Preparing for the Future

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class actThis month, I write about where I feel the focus of ESL learning in China will shift in the future. If you are an ESL teacher who offers private lessons or if you own a training center, get in early and you may see your number of students increase.

There will be more and more Chinese students studying abroad. This has already started a few years ago, but this trend will continue to grow. The problem that a lot of Chinese students experience when going to study abroad is that even though their level of “every day” English is quite good (their IELTS score confirms it!), they struggle at university because they lack a working knowledge of Academic English. I have seen this happen to friends of mine who went overseas to study.

This next major educational push is known as LEAP (Learning English for Academic Purposes). ELL (English Language Learners) classrooms in native English-speaking countries are already shifting towards teaching language that is specific to different subject areas and disciplines. While there are Chinese Foreign Language schools around, I believe the gap in the market is still quite big and ready for someone to jump in and grab a piece of the pie.

Now, this doesn’t mean that ESL teachers need to suddenly become biology or math teachers, but it does mean they need to understand how and why language is used in various subjects.

So, where and how to start? Below are eight strategies to begin and successfully teach academic language:

1. Encourage students to read diverse texts.
Reading, and then thinking and talking about different genres is a great way to segue into learning academic language

2. Introduce summary frames
Summarizing is a simple and fail-safe approach to academic language activities. Students read a section of text to themselves before verbally summarizing the passage to a partner. Alternatively, learners can complete sentence frames—guides for summarization

Now, this doesn’t mean that ESL teachers need to suddenly become biology or math teachers, but it does mean they need to understand how and why language is used in various subjects.

3. Help students translate from academic to social language(and back)
Model how to say something in a more academic way or how to paraphrase academic texts into more conversational language

4. Have students complete scripts of academic routines
Some academic routines seem obvious to adults, but are more complex than NASA projects for young learners, unless you provide scaffolding

5. Dynamically introduce academic vocabulary
Repeated encounters with a word in various contexts can help students understand the definition. They also benefit when teachers make their first encounters with vocabulary memorable. Use the word in a funny or personal story

6. Help students diagram similarities and differences
When students generate a list of similarities and differences between words and complete a graphic organizer displaying them

7. Have students write with a transition handout
Before students write, give them a handout of transitions. Model where transitions fit, and describe how they help the reader

8. Teach key words for understanding standardized test prompts
Kechia Williams teaches 10 terms that help students understand prompts and ace standardized tests:

i) Analyze: Explain how each part functions or fits into the whole. Write the obvious, as well as, the hidden characteristics or meanings.

ii) Persuade (Argue/Convince): Give facts, statistics, beliefs, opinions and your personal point of view.

iii) Compare: Provide common characteristics, identify how things are alike or similar.

iv) Contrast: Provide the characteristics that are not alike.

v) Summaries: Give the meaning in a concise manner using as few words as possible.

vi) Demonstrate: Provide a step-by-step procedure to show how to do something.

vii) Describe: Present a clear picture of a person, place, thing or idea.

viii) Explain: Take the time to give clear descriptions of an event, object or idea. Add to your explanation by providing as much detail as possible.

ix) Interpret: Give your view from your own experiences or from the material taught to you.

x) Infer: Read between the lines. The answer is not so obvious.

Lastly, it is very important that students be encouraged to continue their Chinese language development. As Cummins (2000) states: “Conceptual knowledge developed in one language helps to make input in the other language comprehensible.”

Category Class Act