Teaching Ideas for the ESL Classroom
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Whole Brain ESL Teaching Activities

Do your students quickly forget what you've taught them? Do some students seem bored in class? Many traditional language exercises only engage the left side of the brain. Such exercises are very logical, very precise, and very necessary, but if students only use their left brain, they get bored and tend to forget. Long-term memory resides in the right brain, so try some of Teacher Joe's creative, memorable right-brain activities to keep your students' interest and help them remember what you teach.

Here are some of the most interesting and useful activities that Teacher Joe has used in his classes:

1. Rhythm Practice - Musical ability is located in the right brain. You can use this knowledge by adding rhythm practice to speaking exercises. When you do repetition drills, have students clap their hands with each major stress point. For example, if you are practicing relative clauses, you might have a sentence such as "She is the woman who I played tennis with yesterday". This sentence has fourteen syllables but only the 1st, 4th, 8th, 9th and 12th syllables are stressed. ("SHE is the WOman who I PLAYed TENnis with YESterday.") So, students would clap five times while repeating this sentence. Students will remember this kind of practice much longer than ordinary repetition. In fact, they will probably remember this for the rest of their lives! (For more examples of teaching English rhythm, see Teaching with Rhythm.)

2. Humor - Another way to inspire students is with humor. You can tell jokes in class (see How to Tell a Joke for some tips) or you can just say funny things. For example, you can exaggerate when you speak or say things that are obviously not true. You might say "Good morning" to an afternoon class, or you could tell students that you will now begin their final exam, although it may be a week or two before the actual test. When asking questions, you could offer 100 billion dollars for the right answer or offer the title of "World Champion" (or "Champion of the Universe") to the best speaker of the day. Besides getting students to laugh and relax in class, you will also help them with their listening skills. (See Using Humor in the ESL Classroom for more ideas.)

3. Movement - Besides rhythm and humor, you can also reach your students' right brains with movement. One of the most popular language-teaching techniques is called TPR, which stands for Total Physical Response. All you have to do is ask students to perform simple actions, such as picking something up, or giving something to somebody, or moving to another part of the classroom. Students must listen and you as a teacher can see immediately if they understand or not. With this kind of practice, students naturally remember the sentences you speak. (See Teaching ESL with 'Action English' for many fun and useful ways to use TPR.

4. Songs - Teacher Joe learned French, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese by listening to songs. Although some of the word in a song are a bit poetic, many of the sentence patterns and phrases are very useful in daily life. More importanly, if students can follow along with a song, their speaking can become more fluent too. Of course, as with any of these right-brain activities, students will never forget what they learn through songs! (Read Teacher Joe's tips for using songs in the classroom.)

5. Pictures - "One picture is worth a thousand words". We've heard this phrase before, now put it to use in your classroom. You can draw pictures on the board or have students draw pictures themselves. (Teacher Joe has an interesting Drawing Game, read about it here!) You can also enlarge drawings and pictures from your textbook and put them on the blackboard to focus students' attention. If you have advanced students, use the pictures in TV programs or movies to help you. Students can learn to listen at the same time! (Read about Joe's favorite Video Lesson.)

6. Stories - Besides telling stories to your students as they listen, you can also have students create their own stories using vocabulary from the textbook. This is a very good group activity. Encourage them to be wild and you will be surprised at the results! The context created by a story will guarantee that students remember.

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