We are a group of ESL-ers in Cleveland Ohio who are trying to teach refugees and immigrants basic survival English.

We invite you to join us with your posts.
We will try to put articles of interest to those of you who share your talents and time with the newly arrived in our cities.

Some of our students learning.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012



Let the students make mistakes. They need to. We all learn best through making mistakes. Trial and error is the name of the game.


Give the students time to realize they’ve made a mistake and try to correct it themselves. If they can’t, maybe someone else can help them. If nobody can help then you can either step in and give the correct form or make a note of it for later.


As far as possible, correct mistakes anonymously. Do this by making notes of students’ mistakes as you monitor then putting them on the board later and give the students themselves the opportunity to correct them, in pairs or small groups. If no one knows the right answer, give it to them, but only as a last resort.

Anonymous error correction is a kind way to deal with mistakes. It isn’t important who made the mistake originally - the point is, can the students all correct it? I tend to doctor the mistakes so that even the perpetrator doesn’t recognize them as his/her own. For example:

Original error: ‘I have been to Paris last year’. = On the board: ‘I have been to London last week’.

Mistakes are good things and students need to know that they are. I explain like this:

‘Please make lots and lots of mistakes in my lessons - new mistakes, mind you, not the same old ones over and over. I like mistakes because we can all learn from them and because if you don’t make any I won’t have a job. If I find a student who doesn’t make any mistakes in my lesson I will move that student to a higher level class because s/he obviously isn’t learning anything at this level.

Learning English is like learning to ride a bike - you fall off a lot, but you get the hang of it in the end. You will make a lot of mistakes but you will be able to communicate effectively in the end. Very few people become successful international cyclists and the chances are that even though you can ride a bike you are not a professional cyclist. Very few students reach mother-tongue (supposedly error-free) level but many students learn to communicate very
well in English in spite of this. You will probably never have error-free English so accept that you will always make some mistakes - just try to learn from them and learn to live with your  linguistic imperfections.’

When a student makes a mistake it is usually counter-productive to say ‘No!’/’That’s wrong!’/ ‘Are you serious?’/ ‘How long did you say you’ve been studying English?’ etc. It’s often kinder to say ‘Not bad’/’Nearly’/’Good try’/’That’s an interesting mistake’ etc.

Some say that you shouldn’t laugh at student’s mistakes but I often do. They’re often very funny so why shouldn’t I? I find it breaks the ‘mistakes taboo’ and makes linguistic risks and disasters an acceptable part of the classroom culture. Students catch on very quickly and we have a good giggle together when someone messes up.  It keeps the atmosphere light instead of tense.  Make sure thought that no one is laughing AT someone else.

 The ability to correct themselves when they make a mistake is an important one for students to develop. Encourage it and give them time to correct themselves - don’t jump in immediately to correct them, keen though you are to prove that you are doing your job. Most students (and indeed some teachers) seem to think that it is the teacher’s job to correct students’ mistakes but this is not necessarily so. Yes, teachers can correct their students endlessly but how will that help the students when they go out into the big wide world - who will be there to correct them then?

It’s much better for the students if they get into the habit of listening to themselves when they are speaking and correct themselves as they go along. Obviously they won’t be able to correct all the mistakes they make but they will be able to correct a lot of them.




Eliciting is a method of getting other members of the class to answer questions.


1. Instead of giving information, ask if anyone in the class can provide it. When a student asks ‘What does this mean?’ or ‘What’s the past of this verb?’ etc. say something like ‘That’s a good question - what do you think?’ Can you guess? Can anyone help Maria here?’

2. If you want to teach some vocabulary, for instance, then rather than giving it to the students, try to get them to give it to you. For example: I want to teach the word ‘cow’. I could draw a little picture on the board. I could explain what a cow is. Or I could elicit the word from the students along these lines: ‘What do we call/What’s the word for an animal which makes milk and goes ‘mooo’?! With any luck the students will say ‘cow’. There you go - I’ve elicited the word ‘cow’ from the students. I didn’t say it to them - they said it to me; that’s eliciting.


Why would you want to do that?  After all you ARE the teacher.


If you don’t elicit you run the risk of telling the students everything they want to know and ending up spoon-feeding them.  They need to begin to think in their new language.


2. Eliciting means getting information from people as opposed to giving it to them - asking, throwing questions back at the students, in a nutshell.  It gives them a sense of confidence when they can figure out the answer themselves.


When I take attendance, I always elicit today’s date from the students (‘What’s the date today?’) because I find that even at high levels students are shockingly bad on dates.


Sometimes students don’t understand the value of eliciting. They think that you’re not doing your job if you don’t answer their questions. If I have a student like that I tend to explain like this:

‘I know I know the answer but I’m not the one learning English here. What is important is, do any of you know the answer?’ We did this last week!’ Lets see if any of you remember and can help.


When NOT to elicit:

If you try to elicit something and obviously no one knows what you are getting at or they’ve all forgotten it or they haven’t done their homework then don’t keep on trying to get it out of them.

Flogging a dead horse will get you nowhere and it just embarrasses/irritates the students and wastes valuable lesson time.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Checking Together


It’s a good idea to let the students check their answers together before feeding back to the the teacher because it gives them the chance to erase any glaring errors before the teacher sees and thus avoid looking stupid in front of the class.


If a student hasn’t a clue about some of the answers it’s reassuring to find out that their partner hasn’t the foggiest either. The students realize they are not alone. They can also copy their partners answers (if their partner has some that they don’t) but their partner might not be right!


Peer teaching is considered a good thing in the world of ESL. Peers are equals. So in this case a students peers are a student’s fellow classmates. Working together and checking work together is a form of peer teaching. This means that instead of the know-it-all (and/or) mother tongue teacher always teaching them, the students can teach each other (by explaining grammar points, correcting pronunciation, explaining new words and phrases etc). The beauty of it is that the students are all equal to each other and are in the same boat, linguistically speaking.



1. When the students have finished doing an activity on their own, put them in pairs or small groups and tell them to check their answers together.


2. Tell the students that if the answers are the same, they are probably correct but if they are different they need to explain/justify their choice of answer to their partner - in English! They can change their answers if they like.


Brainstorming can be used as a warmer (a five minute activity at the start of the lesson) just to get them in the mood and to start them thinking about the topic.

If students have already activated their vocabulary related to the topic they will not be searching for words so much when they start the speaking activities. This should enable them to be more fluent.  It also helps you to know how many words they may have already heard or know about the topic.


Brainstorming can be used as a filler (a five minute activity at the end of the lesson) to see how many words they remember from the lesson. It is always important to review as much as possible.


Brainstorming can be used as retention exercise - ‘Write down all the words you can remember about X (which we studied last week/month).


1. Ask the students to think of all the words they know connected with the topic.

2. Tell the students to write them on a piece of paper.

3. Give them a couple of minutes to do so.

4. Put them in pairs or small groups to compare their vocabulary and transfer words they hadn’t thought of from their partner’s list to their own.

5. Feedback - Let each group give a few words they have thought of.

6. Or you could do it all on the board in the first place - just ask the class to give you words to write on the board. (Or give board pens to one or more students and get them to do the writing!)


Make sure you give them enough time, especially for beginners.  Monitor the conversations and as soon as they drift into stories, call them back together.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dictation and Oral reading

Dictation and oral reading are two more important parts of learning a language.  Dictate several sentences and let your students write them. It helps them with listening and comprehension and tying the written word to the spoken word.
Using a tape recorder, have your ESL-ers read the paragraphs and then listen to themselves.  It helps them to correct their own errors and usually is a fun time for all.
You can also use the job descriptions we’ve been working with to dictate and have them write or to have them read and record their voices to work on pronunciations.

Tutor dictation/audio sheet

Ben- teacher

I’m Ben.  I work in a school.  I work full-time.  I start work at 9am.  Every day, I prepare and teach lessons.  I’m very busy.  I also mark work.  I finish work at 5pm. 


Martha - food assistant

Hello, I’m Martha.  I have a part-time job.  I work on Saturday and Sunday.  I make sandwiches in a café.  I work in the local park.  I start at 7am and finish at 4pm.  I also serve coffee and fill the fridge. 


Jack- cleaner

My name is Jack.  I work in a hospital.  I work part-time for three days a week.  I start work at 8am.  I clean the bathroom, mop the floor and polish the tables.  I finish work at 6pm. 


Sam - secretary

Hi, I’m Sam.  I work full-time.  I work in an office.  It’s in London.  I answer the phone and write letters.  I also make appointments.  I start work at 10am and finish at 8pm.  It’s a very long day!


Friday, July 20, 2012

More of what you can do with jobs:
TASK 8: Study the information.

Sam -secretary

Hi, I’m Sam. I work full-time. I work in an office. It’s in London. I answer the phone and write letters. I also make appointments. I start work at 10am and finish at 8pm. It’s a very long day!


Read the text again. What can you remember about Sam? Write some words below.
Check your writing with a partner.

TASK 9: Write the job title and duties for each person.



_He prepares lessons_________


















Wednesday, June 13, 2012

More of A Day in the Life of

Here are some more ideas for “A DAY IN THE LIFE OF”

Martha - food assistant

Hello, I’m Martha.  I have a part-time job.  I work on Saturday and Sunday.  I make sandwiches in a café.  I work in the local park.  I start at 7am and finish at 4pm.  I also serve coffee and fill the fridge. 

TASK 6: Answer the questions.  Write sentences.


1.     What is her job title?         ____________________________

2.    Does she work full-time?     ____________________________

3.    Where does she work?        ____________________________

4.    What time does she start? ____________________________

5.    What time does she finish? ____________________________

6.    Where is the café?              ____________________________

TASK 7: Read the information. 

Jack- cleaner

My name is Jack.  I work in a hospital.  I work part-time for three days a week.  I start work at 8am.  I clean the bathroom, mop the floor and polish the tables.  I finish work at 6pm. 


Write some questions for Jack.

1.     _______________________         He is a cleaner.

2.    _______________________         He works in a hospital.

3.    _______________________         He starts at 8am.

4.    _______________________         He finishes at 6pm.

5.    _______________________         No, he works part-time. 

6.    _______________________         His name is Jack.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Day in the Life of: continued

Remember last month?  We took a job and wrote a paragraph about it and then had our students fill in the blanks. Another way to use the paragraph is to ask questions.

Ben - teacher

I’m Ben.  I work in a school.  I work full-time.  I start work at 9am.  Every day, I prepare and teach lessons.  I’m very busy.  I also mark work.  I finish work at 5pm. 

TASK 4:  Answer the questions.  Write sentences.


1.      What is his job title?          _________________________  

2.    Does he work full-time?         _________________________

3.    Where does he work?          ____________________________

4.    What time does he start?         ___________________________

5.    What time does he finish?  ____________________________

6.    Is he busy?                         ____________________________

TASK 5: Read the information. Can you find the verbs?

Martha - food assistant

Hello, I’m Martha.  I have a part-time job.  I work on Saturday and Sunday.  I make sandwiches in a café.  I work in the local park.  I start at 7am and finish at 4pm.  I also serve coffee and fill the fridge. 

Read the text again then write about Martha. 

This is Martha.  She has a part-time job.

We will continue with more ways to use the jobs for lessons next month.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Day in the Life of:

David Sharman, an ESL teacher, has a way to take simple jobs and create several lessons from them.  We will look at how to do this the next few blogs.

The four jobs are teacher, cashier, cleaner, secretary.

1) The first task or lesson involves reading and writing.

Have pictures of the jobs, along with the vocabulary.

You can teach the job titles and also the location the jobs take place.

teacher, cashier, cleaner, secretary

school, grocery store, hospital (or any other building with a cleaner), office.

Under each picture have two sentences.

I am a  ________________.

I work in a  ___________________.

Teach the vocabulary and then have the students write the correct words under each picture.

2) The second task involves listening, reading and marking.

Have the pictures of the jobs and below them, have a list of duties.


I teach lessons.


I mark work.

I answer the phone.

I write letters.

I prepare lessons.

As you read of the list of duties of the job, have the student check off any duties that apply to the job.


I make appointments.

I mop the floors.

I answer the phone.

I write letters.
I prepare lessons.

3) The third task involves reading and writing (3rd person verbs).

Read the information. 

Ben - teacher

I’m Ben.  I work in a school.  I work full-time.  I start work at 9am.  Every day, I prepare and teach lessons.  I’m very busy.  I also mark work.  I finish work at 5pm. 

Write about Ben.

This is Ben.  He works in a school.  He  works  full-time.  He ____________ work at 9am.  Every day, he __________ and ____________ lessons.  He _______ very busy.  He also _________ work.  He _____________ work at 5pm.

We will continue with more ways to use the jobs for lessons next month.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Furrowed Brow

I was watching my two year old grandson at his two year birthday party.  The party was an open house for all the cousins and friends.  Every few minutes someone would arrive with a present for Silas and he was required to open it and say thank you to these people, some of whom he seldom sees.

He was overwhelmed.  People were calling him, oohing and aahing over him, kissing and hugging him, and pushing presents at him.

Several times during the course of the afternoon I saw him furrow his brow and scowl.

This was fascinating to me.  I had just read (for ESL prep) that one of the main reasons people need and want to learn English is so that they know what is expected of them and how to behave in different settings. The author went on to say that it was very common for someone who does not understand what is going on, or how to behave, or what to say will have a furrowed brow and may even scowl.

And here we thought Silas was just being cranky and tired.

This is the way our immigrants and refugees feel.  They are in a new place with people talking all around them that they do not understand.  They are trying to move among them, perhaps riding a bus, or shopping or trying to find help and they do not understand what is going on, or how to behave, or what to say . 

Watch your learner(s).  Do their brows furrow?  They may not only be missing the word you are trying to teach; they may not understand what they are suppose to do or how they relate to you. This certainly can affect learning. Realize that they are not just tired or cranky or unresponsive.  They may be totally overwhelmed or confused. Help alleviate those feelings by taking it slower or taking a calming moment.

 Keep your eyes open for the bigger picture. 

Monday, February 20, 2012


  In addition to the challenges of a new language, our learners also have to cope with a new culture.
The technical terms are acculturation and assimilation.  People are establishing their "membership" in American culture. They want to be a part of the group. 

Acculturation means that they become part of the new culture but they still maintain important aspects of their native culture.

Assimilation requires that they choose one culture over the other; they "mainstream" into the new culture and discard the old.

Back in the 30's and 40's, America had a large influx of European immigrants.  Although the children were sent to schools and assimilated into the new culture, many of the parents remained in both cultures.  There was an abundance of social clubs that sprung up to help hold on to the old, The German Club, the Slovenian Society etc.
In our multicultural society in the States today, we encourage acculturation.  This is very difficult for newcomers. America has a basic culture but also many, many sub-cultures. 

Our newcomers often are confused, they simply don't understand what is expected of them.

Top that off with the fact that many of our newcomers come from refugee camps where every day they were told what to do and when they could do it.  And every day they lived with memories of atrocities from their home country.  It is certainly understandable why they sometimes have difficulties absorbing a new culture.

Studies have shown that newcomers to the States are extremely lonely, frustrated and fearful. They are trying to live daily in a world in which everything is new and nothing is familiar.  They can feel mentally and physically exhausted from the stress incurred by a new culture.

Sometimes this manifests itself by silence.  Your newcomers may not talk much until they feel safe in the environment, whether classroom or teaching in the home.

What can you do to help?   Validate and understand.  Encourage and be patient.  Explain what the expectations are. 

Learn something about their culture.  There are great internet sites to do that. Two that come to mind are www.culturalorientation.net  and www.culturalcrossing.com

Most of the immigrants and refugees from Africa, Asia and Middle East have strong family ties.  Sometimes just asking about their families will encourage a relationship and help to bridge the loneliness gap.

Remember that learning English, while vitally important to them, is just a part of what they need to learn.