Sunday, October 30, 2011

Word Formation Organizer for Vocabulary Students

This is a graphic organizer (Blank Word Formation Sheet) for my intermediate vocabulary students. They can download it as a Word Document (under the File menu) and type in different word forms along with an example sentence for any target vocabulary. Teachers can also fill in the sheet themselves, print it out, and refer students in the future to this page to download additional sheets. (If you're like me, I'm trying to save myself having to print out lots of copies for every student that loses his/her original copy or wants additional copies to add to.) 

I also teach my students how to use index cards for reviewing vocabulary, but the word formation sheets are another way to review language, especially for exams which focus on being able to transform words into their correct parts of speech.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Besides teaching English as a Second Language, I have a long-term interest in other Englishes. Chinglish, of course, is the word we sometimes humorously use to refer to the kind of English spoken by Chinese who are non-native speakers of English. This post, however, is partly about "Chinglish", the new play that was performed this summer in Chicago and is moving on to New York and (I hope, eventually) the West Coast.

Why did Davide Henry Hwang write the play "Chinglish"? It was in response to his experiences traveling in China. Despite his Asian roots, he discovered, as I have when I go to Japan, that our American upbringing compels us to see connections and disconnections between cultures and people's behavior and language. If we all speak in English, are we actually communicating?

First, I will give you a link to a funny YouTube video which streams a lot of Chinglish signs (some of which you may have seen at with a nonsensical-sounding song. Next, you can play the game linked to the Broadway play, "Chinglish", to get you in the spirit of the performance. The answers are here if you want to skip the game. Finally, these are some links to a description of the play: interviews with the cast and the playwright (1, 2) and a review in the Chicago Sun Times. Cheers to Davide Henry Hwang and success to Chinglish!

Monday, October 10, 2011

"A" is for "Achieve"

Vocabulary is still one of the areas where most students are weak, so I often put up posts here on this topic. I am always searching for ways to enhance student and teacher performance. Unfortunately, there is no one, sure-fire method to improve vocabulary. Repeated exposures to the target vocabulary is a basic strategy. The adage "Use it, or lose it!" applies very well.

English Central is a site that offers video reinforcement of vocabulary. Scroll down the "A" page and look for "achieve." A window will pop up that gives you that word in various forms, the pronunciation and definition of the word, and other forms of "achieve." To the right of the word is an embedded screen which, when clicked on, will open up a stream of video clips with the target word in context. The catch is that you must register to see the sample videos. The basic free membership allows you partial access to the site. The paid membership will get you full access. So far, however, the free membership has been more than adequate for practicing and building a lexicon on a variety of themes or topics. The few extra minutes it takes to register are worth it. Some people went to a lot of trouble to assemble all this material, so we should definitely use it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Correct Use of English

A comment at another site caused me to rethink how important it is to get students to use "correct" English and which structures to fight for and which to accept. This video is a reading on the topic of the English language and the ways in which it is used today (a commentary delivered by the British actor and writer Stephen Fry).

I have been in the position of having taught students the difference between "less" for amounts (non-count nouns) and "fewer" for countable nouns and of being asked why the supermarket check-out sign says, "10 items or less." Hmmm... good point.... Good observation of the use of English in the "real" world! Maybe there's a sign-posting rule that says, "Whenever possible, use a one-syllable word" (even though the two-syllable word "fewer" is, in this case, more grammatically correct).

Unlike Stephen Fry, I still sometimes cringe when I hear someone on NPR (National Public Radio) say, "There's lots of people who ...." There IS lots of people...? Am I being pedantic if I tell my students that the correct expression is "There ARE lots of people who..."? We English teachers certainly have to choose our battles, don't we?

With all my students, I tend to say, "If you follow the grammar rule, you usually can't go wrong. However, language IS a living thing, and it's constantly changing as it is used by people around the world." That's about all I can say when I encounter text-messages, e-mail, Facebook comments, advertisements, signs and so on that break the rules I've struggled to teach. I do, nevertheless, appreciate the fact that my native language is quickly evolving as it spreads from neighborhood to neighborhood around the globe. Now, that's pretty exciting!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Cambridge Proficiency Exam Set Text)

I am so happy that I taught the Cambridge Proficiency Test preparation course the past year. Otherwise, I would never have read Philip K. Dick's profound novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", which is one of the set texts for the CPE Writing Paper.

Recently, I went searching for some audio commentary about the author and came up with several online links. There are some downloadable ones that you can play on Windows Media or iTunes, and some which can only be played on RealPlayer. Below are some of the links. Most fascinating for me are the recordings of interviews with the author (not necessarily about this particular book, however). Seeing and hearing the author in his own words gives a reader another perspective from which to view a work.

For a review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I can recommend the which has references to some key passages, . This site is ongoing, so the reader may want to check out reviews of other books made this year. To see how the cover artwork on the book changed from its first printing to its most recent one, visit this page. If you're interested in doing a follow-up study of films based on Dick's works, you should look at this link. CPE students have watched the movie "Blade Runner", based on this book. Some students didn't like the movie at all; others liked seeing the book interpreted on screen and then comparing it with the film. The book is definitely a winner!

"P" is for "power" - Collocations using Concordancer

How many ways can you use the word "power"? It's a small word - only five letters, but it has a strong meaning. To have power in English, you need to know how to use words in combination with other words. To sound more native, you need to put words together that collocate. That simply means you need to put words together that commonly go together when people either write or speak in English

As you can see, Lextutor searches through a variety of sources for whatever word or combination of words that you type in. I searched the AWL (Academic Word List corpus). A concordancer displays the word in context within a line of text. If you want to see the word used within the context of a whole paragraph, you can click on the word. Or, from the beginning, you can search for the word in a sentence. It's a great tool for both students and teachers.