Writer resources: dictionary and thesaurus

It’s that time again. The time when I help the teacher-trainees in our program get more comfortable with the concept of writing. One of the ways I do this is by doing a session on the benefits of combing a dictionary with a thesaurus (Lesson Planning Flow – Thesaurus PoetryHow Do You Create Smoother Transitions?). I’m often fascinated by the fact that many of my teacher-traineess have barely used a thesaurus. I thought maybe they weren’t alone, and that the email I just sent them could be of use to someone else out there.

The Oxford Learner's Dictionary is another great option (picture courtesy of ELTpics)
The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary is another great option (picture courtesy of ELTpics)

Dear KIETT Writers,

Tomorrow we’ll be writing our narratives. I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce you to some online resources.

As we get deeper into our writing practice, I’ll be introducing tools that I think are valuable to writers. There are two resources that all writers have by their side when writing: a dictionary and a thesaurus. As we talked about before, if you are interested in developing your vocabulary knowledge, it’s helpful to use English dictionaries that are specially developed for language learners. The one I recommended to you is http://www.ldoceonline.com

I also recommend using a thesaurus http://thesaurus.com/ with your dictionary. When you find a synonym in the thesaurus, but aren’t sure if the word is appropriate for the sentence you are writing, check the definition in the Longman online dictionary. The combination of the thesaurus and the English learner’s dictionary will help you catch the subtle differences between words that a Korean-English dictionary might not be able to do.

When you are writing, I suggest keeping these websites open and available as a writing reference.



Writing ELL Stories: Filling the Context/Language Gap

The Matchmaker with the Magic Touch

– scroll down for an explanation of how this ELL (English Language Learner) story came to be –

Young-Il was very happy to meet this matchmaker. As the years passed, he was growing more tired with his mother’s nagging. She never missed a moment to tell him how important it was for him to get married. As his mother saw it, the problem is that Young-ll always had his head in the clouds.  He didn’t take life seriously. She listened to Young-Il talk about his dreams of traveling to far away lands and meeting the love of his life in a remote country.

His dreaming didn’t stop his mother from trying to find him a wife. Actually, it encouraged her. She didn’t want him to leave her. This is why she found JeongAh, the best matchmaker in town. According to her friends, JeongAh had the magic touch. She never failed to make a match. So to set his mother’s worries aside, Young-Il decided to meet her. He had also heard of her special ability through his friends, so Young-Il didn’t mind taking a break from his dreams in order to meet the woman JeongAh would match him with.

This woman was JiMin. JiMin had long, straight, black hair, and she was very slender. She had legs that went on for miles. JiMin was beautiful and also quite intelligent. Perhaps this is why she was so skeptical about the matchmaker. She didn’t really believe her friends when they told her that JeongAh never failed to make a match, but JiMin usually took what anyone said with a grain of salt. She had to see something to believe it. Despite her skepticism, however, she decided to go with the flow. She accepted the blind date, met Young-Il at the café, and waited to see how the night would unfold.

Luckily she hadn’t denied the blind date or she would have had egg on her face. This guy was fantastic! She thought he had a good head on his shoulders. Just because he was a dreamer didn’t mean he wasn’t smart. He was very intelligent, and JiMin knew right away that he would be a sensible father. He would raise their children well.

She also knew she could marry him because he seemed to have a heart of gold. He told her about how he took care of his mother after his father died. He drove her where she needed to go, and cooked meals for her whenever he had the time.

JeongAh had proved once again that she did indeed have the best matchmaking skills in town. JiMin set aside her doubts and fell head over heels in love with Young-Il. He felt the same. Happily, his mother never had to plead with him to get married ever again.

I had three reasons for writing this story for my course participants:

  • I couldn’t find a text with the idioms I wanted to use.
  • I wanted to teach these idioms because I thought they would work well with the acrostic poem they would write about their partner during the final activity.
  • I wanted the participants to realize that there are other ways to learn vocabulary, idioms, and the like without giving them a definition, so I removed the idioms from the text, wrote them on the board, and they filled in the gaps.

How did I come up with a story about a matchmaker? I wrote the idioms on a piece of paper and waited. I knew I wanted to write something that was relevant to their context. Looking at the words on the page, this was the topic that came to mind, and as I found out during our class, it was very relevant. The participants had a lot to say about their experiences with matchmakers. Did you know that if a Korean woman wants to marry a lawyer or a doctor, she can pay up to 100,000won (88.00US) per set up? Compare that to 50,000 twenty years ago. Hmmm, I wonder if those doctors are really worth the price.  Ok, back on track.

Will I write another story when I find myself in a similar situation? Absolutely. It was a rewarding experience. I enjoyed this new writing process (though I need more practice writing fiction), and my lesson aims were accomplished.

Are there other teachers out there writing fiction for their students? Kevin Stein at The Other Things Matter was my source of inspiration. Why not stop by his blog to let him know what you’ve written, and why you chose to write.

Happy writing!

Prewriting: A Quick Friday Reflection

Friday’s are fun. Of course, I’m slightly alluding to a TGIF kind of feeling, but I also teach the same writing lesson 3 times in a row to all my classes on Friday. During the rest of the week, these classes usually alternate days, and last 100 minutes. On Friday, however, it’s 50 minutes…bam, bam, bam. What’s fun — definitely in a geeky kind of way — is that it gives me time to do speedy reflections-on-action from which I develop quick action plans to use in the class that directly follows.

During last Friday’s lesson, the plan was for the participants to start brainstorming ideas for their paragraph assignment due in a few weeks. I took a bit of this class time to briefly bring their attention to the 5-step-writing-process. During this lesson, they personally dealt with step 1: prewriting.

Continue reading “Prewriting: A Quick Friday Reflection”

A Joyful Transition

“That was fun!”, sighed a participant as she sat down after presenting her group’s diamante poem.

I heard a similar exclamation from a participant in another class. What teacher doesn’t like knowing her students enjoyed a lesson, but to have that joy exclaimed without any probing from me is a pleasant bonus. My intention was simply to help them process their transition between sessions.

After seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter, I asked why they enjoyed making their diamantes. They explained that they felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. They also loved the creative factor of putting their poems on construction paper, and then reading their colleagues’ poems during a gallery walk.

I also noticed that they had very little anxiety about explaining their poems to the other participants during the gallery walk. The fact that they were feeling positive about their experience may have influenced the lowered affective filter. This helped them jump into their impromptu presentations.

T.T refers to Team-teaching, but it suspiciously also resembles the crying emoticon

I feel satisfied that my goal was met. I helped them process their transition into a new session. Now they feel a bit more connected to their new classmates, and they also know that many of these classmates share the same fears and aspirations.  The added bonus is that this transition has now been punctuated with a little fun.

The Bittersweetness of Dialogue Journals – Take 2

29 out of 41 Dialogue Journals

Each semester I add dialogue journals to the curriculum. Each semester I wonder why I do this.

Why the doubt? It’s all about the time it takes to respond to the journal entries.

The basic idea of a dialogue journal is that the teacher responds to her/his students’ entries, and a kind of back and forth written conversation ensues. This semester this means I am having 41 conversations since there are 41 participants in our program. But the dialogue doesn’t stop at 41.

I assign two entries per week with a minimum of five sentences per entry. A class per week (3 groups of 14 people) hands in their assigned entries. Then in the 4th week I pick up all 41 journals. It fits beautifully into my schedule, when I measure up the fairness scale (I’m referring to the amount of time I am able to spend on each participant), but that 4th week is a doozy. Some of the participants have 6 new entries for me to comment on.

6 X 41 = a focused weekend in my home office.

So why do I bother?

I love watching them learn. At the beginning of the semester I see how full of self-doubt they are about their writing skills. Then by the end of the semester they are all writing beyond the 5 sentence minimum I assigned on the first day. They are writing with pride and confidence.

On top of the linguistic benefit these journals have, they are also powerful tools for self-reflection. In each entry I ask the participants to reflect on themselves as teachers, or as learners. Below are the questions I ask, and they answer them in the following order:

  • What would you like the instructor to know about you?
  • What are your strengths as a member of a work group? What are your weaknesses as a member of a work group? What are your goals for improving your effectiveness as a group member in this program?
  • What do you think you will learn from the other trainees in this program? What do you hope to learn from them?
  • How do you feel about being in this program so far? Are you adjusting to the group and to the classes well? Why or why not?
  • Tell me about an activity that was fun for you to learn. It can be any kind of activity. Why was it fun to learn this new activity? Did you learn this well?
  • When did you first start learning a language? How did you feel when you first started learning this language? Do you think learning a language should be fun? Why or why not?
  • Who was your favorite teacher? Why was he or she your favorite teacher?
  • Tell me about your favorite teaching moment.

Our written dialogue continues from these reflections. I read each entry with curiosity and delight. I try to respond with positive regard, gently holding their stories at the tip of my pencil.

The learning and confidence I notice in my participants far surpasses the fatigue I feel at the end of the 4th week. It’s the joy and satisfaction I feel about their progress that keeps dialogue journals on the syllabus each semester.

The Bittersweetness of Dialogue Journals

13 out of 41

I have 41 of these to comment on, so my post will be brief.

Thank you for reading ^ ^


Learning No. 4: “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

My fourth powerful learning moment of 2010 was inspired by my KIETT trainees, my colleague and friend Kevin Giddens, and this Buddhist saying:

Don’t just do something, stand there.

I first read this quote in the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. It was in the chapter titled Receiving Emapthically. The image I got from this quote went something like this:

Imagine there is a man and a woman. The woman is feeling sad, and needs to talk it out. The man listens to her; he just listens, standing there. He gives no advice. The woman feels his listening, and is able to go deeper within herself. She feels her emotions and connects to her needs. In the end she feels relief, and has found her own solution. She has gained more than if the man had “done something.”

Something similar applies to teaching. For me the idea is that by supporting students, by creating the right learning environment, the teacher doesn’t really need to do anything in class. The teacher just needs to be there and listen. This is what Kevin writes about in his blog Do-Nothing Teaching (DNT), and by the end of this entry my goal is to have convinced you to take part in his DNT challenge.

I noticed the power of doing nothing a few times during the last semester. This especially resonated for me during my lesson on how to scaffold learning. In order to present this concept, I said nothing about it.

How did I present it then? I planned a lesson on acrostic poetry. Since my trainees had just switched classes, and were with a new group of not-so-familiar faces, I thought this would be a fun “getting to know you” activity to start the new session.

To start, I gave a handout with three different acrostic poems. I asked them what they noticed about how each poem was written (see inductive learning). After eliciting and writing their answers on the board, I asked each trainee to write their name on a slip of paper. They then put it in a bag, and chose the name of one of their classmates. Guess what they had to do next?

Well before they could write a poem about that person, they had to get to know each other a little better. To do this, I gave them a list of idiomatic expressions that connected to character traits. For example, heart of gold, knows the tricks of the trade and pulls out all the stops. With the list, they had to interview their partners to find out how they related personally to the idioms. After about 15 minutes (I just sat and listened), they started writing their acrostic poem.

When they were done, and had written the final draft on a colorful piece of paper, they posted their poems on the classroom walls. During the gallery walk we heard laughter and happy sighs, and saw smiles and blushing cheeks. This was the beginning of a positive classroom atmosphere.

Poster walk

Poster Walk

After the gallery walk we took some time to talk about how they felt reading the poems. There was a lot of joy and amusement. We also talked about what they learned. They mentioned they learned new idioms, the format of an acrostic poem, and a bit more about their classmates. The class ended like this.

The next day I asked them to remember the sequence of events for the acrostic poetry lesson. After I wrote the sequence on the board, I asked them what they noticed about how I had planned the lesson. Someone finally said that I had planned the activities step-by-step. This is when I introduced the term “scaffolding”. All I told them was that scaffolding was essentially a teaching theory whereby the teacher supports her students by introducing the material step-by-step. This is all I said. I didn’t give any lecture.

Instead I gave them a handout that explained the different elements of scaffolding, and they got into groups. With their scaffolded experience (acrostic poems) and the handout, they discussed their understanding of scaffolding. To display their understanding, I asked them to create a poster. The poster could be as creative as they wanted, but it had to explain the concept of scaffolding. Here were the results (also see the header image to this blog):

Scaffolding Poster

What did I do during this time? I didn’t do too much. I sat at my desk, I monitored the groups, I listened, and sometimes I answered questions. What did they do? They discussed the concept, developed an understanding of scaffolding for themselves, and then presented this understanding to the other members. In the end, they taught themselves.

Of course I had a plan, and with my vision I guided them to where I wanted them to go. If I had noticed they were struggling or had no idea about scaffolding, I would have helped. After all, I was teaching about scaffolding. However, if I create the right environment, and I give enough support, I don’t need to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong. At this point I trust that my trainees will go where they need to go. I believe that in the end, if I butt out, their learning will be deeper. This is how I view do-nothing teaching, and this is how I “just don’t do something” and sit there.

If you have examples of how you just stand there and do nothing during your lessons, why not join the DNT challenge? Go to Kevin’s site (click here) and follow the instructions. Your concept of Do-Nothing Teaching may be different than mine or his, and that’s fine. That’s the idea.