Four Key Academic Challenges

CarolNumrich Carol Numrich 2014_Frances_BoydFrances Boyd

Each year, teachers face new, more complex challenges in their classrooms. As students’ interests and motivations for learning English evolve, so must the ESL teacher’s pedagogical resources and techniques. Four “A’s” identify today’s key challenges:


How can classroom teachers attract and maintain students’ attention in this fast-paced, tech-driven world? Students are all multi-tasking, but studies suggest that multi-tasking doesn’t work. So, how can teachers get students to attend?

Compelling themes and topics can be carefully chosen to arouse student interest. Scaffolding of content and skills helps maintain student interest as content is deepened and language skills are developed.


Students may have difficulty attending because the material with which they are provided is not always relevant to their lives. In a world where so much information is found with just a click of the mouse, students are not willing to spend their time reading or listening to texts that are not “real.” They know the difference between “ESL texts,” material that has been created for the second-language learner, and material that is meant for native ears and eyes. They may “tune out” when asked to participate in activities that do not seem genuine.

Teachers can seek to provide authentic materials and real-life language activities whenever possible, even at the intermediate level.


In ESL classes, students are often not held accountable for producing the new language they are taught. They study new vocabulary and idioms, grammatical structures, and writing techniques, but then they may never actually use this new language in their own writing or speaking assignments. This could be because students do not get enough exposure or opportunities to practice, or it could be because the contexts in which they learn this new language may not be the most conducive to reaching the goals of language production. How can students be held more accountable for producing new language in their oral and written production? How can teachers lead students to a more natural production?

A purposeful recycling of language is essential if students are to produce new language on their own. Students need multiple exposures to new language in a variety of contexts to ensure their production of that language. Assessments must be well aligned to the language-learning goals of a particular course.

Academic Preparation

Students may struggle with meeting the expectations of an academic program. For example, discourse synthesis is a skill required in both high school and college-level courses, but ESL learners may feel overwhelmed with the task of writing about a topic with reference to multiple texts. They may need help in selecting, summarizing, and organizing texts.

In addition, performing well in college-level classes and on tests requires a variety of critical thinking skills. L2 learners from cultures that do not teach critical thinking may be especially challenged.

ESL teachers can teach organization and synthesis strategies and inference comprehension skills as part of their language curriculum. Higher-level critical thinking skills can also be incorporated to prepare students for the demands of an academic program.

To learn more ideas, please join our webinar “Meeting Four Key Academic Challenges Head On” on October 7th, 4:005:00pm EST.


Fresh Beginnings, Blended Learning and FLIPping

SCAD Language Studio ? Professor Christina Cavage, Human Resources headshot, Fall 2013 ? Photography by Stephanie Krell, courtesy of SCADChristina Cavage

In few professions do you get start over every year, every semester, or quarter.  It’s a wonderful thing, and one of the best parts about teaching.  As we begin anew, it gives us an opportunity to try new techniques, materials, employ those innovative strategies on a fresh group of learners.  It was a few years back that I decided to try something new—blended learning.  Extending my students’ learning experiences has not only proved valuable to their learning, but has allowed me to become the kind of classroom teaching I have always wanted to be.

Some of you may have been following my articles on blended learning and flipping your ESL classroom, some of you may have been decided to make that leap.  For those still on the fence, or wanting to know more, I thought I would review some of the finer points I covered in the last few newsletters. Continue reading

Hitting the Right Note:
Extending the Theme of Your Song

2013_Heyer_SandraSandra Heyer

This concludes the series of articles on extending lessons with songs and song-based activities. In past newsletters, we’ve taken a look at six activities that work well with beginners and high-beginners; a technique for quickly matching a song with an activity; and general tips for using songs in the classroom. One of those tips was to choose songs that are thematically related to the lessons. I know from experience that is sometimes easier said than done; finding classroom-friendly songs on specific themes can be a challenge.

For the past several years, I’ve been building a list of popular songs that are suitable for beginning and high-beginning English language learners–songs that have clear, comprehensible lyrics and language that is at least “PG.” I now have a list of over 150 songs, organized by sixteen themes: friendship, falling in love, taking chances, work, and freedom, to name a few. The songs coordinate with the themes in True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs but could be used to enhance other theme-based curricula.

You’ll find the list, and all the activities and tips you’ve read here, on my new site at The site has no ads and requires no registration–it’s simply a place where teachers can get and share ideas. If you have a song-based activity or classroom-friendly song you’d like to suggest for the site, please e-mail me at

I look forward to hearing from you!


New from Pearson this fall

See what’s new from Pearson this fall. We are excited to show you all of our new titles and new editions of your favorites. From the fourth edition of NorthStar  – now with a fully blended MyEnglishLab – and the new adult video-based program, Project Success, to the third edition of the Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL iBT Test  for exam prep – there is something to meet your classroom needs!

Click here to get up-to-date product information and to see sample units in an instant!

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