs. I think it would benefit readers of this website too. I dont like the division between "teachers" and "students". We are all teachers, we are all students. As professional instructors, we can all benefit tremendously from student feedback.

A less direct way to do this is to become a language student yourself. Study another language... any language. I, for example, learned a great deal from my failed attempts to study Thai at AUA.

Likewise, Im now experimenting with free reading in Spanish... and I love it. Im hooked. The research convinced me it was a good idea,.. but the joy of reading in Spanish (so easy and fun ) totally sold me. Its a great way to learn. Much, Much, MUCH better than studying lists of vocabulary and grammar rules. Ive tried that many times (with Spanish) and I never last more than two days.... then I get bored and quit. But Ive been reading for a week and am eager to read more. Ive finished two simple books (baby level) and will soon order several more off the internet.

So now I have approached free reading as both a teacher (reviewing the research) and a student (studying Spanish). As a final form of feedback, Id love to hear from my students. I wonder what they think of free reading.

Do they like it? Do they think it will help them? Will they continue to do it after the course ends?


Reading Aloud

by AJ

The other thing Im doing a lot of is reading aloud to my classes. This too felt a little strange at first. These are advanced students, so they are capable of reading for themselves.

So why do I read to them?

I read aloud to give them oral (listening) practice and input. When I read an article, they get to hear my pronunciation and intonation. If I read a new word, they hear how to pronounce it correctly. In this way they will improve their listening skills.

The only problem is that some of the articles are quite boring (especially the economic articles :) Also, I need to improve my delivery. My voice can be quite flat and boring. I need to inject more energy into the reading. Choosing more interesting articles would also help.

See Jim Trelease's website for more information (including research) related to reading aloud.


Free Reading: First Class

by AJ

Today was the first day to try free voluntary reading. I did it with my English for Economists class. Each student brought something to read... so we read silently during the final 10 minutes of class.

It seemed to go well. Though it did feel strange. It is hard to let go of the idea that I must be leading the class at all times. I felt quite lazy.... sitting and reading my Spanish baby-book while the students read quietly on their own. Maybe they thought I was being lazy too.

But this is what "effortless" language acquisition is all about. Its not about doing what is most difficult. Its about doing what works. And according to A LOT of research,... free reading works. The research is very very clear about that.

So this may or may not be lazy... but I am trying to do what is best for my students. In fact, the 10-20 minutes they spend reading will probably be the most useful part of the course for them.... though they may not realize it. Free reading has been shown to improve grammar, writing ability, vocabulary, spelling, and reading comprehension much better than traditional instruction.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Fundamental English Class: Midterm Info

by AJ

I just reviewed the past midterm tests and now have a general idea what the test will be like. Later I will give more detailed information, but here is a general overview of the midterm topics:

I. Outside Reading

This section will contain questions about The Godfather. Most questions will be about the plot... about events in the story. So the easiest way to study is to read the book!! Also review the most important story details. As an added supplement, you might want to rent and watch the movie (with or without Thai subtitles)

II. Vocabulary

This section will test vocabulary. The words will come from the articles in the text book. To study, re-read the articles at the beginning of each chapter. Also, review the vocabulary in the exercises.

Here's a short (but incomplete) sample of possible words: ambiguous, depressing, deceive, conceal, impeccable, impart, mood, outcome, recall, verify, skepticism/skeptical, paramount, renowned, impoverished.....

III. Seen Passages

This section will test reading comprehension from the articles in the textbook. So studying is easy.... re-read all of the articles (a few times each). Be sure you understand both the vocabulary and the overall meaning.

IV. Unseen Passages.

This section will test general reading comprehension. You will read new passages (which you have never seen before) and will answer comprehension questions about them. The best way to study for this section is to read, read, and read some more. Read for fun. Read anything that interests you in English!! (Harry Potter, novels, magazines, romances, comic books, children's books, newspapers,etc). Try to read a little bit everyday.

V. Writing

OK, this is the worst section... it will contain some grammar exercises.

There are four main points you should practice and study:

1. The use of subordinating words such as: whose, that, where, while, but, when, for, if.....

2. Comma splices, run on sentences, fragments. You will read sentences and correct these errors.

3. Topic sentences- You will read a paragraph and then must choose (or write) an appropriate topic sentence for it.

4. Outlining- You will be given part of an outline. You must complete it. Be sure to use parallelism (keep the verb tenses the same for all points).

There are two ways to study for the writing/grammar section. First, review these points in your textbook and review the exercises. Get comfortable with the rules.

Second, read. Read a lot. This will help you develop an unconscious "feel" for grammar. You will learn what sounds right and what looks right. Read for fun and read as much as you can. Watching videos is also a great idea.

**Final Note:
When reading or watching videos, its important that they be comprehensible. In other words, you should understand 90% of the language used in the book or video.

If you understand less than 90%, its probably too difficult. Try to find something easier. You will learn much faster if you follow this rule. In class, we will read plenty of difficult articles. In your free time, its more effective if you read and watch things which are at least 90% understandable.

Good luck!!

Autonomous Students

by AJ

Here is the simple truth: English class is not enough. Students do not spend enough time in class. They cannot make big improvements simply by attending class. This is especially true of advanced students such as the ones at Thammasat.

To improve, students must get comprehensible input outside of class. They must watch movies, or TV shows, or children's shows. They must read for fun. These self-study efforts will help them much more than class.

At the advanced level, the teacher's primary job is to encourage student autonomy. We must encourage students to become independent learners. We must teach them the most effective and pleasurable ways to study (free reading, movies, TV shows, radio, books on tape).

We must encourage them to find pleasure in English. If reading is interesting and fun, students will do it often. If studying English is boring and difficult (such as memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules), most will NOT do it in their free time.

Our job as language teachers is to help students help themselves. At the intermediate and advanced levels, we cannot do it for them. Our main task is to encourage and coach them..... so that they will seek out comprehensible English on their own.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Partnering With Students

by AJ

We must teach our students not only English... but language acquisition theory. Why? Because our goal as teachers must be to develop autonomous learners. I want my students to become independent. I want them to learn effective self-study strategies. To do that, they need to know some basics about language acquisition. Otherwise they may waste a great deal of time on study methods that are inferior (such as grammar-translation).

So today my classes read an article about Free Voluntary Reading (by Krashen). We read through the article and then discussed the implications. I put them in groups and had them discuss the main ideas of the article.

I then had each group come up with three self-study suggestions. All of them were excellent. They included:

*Watch movies in English
*Listen to books on tape
*Listen to English radio programs
*Make friends with English speakers
*Read for fun (in English)

These are all excellent suggestions.... they show me that the students have a firm grasp of the Comprehension hypothesis. These are advanced students, so they are already at the autonomous stage. Really, they dont need a class at all. They are now capable of learning completely on their own (as their study suggestions show).

Many of today's students will graduate this year. The best thing I can give them is a taste for reading (and other sources of authentic English).... so that they can continue to acquire the language long after they leave the university.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Learning From Oprah

by Jim Trelease

If Oprah's audience is so reluctant, how did she motivate them?

Having selected a book, Oprah simply walks out to our audience of 22 million in 119 countries and talks about the book she's selected. She talks about the book, animatedly, passionately, and sincerely. No writing, no tests, no dumb dioramas to make, just good old-fashioned enthusiasm for something she's read. Further, she brings the author before the audience (which eliminates all those "dead authors" from consideration) and there's more talk.

Since her audience already trusts her, they buy in — to the tune of at least 500,000 copies for every book she mentions. Finally, she selects four letter-writers from the 10,000 viewers who apply and invites them to dinner with the her and the author, where they talk even more about the book.

What can we apply from this to our work with students? Well, let's eliminate not all but much of the writing they're required to do whenever they read. ("The more we read, we more we gotta write, so let's read less and we can work less, right?") We adults don't do it when we read, so why are we forcing students to do it? It hasn't created a nation of writers or readers.

Instead, let's schedule more time to talk animatedly about what we're reading, including some Socratic coaching from the teacher/Oprah-figure.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Advanced Students

by AJ

Im faced with a surprising challenge at TU. My students are the most advanced I have ever taught.... far more advanced than the university students I taught in Japan. In fact, many have lived/studied abroad and are basically fluent.

Ive never taught this level before. This was my first week and I drastically underestimated my students. Im afraid they found my lessons easy and boring.

So this weekend I did some research on advanced foreign language students. In particular I consulted Krashen's site and his compiled research and suggestions.

After reading through it all, Ive decided to take a literature-focused approach. I will utilize newspaper articles, magazines, and novels in class. I will institute free voluntary reading at the end of each class (students bring any reading material they like and read silently on their own for the last 15 minutes of class... see Krashen's site for a mountain of research on this).

In other words, Ill be teaching my classes like a sheltered American/English literature course. We'll read books and articles and discuss them in class. With some classes I will also use authentic movies for listening and vocabulary. Im using View from The Top for the "English for the airline industry" class, for example.

I havent quite decided how to institute a literature focus... as I must be sure they are prepared for the departmental exams as well. My freshmen classes already have two assigned books, so Ill use those and add Free reading to them.

If I could find a good airline related novel, Id assign that to the airline class... but right now nothing pops to mine. Nor can I think of a decent/interesting novel related to economics!

However, I do have an idea for my "English for Russian majors" class... I found a graded reader of Dr. Zhivago. I may assign it... or use it for read alouds in class. Students would then write summaries and discuss the major themes of the day's reading.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

88 Generalizations about Free Voluntary Reading

by SD Krashen

(* = insufficient research available = research opportunity)


Language Development
1. Overall, SSR is successful: 51/54 studies, readers as good or better than comparisons in reading comprehension. (Krashen)
2. Longer term studies tend to be more successful (Reading Comprehension)
SSR students also do better than comparisons in

3. writing
4. spelling (mostly)
5. vocabulary

Establishing a Reading Habit
6. SSR readers read more at the end of the program (Pilgreen)
7. and even years later (Greeney)

Affect and SSR
8. students prefer SSR to regular instruction (Dupuy, McQuillan)
9. A single SSR session can change attitudes (KS Cho)
10. Fewer discipline problems when SSR is done*

SSR is Robust
11. SSR works for languages other than English: Japanese (Day), Spanish (Rodrigo) as FL
12. SSR works for L1 and L2
13. SSR works for all ages studied so far
14. SSR "robust" - even if conditions not fully met (SY Lee) (short term, few books)
15. SSR works with graded readers (Mason)

Do they read during SSR?
16. 90% read during SSR (Von Sprecken)
17. more reading takes place if books available (Von Sprecken)
18. more reading takes place if the teacher reads (Von Sprecken, Wheldall and Entwhistle)
19. SSR may not work if it is done school-wide at the same time each day (Minton)
20. Don't use the lunch period for SSR (Maynes)

Can SSR be made stronger? ("catalyzed")
21. supplementation with writing doesn't help (Mason)
22. supplementation with correction/grammar doesn't help (Mason)
23. supplementation that makes reading more comprehensible, interesting can help (Shin, Manning)

BENEFITS OF READING (from correlational studies)

1. More reading > better reading
2. More reading > better writing
3. More reading > more writing (SY Lee)
4. more reading > read faster (Anderson, Fielding)
5. more reading > know more about literature (Stanovich)
6. more reading > know more social science (Stanovich)
7. more reading > more cultural literacy (Stanovich)
8. more reading > have more practical knowledge (Stanovich)
9. more bible reading > more knowledge of bible than "study" (Filback)
10. more reading > better grades in writing class (SY Lee)
11. more reading > better TOEFL performance (Constantino, SY Lee, KS Cho; Gradman & Hanania)
12. more reading > less writing apprehension (SY Lee)
13. more reading > less writer's block (SY Lee)
14. more reading > less memory loss (Rice)
15. more reading > more hobbies, involvement in the world (NEA)
16. reading helps you sleep (Nell)
17. FVR is pleasant (Csikszentmihalyi , Nell)
18. Eminent people nearly all voracious readers; (Simonton)


1. "reluctant readers" = little access (Worthy)
2. more access to books > more reading
3. more access to books > better reading
4. school libraries (Houle and Montmarquette. McQuillan)
5. classroom libraries (Morrow)
6. public libraries (Ramos, Lao)
7. children get many of their books from libraries
8. poverty > very little access (Constantino et al, Neuman)
9. at home (Feitelson et. al.)
10. at school - classroom and school libraries - libraries don't have what children like to read (Worthy)
11. book stores (Neuman and Celano)
12. EFL: little access to reading in English (HK Kim)
13. read alouds > more reading (Trelease; natural partner of SSR)
14. direct encouragement > more reading (Shin; under certain conditions)
15. comfort and quiet > more reading (reading in bed) (Nell)
16. no effect of rewards (McQuillan, Krashen reviews)
17. no evidence supporting the use of lexiles (Krashen)
18. good readers read comics (Ujiie)
19. comics as conduit (Krashen, Power of Reading)
20. one positive experience (home run book) can create a reader (Von Sprecken, Ujiie, J.Kim)
21. home run experiences are different for different readers (Ujiie)
22. home run books not necessarily "quality" books (Ujiie)
23. peers influence reading
24. book displays influence reading
25. TV does not inhibit reading (Neuman)
26. Computers do not inhibit reading
27. Decline in reading not demonstrated (NEA report)
28. Decline in interest in reading with age not demonstrated (Krashen and Von Sprecken)
29. reading tastes broaden over time (LaBrant, 1938)
30. good readers tend to be narrow readers (Lamme)
31. narrow reading > more reading (Cho)


Tuesday, June 07, 2005


by AJ

The skill-building hypothesis is the "folk religion" of language education. Drills, grammar-translation, and the like are the norm. Its not surprising, therefore, that students accept the hypothesis as gospel.

Krashen urges language teachers to educate their students about the comprehension hypothesis..... a hyposthesis supported by a wealth of research (unlike skill-building).... an approach proven time and again (in method vs. method studies) to be equal to or superior to skill-building in all aspects of language acquisition.

We know this, but our students dont. We need to be open with them. We need to discuss our methods. We need to give them accurate information about how language is acquired.

I did this today with my classes. We read a shortened version of Krashen's article "Why delay gratification...?". It was a good language exercise, as they learned a great deal of new vocabulary (comprehensible, input, gratification,etc.).
We also had a short discussion about language acquisition research. I explained the methods I would be using and why I would be using them.

The students understood and now have a clearer idea of what I will be doing and why.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Gearing Up

by AJ

Back into the classroom tomorrow. I have now fleshed out a basic outline for all of my courses. While the content will vary according the class, Ive decided to use the same structure for all of them:

Each class meets for an hour and a half, two times a week (for a total of three hours per week).

I will divide class time in three 30 minute blocks. The first 30 minutes I will use TPR Storytelling to teach target vocabulary from the text. The second 30 minutes I will focus on reading-- both interactive reading of articles and also free reading of articles/graded books/magazines (student's choice). The final 30 minutes of each class I will use the movie technique.

I have structured my classes to deliver as much comprehensible input as possible for my students. Their text will include some grammar and drills... I will assign these as homework to help them prepare for the midterm and final.

Finally, Ive decided not to do the method vs. method study as originally planned.. for the following reasons:

1. I couldnt stand the idea of having to do three hours a week of skill-building lessons. BORING!

2. As number 1 indicates, I hate teaching with a skill-building approach. Therefore, the study would be unfair if it used me as the skill-building teacher.... I dont like the method and would likely do a poor job using it.


Im thinking of another way to get at this. There are a huge number of fundamental English classes... All of the classes have the same text and same "targets". All students in these classes will take the exact same midterm and final... prepared collectively by all teachers who teach this section.

So I will try to get access to ALL of the midterm and final exam scores.... Ill compare my classes' performance with the other classes' performance (mean/median scores). A pre/post test format would probably be better... but this still should yield some decent info.

At the least, I hope to show that my students performed no worse on the exams than those taught with the traditional skill building approach.


Friday, June 03, 2005

Questions and TPRS

by AJ

"Your goal is to get 50+ repetitions of the target words. To get the repetitions of the words, you have to ask questions. Try to use one target word in each question. You arent trying to get the students to say the new word. You are only trying to get them to hear the new word in context."