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On the Lighter Side: ESL Tunes and Talking Pens


A couple of booths in the exhibitors' hall for the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Inc. conference last week caught my fancy and displayed products that I think might interest teachers of English-language learners.

At one booth, Shane Dixon, of Provo, Utah, was strumming a white guitar and singing songs with lyrics in the style of James Taylor (who was popular when Baby Boomers were in high school). Mr. Dixon is a teacher of English as a second language and was promoting his "ESL tunes," which he sells on a CD, called "Grammar Rocks." I tried out one of the grammar exercises with him. He sang and strummed: "When you came, I was there. ... You learned from me. I learned from you." I listened to three verses and then tried to fill in words that were missing on a poster that contained some of the lyrics. You teachers out there will recognize this as a "cloze activity." The interaction lightened my spirit, after having observed sessions on topics such as how to best teach academic English. I can see how it might lighten up a grammar class.

In addition, I stopped by a booth where Jean Velvikis, from Across the Globe, showed me how a "talking pen" works. It's a device shaped like a fat pen that is really a digital tape recorder. It's been programmed to contain the words of various bilingual books the company sells. A child can brush the pen over a symbol in the front of each book that causes the pen to "read" the story aloud in English or over a symbol to choose the second language used in the book, whether it's Vietnamese, Spanish, or something else. The device makes the switch back and forth between languages very fluid. Last week, the company had only demonstration talking pens--and hadn't yet released the product on the market or set a price for it.

Here in my office, I came across another Web resource, "Inspiration Lane," created by an ESL teacher in Florida, that has some activities that are on the lighter side for English-as-a-second-language classes. Check out "Caption Central," which offers an opportunity to write captions for photos at the bottom of the opening page.

Teachers: feel free to share other Web resources that have worked for you to design interesting lessons for English-language learners.


You might find this article interesting/useful:


TechLearning.com will be publishing it on Sunday, but you can read it on my website prior to that time. It's about using various web tools to assist English Language Learners.

Thank you so much for mentioning in your article my new, teacher-made, online magazine for ESOL, ESL and EFL classes! I really appreciate it.

I look forward to sharing Inspiration Lane with other teachers, and I hope they will use this resource in their classrooms. It is free for classroom use.

Thank you again, Mary Ann Zehr and Education Week - you made my day! :)

Mary Ann,

Here is a site my ESL students and I really enjoyed using in class:

The California Distance Learning Project

When I went to this site the other day, I can't recall if I was on this homepage above or another page, but wherever I was, a registration was suddenly required. Now, today, the site URL I found, above, has no registration required - which is what I recall.

My ESL students and I enjoyed this site because it had a variety of interesting stories for them to read.

I believe the way California intends people to use this site is in the traditional way of distance learning, meaning, at home in one's computer. And, for that reason, I included it on a little site I had made called "Independent Study Links" for my ESL students.

But, the way I used it was in class, projecting it on a screen in the front of class, so the whole class could participate,

It is very different from the site I recently made, as my site has an infinite number of stories, while the California Distance Learning project has a set number, and different features, like video, which I do not have.

But my students and I all really loved using that site. I am sure other teachers would enjoy it, too.

Hi Mary Ann,

I thought you might enjoy reading this about my site:

EUROCALL Review Showcases American Teacher’s Unique ESOL Website

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