I encountered this one at the CMU English Language Institute's Annual Poetry Contest:
If someone says this and they are not handing you a bottle of glue, then they probably just want you to stay wherever you are and not leave.
I looked across the table at the butter dish the other day, and this is what popped into my head:
For my non-native English speakers, when you "butter someone up," it means you do nice things for them or say nice and sweet things to them in the hope that they will do what you want. For example, you might compliment your boss on his hat or agree to read some pages from his new young adult novel so that you can get a promotion or be put on a nice committee.
Good luck persuading people today, but be careful because butter stains!
I found this cartoon from a few months ago when I had a bad cold. I was almost as frustrated as the guy in the picture:
Have a good one, and remember not to touch the T-zone!
As a student, I remember being so frustrated when teachers would ask me to explain what I meant about a chapter or story I was referencing.
"Why? You know the scene I'm talking about."
"But your reader may not know what you're talking about."
"But you're my reader!"
"When I read your essay, I pretend that I have not read the original."
As you can imagine, my fourteen-year-old self was not so happy indeed. And I never got very satisfactory answers to this question, either. My teachers usually pulled the "I'm the Teacher" Card, so I just dutifully did that they told me, albeit begrudgingly. Yet somehow, I still fell in love with Mrs. Strouse, and I decided as a sophomore that I wanted to be an English teacher.
In college, I encountered this same game in virtually every class. Why do teachers pretend not to know things? I became trained in education, and so then I started to pretend not to know things. It's funny because I still didn't really "get" why I should act like this. It wasn't until grad school that the wheels started turning. In my TESOL methods class, when the whole class was given back their exams, I found I had a minus on my essay question and didn't understand why. I answered the prompt very well and gave many concrete examples. The professor then made this comment to the whole class:
"A lot of you lost points because you did not even mention the issues in the prompt in your introduction. Remember, you have to do something to orient readers to the topic you're writing about."
It has only been recently, especially as I've taught many different levels of students, and students in sheltered instruction in particular, that it has begun to dawn on me. I'm teaching an assignment now where students summarize and respond to an article. I've read the article they're writing about, but of course, I pretend that I have not.
"Why?" my students ask me.
"Because this time, I've read what you're writing about, but later on, you'll write a bigger paper with more sources, and I probably haven't read those other sources. I need to make sure you know how to accurately and clearly summarize something in this one assignment before I can trust you with summarizing sources I've never seen before. You need to develop good habits of clearly explaining yourself because eventually you'll get into a situation where your reader has not read what you're writing about, and hopefully by then you'll be able to make good summaries." (this also applies toward how I teach students to avoid plagiarism, which I will write about soon)
Well, I have a stack of papers that I need to go read and pretend I don't know anything about, so I bid you farewell. Have fun with your feigned (and yet pedagogically-sound) amnesia!
I had a student in the spring who made a joke of inviting me to dinner with the class, and he even correctly used the expression, "dinner is on me." As he was explaining it to the other students, they started laughing about dinner being "on" someone like dinner can be "on" a table. I had to capture this idea:
Have a good one, and don't literally have dinner be on you!
Here's a cartoon I just posted about action versus non-action verbs:
This one is always a little tricky since we tell students that non-action verbs like smell, see, taste, hear, and feel are not possible with the present progressive, but then other senses of the verb are still possible. You can't say "I'm seeing a bird out my window!" but you can say "I'm seeing someone" (i.e. I'm dating someone). Ron Cowan's amazingly thorough The Teacher's Grammar of English describes four exceptions to the "no ING-verb with non-action verbs" rule:
Exception #1: To add more intensity of emotion
Remodeling my house is really costing me a lot of money!
Exception #2: To describe a sudden change in behavior
You are being so horrible today! (Normally, you're a fine chum, but today you're a royal jerk!)
Exception #3: To describe a change in condition
His guitar playing is sounding better and better every day! (he's learning guitar, and it's getting better)
Exception #4: To make something more polite
We were hoping you could explain the problem. (We hope you can explain the problem is a bit more forceful)
Anyway, if you don't have a copy of Cowan's Grammar, you really should get one. I resented my professor for the fact that we didn't use this book too much in class, but I am still referring to that book in teaching any thorny issues.
All things aside, it conjures up a pretty funny picture if you say the soup is smelling.
I've added a couple cartoons to illustrate cause and effect. For some reason, this structure causes a lot of trouble for students even in the higher levels. Every semester, I'm bound to hear at least one student say:
"Wait, wait, I'm confusing."
"No, you're confused."
"Yes. Could you explain..."
Sometimes the pictures help (or at least I hope so). These aren't as elaborate as the ones I make on the board in class:
I really like the beard. It reminds me of my dad.
And of course, what would a boring lecture be without someone on a phone, not-so-slyly glancing downward. That's right! I see you!
Have a good one.
I just finished grading ten weeks worth of reading journal entries on a discussion board in Blackboard. To encourage extensive reading, the only requirements for the assignment were to read something they enjoyed or were interested in (NOT a TOEFL study guide!), write a short summary, and then post a question that is associated with the reading. For example, if they found an unfamiliar structure, they could post the example and ask questions. The questions, when they were sincere, were very illuminating for me as an instructor because I could see where my students' interlanguage was. For instance, a student may ask me something like this:
In the article, it says, "the project fell apart before it was named."
This student obviously doesn't know that "name" can also be a verb, or that this is fairly common in English for verbs to become nouns.
Anyway, as I was finishing commenting on the last entry, I ended with a question I ended many journal entries with: "Does that make sense?" Only one time in the whole semester did a single student respond with "yes, thank you" or some acknowledgement of receipt. It's possible they are busy (it's summer), and since I don't require it, students don't pipe in with more questions or followup. Or maybe my responses are just so magnificently clear that students have no further questions :). Whatever the cause may be, I have found it nearly impossible to create a kind of vibrant mini-community in a class where everyone is reading each other's posts and commenting or making followup questions or rating them. I'm sure I could force it and require them to participate like this, but I really wish it would just happen.
Back when I was teaching English 101, I was taking a course with former faculty member Dr. Maryann Crawford, and in a class discussion about what makes a discourse community, I remember her making a claim that it would be very difficult to make a class a discourse community since a class doesn't all the characteristics of one.
That week, I made an assignment to test this claim (I like a challenge). I had two freshmen English classes, and I had them use a class wiki to create a class paper by writing the different parts in groups during class. I then graded the class paper promptly with feedback about what it would need to be passing. I also communicated how each class was doing to the other class (One class had a D- and the other had an E). My vision was that each class would be inspired with some friendly competition and try to "one up" the other class, and it would all lead to this awesome communal knowledge of what it takes to make a good rhetorical analysis. After two days, a couple changes were made by one or two students, and both classes bumped their grade up to a D. I was excited. My plan was working!
Then it just sort of fizzled out and no one did anything more. Obviously, I was not pleased with this.
I tried to encourage more participation, but a couple honest students commented that if it wasn't required, they just wouldn't do it; they were busy with their other coursework and just didn't have the time.
At the time, I remember reading an article about Old Spice's attempts to manufacture viral videos with its Old Spice Guy commercials. The initial one has been viewed, at the time of this blog entry, almost fifty million times. Interestingly, people at the time claimed that the amazing success of the ad campaign did not lead to increased sales. I remember reading those articles and thinking, "I'm just like Old Spice. I can't just manufacture a natural phenomenon and bend it to another purpose."
But then just now as I was looking for an article to link to stating that the campaign was a bust, I read that Old Spice critics even in Time Magazine had to eat their words since body wash sales actually increased 7%.
Maybe it can be done, but I need to require more things or give a few more incentives to get it rolling like extra credit or something like that.
Then again, maybe I just need to have Isaiah Mustafa sub for me.
I gave a reading test a few weeks ago, and since the class I teach is quite long, I wanted to explain the format of the test before I passed it out. The test was fifty points, but I misremembered the summary portion on the test being only five points (10% of the exam), but apparently I made the vocabulary questions 1 point each and the summary was 10 points (20% of the exam). The students, being very concerned about their lack of summary writing skills, were very concerned about the weight of the summary once they saw the paper test. They all sounded so alarmed, I told them I would change it to be the way I had said it in the beginning of class.
When the students got their test scores back, however, some of them regretted their decision and wanted the summary to count for more points. Others were happy with the value of the vocabulary and wanted the test to be the same. Another student wanted his/her own test to be weighted differently than the others.
Student A: “Can you make mine 1 point each for the vocab?”
Me: “No, I can’t weight your test differently than the others. That’s unfair.””
Student B: “Keep the test the same.”
Student C: “Yeah, it’s good already.”
Student D: “No, change it. 1 point each.”
Me: “I can’t do that now. I only changed it because I told you one thing and the test said another. I changed it to reflect what I said earlier.” (At this point, I am getting flustered in a flurry of options and opinions. Some of the students are murmuring discontent side conversations, and one student is scowling at me like I have just mercilessly kicked a puppy.)
Student A: “Can you do 1.5 points each for the vocab?”
Me (in my auctioneer voice, pointing around the room to solicit bids): “1.5? 1.5? Can I get a 2?2-2-2? Anybody-anybody? 5 points each? 5-points-5-points-5-points…going once! Going twice! SOLD!”
The students all laughed and then became quiet and civil, the classroom returning to normal. It was as if they recognized how out of hand they had gotten.
I’ve heard of many a teacher getting into a test of wills with students who want to haggle with them over grades or classroom policies. I never know what to do in situations like that. I never know if this is a language barrier (students don’t know the pragmatics of making these requests politely and appropriately in this context) or if it’s culturally acceptable to bicker with a teacher or if the student is actually just rude. It’s a kind of situation I would describe as a hostile confrontation if it ever happened with American students. I’ve taught English 101 to Americans, and it’s funny how differently a spirit of discontent is often actualized:
“So the vocab was actually worth 20%?”
“Oh.” The student leans back and folds his arms defiantly. You know he’s upset. The whole class knows he’s upset. There is an awkward silence that quickly passes. In the back of your head, you make a mental note that you’ll probably be receiving a snarky student opinion survey after the semester is over about how unfair your tests are, but at no point do you expect your classroom to explode into a New York Stock Exchange-style bargain and trade operation over how you’re going to grade them.
This experience reminds me again about the need to teach students about culture in addition to language, and how important it is to have clear expectations. As off-putting it is to have my teaching philosophy questioned, I still welcome that criticism. It reminds me of that Power of Habit book I’ve been reading. In one chapter, it described a willpower study in which two groups had to resist temptation (a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies), but one group was told to give their input on the study and if they had any questions before, during, or after the experiment, they were welcome to ask them. They were thanked for their time and the experiment began. The other group was ordered to begin and given very little opportunity to voice their opinion.
Neither group ate any of the cookies, but the group that was given a voice also happened to give a more sustained effort on a boring computer task. The second group grew listless and despondent, performing poorly on the same task.
It may look messy, like you’re negotiating with an angry mob or standing before a military tribunal or firing squad, but I think we’ll get more out of our students if we gave them a voice.
I was listening to this interview on NPR that described genius (here it is at Radio Lab). The interviewer asked this question that was so funny to me:
"Are you a genius denier?"
This guy then describes how people who are good at something are usually obsessed with something on some level. He asks this question about whether Wayne Gretzy is really a hockey genius or does he just really love hockey more than a lot of people?
I think of some of the more difficult things I've learned: Japanese, Korean, guitar, reading music... All of these came at a time where I had a goal and I just became obsessed with that goal. Every spare minute I had would be filled with a related book, practicing kanji, or writing my hangeul, or strumming some pretty buzzy and dampened chords, or stumbling through an old hymnal. These didn't occur at the same time, but those times had a certain energy about them.
Prior to moving and taking a new job in a familiar city in January, I was learning Arabic, but my learning has taken a big hiatus. Why is this? I think it's because of routine. My cues have all changed, and I just got out of the habit.
In the Secrets of Success podcast from Radio Lab, they mention this 10,000 hours principle. Apparently, to get really good at any complex mental task, you must spend at least 10,000 hours (at least 416 solid days). I feel like I've hit that with guitar, but I know I haven't with Korean (I sometimes wish I could have spent another year or two there--I loved it).
"Because he can't get hockey out of his head."
"Absent that, you CAN'T be a genius."
This makes me wonder about learning English and even being a better teacher. Some of it has to do with having really good habits, and I think people who love learning something like English or being a better teacher do establish a kind of routine. It reminds me of this Ted Talk I just ran across on Twitter (it's only 3.5 minutes):
Along the same lines, I'm reading another book that my friend recommended to me called The Power of Habit. Its thesis (and there is a lot of scientific support) is that a lot of our life is made up of habits that we chose to put in motion a long time ago, but then they just sort of take over and we hardly think about them at all. I'm trying to recuperate from this move and ongoing house hunt that I have been on, but when the dust settles, I'm going to get back on the horse (this blog post is a precursor to that time, for sure).
Whatever it is you're learning, I know it helps to love it, to spend more time doing it, and to form good habits surrounding it. Start today! Make it happen! You CAN do it, but it won't start tomorrow.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
When I was in college, I remember making a couple misspellings that Microsoft Word's auto-correct would never catch. Someone told me that you could add those misspellings to Word's Proofing Options and then it would catch it. When I looked at it, the mischievous side of me thought, "hey, I could do this on a friend's computer and have a word like 'the' replaced with a word like 'stupid' or 'butt face'... that would be hilarious!"
Well, long story short, I never had the guts to actually mess with someone like this, but when I became a teacher, I started grading papers digitally and found myself writing the same statements over and over again, despite the fact that each of the students' writing was quite different from one another. I then remembered my idea for a prank and thought I could use it for good!
Here is a picture to give you an idea of how this works. First you open MS Word and click on the icon in the upper left of the window. Then, you click on Word Options at the bottom.
Once you're there, you can go to Proofing, which will open up the following menu (see below).
You want to click on AutoCorrect options, and that will give you a menu like the picture below. If you select a paragraph of text beforehand, then it will automatically populate the field as seen below. For example, I wanted to be able to say:
In wh-clauses, do not invert the subject and the auxiliary:
Correct: "I didn't know what I should do."
Incorrect: "I didn't know what should I do."
So I typed that into a comment box, selected the text, then went to Word Options --> Proofing --> AutoCorrect Options. I then typed in that I want MS Word to replace "whc" with this paragraph (the code you select doesn't matter, as long as you can remember it--I chose whc for wh-clause). You can see this below:
Anyway, I've found this helps me make digital comments faster if I am grading a set of essays that have the same errors. The best part is that this is entirely customizable, so you can easily remember the codes since you are the one making them, however, since you might be forgetful (like me), then you can create a cheat sheet like this in an another file:
It's funny when I think back to the first time I started grading digitally. It was actually from two reasons: first, the frustration that came from handwriting the exact same statement was too annoying for me, and second, when I would grade revisions, it was difficult to see exactly what the student had changed (if anything--sometimes one additional sentence or a font change would make it hard to follow my previous comments and see if they were taken into account in the revision). Making the comments digitally made it easier to track changes.
Every semester I learn something new about grading digitally, and I'm always looking forward to any new ideas you may be using. Feel free to leave a comment below.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
I was helping a student review for a proficiency test and a sentence like this came up on a sample test:
"You haven't heard of Mark Twain? He is ______________ one of the most important American writers."
c. saying the
d. said to be
I have yet to see a student run into this construction and nail it. Usually they gravitate toward the distractor, which is anything that yields "is VERB-ing," but what they don't realize is that this is a participial adjective construction like the following:
I don't know whether to give the test-designers kudos or to curse them for their devious grammatical trickery. At times I see constructions on these tests that seem so exceptionally rare that I question whether there is value in teaching them. In case you're curious, if you search the COCA for
[vb*] [v?n*] to *
you will generate the following list:
So I suppose the construction is not incredibly rare after all (there are even more results if you omit the last wild card). But why does this feel so uncommon?
At the same time, I have to acknowledge that the corpus really is just a sampling (albeit a very BIG sampling) of American English usage. For example, I was talking to my brother about our Thanksgiving plans, and he was thinking of sharing a ride with my sisters:
"When are they leaving?"
"They said 4:30."
"Oh. I'll have already been working two hours by then." (i.e. he starts work at 2:30)
"Oh shoot. Well maybe we can work something else out."
My brother is not an English major, yet what he is saying is very linguistically complex, and there was nothing strange or unusual about the context. However, when I searched the corpus for this construction, no results came back. In other words, the corpus may not catch constructions that are still used in everyday situations. I remember talking to my old professor about grammar forms that were not easily classified. He said there are some grammatical theories that contend there are thousands of clause types (a fact which is "terrifying" for students, as he put it), and some of these myriad constructions are restricted to extremely specific contexts (considering the conversation I had with my brother--when else would you use the future present perfect continuous?).
I always feel like this is a cop out answer, but in addition to focused study, I really think it's important to read a lot AND talk to a lot of people AND watch a lot of movies/television AND listen to the radio in the second language on a daily basis, and hopefully, as a result, these things will come in through osmosis.
At least that's the hope.
Something funny happened the other day that made me think about the ideal mindset for language learning. I was joking with a student about going out and buying a jalopy.
"What is a jalopy?"
"Oh, it's an old, beat up car that's practically worthless."
"Oh. We have a word for this. We get it from English. We call it 'sick crab.'"
"Yeah. It's an English word."
"Oh. Hmmm... I guess those are English words, but they don't mean that in English."
"You don't know this English vocabulary?"
"No, I know it, I would just never use it that way."
Meanwhile, in my brain, the following conversation is playing out...
"They call a jalopy a sick crab?"
"I don't know. A lot of English words get borrowed and then re-purposed so that they don't quite make sense. Maybe it's like that?"
"That doesn't make any sense."
"It could make some sense. I mean, does it make any more sense than 'buying a lemon?'"
"I mean, maybe if you sat down to a fine crab dinner and then it turned out the crab you ate was a sick crab, and then you're like, 'Oh man, I ate a sick crab. I'm so sick now!' Maybe it's like that?"
Finally, one of them offers a dictionary that shows the spelling.
"Oh! Scrap!" (The word 'scrap' has only one syllable, but thanks to epenthesis, some ESL learners may insert a vowel to break up the [skr] cluster, resulting in two syllables, or 'sick crab'.)
We all laughed at the misunderstanding, but it made me think about the mindset we need for language learning. Sometimes, when learning a language, we might get frustrated with expressions that make no sense or with grammar rules that aren't consistent or with native speakers whose handwriting is too hard to read or with people speaking too fast. Nevertheless, sometimes we just have to roll with the punches, accept whatever language facts we run across, and just not fight it.
I notice this with children learning their first language--my three-year-old readily accepts almost any new vocabulary I teach him, and then he quickly busies himself with using it in new contexts. Sometimes I hear him using words he must have heard in a movie or in a conversation he was eavesdropping on. There is this kind of appreciation and welcoming of the new and foreign that we often see fade as we get older.
I guess what I'm saying is, sure, it's silly to think of sick crabs and jalopies (or lemons!), but sometimes we just have to run with it if we're learning another language and not get too embarrassed when we get it all wrong.
Ray Stantz was my favorite Ghostbuster as a kid, and I never forgot that scene where he "chose" the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Just like Ray in that scene, these images just kind of pop into my head when I stop to think about certain expressions and phrases in English.
Anyway, so a week ago, as I sat down to a particularly delicious looking pizza dinner, I said, "I'm going to go to town on this pizza!" and then I stopped to think about what my ESL students might think when they hear phrases like this. This was the image that popped into my head:
I drew more comics as I thought of more English expressions, and so I decided to make a section of my website devoted to these little sketches. I hope you get a kick out of them--but not a literal one involving a foot. Gosh, these things just creep up on you. Oh man! Creeping idioms! Like Night of the Living Dead or something... Okay, I'll stop.
If you have any expressions that you think would make a funny comic, drop me a message and I might try my hand at it, so to speak (or literally).
I was reading a fellow ELT blogger's thought-provoking entry about assessment that got me thinking about the confines of curricula but also about how I have not seen other somewhat obvious ways the curriculum objectives can be met. It's easy to get a big head because we have degrees and certificates and good English. If students bristle at an assignment or don't like some activities in the class, I've found myself adopting an attitude of "well, I'm the expert. You might want to cram for the IELTS/TOEFL/MELAB/[insert language proficiency test here], but that won't help you in the long run." But sometimes it's good to listen to students and that yields a lot of fruit. One time my students were all slacking on an essay I was having them write, and it was a day for the rough draft and half of them had essays, and the other half didn't, and the rough drafts that were brought to class were not very good. I just asked them point blank: "Okay guys, this is terrible. What's the deal? Why aren't you getting this done?"
They said they were all so busy writing Statements of Purpose/Letters of Intent for graduate schools they were applying to and that they were spending all night filling out applications and writing letters.
Normally, I deploy a tried-and-true lecture/guilt trip to my students about how I did graduate coursework while I was teaching while my wife had just given birth to a baby while I was totally burned out and exhausted while I had to study for a teacher certification test to get my ESL endorsement AND while I was applying for jobs worrying if I would be able to feed my family! "We all have responsibilities outside of this class" and blah blah blah.
But I took a different route and got off my high-horse and said, "Well, a letter of intent is no different than a persuasive essay--probably one of the more high stakes persuasive essays you'll ever have to write! Forget about this other essay. We're writing statements of purpose!"
"What do we do?"
"Print off your statements of purpose and bring them to class tomorrow. We're going to read them and make them better."
I left class that day feeling a little uneasy. What if I've just called their bluff and then they don't do this assignment either? Should I plan a backup lesson? But somehow, something felt right, almost like Harry drinking that vial of Felix Felicis. The next day, every student brought in an essay! I went from a mediocre 50% to a 100% completion rate for the assignment. Students were engaged and asking questions and eager to share and get feedback. No one was off-task or checking their phones. I was really pleased with myself for being so clever but then I stopped and thought about it, and really, I was just listening to the students and giving them what they wanted. They had to learn about persuasion, and they did--they just weren't writing about gun control, or school uniforms, or the death penalty.
Have you ever stopped to listen to your students and come up with a win-win situation in the end? Leave a comment and tell me about it!
Hi! I'm Bill.
I'm all about making English more accessible to English language learners and their teachers. Click here to learn more about me and my site.