Challenges, Ideas, and Solutions – Anne

Ann E. Hendler

One Class Many Challenges – Anne Hendler


Staring at a blank piece of paper. That’s how I approach each class, every day during my prep time. What did we do last time? What did I assign as homework? It was just two days ago but it didn’t fit in my brain. Who didn’t make it to the class – did I remember to write it down in the rush of students coming and going?

I teach six or seven classes a day, with ten minute breaks between them. Ten minutes are barely enough time to catch my breath, write down the homework for the class that just finished, glance at the plan for the incoming class, and sometimes get a drink of water, so the hours I spend preparing for my classes in the morning are essential.

One of my teaching challenges is that, with so much going on at once and very little breathing space during the day, I have little time to reflect on my classes. As a result, I miss a lot. My perception of the class can be far wide of how the class actually went. One of the ways I am trying to solve this problem is taking a leaf from John Fanselow and recording my classes. I figure if I have time to watch the iTDi MOOC for an hour every night, I have time to listen to and transcribe parts of lessons now that the MOOC is over.

It’s 4:20pm. They storm into the classroom, chattering at the tops of their voices. Five boys and seven girls, all about ten years old. All of a sudden five kids are at my elbows: What was the homework? Did I do this right? I forgot my book/notebook/ workbook/ homework/ pencil. Can I go to the market? May I drink water? I did my homework! Check my homework first!

They sit in a large circle. Katie and Heather are in the corner furthest from me. They both have new glasses. Sarah and Cynthia are in the middle. Cynthia shouts rather than talks. Sometimes she shouts herself hoarse. My mom used to say I did the same. Charlotte is in the corner alone, always alone. She’s the youngest in the class. Next to her are Hannah and Alison. In the front are the bright, tiny Alex and his best friend Kevin. Chris is next – he never smiled or spoke before Kevin joined the class. Now he rarely pays attention to the lesson, but he is much happier. And on the far side are Jim and Jake. Jim is the oldest in the class. He rarely participates and doesn’t get along with the other boys, but won’t work with the girls. Jake does his best to get along with everyone. He has a birthmark that has turned one of his eyes electric blue.

Hello! I say, beginning the class. How are you? How are you Alison?

I’m happy and sad!


Happy is just because.

Sad is because in school we played a game (monkey in the middle) and I lost a lot and my friends sat on my feet. … How are you, Alex?

They ask each other in a circle. They talk about their school day, their homework, their high and low points of the day. Some of them remember new details and ask to have another turn. They help each other when they get stuck on words. Sometimes they end up all talking at once and the noise level soars to a glass-shattering pitch.

I walk around and check whether homework has been completed, making quick comments and corrections. Meanwhile the students chat. When I finish, I quiet them again and write the review on the board. Look at the board. … Alison, what did I say?

Review? Open the book?

Look at the board, please. Are you looking at the board?

I’ve written ten foods on the board without articles. What do you want to eat?

I elicit answers from the students. They don’t have a/an/some down yet. I’d love them to learn these articles, but I know that with the absence of articles in Korean and the mere hundred minutes a week of practice it is not very likely.

Meanwhile Heather and Katie are leaning back on their chairs. The other students are quick to tell on them. Next time you do that, you’ll stand up. That goes for everyone. Another distraction.

I want to drink some juice.

Good, Cynthia.

Ah, Anne? I want to use a tissue. Very dirty.

Here you are, Alison.

Okay, look at the board. We go over the food words on the board and assign them articles and go over the rules (count, non count, singular, plural, consonant, vowel sounds). They got it.

Anne. Can use the bathroom?

No, not now. Now we’re studying. … Heather, what are you doing now? … Okay, open your student books to page 65. Look at the pictures. They go over the images in the book and use them in sentences.

I’m hearing this: I’m hearing ‘I want eat a banana.’ I write it on the board.

No! to! to!

Right. I want to eat a banana.

They do it right next time. And again and again.

Alright, you’re going to work with your partners. Today’s partners are….

I assign the partners. They ask each other what they want to eat. I monitor, paying special attention to Heather and Katie, who are probably not doing it, and Jake and Jim, who seem awfully quiet. Suddenly I look up and see Chris slap Kevin across the face. *Blink.* Chris! Out. He goes. Kevin looks stunned. The students continue with the exercise. I go out to Chris.

Why did you slap him?

He slapped me first.

Are you fighting?





Never do that again, okay?


I send Chris back in and ask Kevin to come out.

Did you slap him first?


Are you fighting?




(at least they’re consistent) *smh*

Never do that again, okay? Don’t hit.


We go back in to a chorus of “May I go to the bathroom/ drink water/ not be in the room right now for whatever reason?”

No. We have to study now. Because whoever wrote your coursebook thought that “I want” and “I like” go really well on the same page when the focus is a/an/some, I say inside my head.

We practice. Cynthia is yelling so loudly she starts coughing.

Students shoot each other ‘do you like’ questions.

Do you like doyou? [soy milk, in Korean]

Yes, I do. Do you?

Yes, I do!

I monitor the questions and the time. It’s getting late and time for our final activity – a restaurant role play.

Do you like obait? [Korean for vomit.]

No, I don’t. Do you?

No, I don’t.

Cynthia, do you eat obait?

No, I don’t. They make gagging noises.

From another corner: Anne! Anne Anne Anne Anne! What is soondae English?

I end the activity because the noise level has gotten out of control again.

Time to check the comprehension – with both types of question (What do you want? and What do you like?) randomly interspersed. They got it. But they weren’t finished – Anne! One more time!


I like French Fries.

I want to eat some bulgogi.

I want to eat some chicken galbi.

May I drink some water?

No, you may turn your page, please.

May I drink some water?

May I drink some water?

What’s number 1? I ignore her. She just wants to get out as soon as we start using the book. Every time.

You are going to play the restaurant game. Listen up. You’re going to be in groups of four. Chris and Kevin, change seats with Cynthia and Sarah.

Endless groans. The play rock scissors paper for who has to sit next to a boy. The girls try to make sure the boys don’t touch their bags.

Choose a waiter for your group. Hey…. sit down! Shut your mouth. HEY. Listen. Each team choose one person as a waiter. 

NOISE happens, but resolves itself into rock scissors paper. There are only five minutes left for the activity and I know it, but starting is better than not.

Waiter, your job is asking the question, “What do you want to eat?” Waiters, let me hear you!

“What do you want to eat?”

One more time!

“What do you want to eat?”

Thank you. Customers, your job is look at the menu and decide, what do you want to eat. You can say, “I want a…. chicken sandwich and some soup and some water, please.” Waiter, you have to take the order of three customers. THREE customers.

Ready? Start.

Sit down?

No, stand up.

Oh, I mean Stand up?

Yes, stand up.

The game begins. Alison circles the orders on the menu. Heather tries to do it without getting out of her seat. Charlotte tries to climb on the tables. Hey! This is a nice restaurant.

Alison begins by asking her customers how they are. She doesn’t finish taking orders. Heather passes off her waitressing duties to Katie.

I write the homework on the board while they are still doing the activity, but they drop the activity as soon as they realize it’s time to go.

Bolseo?! [Already?!]

And away they go. Did all that just happen in one class? What do I need to remember or write down before the next group begins? My head is spinning.

Not this kind of spinning.
[Fire spinning by @sandymillin – ELTpics – creative commons]

Luckily, this time I remembered to record the class. I don’t have time to transcribe more than I have just done. My impressions from writing this based on the recording, the transcription, and my memory of the class are that it wasn’t as bad as it felt to me at the time.

  • There was a lot of conversation and a lot of English happening.
  • The students all did quiet down when I asked for their attention.
  • They were eager to do any activity I asked of them (although not necessarily with the people I asked them to work with).
  • They tried. They made mistakes. They corrected their mistakes. They tried again. They succeeded.
  • The face slapping was unexpected, but no one was hurt and no one cried and I managed to keep my temper.
  • I felt like my brain was going to break, but it didn’t.
  • The noisy periods when they weren’t engaged in anything were not as long (objectively) as they felt in class, and the periods that I thought were wasting time were also not very long and were more authentic uses of English than most of the class.

In the future, I think I am going to ask the students to check each other’s homework. I think I will also begin to ask them to write down directions in their notebooks. That might help keep them focused and keep it real.

I will record this class again and transcribe it. It was really useful to visit the class again after the fact. One thing I noticed today that I didn’t notice during the class was Alison’s (clearly intentional) use of TL when she asked for tissue.

Things I wish I had done differently:

  • paid attention to what kind of noise there is in the class, rather than just the volume.
  • paid attention to how language is used in the conversations that were not based on the book.
  • allowed Cynthia to drink water.
  • figured out what was up with Chris and Kevin and the slapping.
  • started the restaurant activity earlier and skipped the ‘do you like’ part.

I don’t have time to do this more than once a day, so I think I will make this class my project for a few weeks and see if I can change the way I see what happens in the class and slow my brain down a bit.



Challenges, Ideas, and Solutions – Svetlana

Svetlana Lupasco

Teaching Adult ESL Learners with Emergent Conventional Literacy Skills
– Svetlana Lupasco


Maryam’s Big News   Maryam is holding tight her little son’s tiny hand while rushing through familiar path on her way to school. There’s big news to share: her husband and two children have become Canadian citizens today! In a few minutes she will drop off her 3-year-old at the childcare and step into the classroom, sit at her desk, open the calendar and highlight today’s date. Then, printing wholeheartedly every letter and number she will carefully write the date and their first names in her notebook. She will be waiting patiently for her classmates to appear one by one to tell them the news. Just a few weeks ago neither of them could write or read in any language and were total strangers to each other. Today, they are sharing the joy of learning to read, write and live in English.

 I often start a new term (week or class) of the Adult ESL Literacy program with the calendar learning activities. It is pretty easy to customize and print out a yearly calendar from various “time and date” websites or simply create an original template using the desired font, size and format. Adult ESL learners with emergent literacy skills will gradually learn to navigate the table format, get used to the left-to-right directionality, rehearse the numbers, recognize by sight and spell days of the week, follow simple instructions, mark personally important dates (birthdays, appointments, holidays, arrival in Canada), ask and answer questions about a certain date, etc. With more practice, they will be able to identify important dates and times on notices, letters, flyers in their daily lives and respond accordingly. The value of these activities is that the learners develop their basic literacy skills together with their ability to function in the English language using meaningful real life resources and tools.

Adult ESL Literacy instructors are in a constant search of feasible ideas to overcome multiple classroom challenges such as continuous intake and mixed ability classes, time constraints and mature age of the literacy learners, their inability to learn independently caused by the lack of learning strategies, etc. In my experience, focusing solely on challenges did not prove very successful. In fact, my professional growth and happiness started as soon as I realized that all of the above could be viewed as opportunities rather than barriers. Today, I truly believe that continuous intake, however difficult it is for the instructor, greatly benefits the learners, as they are able to start school as soon as possible. I look forward to welcoming new learners into the classroom, as I believe that the mixed ability is certainly an advantage and a good opportunity to build mutually beneficial learning partnerships. I am not frustrated any longer by the limited instructional and learning time caused by the life circumstances, instead it motivates me to devise relevant tasks to develop efficient communication skills in the shortest time possible. I value adult learners’ life insights and try to appropriate them to make language and literacy learning experience as successful as possible. Finally, I know that the learning strategies and the ability to self-direct learning will be built incrementally with the partner and group work as long as there are plenty of opportunities to interact on meaningful and comprehensible tasks.

Maryam’s story Maryam is 34. Last year, she started school for the first time in her life. She loves to read aloud, although she knows that it is somewhat slow. Her letters aren’t perfect yet, but she is trying to write neatly. In class, Maryam realized that she is quite good with numbers and that the household math is much easier for her than for her fellows. Therefore, she has been in charge of mentoring a few classmates learning to handle Canadian money. Since she became the class math tutor, she has noticeably improved her communication skills. Maryam has never missed a single class, as she knows that at any time her help might be needed…

Challenges, Ideas, and Solutions – Irina

Teaching Grammar Deductively, Inductively & Creatively Using Photoshop  – Irina Ostapchuk

Irina Ostapchuk
What is the most challenging thing about teaching grammar for you?  Is it lack of time to explain this or that rule? Could it be the difficult temperament of your learners? Or is it that having to prepare a creative explanation that catches a learner’s attention and motivates him can be quite complex and time-consuming?  In this article, I am going to share with you my experience about two methods in grammar teaching – inductive and deductive – and some ideas I’ve come up with using Photoshop to explain grammar creatively.

Let`s be honest: teaching grammar creatively can be challenging and time consuming for every teacher.  We wonder which method will work most effectively. There are structures that may take a long time to explain inductively.  Still, learners from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus have gotten used to deductive grammar teaching.  Strange, but many universities and schools have been using it quite often when there is no actual need.

Because of this I have to explain rules in the deductive way first and then show real-to-life examples of how a structure works. For this purpose I use songs, videos, and screenshots from TV series or movies. Deductive and inductive grammar teaching both have their merits and demerits, and it is reasonable to interchange them or even mix their elements for better grammar teaching.

There are rules that learners would find too difficult to understand or guess themselves, but one should try an inductive approach first to explain something and only after the failure of an explanation try a deductive approach – but using the target language mostly. If there are some time limits one can explain a grammar rule using the deductive approach, but without specific grammar terminology.

Meanwhile it goes without saying that we have to take into account a learner’s age, but what about a learner`s psychological type?  To my mind, it is also important for choosing the best approach for a learner.  As both a choleric and a phlegmatic types like to feel predictability during the learning process, and even have a chance to explain some rule to a teacher before the teacher will do so himself, it’s more reasonable to use a deductive method for these learners Both sanguine and a melancholic types are good on stage and are good at improvising something. They like thinking out or imagining something and both have an image-driven memory.  That is, they tend to think more in images, intuitively rather than logically.  Therefore it is better and more engaging to teach such kind of people using the inductive method, mostly.

Keeping all these points in mind, we now need to think about how we can present  and practice difficult grammar topics in ways that are not boring, in ways that get students interested to the fullest extent possible. To achieve this goal, I use Photoshop.

I have recently discovered that there are many ways to use Photoshop in teaching grammar.  You can put into practice many unusual ideas with its help. If you are planning to print your own books with illustrations, for example, you’ll need only unique content and drawings. With Photoshop, you can draw such kind of pictures quite quickly. It can even replace many online tools for making cartoons, editing pictures, making collages and much more. If you feel unsure about using a tool like Photoshop yourself, the let your learners use it to make interesting ideas, pictures, and projects instead of you.

Idea 1: Everyone has a dream. With this creative drill of the second conditional, you can make your learners’ dreams come true with Photoshop! Have them choose a photo of themselves, cut themselves out of the original background, and put themselves in a new one. The new background can be a place, a street, or some city of their dreams.  Make sure you have worked with color balance to make the picture look more realistic. In my case, I`ve transferred my learners in Canada. They have been dreaming about moving there, one day.  Thus, the image will make the lesson more engaging for them and the second conditional structure more memorable and understandable.   You can build a discussion of their future in such a way that they will have to use four types of sentences (Assertive, Interrogative, Imperative, and Exclamatory) in the second conditional. Well, it’s all up to your choice.

Idea 2:  The Future Is Tempting:  We can also use Photoshop to work on all future tenses. After you have taught your students the future simple, the future continuous, the future perfect and so on, ask then to choose any picture they like and upload it to the Photoshop. Then, they should add to this picture everything they hope they will have in, let`s say, 5 years.  For example: a car, children, a house, and so on. Finally, have them tell the class about future plans, using the collage of dreams they’ve just created.  Learners can prepare short notes at home to make the speech easier. Listeners should ask as many questions as they can to find out all details about the speaker’s future.

Idea 3:  Let’s Sell It.  To work on first conditional sentences,  ask your learners to make a slogan and advertising copy with an if clause  for selling any product of their choice. The slogan should be done according to the model “If you ________  you will _______.”  They may write more than one sentence, but it’s obligatory to have at least one sentence with an if clause. For example, the slogan and the advertising copy for a certain brand of shampoo might be “No more tears! If you buy 2 bottles, you will get an extra bottle for free”

Idea 4:  Comics Are the Go-Between Between Young Learners and Grammar. We are so lucky because many young learners or teenagers know how to make just about anything with tools like Photoshop – even better than we do.  If your learners are like this you can give them a task of using Photoshop or a similar tool to make comics using past simple and past perfect for the dialogue – or whatever grammar you happen to be working on.  I have my students do this at home, working as a whole group on a single set of comics, using Skype to communicate and collaborate as they work out the themes and the dialogue.  Just give theme some ideas and characters you want included, and let them get to work. After they’ve finished, check the work in class and then have the group act out the dialogue.

I’m sure you’ll have ideas of your own. It would be wonderful if you’d share yours, too.

Challenges, Ideas, and Solutions

In this issue Anne Hendler, Svetlana Lupasco, and Irina Ostapchuk share posts describing
challenges in their work and the ways they’re working to overcome them.

Ann E. Hendler
Anne Hendler
Svetlana Lupasco
Svetlana Lupasco
Irina Ostapchuk
Irina Ostapchuk


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