Sunday, February 14, 2016

Seeking Good Listening Resources

In response to demand from my morning students, ten out of fourteen of whom are Chinese, I am currently seeking the best of the best in the way of listening materials, resources and ideas. 

At one of the TESL Ontario conferences that I attended, I was lucky enough to find a very good workshop on helping our students improve their listening skills. I'll start our new course with those ideas, but I'm going to need at least one or two good texts with CDs that could be my "go to" resources--if such an animal even exists!

The listening texts I've seen at conference book sales and in my colleagues' cabinets have all left me feeling a bit meh. As I thumb through them, I notice they are often full of photos or cartoons of young people talking about going to a disco or to the beach together. They are getting ready for the prom or discussing the popularity of Beyonce's latest hit.  Those materials do not light the fire of a 70-year-old survivor of the Cultural Revolution.

Topics that DO interest my morning students include such things as avoiding phone scammers, frugal living, food security, thrift shopping, diets that contribute to longevity, etc.

Do you have any recommendations for me?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Free Worksheets for CLEO Tenants' Rights Series

Hello and welcome!

I have something to offer you and something to ask of you this week.

My question is for those of you already implementing Portfolio Based Language Assessment (PBLA), especially if you teach literacy or a low level.

In my literacy class, we are spending four weeks building skills toward being able to communicate needs and complaints to the landlord. During week one, we read "Jack's Apartment" in the Talk of the Block short vowel series - Home. Week two revolved around being able to read "A Crack in the Tub" in the same series.

We are just building vocabulary and becoming more and more familiar and comfortable with the concepts of our dwellings and what can go wrong in them.

Week three our topic was rooms of the house or apartment and what furniture or appliances could be found in each room.

These past three weeks' classroom activities were not strictly limited to learning to read these simple stories about fictional Jack and his leaky bathtub. We also spent some time on each of the following:

  • CVC words; we are working our way through all five short vowel sounds (TAP, BED, RIP, POT, TUB). 
  • Being able to read analog and digital clocks in order to communicate to one another at what time we engage in various activities.
  • Counting from 1 to 60 (for clock skills).
  •  Functions such as being able to ask and answer "What time do you take a shower / eat breakfast?"
  • More practice with "how many" in the context of "How many rooms are in your house/apartment?"
  • Review of colours via "What colour is the (room in the house)?"
This coming week we will finally dive into the CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario) learning activity booklet for CLB 1/2 called Tenancy Law - Maintenance and Repairs. Yes, this material is, strictly speaking, too high for them. That is why I spent three weeks helping them build vocabulary around rooms of the house and what is in a house. By the time we tackle this set of activities, they will have already learned words like landlord, stairs, hall, living room, bedroom, sink, tub, leaking, and broken.

Here's my question. If I am writing out a MODULE PLAN for my supervisor in accordance with PBLA guidelines, would one of these weeks constitute one module with the end goal of that module being the ability to read the story about Jack (not a RWT), or would the module be the entire four weeks (three weeks of skills building to get to the Real World Task of being able to talk to the landlord or write her/him a note)? My manager gives me one answer, but some colleagues disagree.


Now onto what I am offering YOU today. If you teach a lower level, such as Literacy Phase I or CLB 1 or 2, my activity pack for this CLEO workbook may be useful to you and your class. You can download the PDF word search puzzle, PDF word shapes worksheet and an MS Word document containing four different activities. This last item is something that you are FREE TO EDIT as you see fit (the true / false sentences currently refer to my own students by name, so you would change them). Just go to my website at and then to FREE RESOURCES - Settlement Themes. Click the Canadian Law panel and scroll down to Tenancy Law.

Enjoy! (Oh, and DO let me know if you end up using these materials. It would make my day.)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Make Room for Joy

Have you ever known a teacher who didn't seem to grasp the fine art of selective feedback?  As an instructor of LINC literacy, I feel it is SO VERY IMPORTANT to create a safe space in which we are all free to make mistakes without fearing that anyone is going to chastise or pick, pick, pick on us for every uncrossed T or undotted I, figuratively speaking.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I've spent many hours in the same room with a teacher who could not resist correcting every single imperfection.  I do NOT want to be that teacher.

When a foundations literacy student joins our class, ze is given space to adjust and is granted a silent period. The learner will let me know when ze is ready to be called upon to go to the board. Ze will begin to join in various activities when ze's feeling at home, comfortable and confident. I'm the same sort of second language learner. I understand the need to stand back and watch a while before jumping in.

The conditions under which I teach ESL literacy are not ideal. I wish we could have a separate class for foundations learners, but we don't. Instead, I do my best to differentiate the lesson and offer the foundations learner(s) the support of our teaching assistant--either in class or in another room while the phase I learners are with me in the main classroom. Like I said, it's not ideal.

Currently I have one foundations learner in with eleven Phase I. So I do my best to set expectations for her that are attainable and within her Zone of Proximal Development. This week I hope she can begin to distinguish between small O and small A, both in reading and printing. While others unscramble sentences about our house, she will copy a few.

Well, why am I going on about this? I'm prompted to blog about this today because of something that took place in the classroom yesterday. For three weeks we are building skills toward being able to communicate needs and complaints to the landlord. This week, module three, we are learning the rooms of the house/apartment and what can be found in each room. In teams of two, one team assigned to create each of six rooms in the house, students were snipping pictures out of magazines and taping them to large sheets of construction paper.

One recent newcomer to Canada, a darling young woman who is a Karen refugee, looked to me for approval before pasting into the bedroom a photo of an elegantly dressed woman seated at a grand piano. Without thinking, I made my silly doubting face--the face that says, "Hmmm, think again. Are you sure about that?"

But then I looked down at the collage this student was making with her husband's help. The orange bedroom was overflowing with all the things this young woman might be dreaming that bedrooms in her future life in Canada can hold--plush kingsized beds heaped with brocade pillows, velvet floor-to-ceiling drapes, a Victorian vanity topped by fancy lotions and colognes on a silver tray.

I felt a sharp pang of regret as I saw the delight fade from her sparkling eyes.  How fast and how seamlessly could I backtrack???

YES, Muchi, of course it's okay. If you want a piano in the bedroom, by gosh, put a grand piano in the bedroom!

She laughed. She inferred not only that pianos don't usually go in bedrooms, but also that I was trying hard to save face for her. She laughed some more. (Golly, I love Karen people!) Then I laughed, and soon everyone was laughing.


Next time, I'll not be so quick to squash a newcomer's dream of a grand piano in the bedroom.