2012 TESOL Training Program at Queensland University of Technology

Week One

I used to think studying abroad was a dream which was impossible for me to realize because I took on huge responsibility as a husband and a father of two, and I couldn’t just abandon my family and my job only for my own dream. A couple of years ago, some colleges of mine decided to pursue their master’s degree in the United Kingdom, which made me so jelous. Therefore, when I learned the Ministry of Education was going to subsidize English teachers to study in Australia for five weeks, I immediately knew this was a great opportunity to fulfill my “unfinished business”, so I tried hard to get myself accepted. Now, here I am in Brisbane, studying TESOL with so many amazing English teachers all over Taiwan in such a beautiful country, Australia.

Accommodation here is quite small but warm and friendly because I was so lucky to have two wonderful roommates. Both of them are very nice persons who are willing to share many things with each other. We would go to school together, shop together and cook our own food together. Also, the simple kitchenware, including the refrigerator, the hot plate and the toast maker, surely makes us save lots of money because the food price here is incredibly high. Because our room is relatively bigger, there are seven of us cooking and having dinner here every day, which is also quite an unusual experience. As for the transportation, we can now save up to seven dollars every day with the free ferry and inter campus shuttle that allow us to commute absolutely free of charge after a few days’ trial and error. Still, commuting from here to the Kevingrove campus is quite time-consuming and it takes us almost an hour to get to school in time every day.

Undoubtedly, getting to know the beauty of Brisbane is a big part of this trip. As for now, we’ve already been to so many renowned tourist spots around the city. The Brisbane River winds its way through the City and suburbs. An easy and pleasant way to see the city is to take a trip on the CityCat ferry, which takes commuters and visitors up and down the Brisbane River and stop at various points of interest. Queen Street Mall features a full range of stores, including the Myer Centre, can definitely meet the needs of those craving shoppers. The Sunday Riverside markets and South Bank markets on Saturday night are quiet similar to Taiwan’s night markets where you can have a taste of many different gourmet flavors. South Bank boasts the Gallery of Modern Art, the State Library of Queensland, the Queensland Art Gallery and the Queensland Museum, etc. Knowing very little about art, I just took a very quick glance there.  

Of course, the most important goal of this TESOL Training Program is for its participants to gain a new perspective and some innovative skills on English teaching. The first week was more like an orientation. We applied for our ID card, got the username and password and learned how to make use of its library of the Queensland University of Technology, or QUT. What’s more, we were given a simple introduction to learning about Australia, including the family life, the land of Australia and aboriginal Australia. Like I said, they were only a quick glimpse because it’s quite impossible to really get to know these differences in such a short time. But luckily, all these classes were conducted in a more student-centered way. Mainly with group discussion and even some hands-on activities, participants of this program must actively engage in expressing his or her ideas with the group totally in English, which is also a very good opportunity for us to polish on our speaking skills. In addition, we’ll have to submit a project report in the end of this program, so we were given a tour of the library and introduced the basics of the Independent Study that all participants should decide on a specific topic related to an actual problem encountered in the classroom. Accordingly, we'll have to  apply what we have learned here to cope with it in the form of an action research, hoping brink back new ideas and useful skills to benefit students in Taiwan.

In Using Authentic Materials, we were assigned to use “realia”, mainly authentic advertisements like brochures, pamphlets, flyers, etc, to design our own learning materials and activities in a group of three. Given an ad for auto parts and accessories, we came up with some innovative ideas of utilizing it as a good supplement. First, we devised some interesting questions to arouse students’ interests of learning by relating them to their dream cars and what they would buy in the shop to amplify their cars as a warm-up activity. Then, we focused our grammatical structure on the verb, "spend". After providing many real-life sentences, we hope students will learn how to use this verb inductively. Next, students would be divided into groups and demanded to ask each other questions with some real items around them. For example, they should practice asking questions like, “How much did you spend on/buying that watch?”, and try to answer them correctly. Next, still in a group, students will have to perform a task with the help of the brochure and practice speaking some English. With a budget of two hundred dollars, students will discuss which items they would like to buy and why. Also, they need to share their ideas with the rest of the class in the front, and the teacher or the others can also offer positive feedback. Finally, we can also ask students to interview other teachers or their parents about how much money they have spent on their cars in English as homework.

Week Two
ESL in Australia
Traumatized refugees coming from war-torn countries in Middle East and Africa come to this country to seek asylum, and most important of all, security, which is a basic human need that they can’t have in their own countries. The government here has adopted a series of plans to help them adjust to the new environment so that they can develop a sense of belongingness and the ability to find a job here. To achieve this goal, education plays a very critical role, and English competence definitely is the most important one.

By watching a video of a dedicated teacher, we gained a basic understanding of these refugee students’ English level and how this wonderful teacher managed to engage them with all kinds of hands-on tasks and projects. Since most of them didn’t have any access to education before, their vocabulary is so limited that they can only say very simple grammatically incorrect sentences. Pronunciation and intonation is also an issue because it is so difficult to understand what they are saying.
English Immersion Approach is exactly the answer. Every subject is taught by using English as the medium of instruction. The teacher cleverly devised a wide range of learning materials that related to real-life situations. For example, the students learned to use the Internet to search information online and did an oral presentation totally in English about their countries. They also went to a bakery to learn how to bake and serve in preparation for future prospects, which is another great opportunity to practice speaking. Furthermore, the teacher provided them opportunities to help those with cancer by raising money with their bread and cake, and they naturally became to think they were making contributions to the society.  

Systemic Functional Linguistics
The most dominant English teaching methodology in Australia is the SFL developed by Michael Halliday, which learners learn to analyze the purpose of a text. Language features of different text types, or genres, are used to decide whether the author achieve his or purpose. Genres, including Argument, Procedure, Narrative, Information Report, Recount, Explanation, etc, provide a framework for different writing references that learners can follow good models and then try to create their own.

Genres are influenced by three aspects of context: field, tenor and mode. Simply put, field is the subject matter or topic, tenor refers to the roles and relationships between the writer and the reader the lead to the “language choice” and mod is the method of delivery, either written or spoken. In other words, the genre fits the function and the social purpose and context. Take this blog article for example, the field is to summarize this TESOL program, such as the theories and applications in terms of language skills. The tenor is myself and other teachers who follow this blog, so my choice of language, including verb moods and vocabulary choices can be both formal and informal, objective and subjective, personal and impersonal. The mode is mainly in written form, complete with photos and videos.

Based on the Genre Theory, teachers can come up with practical plans to help teach reading and writing more effectively. When it comes to reading comprehension, we can help our students identify genres and their systemic structures so that they can know the context and purpose of the reading passages and quickly locate important language features, like the way the writer organizes his or her main ideas, supporting details, transitional words, etc, to pinpoint the required information and get the correct answers.

Teaching Writing(1)
The teacher today began her class by emphasizing how useful and effective it can be to teach writing with many interactive group works that create opportunities for students to work with each other and therefore create a more dynamic class. Given an essay topic of how the popularity of international travel has benefited both countries of destination and travelers, we were again asked to work in groups and performed several tasks based on the idea of “guided writing”. For example, we first brainstormed as many words related to travel as possible and categorized them into three types to help form paragraphs and their content. Then, we decided on the most suitable topic sentence or concluding sentence for each paragraph with our partners. Finally, each paragraph gradually took form after finishing the tasks of “cohesion” and “linking words”. An effective way to develop cohesion in writing is to use similar words for key vocabulary, and linking words, like because and however, are necessary to connect ideas.

At the final week of this program, each participant will do a micro-teaching in a group of three, incorporating new teaching ideas and techniques that we have learned here. The purpose of this activity is for the teachers to have an opportunity to demonstrate and share their dedicated work of becoming a more creative teacher with each other. The medium of instruction, of course, has to be English while presenting the micro-teaching, and this has caused some anxiety among teachers probably because we’re too afraid of not being perfect in front of other teachers, especially speaking English in front of other English teachers requires us to break out of our comfort zone and take the risk of being not so perfect in English.

Therefore, in preparation for the micro-teaching, we were introduced a brief introduction to it, including its definition and all the principles of doing a better one in a few weeks. Simply put, micro-teaching is a short simulation activity in which you, as a teacher, present a part of a lesson using strategies and techniques appropriate to your target students. Also, when taking the role of the teacher, we were advised to present an activity from the textbook, use teaching aids, give instructions, organize language practice through group work, provide feedback to yor students, etc. We have been repeatedly reminded of the importance of making our activities interactive, instead of being authoritarian and doing too much lecturing again. What’s more, constructive feedback from other participants is extremely important as well. To complete the circle, we have to make sure that supportive and non-threatening advice will also be offered by other observant participants after each micro-teaching so that every teacher can have a chance to improve their teaching practices.

Classroom Language Skills
As an English teacher, we’re expected to use English in many ways and expose our students to good models of correct language use. For example, English in the classroom can be used for daily routines, class rules, administrative tasks, reward procedures, etc. In my case, I’d like to give a simple explanation first and then make lots of real-life example sentences and encourage them to guess its Chinese equivalent, hoping they can learn this new word in a more contextualized way and retain it better.

Thinking of my own lessons, I would use a mixture of Chinese and English in various activities, but less than ten present of my time is spent on English. There are many factors influencing how much English is used in my classroom. One of the main reasons is that level of students’ English is not good enough, so I’m pretty used to reminding myself that I cannot speak English in my class over two minutes while speaking it because you’ll gradually lose their concentration. Or, when I want to chat about something more casual, irrelevant to the current topic, I would speak much longer without worrying about many of them might not understand what I’m saying at all.

Classroom language can be divided into two categories, the language of interaction and the language of instruction. The former includes eliciting (e.g. asking questions, modifying a question, providing hints or clues, encouraging students to ask questions and respond to each other), responding (e.g. responding to student questions, seeking clarification, giving confirmation, asking for repetition) and providing feedback (e.g. acknowledging, evaluating and commenting on student responses). However, the language of instruction features presenting (e.g. explaining something new), giving instructions (e.g. to assign homework, to manage the classroom) and signaling (e.g. indicating stages of a lesson).

Diverse activities were conducted to help us build a better understanding of how the mentioned principles can be carried out in a real classroom. For example, the Hot Seat can be used to get to know your students’ level, arouse their interest of learning and build rapport. The Running Dictation is to build a list of techniques and strategies for encouraging the use of English in the classroom. Also, we were asked to discuss how you might convey authentic situations, including a request for quiet, which student should answer a question, the end of a timed activity, pleasure or displeasure with students, that you are listening and understanding, that an answer is correct, etc. What’s more, in group discussion, we tried to reach consensus about what actual words we can say for the situations, such as disciplining a student who is continually talking and disrupting your class, finding out what your students already know about something, responding to a student who has given the wrong meaning of a word or eliciting a description of a koala from your class.

Without a doubt, the purpose of learning a language is to communicate in that language. Unfortunately, after so many years of learning English, most students in Taiwan still lack the basic communicative skills because the memorization of vocabulary and grammar rules can only help them keep their grades up on written tests. Therefore, it is our responsibility to create all kinds of needs of speaking English in classroom. More importantly, teachers should keep on learning and polishing our speaking skills so that we can serve as a good model for our students and immerse them with a rich language input. In order to achieve this goal, I would really like to urge those who have the power to make big decisions to equip English teachers with the ability of use English as the medium of instruction with long-term immersion programs. As for we English teachers, if you don’t want to become better, then you are ready to retire.

Teaching Grammar
The most inspiring and exciting thing I learned during this section was that grammar can also be taught in a more interactive and dynamic way other than lecturing and repetitive substitution drills. Lauren began her class by engaging every one of us playing some sort of Monopoly game. Each group was so busy discussing the correct answer and placing bids to win more cash by deciding on which type of conditionals fits into the right description. What have I learned from this game? Well, I am thinking about modifying it a little bit and help my students clarify all the different usages of relative clauses the following new semester. Then, we were also introduced the Running Dictation to teach the passive voice. Students work in pairs. One has to change the incomplete sentences into right ones and repeat them to his or partner, and the other has to jot down every words that have been said. After that, also with pair discussion, students have to sequence the sentences with the right order based on how banana chips are made and shipped. While playing those grammar games, there was laughing, smiling or even shouting at all times.

In Taiwan, most teachers, including myself, tend to teach grammar deductively, giving clear rules and explanations followed by many mechanical drills to make sure our students can figure out how to get the correct answers on their tests. Under the circumstances, being student-centered and interactive in classroom is really difficult, not to mention teaching grammar communicatively, which has been stressed many times by the instructor today. Reflecting on this teaching practice, I think the traditional lecturing and repetitive drills are still necessary for our own settings because we can never ignore the importance of getting good grades. However, those interesting games can also be used as great supplements, scaffolding students in a more fun and communicative way rather than rote learning of rules solely.

Week Three
We were introduced some useful language for discussions, like asking for and giving opinions, agreeing and disagreeing, interrupting, stalling, conceding a point, admitting an error, etc. With the given article, Internet Addiction- A Growing Problem, we were provided a simple survey and asked to interview other teachers about how addicted they were. The instructor also reminded us that necessary scaffolding, like background information, structured language, controlled discussion, etc, must be provided in advance before getting students ready to talk.

Academic Writing
Discourse markers, Nominalization and Hedging were introduced in this section. First, we went through purposes of each category of discourse markers in terms of written and spoken forms. Next, given a sentence, “The environment is an important issue in today’s world because the scientists and researchers spend a lot of time about the environment, the problems and how to protect it.” we learned to identified each nonacademic word, such as because, spend a lot of time, about, etc, and change them into more academic ones by using passive voice, higher lexis and nominalization. As a result, the new sentence could be: One of the single most important issues in the world today is the environment. Finally, hedging is to avoid definite statements in a noncommittal, ambiguous way by using words like possibly, might, it has been suggested that...., etc.

For readers of this blog, maybe you already knew that articles posted on this website were written in a more casual way because I have never been properly trained with regard to academic writing. Besides, I also didn’t want them to be so formal or serious, so you can find my way of writing usually is not that objective as research papers and oftentimes even very personal. After this class, I think there’s so much for me to learn if I want my writing to be concise and to the point in terms of nominalization.

School Experience: St Thomas More College
This catholic secondary school is located in Sunnybank, with a total of 580 students, from grade 8 to grade 12, and the tuition of 4000 AUD a year. Its curriculum planning is based on the Brisbane Catholic Education Beliefs, emphasizing the demands of contemporary learners and the changing and challenging world. Of course, religious courses are incorporated and governed by its vision and mission statement, reflected in the motto, God’s Servant First. Math, Science, Social Studies, English and Religion are the main academic areas, complete with over thirty functional courses.

The most important aim of this school visit trip is for us to really go into the classroom and see how curriculum is actually taught and learned with first-hand observations. We were provided two periods of classes and divided into several groups, so everyone was quite busy taking notes and photos without interrupting the teacher. The first class was English literature, and the topic was Sacred Text. Students were already working in groups of four when we got there. Each member had to make their contributions with their “Individual Thinking”, and then they combined those ideas and established the “Group Statement” collectively, which each group had to share with the rest of the class later on. The teacher was busily moving among groups and checked their discussion. After that, one student from each group read aloud their group statement, and the teacher gave constructive feedback or added more specific details to their answers. Following that, the teacher showed his PowerPoint slides about genres of texts, such as legends, myths, poetry, prophecy, proverbs, etc, checking students’ understanding by asking some questions. Shortly after that, students were asked to look for definitions of some genres online with their laptops. In the end, the last activity was to match some given texts, like Exodus 20, Ecclesiastes 7, Luke 4: 16-21 and so on, and justify their decision with evidence from the text. During those tasks, the teacher kept reminding them of the importance of higher-order thinking skills, encouraging them at all times even when their answers were incomplete or incorrect.

The second class was Career Development Education, designed to help students to choose their pathways to potential career perspectives, including future general education, vocational training, work and alternatives. Students worked in pairs to discuss and find out the requirement of entry that their teacher had given them as homework. Taking University of Queensland for example, the teacher also went through the prerequisites to some given departments. Then, a video directly related to this topic was shown to elicit the three Rs: Reflect, Research and Resolve. Again, students worked in pairs to discuss five pros and cons of their choices, and the teacher helped many of them reflect on their ideas and gave them some advice as well. In the end, Principal Elmore was so kind to give us a tour of the school facilities, such as the library, the computer lab, the culinary room, and the RTP room, etc.  

It seems that teachers and students there are pretty used to being watched. Not only did we go into the classroom but I also walked around and talked with some of the students. When the teacher asked a question, there always would be several students raising their hands. When told to work in groups, most of them could participate in the discussion. But to my surprise, one girl virtually lied on the chair, with her legs holding up high, but the teacher did nothing about it. Also, one girl was fuddling with others’ hair, and another was throwing folded paper or something. Thus, there is no such a thing as a perfect education system in the world.

Teaching Listening
Without further ado, the lecturer demonstrated a listening activity called Twispers. One participant from each group got an oral message, “I saw Sussie sitting in the shoe shine shop”,  from Marg outside the classroom and had to come back inside whispering it quietly to the next one, and so on and so forth. In the end, the last teacher had to write that sentence down on the board. Actually, the phrase, “shoe shine shop”, was not easy to make out, and only one group successfully got it right. The fun part of this task is that each member was not only passively passing what he or she has heard but also actively interpreting the sentence. In another word, both top down and bottom up skills are required to comprehend what we heard efficiently.

Then, we discussed possible listening problems and potential solutions. Causes can generally be classified into six areas: psychological, lack of familiarity with phonological features of L2, lack of familiarity with authentic speech, lack of transfer of L1 listening skills, lack of cultural knowledge and poorly designed tasks. Next, listening strategies, including building a schema, listening for the gist, predicting details, etc., can be helpful for teachers to design such a class. Take my “Learning English from Youbute” class for example, I would state the theme of the week first and then give a simple introduction to the video they were about to watch in order to give them some background information. Students were also encouraged to grasp the main idea and guess the meaning form the context, which was designed to amplify the importance of that earlier introduction.

Pronunciation and Reading
The lecturer, Lynette, today began this section in a sort of Problem-Based Learning way. She posed questions regarding to some common issues, which we usually encounter when teaching pronunciation, to elicit categories like intonation, stress, spelling/pronunciation relationship, consonant clusters, and so on. Lynette kept saying that we have to move students from the known to the unknown to be an effective language teacher. For example, one of us asked how to help students distinguish front /l/ and dark /l/, and she said that making front /l/ first and then with your tongue in the same place at the front, raising the back of the tongue almost to the position /u/. Of course, we practiced it several times as well.

By reading intriguing stories, like Koala Lou, The Wide-mouthed Frog, The Circus and Don’t, she demonstrated so many innovative and practical teaching skills in terms of teaching word/sentence stress and intonation, and we were all very impressed by how wonderfully she could read these stories and poems with her voice. We worked in groups and worked on those skills over and over again until everyone could confidently read it out loud and gained Lynette’s recognition. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve especially learned so much from this class because I really could relate to those skills, thinking about coaching students for the Readers’ Theater Competition one year ago. So, how to employ those reading skills and incorporate them in regular classes is a big challenge for each participant of this program.

In the Teaching Reading session, again, we brainstormed reading difficulties in terms of both students and teachers, such as lack of sufficient vocabulary, the lack background knowledge, the length of reading passages, and so on, so each potential solution was discussed. Then, two relevant views, Bottom-up and Top-down, were elaborated and analyzed with several examples. Both skills are required to achieve reading comprehension regardless of the level of the students, so the timing to decide on which skill to suit the need of the reader is crucial. Next, we also took a quick glimpse of Schema Theory, coming up with schema building activities like telling students something they should know in advance before actually reading the article, such as important words that they don’t know the meaning of or cultural background. Finally, we read a given paragraph and try to determine what might be a suitable first paragraph, complete with stating the reasons. This activity was designed to help learners use contextual clues to actively construct the first paragraph.

Week Four
Teaching Speaking & Listening
Two approaches with regard to listening were introduced and discussed, which serve as an excellent guideline for the following listening activities, grabbing everybody’s attention throughout the whole three classes. The Testing Approach, which the teacher introduces the topic and some key vocabulary, and the students read the questions and check any unknown words and then their answers, doesn’t offer that much active engagement while students are only trying to get everything right as the tape are played.

On the contrary, The Skill Development Approach will get students to talk briefly about the topic and brainstorm related vocabulary and ideas, asking about some difficult words or sections. Then, the teacher plays the tape again, stopping at any difficult parts if necessary. Given a copy of the transcript, students read it through, hear the tape again and then listen to the tape without looking at the transcript. In other words, this approach provides many scaffolding activities, like reading the transcript, for students to construct the meanings actively. Also, the “Use it or lose it.” principle was emphasized again and again, meaning teachers should create opportunities to allow students to produce with the language on their own to retain it longer.

Under the principle of Skill Development Approach, Judith introduced a total of eleven activities:
1.   Listening and Spelling Practice Exercise: checking students’ understanding of words with difficult spelling, e.g. favourite, fauvourite, fauvorite, favourte; I like, I’d like, I’ll like, I’m like.
2.   Bingo: distinguishing some confusing consonants, e.g. sheets, she, shore and sack.
3.   Word substitution: practicing synonym use
4.   Silent Dictation: pronunciation and articulation
5.   “George is getting married”: dictation, blank-filling, confidence-building and role-play (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJIQjDtdygA)
6.   Listening for Accuracy: I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye
7.   Ben by Michael Jackson: the use of transcript to enhance listening comprehension
8.   Physical Exercises: vocabulary of body parts, speaking and listening
9.   Taking a Group Photograph: information gap, speaking and listening comprehension
10.   Running Dictation: listening, speaking, memorization and sentence-sequencing
11.   Movie Goofs: a fun way to practice speaking (http://www.moviemistakes.com/imdb250)

Most important of all, not only did we went through all the activities in a more interactive and dynamic way but the rationale behind each one of them, complete with the purpose, the procedures and some potential variations in those activities. Undoubtedly, this class is by far the most resourceful one, and Judith was immediately surrounded by all participants asking to take a photo with.

Teaching Vocabulary

Two kinds of activities, receptive and productive activities, can help students learn new words. We have to be aware that it takes at least 15 times with a new word for students to really retain and use on their own. When teaching vocabulary, make sure the following aspects are included: the form, the pronunciation, collocations, the meaning and synonyms/antonyms/hynonyms. Then, we were introduced an activity, K.I.M., for vocabulary words and new ideas. Write the term of key idea (K) in the left column, the information (I) that goes along with it in the center column, and draw a picture of the idea, a memory clue, (M) in the right column.

School Experience: ST Paul’s School
There were two classes that I got to observe today. One is an English class that students were busy working on their drafts, and the other is a Japanese class where learners were practicing speaking in pairs. First, I was originally grouped and assigned to watch an English class. Unfortunately, that class happened to be a draft-revising one in which students prepared PowerPoint slides for their oral presentation on Romeo and Juliet. The teacher was calling on their names one by one to give some advice, while the students were supposed to work on the individual draft. I asked some simple questions and tried to have an understanding of what they were doing, and there was nothing left to watch because most of the students were chatting. Some even were listening to music with their earplugs, but the teacher seemed indifferent to this unless they were too noisy. So, I was standing there awkwardly without knowing what to do next. After a few minutes, we decided to left and saw if we could observe another one.

Luckily, the teacher from next class was very friendly and immediately invited us to watch her lesson. It was a Japanese class, and students were busy practicing the sentence pattern, “How do you go to plus place?” in the target language. One thing really surprised me was that the pronunciation and intonation of hers were quite amazing, and she kept demonstrating how to say it correctly and fluently for the students, with around half of her instructions in Japanese. The overall atmosphere was quite relaxed, and the students were so willingly to participate in the activity. Judging from their laughter and smiles, I would say this was such a successful class that the students seemed to enjoy taking this optional course of foreign language. After class, I particularly asked the teacher how she would get those learners to practice speaking Japanese oust of the classroom? She said that there were many international students in this school, and she could arrange some Japanese students to talk to hers one on one in Japanese.

Again, I reflected on what have I learned from this experience and what good ideas I would bring back to Taiwan. First of all, making the class student-centered and interactive seems the most significant feature in comparison with the teaching practices in Taiwan. Teachers here sometimes also do lecturing, but they tend to make it short and efficient. Then, students are given relatively much more time to pair work and group work, and they’re all pretty used to sharing their ideas with the whole class. As for teachers’ feedback, it is usually warm and kind so that students are not afraid of making mistakes even though their answers are not necessarily correct every time. Thirdly, teachers here give individual guidance, regardless of noises from the other students. There are about twenty-five students in the class, and of course some students will chat and even misbehave when they are left unattended, but they can usually get back on track as soon as the teacher signals them to be quiet.

So, can we just copy all the good things we’ve observed and implement every one of them when we go back to Taiwan? Well, the following are some restraints that I think we need to bear in mind before embracing those good practices. First, students’ level of English. Activities, like paraphrasing or summarizing, or anything that requires students to organize their thoughts and express themselves in English usually won’t work because they are not given enough opportunities to begin talking from something easy. Second, lack of motivation. Students in Taiwan are too used to sit quietly in class, waiting for their teachers to give them the correct answers so that they can copy onto their textbooks. They are just too afraid of making mistakes and getting laughed by their classmates. Third, lack of freedom to decide what to teach. For example, not only do I have to cover the textbook but I also have to teach loads of supplements of outside reading because they will be tested on midterms, which leaves me little time to do activities in class. Finally, the class size and the seating. There are thirty-five students packed in a relatively small classroom. Unfortunately, almost every interactive activity here demands larger space to put students into groups, so that’s a huge problem to work out before adopting any of those techniques in our own classrooms. But, please note that any of these should not be an excuse of not trying something new and fun other than the usual mundane lecturing throughout the whole term. It is our job to at least provide an opportunity for our students to experience what it feels like to really use the language in the classroom.   


When introducing a new reading passage to our students, “Brainstorming” is a very useful technique in many practical ways. It can not only get them mentally ready but provide scaffolding to help them understand the material better, such as eliciting vocabulary, predicting what might be mentioned based on the title or illustrations, giving some important background knowledge, etc. All these activities are designed to engage learners to actively participate in learning, rather than waiting to be told what to do passively.

Also, reading is not necessarily all about learners processing the text individually. There can also be very interactive activities among students so that reading becomes more interesting and dynamic. For example, a “Jigsaw” activity is quite suitable for students to work together and actively construct the meaning as a group with everybody’s contributions. We were first divided into three groups of ten. As a group, we had to thoroughly understand one of the three given parts of the reading material, including new words we didn’t know the meaning of. Then, the lecturer, Terrie, gave us some guided tasks, like wh questions about each of our own part, to make sure we can all get the gist of the divided article. Next, we’re grouped again so that all the three parts of the article could be put together so that everyone could get the whole picture. Each member of the new group had to orally share what he or she understood about the designated part and then went through all the reading compression questions assigned by Terrie altogether. When each of the three new group members successfully finished the task, the jigsaw puzzle was solved as well.

There are many advantages for teachers to adopt this technique in the classroom. First, interaction among students as a group really create an opportunity to engage them in the process of constructing the text meaning. Traditionally, teachers tend to explain everything in detail, including all the new words, phrases and structures, in the hope that our students can get everything right on the tests. As a result, students are deprived of chances to develop important reading skills because they are used to relying on their teachers to provide correct answers. Second, this activity combines both reading and speaking skills. For more advanced learners, we can also encourage them to summarize the whole reading passage in their own words. Third, and of course, less lecturing from teachers also means students get to participate more, and naturally they also become more motivated when they work together and complete the assigned tasks collectively.