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General teaching tips

Names -- Roger Chrisman, 20 June 1999

Don't miss Leslie's Names and their meanings in the hand outs section below!

Your students might enjoy using popular western names in English class (a) to learn their spelling and pronunciation, and (b) to have a well chosen English name for themselves when they want to let someone call them by a western name as an alternative to their Chinese name.

Remembering names

It is difficult in large classes for students, not to mention us teachers, to remember all the classmates' English names. Name cards can help you both keep attendance records and *address students by name* whether they use western names or Chinese pinyin names.

Bring plenty of 3x5 index cards with you from abroad. They are not a standard Chinese stationary item and are very hard to find here.

Seating chart

If you students sit in the same place every time you meet (they are apt to do this), you can use a simple seating chart to help you take roll.

Name tents

3x5 cards folded in half lengthwise with the student's name on each side. The student can take this with them when they move to another seat during rotating activities. The name tents are collected into a stack after class, tied with a rubber band, and kept in someone's safe hands so that none of them will get lost.

Deck of students "ID" cards

Best option, skip the seating chart and name tent tedium all together. Instead, take pictures of your students early in the semester for class ID cards. Have fun -- start by putting your camera into their hands and having them to take a picture of you first with some of them standing around you, to warm them up to the photo op -- be jovial and set an example with your big happy smile for the camera. If your students think you are taking "ID" photos they might try to adopt very serious expressions because that is how most ID photos in China are expected to look. So be sure they understand you are taking pictures of your smiling students to remember them by. Now photograph students two at a time (shoulder to shoulder next to each other). If they cuddled their heads close together just take another picture, shoulder to shoulder You are going to snip the photos in half later to make happy individual ID photos.

Have the students write their names and student numbers on the back of the cut photos or glue them onto 3x5 cards and have the students write their names, student numbers, phone numbers, dorm numbers, and maybe hometowns and hobbies, too.

This deck of ID cards is invaluable for both taking roll and for calling on students by name. These cards introduce the exciting and fair element of chance into calling on students: turn the cards face down, mix them up, and take one off the top of the stack, or fan them out and take one at random. The element of chance is exciting to the students and happily lets you off the hook as the bad guy who always calls on so and so.

They will also be valued keepsakes years later when you have moved on in life.

English names? -- two ideas

Pinyin versions of students' Chinese names following the model Jiang Zemin, Zhu Rongji, etc., family name before given name, are correct international Chinese-English names (this is the way the press is handling them).

Popular western names in combination with students' pinyin family names, following the model Mark Jiang, Claire Xiao, etc., are also popular.

The idea in option two is not to steamroll our students' traditional Chinese names but rather to offer them an additional handy linguistic social tool. Choosing a name from a foreign language you are studying is fun and having your teacher help you choose one adds to the special gift of the student teacher relationship, too. This is also a natural way for the students to learn how to spell and pronounce these common English names. Still, some students prefer to use only the pinyin version of their Chinese name and that is fine too. Using pinyin names helps internationalize the identity of the English language. The choice should be put into the students' own hands. And they might not all make the same choice as to when to use a western English name or a Chinese English name. The point of the exercise is that many students will enjoy using a foreign name sometimes. Variety is spice in life :-)

Homework assignment

Choosing names -- homework
- Helps students choose English names
- Middle school and up

Hand outs

Boys' names and their meanings (a printer friendly Rich Text Format doc) -- Leslie Sirag, May 23, 2000
Western boys' names, their origins and meanings.

Girls' names and their meanings (a printer friendly Rich Text Format doc) -- Leslie Sirag, May 23, 2000
Western girls' names, their origins and meanings.

Boys' and girls' names (HTML) -- Roger Chrisman, 1998
Just more names.


BabyNamer.com http://homearts.babynamer.com
A Web site where you can look up the meaning of English names. Note: you must type your [return/enter] key when you want to look up a name, after entering the name in the "search" form (because clicking on the "search" button does something else).

Grouping students -- Neil J. Anderson, April 30, 1999. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA.

Here are some fun ways to group students that I have used (in the US).

I have a small basket with colored pieces of paper in it. As students enter the room they select a piece of paper. Students are then grouped during the class by colors for an activity.

  1. On another day I have a basket with colored pieces of paper. Instead of grouping students by color, I ask them to find 3 others with different colors than they have selected.
  2. Another twist to the colored pieces of paper is to write a number on each piece of colored paper. The papers are folded so when students select a paper they don't know there is a number written on it. You can have the students group by number OR by different numbers.
  3. I have had students line up by height and then we count off in groups of three.
  4. I have different geometrical shapes in the basket. One day students are grouped by shape on another day students are grouped by different shapes.
  5. When I have an activity that requires pairs, I have asked students to select a partner whom they have not ever worked with on previous small group tasks. At first students are reluctant, but they soon find that they can work with anyone in the class.
The "baskets" I bring to class are ones I've picked up in different countries as I have traveled. Students are often interested in knowing where I've purchased "today's basket" from.

One thing that I've noticed works well is to vary the method for determining groups. Students like the variety and look forward to seeing how they will be grouped for today's activities.

Listening tips -- Russell G. Salter, April 17, 1998

To be a good communicator you must be a good listener. Listening is a part of non verbal communication -- NVC.

To start to be a good listener try this. Face the speaker squarely, lean slightly toward the speaker, do not fold your arms across your chest, look at the speaker, let them know you are attending. The speaker will pick up on this and will also become more relaxed. Listening is a part of communication.

Sorry if I am a little out of practice.

Good luck teaching in China.

English corners -- Roger Chrisman, October 31, 1998

Tips for students at English corners

Speak and think in English. Put Chinese away when you practice English. Make an English only rule (also think in only English when you practice by yourself). If you can read this article you can think in English. Sometimes one word of Chinese is good bait to catch an English word. Say in your mind or to your friend in English, "How do you say 'daoyan' in English?" Someone knows and says, "Oh, that is 'director.'" Good, you caught an English word with a Chinese word as a hook. So allow Chinese words in your English sentences. However, do not allow Chinese sentences or you will scare the English away!

Listen well and ask interesting questions. To get a new English corner started you could require each person to write their own "entrance ticket" -- a strip of paper with one unique and interesting question written on it. Each person writes their own question on whatever subject interests them. These entrance tickets are passed around as conversation starters but only in the beginning. Good conversations develop naturally when you listen well and ask interesting questions.

Friday nights from about 7:00 to 10:00 are popular. Help your English corner develop a reputation for reliability; set a convenient time and stick to it every week so people can make a habit of coming. Set a convenient time, spread the word and it will become a tradition.

Find your courage. Communicate and share ideas. It is fun and the best practice for developing fluency. He who makes no mistakes makes nothing at all.

Re: English corners --Mel Adams, November 1, 1998

I think we have to ask, "Why do people go to them?"

To learn or improve English is only one answer. I saw people come for social activity as much as I did for English improvement. Some people came because it was very hot outside and the room the corner was in was air conditioned. Some people came to learn about the culture of the country they planned to emigrate to. Many came to find boy/girl friends.

Having a lot of native speakers worked. I found that written games, such as crossword puzzles, also worked but I think one of my colleagues, Peter Legrove, found the best answer. He would greet everyone as they came in and ask them very directly why they were there. He would then have them sit in groups based on why they were there. Having something in common, something they were all interested in in that group resulted in good activity and good corner attendance. 

Teaching tips to go --Linell Davis, December 15, 1997

Chinese students have a rigorous middle school education that stresses success on examinations. This predisposes them to trying to get "the right answer" and makes them fearful of giving a wrong answer. Also in the Chinese tradition the teacher speaks and the student listens, so students rarely interrupt to answer questions. When asked if they have any questions, usually they have none. The teacher dismisses the class only to have many of them run up to the desk to ask their questions. I deal with this by asking all of them to write out two or three questions related to the topic I am teaching. I collect them and look them over quickly to find out what they don't understand or want to know. Another strategy is to put the students into small groups and ask the group to come up with several questions. They can all do this and feel more confident in asking questions when they are doing it as a representative of a group rather than on their own.

In large classes (video course, etc.) I often carry small pieces of paper in my pocket and hand them out to students who ask questions. They write their names and student numbers on the paper and hand them in at the end of the class. I record these questions as class participation points to be added to test scores. This strategy makes use of their motivation to get a high grade.

If you teach a two hour course, be sure to have a break in the middle. At this time the students will ask their questions and tell you what they are thinking. You can use this feedback to refocus your remarks in the second hour.

Small group competitions work well as students do feel more secure when responding as a member of a group. Almost any topic can be handled in this way. For instance, in a writing class you might be working on basic essay structure with several points like introductions, conclusions, paragraph organization, etc. Then give them a model essay and ask small groups to pick out the points in the essay you have been discussing. The group that identifies the most specific points wins a prize -- maybe an old unwanted magazine in English or a candy bar or maybe just an A for the day's work. University students are very competitive and there are lots of ways to tap this characteristic. Use your imagination.

Linell Davis in Nanjing 

Teaching with movies --Linell Davis, May 18-22, 1999

I am thoroughly convinced that using films is an excellent way of teaching in China. I am presently teaching three film courses.

For language teaching they have several advantages
1. They present more natural language than can be found in most readings in Chinese textbooks.
2. They give students lots of context which helps them to learn how to use context in listening.
3. The students love them, so they are highly motivating.

There are problems, of course
1. You have to choose films that are culturally appropriate and that present language at a level that is accessible to the students you are teaching.
2. You have to overcome the students' tendency to "read smart and view dumb," that is their tendency to see films as entertainment rather than as learning texts.
3. You have to overcome the students' belief that they have to understand every word to understand. Maybe we should call this extensive listening as opposed to intensive listening.
4. You have to teach the films rather than simply show them. How you teach them depends on the students' level and the purpose of your course.

I agree with what some other people have said -- that contemporary films sometimes have problems with slang and cultural references that are difficult for students and not very useful for their language learning. Try some older films. Look over the 100 best list published last year. I have had good experiences with Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, North by Northwest), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stagecoach, American Graffiti, Groundhog Day, Forrest Gump, Blade Runner (advanced), Searching for Bobby Fisher, Witness, High Noon, Dances with Wolves and others. They all know about the list, but don't let them talk you into The Graduate or Pulp Fiction. Woody Allen is mostly incomprehensible except for The Purple Rose of Cairo, which is excellent for teaching. Physical as opposed to verbal humor is good. They love Groundhog Day and Nine to Five because they get the jokes. Both have deeper levels of meaning that make for good discussions. Among new films The Truman Show is good. Accessible and interesting cultural content.

Any film that involves going to or being in an unfamiliar place is good because the students can identify with the characters difficulties in understanding language and culture. Starman, E.T., and Witness fall into this category and are all good choices. The mentally retarded are good because they use simple language and other characters struggle to make them understand. Forrest Gump, Rain Man.

They are always after me to show the latest films. I tell them I am a teacher and not a PR agent for Hollywood. Then I show them an old film and make them love it. Once they have had that experience they settle down.

I am doing Malcolm X this morning, 12 Monkeys (advanced students) tomorrow and Everybody's All-American the day after. Got to run...

Things to consider

Language level and social maturity of your students. Watch the film yourself, even if you have seen it before, with your particular students in mind. Will they be able to follow most (not all) of the dialogue? Will they be embarrassed or offended by the visuals, theme, language, etc.

Your educational purpose. Are you focusing on language first and culture second, or the opposite? Are you simply giving the students a break from test anxiety? What your purpose is determines how you plan your lesson and how you show the film.Equipment and class set up: Avoid classrooms with a control room manned by a technician. I keep my hand close to the pause button. I avoid language labs because these give the message that students must understand every word. Who watches movies with headphones in little booths and desks? No one I know. I avoid scheduling problems by getting a video room as my regular classroom. Be attentive to your relationship with the video technician.

Students as consumers of Hollywood PR: They all read movie magazines full of Hollywood hype. Tell them to forget it. People still read Shakespeare and Jane Austen, don't they? Then surely you can watch a movie that is 10 or 20 years old. When it serves your purpose pander to their groupie mentality by naming famous actors or Oscars the film won. Play up the love story if there is one. This is called building motivation. Most students consider movies to be entertainment, and have little idea that they can learn as much or more from them as from their textbooks. You must teach them how to do this.

Students as language learners: Inexperienced viewers will freak out when they cannot understand every word in the film. Too many bad habits from their listening comprehension courses. I deal with this by giving an introduction to the story, characters, setting, genre, cultural context, themes, etc. They can hear much better when they know what to expect to hear. I also point out any particular listening problems they are likely to encounter -- accents and styles the characters use -- and give them some advice on how to deal with them: Give your ears 10 minutes to adjust. It will get easier as you get used to the accent. Watch the body language. Listen to the music. Pay attention to the visuals. You will understand what is happening. When the students start talking to each other, they are probably asking what someone said. When you see this, hit the pause button. Ask them what is happening. Ask them if they have any questions. Clarify and give them an idea what will happen next. "So and so will try to get so and so to do x."

Linell's cardinal rules for teaching with movies

1. Never show a 2-hour film in a 2-hour class. Always multiply the viewing time by at least 2 when planning your lesson. A two hour film requires 4 hours of class time - or more, depending on what you do with it. Plan ahead for pauses. If you don't your students will succumb to the hypnotic effect and become passive viewers. You don't expect to read a story in one sitting, so there is no reason to expect to view a film in one sitting.<

2. Tell students that film is the great art form of the 20th century. They can and should learn to read a film just as they learn to read a book. Visual literacy is as essential as language literacy. We live in an age of images. They need to become intelligent viewers of images, etc. etc. etc. That is, tell them that they are training their minds and eyes as well as their ears.

3. Give them some knowledge of the art of filmmaking. Introduce vocabulary (as needed for particular films) such as genre, chase scene, shoot out, documentary, nonfiction feature film, flashback, fade, camera angle, etc. Ask questions such as, what clues did you get in the first 5 minutes that this film is a comedy?

4. Encourage students to make connections: I organize film viewing around themes. For second year students I am showing films on the theme of identity, because at their age it is a relevant issue. For 3rd year students I am doing a course in genres. I select two or three films in one genre and help them compare. I am also teaching a course in "American culture through film" for another university. I choose films that show changes in American society from the 50's to the present.

5. Stay active and keep the students active. Plan the lesson with the same attention to purpose and student participation as you would any other class.

Sample lesson plan

Groundhog day -- a sample lesson plan for teaching with movies
- University English majors
- Duration: 4 hours (two 2-hour lessons)
- Activities: Pre-viewing/viewing/after viewing
The repetition in this film makes it relatively easy to understand. Many jokes are physical. Students will laugh, which is always a good thing.

Teaching Toddlers
- as discussed on the TEFLChina email list

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