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Category Archives: student centered

Mark Richards, Teacher – James Lyng Adult Education Centre, Montreal, Quebec

A teacher asked, “I have this one learner in my class who cannot understand one word of English…How do you reach this child?”

I only work with zero beginners. Start with survival English. What does this kid need to be able to say to survive day to day in your school? In your community?

Think old school: function/notion. Be physical, use your whole body as a means of communication and encourage him to do the same. Make a game of stand up/sit down and Simon Says.

Involve other kids in the teaching process. Use some simple American sign language for the deaf (with pictures) and then speak at the same time.

The motor cortex is located in the same general area as Broca’s and I find that encouraging students to use sign as they speak helps them assimilate and retain vocabulary faster. (For example, look up the signs for apple, banana and milk on the net and you will see there is a visual connection between the sign and the word). If you do the sign for go, repeat the word and then physically leave the room and he will understand. And then have him do it and have other kids do it.

And if you don’t have the time because you’re too busy managing the other students in your class, get some other kids to help out thereby creating a cooperative and inclusive learning environment. By having him repeat the sign with the words, he can start to communicate in telegraphic speech. Hanging around the other kids will help him fill in some of the gaps.

Here are some verbs which are very easy for students to learn using sign and they are basic everyday survival vocabulary: go, come, eat, drink, see, have, give, buy, help, show, forget, teach, learn, read and write (and don’t forget washroom).

I understand that this may seem a little weird for many people here, but most of my zero-beginner students end up understanding close to 30 verbs within the first three days of class. There is a little resistance at first, but we have a deaf student in our program and after the first few days I have him come to visit my class.

Once the students understand that they are actually communicating with him through sign, they really get interested. Remember VAKT – visual, auditive, kinetic and tactile. The more senses you involve, the more the brain is engaged and the more likely info will be transferred from short term to long term memory.

Simultaneously, you create multiple pathways back to the information so there is more chance he will be able retrieve it later (Whole Brain Teaching). For phonics and sound/letter correspondence: Dr Seuss (Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, The Foot Book, etc.)

Draw pictures on the board and use a ton of pictures in the class. I agree 100% with Mert on this one: pictures, pictures, pictures and repetition, repetition, repetition. Furthermore, anything you say, write it on the board and anything you write on the board, number it. Within a short time he will be able to use the numbers as a reference to what you are referring to. Use music. In another thread, there is a discussion about music in the classroom. Here’s a little reworded version of Frere Jacques that my students enjoy:

Easy English

Could you give me a paper please?
May I have a paper?
I would like a paper please.
Could you repeat that?
I didn’t hear!
Could you speak more slowly?
Thank you very much!
I am looking for the office.
Where is it?
Could you tell me where it is?
I don’t know!

By Warren Ediger – California, USA

“One of my early mentors told me that leadership is “knowing what needs to be done, knowing why that is important, and knowing how to bring the appropriate resources to bear on the situation at hand.”

Helping my adult ESL students in the classroom and online tutoring students (mostly professionals) understand “why” has paid rich dividends.

Trelease, Krashen, and others have referred to the “home run” book – that book that is so engaging that it triggers the beginning of the reading habit. Your involvement with the students, to help them find that book (maybe not on the first try), may also contribute to accomplishing the goal you seek. See here –

The “home run” phenomenon is one reason I tend to use popular fiction rather than graded readers. It’s easy enough to help an adult student learn what is best for him/her and the quality of the writing is often better. There is a reason it’s called “popular” fiction.”

I live in La Habra (southern), California. I am no longer doing any classroom teaching. My time is divided between writing materials for international ELls who are working independently to improve their English and Internet-based tutoring, primarily with professionals and students preparing for the TOEFL. I will also be branching into speaking/presenting and, possibly, consultation.

Read more from Warren Ediger at

>By Karen Stanley – Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

One effective way of having students ask questions, I’ve found, is to sit down/stand in the corner, not saying anything, and simply wait for the students to say something. This is often after I’ve explained something a bit complicated, and expect that it will take students time to absorb what I’ve said before they can even figure out if they have questions.

Sometimes I will ask *them* a question and wait. Once in a while, no one ever says *anything*, and after waiting quite a long time (I’ve learned to wait quite patiently), I finally take pity on them and begin myself. Of course, I don’t deal with classes of all Chinese students, and don’t know how that kind of waiting would work in that type of classroom.

I have thought about using the following technique for dealing with student questions (I heard about it in a presentation some time ago), but have never actually *tried* it. I keep thinking I should (someday, of course).

The teacher hands out index cards (or small pieces of paper, since I understand index cards are hard to come by in China) at the beginning of class. During the class, students have to write down a question about something the teacher explains during the class. The students turn in the questions as they leave class. The teacher can then go through them and use them at the beginning of the next class.

>By Tony Lee

I started with a freshman oral class for the first time this semester and they certainly are different.

First thing I told them was since they are paying my salary, they are my boss. A couple of them have taken their responsibility as my boss very seriously and yesterday came to tell me what I was doing wrong.

First I was talking too much. I was their first Australian and yes I had talked for most of the first 2 hour lesson telling them all about Australia and myself. Second lesson they talked the whole time — on a progressive story so I could gauge their ability. Speaking — pretty good. Understanding me or each other – quite bad. So pep talk on active listening etc.

The interesting thing is at a brainstorm session they picked exactly the two top ‘wants’ as Eve’s class – they should speak all the time and I should teach them culture. The one about correcting them immediately was already in place as I had warned them that those who were worried about losing face should leave it (face) back in their dorm.

Now the trick is going to be how to satisfy two almost completely mutually exclusive activities. My easy solution was to tell them they can’t have their cake and eat it too and those who wanted more info on western culture would have to come to our apartment and look at my books, maps and photos and ask me questions.

They wanted things to debate so “who is responsibility for learning” will be more productive than some I had considered.

>By Janet Kaback – Newark Public Schools, USA

In the past, the role of the teacher was the keeper of knowledge who was considered all-knowing, who would deign to deposit some of this knowledge into the minds of his/her students. This role fit in well with society after the Industrial Revolution. The vast majority of students did not pursue higher education and were trained to work in factories where they were responsible for a certain job. The industries needed laborers, not thinkers.

However, in today’s world, the ability to acquire and utilize knowledge and to apply it in various situations is the goal of the modern societies. The global economy, international travel, and the internet, shrink the world’s differences as we move to develop a fast-paced, technological society. No longer do the advanced countries seek to produce quantities of laborers, rather, we need the technological knowledge and the ability to think and problem-solve that schools must now produce.

Therefore, the role of the teacher needs to change in order to produce students who are able to think, plan, and act on their knowledge. As one teacher said, “Students have to learn to discriminate between useful knowledge and less useful knowledge and decide on their own language learning priorities.”

Advanced societies must change the way the schools teach to produce the citizens who will understand how to act, and how to activate in the 21st century. This includes teaching students how to seek out their own knowledge and how to discriminate between useful and extraneous information in the pursuit of a goal. It does not only come into play with language learning, but must be considered within all disciplines. Just holding a diploma with the knowledge that one was supposed to acquire doesn’t cut it in today’s world…using that knowledge in the correct manner and form to surge ahead in the changing world is what is needed.

>By Frank Holes, Jr.

Much has been said and written lately about providing students with choices. I’m all for any methods which will improve student involvement in class, giving them ownership in their learning. There are many ways to give students choices, options, or just to provide random results and change up the monotony. This article will discuss how to use random results in typical class situations.

One technique I use is drawing from a hat (or mug, box, basket, or other container). You can choose anything to put in the hat, and decide if you or the students will do the drawing. You can draw, or let your students pick. I try to keep the ‘hat’ above the chooser’s head so there is no possible way to cheat on the draw.

In the hat I like to use different colored poker chips: white, red, and blue. We will use these for many applications, or at least any that involve three different outcomes. When grading freewrites, for example, drawing a blue chip means I take an immediate grade on the assignment.

A white chip means “thank you for writing today”, but we aren’t going to grade it, just file the writing into your folder. A red chip indicates I’ll collect the papers, read over them, grade them, and select a few to write comments upon. By drawing a chip, the students don’t know if the assignment will be graded or not, so they must do their best. However, for the teacher, the students are writing more but you don’t have to grade every paper!

We will also use the chips for minor homework assignments. Same idea – white is a no grade, blue goes immediately to the grade book. But on red chips, I’ll allow a minute or two to fix mistakes before I collect them. It depends on the situation. It’s that simple. And the students never know if the assignment will be graded or not, so they have to do their best just in case. Another technique is to use strips of paper in a coffee mug for completely random choices. This is great for games like charades where students draw random words, topics, or choices. This could be used to randomly discuss class topics or answer questions.

I like to use this for choosing project topics. Put slips of paper numbered 1 through however many students are in the class. Fold the slips and then have students draw their own place in the waiting line. Whoever has the slip #1 gets first choice of topics, #2 chooses second, and so forth. No one can claim a biased order of selection! This is great for research paper topics, where you don’t want students choosing the same topics. We will also use small slips of colored paper to form random groups of students. If I want four different groups, figure how many students you want in each group and tear that many small slips of colored construction paper. Do this for each group, using different colors. I find this is a good use for scraps of paper left over after an art project (the thick paper holds up better). Then go around the room and let the students ‘choose’ their group. Collect the slips back after recording the groups & names so you can re-use the slips again.

You could use all sorts of everyday items to get random choices. Flip a coin in a two-choice situation. A die or pair of dice can give you even more choices. You could even use a deck of playing cards.

To randomly call upon students, we utilize note cards filled out with student names and personal information. At the beginning of the year, students write their name, parents’ contact info, text book numbers, hobbies/interests, and other information on a regular 3 x 5 index card. I then collect these and pull them out, shuffle, and select a random card (with the student’s name on it.) Voila! Random selection
of students.

And if you want to ensure you call upon everyone equally, just don’t shuffle the cards, and place the used card at the back of he deck. You can cycle through the card deck over and over, ensuring you’re calling upon every student equally.

Cards, dice, coins, poker chips and simple slips of paper can be easily used to make random selections in class. We’d love to hear any other ‘random acts’ ideas and techniques you may have. We’ll add them to this article and post them on our website with credit to you!

Find Frank Holes, Jr.’s website at:

>By Katy Miller

When I found students returning surveys which were almost word for word identical, I tried turning these issues into discussion topics to find out exactly what they meant by (for instance) “correct every mistake immediately) and why they thought that would be a useful approach, and found that the students didn’t really know why they saw these things as important, and couldn’t sustain discussion about them.

Yet every time a did a survey, back they came: correct every mistake immediately, more opportunities to speak, and how to learn English. It was interesting that once the discussion on this was over, the same problems I was experiencing as a teacher kept arising: many students were not making use of the opportunities to speak English that I was providing, most students did not easily learn from a correction of a mistake, and some seemed never to take my advice on how to learn English!!

I just wonder how much of the time students give the “cover story” response to these sorts of questions on my surveys – gave the answer that everybody knows is good to give, but hadn’t really thought about them. I’m back in NZ now but I’m coming back to China in September for at least another semester (China and teaching is addictive! Just one more…)

When I get back I think I might spend a little more time explicitly discussing these things in the classroom. I think doing a contract might be a really good way of making sure the students understand the value of these ideas as learning mechanisms, rather than just spouting them off as the expected answer to a question, and might lead them to using them in their learning more effectively.

>By Eve Ross – Beijing Institute of Machinery

I asked students to discuss with a partner what percent of their learning is the teacher’s responsibility, and why. The answers ranged from 10% to 100%, but most were between 30% to 50%. The insights used to defend the various answers were really great, too. Since everyone admitted that the teacher had at least some responsibility, this was a good segue into creating a teacher’s contract.

The list members might be interested in my students’ suggestions of clauses to go in my contract, since they create a students’-view picture of the ideal English teacher. I should mention that I taught these same students last semester, so they are already familiar with my teaching style. The numbers reflect how many of the 32 students included the item in their list of suggestions.

26 – Provide more opportunities to speak English
14 – Teach more Western culture
14 – Point out mistakes and correct them immediately
12 – Show more films
8 – Work more on pronunciation
8 – Give more opportunities to talk about daily life
8 – Provide more chances to meet other native speakers
6 – Give advice on how to study English

Suggestions given by fewer than 5 people:

Give advice on reading
Take students out of the classroom
Answer e-mail quickly
Do more role plays
Ask for student suggestions
Give practical knowledge
Give advice on passing the Band 4 Exam
Be friends
More homework
More tests
More oral presentations
More games
More focus on the text
More different topics
More vocabulary
More grammar

All of these seem like pretty good ideas to me, but only the first three are actually going into my contract: I will provide as many opportunities to speak English as possible. I will teach some aspect of Western culture in every class. I will point out and correct students’ mistakes immediately.

>By Annie Zhao, University of Bath, England

Student-centred learning has some difficulty making headways in China. First, it is about choices. The students are not enable to make choice about what they need to or want to learn.

Many Chinese teachers teach to textbooks because it is the “given” or mandated material to deliver. They have a course to run. Many teachers feel they don’t have time to stay for discussion or for an individual kid to express something clearly.

When the teacher asks a question, the time the kid is allowed to answer it is to say “yes” or “no” when they are preparing for examinations. However, foreign teachers seem to be allowed for more space for choices, as they are not accountable for examination scores directly, and they are supposed to bring in diversity.

Second, the class size and discipline are problematic to handle in group works and its evaluation. Student-centred teaching is more demanding to teachers. Whole-class transmission is the main experience many Chinese teachers have had. They need professional training for the skills to facilitate student-centred learning.