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Monday, February 20, 2017

Cultural Awareness for ESL Teachers and Students_Why this is important

Cultural awareness is to be aware and identify various cultures, as well as, to gain an understanding of those cultures. It’s the ability to be respectful of our differences. Cultural awareness is important inside and out of the ESL classroom. As a teacher you will meet students from different countries. As a student, your teacher and classmates may be a different culture from you. Being aware of our differences will not only foster an open environment for everyone to be themselves, but to encourage us to learn from each other.

Me with my students at cultural event in NYC
Picture blurred to protect students' identities
Ways we can learn from each other
·         Having open discussion about our cultures
·         Gain understanding from our differences. This includes our race, ethnicity, and nationality, religious or political views.
·         Encourage each other to be comfortable sharing an aspect of our culture. For example, a particular way of dress, body gestures, or ways of expression
·         Promote awareness and respect of our differences
·         Being aware of what to talk and not talk about. For example, religious beliefs and political views
·         Encourage to speak English while sharing our differences
·         Discourage negative or hateful speech against our differences


Be careful when discussing religion and politics. I have been asked whether these topics should be included in an open discussion or a specific lesson. I have mixed reviews. Religion and politics are very controversial topics. The nature of these topics will present varying opinions. In some cultures, it is FORBIDDEN to discuss these topics.

My advice for both teachers and students: Try not to get into deep discussion about a specific religion or political view. You don’t want to offend anyone. As the teacher, you can manage this by making it into a lesson. Remember to keep the lesson broad and not too specific. For example: You may do a conversation practice where two students are asking about where they are from. One student may say, “I am from Yemen and I am Muslim.” The other student may say, “I am Christian.” Depending on the level of the class, you want to keep this simple and not ask why someone is part of that religion. This can be tricky, because students may be curious or tempted to ask specific questions. If you don’t want to chance that from happening, you can mention that in some cultures people act or dress a certain way to represent their religion and/or culture.  

This advice applies to students who may be curious to ask their classmates about their religion or political views. Be careful not to offend anyone by pushing your views, disagreeing or arguing with a classmate about what they believe and feel. Politics can easily turn into an argument, because every country has their own leadership, rules, and standards. Personally, I try to avoid discussing politics or religion in my class.

YouTube channelCultural awareness is a broad topic. It can be incorporated in lessons, but it should be thought out and well executed. Here are some suggestion in how to incorporate cultural awareness in your lessons:

Lower level classes

·         Start with simple dialogue practice with various scenarios with the focus OR mention about culture
·         Expand on those dialogues as students start to progress in their language skills and grammar
·         Use lots of visuals; pictures are very helpful
·         Have students do a project where they can show where they are from. For example, a family tree, a brief essay about where they are from; an international snack day where students bring snacks from their countries
·         Field trips- students visit museums, cultural events, or places that promote culture and language

Intermediate to advanced classes

·         Same ideas for lower level classes EXCEPT the level of work will be more detailed. For example, students can role play a scenario based on a cultural issue.

NOTE: I did a lesson on prejudice and discrimination with a level 4, 5 and 6 class. I had students act out a scenario that discriminated against a group of people. Since the nature of the lesson was sensitive, the scenario focused on discriminating against a group of students who wore glasses. The students were aware this was a lesson and encouraged not to act this out in real life.

·         Assign students to write about an experience where they felt different from someone and read it in class
·         Create a storybook of students’ writings on a specific topic such as, importance of accepting each other, learning about a new culture, why prejudice is wrong (ß I actually assigned to several of my classes)
·         Field trips with or without the teacher: students can be assigned to do an independent project where they visit a cultural event and write about it

NOTE: You DO NOT have to include cultural awareness in your lessons. These are just some examples. Your class will be different and as the teacher you can decide how you want to implement this topic in your lessons.

Remember, it is OKAY that we are different from one another. Yet, with understanding and a willingness to learn, our different cultures can be a great learning experience for both teachers and students.  

For more about how to be culturally aware, watch my latest video from my ESL video series on my YouTube channel.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Staying Encouraged While Learning English

So you just started your new ESL class. Maybe this is your first time taking English classes. Maybe not. Either way, every ESL class will be a new experience, and the way you feel each time will be different. Learning English can be a difficult or fun experience depending on many factors: the teacher, the classmates, the location of the ESL class (if the location of the class is not comfortable this will affect your learning ability), and YOU. These factors can hinder you from feeling confident in learning English. It can also make you feel discouraged. Here are some ways to stay encouraged while learning English.

Be open to the learning process
There is not just one way to learn English. Each person learns a new language differently and at their own pace. This is okay J Take your time and go with the flow. There are good and bad things in the learning process. Be patient. You will become more comfortable as time permits. Remember, you are learning a NEW language, and that takes time and hard work.

Note: With positive reinforcement and guidance from the teacher (and sometimes from classmates), students can learn effectively and won’t give up when things become difficult.

It’s very important as the ESL student to communicate with both your classmates and teacher. Whether you’re working on a class assignment, have a question or problem, talking to your classmates or teacher can be beneficial.

Talk to your classmates: Talking with your classmates when you’re feeling upset or not understanding the lesson can be a good way to not feel alone. Many students feel the same way as you, but may be too shy to say how they feel. Talking to them about your frustrations will not only help you feel better, but relate to classmates who feel the same way as you do.

Talk to your teacher: Many students don’t feel comfortable talking to their teacher. It’s normal. You want to let your teacher know about your concerns. For example, you feel the teacher is going (or talking) too fast, you don’t understand the lesson, have questions about a class assignment or homework, etc. Remember to be honest and respectful.

Tip: Teachers were once students too so they can relate to how you feel. When teachers know how their students are feeling, they can adjust the lessons accordingly.

Working with your classmates
You will be working with your classmates whether it’s through pair work or group activities. That is part of the learning process. Working with your classmates is a great way to meet new people, learn about different cultures, languages, and ideas, and share common interests. It’s also a way to help each other in understanding concepts like grammar, reading or writing activities, and conversation practice.

While getting to know your classmates, be careful to not become too personal. Sharing is a nice way to learn about someone, but sharing personal information is risky. Be mindful of what you share with your classmates or teacher.

Examples of personal information
·         Relationships
·         Where you live (address)
·         Your social security number, bank information
·         Politics (unless it’s part of a lesson, do not discuss your political views)
·         Religion (unless it’s mentioned in a lesson, do not discuss your religious views or encourage your classmates to join your religion)
·         Sexuality

Note: There are some ESL lessons I have done where the topic of politics and religion came up. It was in a formalized manner and students DID NOT discuss their personal views on the subject but rather on the lesson. For example: discrimination at the workplace

Tip: You want to be careful NOT to offend or disrespect anyone by discussing these topics. In many cultures such topics are NOT allowed.

Dealing with frustration
You will feel frustrated while learning English. This is natural and affects all ESL students as well as teachers. Coping with frustration will help you to keep trying and not to give up.

·         Remember your purpose for learning English. This reminder will motivate you to continue learning English despite how you feel
·         Pace yourself/Take your time
·         Breathe
·         Ask for help (classmates and your teacher)
·         It is OKAY to make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning
·         Try your best
·         Don’t give up

Note: Teachers make mistakes too J

My advice to ESL students
Learning a new language is not easy but it’s possible. Be proud of yourself. Many people cannot do what you’re doing. You are only human. You will not understand everything, you will make mistakes, and you will feel frustrated. You will NOT learn English in a day. Remember your purpose for taking English classes and pace yourself. Don’t give up…you WILL get there. TRY YOUR BEST J

For more tips, check out my latest video here

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lesson Planning

It’s time to lesson plan. This doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. With the right attitude and resources available to you, creating a lesson can be fun and a chance to be creative!

Remember: Always plan before class. Keep the lesson simple yet effective making sure you’re covering the material.

Depending on the textbook (s) you’re using, most times it will provide an outline of a lesson for each unit and/or topic. With most textbooks, there’s a teacher edition which gives lesson plans and activities you can use in your class. However, if there is no textbook, the way you plan will be solely up to you. Here are some tips to help you through this process.

Always have a warm-up activity. This activity can be a get-to-know exercise between students, a dialogue practice, or a game. The purpose of the warm-up activity is to get students talking.

Preview Similar to a warm-up activity, you may introduce a new topic with an in-class activity or a simple question and answer exercise. For example, the topic is jobs. You ask your students, “Who wants to find a job?” Depending on how they respond to you, you can do a follow-up question like, “What kind of job are you looking for?”

TIP: Write your questions on the board (do so one at a time) and write students’ responses. Sometimes based on students’ responses, it can create a conversation between classmates or encourage the shy students to participate.

TIP 2: Draw a bubble map by writing the topic in the center bubble and students’ ideas in the surrounding bubbles.

Courtesy of

The lesson If you are using a textbook, there may be a vocabulary list of words that the unit will cover, or an activity. Go over this with your students. However, if there is no textbook available, you can choose what activity you want to do. I usually like to introduce a few vocabulary words by writing them on the board, have the students repeat them after me, and use them in a sentence.

Afterwards, I may create a dialogue practice where students can use these new words. The dialogue will focus on the topic. Here’s an example.

Topic: Jobs

New vocabulary word: retail

A. Hi Mary, I want to find a job.
B. Really? What kind of job are you looking for?
A. I’m looking for a retail job.
B. Okay.

This is a very basic dialogue and you can add to it as students are practicing and learning new vocabulary.

Pairing/group work You want to encourage your students to work together. Peer learning is effective, because it allows students to help each other. Some students may feel more comfortable asking their classmate a question than asking the teacher. This is also helpful when you have multi-level classes where some students are more advanced than others. You can pair the advanced student with a lower level students to assist in classroom activities.

Repetition Repeating is important to help reinforce student learning. For lower level classes, you will be repeating a lot to help students in learning the alphabet, sounding out words, and basic sentence structures. For advanced classes, you may not have to repeat as much, but it’s still necessary. For grammar, repetition and review is crucial since there are many rules to grammar.

Review Always review with your students. You can do this at the end of class or at the beginning of the next class. Reviewing grammar points, vocabulary, and concepts is important in helping students remember. Another way to review is by assigning homework or warm-up exercises from the previous lesson.

Time Timing is everything! You only have a set amount of time to complete your lesson. However, this may not always be possible. Each student has their own learning pace. Depending on the lesson, you may not be able to cover everything. This is okay. You can continue where you left off in the next class, but don’t forget to REVIEW what students learned. You want to keep a steady pace with lessons.

Student feedback Student feedback is important and necessary for the ESL teacher. You want to make sure you’re not only completing lessons, but allowing students to share how they feel about the lesson, the learning process, and even your teaching style.
Whether the feedback is positive (yay J) or negative (uh-oh L) this helps you to make adjustments. It also encourages students to feel comfortable sharing their feelings to you as their teacher. If students aren’t happy, they won’t do well and may even drop out of the class. You want to encourage them to try their best, let them know you are there to help them, and how they’re feeling is normal.

Remember, it’s about student learning. You are their guide in the learning process. 
Happy planning!

For ways to implement your lesson, check out my latest video from my ESL series on my YouTube channel