March 2013 E-News from Elizabeth Claire
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Contents of the March E-News:
Students Who Feel Smart Learn
Whether it was because we moved three times, my mother had to go to work,
and my father was buried overseas, and I was confused, or I was just a
slow learner, I don't know. I do remember a great deal of anxiety in first
grade, not knowing the other students, not passing inspection (in those
days, teachers did a daily health and cleanliness inspection with stars
for those who passed), having no idea what I could do about my uncombed
hair, my missing handkerchief and my often dirty fingernails.
By the time we moved again and I was in my third first-grade class, I
had picked up reading basics. I also now lived with a grandmother who
had the time to braid my hair and show me how to clean and cut my fingernails.
Watching the other students struggle with Run, Spot run, while the sounds
and meanings were now obvious to me made me feel smart. Instead of frowns
from a teacher, and negative self-comparisons with classmates, I shone,
and I couldn't wait to learn more and started tearing through all the
books on the classroom shelf. Nothing succeeds like success goes the old
It's all the affective filter that Stephen Krashen talks about for language
learners. When the anxiety is high, language input just doesn't stick.
The language teacher's job is to lower anxiety, while keeping the lesson
challenging enough for satisfaction with learning to take place. This
can be difficult to achieve for all students in an ESL class where the
ability levels are usually mixed. (I have never in my 40 years of teaching
encountered a homogeneous ESL class.) Students who arrived later could
have the distinct impression of being at the bottom of the class, and
the lowest on the totem pole. This is potentially anxiety-provoking and
students can internalize a sense of "I'm not smart. English is too
hard, I'll never learn," which raises the filter...input doesn't
I noticed that my beginning students would suddenly develop a new burst
of confidence and energy and smartness when a new entry-level student
arrived in the class...Suddenly it was clear to the previous bottom-of-the-class
students how much they had absorbed that the newcomer was now beginning
to learn. Moving up to the middle of the class lowered their anxiety,
made them feel smart, and suddenly they were learning faster. In many
cases, they helped the newcomer.
At the time of noticing that, I wondered how this mechanism could be
supplied...you can't always have new, lower-level students wandering into
your class. Certainly working in groups, reviewing lessons so they "take"
before going on to new lessons can help.
Careful construction of teacher-made tests instead of book-made or standardized
tests can help. I always felt that tests were made to let me know how
well I was teaching, not how well the students were learning...I deliberately
made tests that would have the first questions easy so students could
I dreaded the effects that being required to take regular standardized
tests had on my students. I had to get them to understand that the tests
were going to be way too hard and they should not feel bad about not knowing
the answers. I mimed having a blindfold over my eyes and choosing an answer
willy nilly so they would have a model of what to do when they couldn't
read a question or its answers. We had to have group therapy after the
standardized tests as the students felt so wrung out and disappointed
I love it when teachers write to me and tell me how joyful their intermediate
students are when they first get Easy English NEWS. "It's a newspaper,
and I can read it!!" The requirement I give myself is to remember
my second year of learning Spanish...what kinds of sentences could I read?
And take each English sentence in the articles I wrote, and turn them
into second-year level difficulty. No passives, very few subordinate clauses,
short sentences. It's very time consuming. While I can research and write
an article in an hour, it may take several hours to make it easy to read.
I usually have to go over an article four or five times to get it right.
There actually is never enough time each month to bring every sentence
down to that level.
It's easy to make something difficult and it's difficult to make something
Contents of Easy English
NEWS for March 2013Obesity: America's Fastest-growing
Paying Taxes-Part I
Understanding a W-2 Form
Events in March covered
in Easy English NEWS:
Dr. Ali: Your Health: What Causes Obesity?
(You thought you knew, didn't you?)
- Women's History Month
- Drop Everything and Read
- Daylight Saving Time
- St. Patrick's Day
- First Day of Spring
Ask a Speech Coach: Distinguishing the
sounds ah and ae as in hot and hat.
Beautiful: Antelope Canyon
Heroes and History: Insects, DDT, and Rachel
At the Movies:
"Life of Pi"
Plus our regular
features: This Is Your Page (readers' stories), Funny Stuff,
Idioms, the Crossword Puzzle, Let's Talk About It, and Word Help.
March's Cloze exercises, click here.
March's Short Answer tests, click here
here for the FREE 24-page generic "How To" with 9 reproducible
Elizabeth Claire books
- ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part One ($0.99)
- ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part Two ($0.99)
- ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part Three ($0.99)
- Kristina, 1904, the Greenhorn Girl ($4)
- Voices of Our New Neighbors Volume One ($0.99)
here to see these books at the Amazon Kindle Store at my website
- Voices of our New Neighbors Volume Two ($0.99)
- Voices of our new Neighbors Volume Three
- English Language Learners in the Mainstream
Class (from Classroom Teacher's ESL Survival Guide) ($3.99)
- What's So Funny? An International Student's
Introduction to American Humor. ($0.99)
- Phonics for English Language Learners? What
the ESL Teacher Needs to Know $0.99)
© Elizabeth Claire 2013.