TESOL Connections

Quick Tip: 3 Tips for Diving Into Online Instruction

by Heather Gaddis

Online instruction is becoming more and more common, but not all teachers are equipped to make the most of their online teaching environment. While many of the best practices from face-to-face teaching contexts can be transferred to online instruction, there are a few areas where teachers might have to change their tactics.   

Audience: K–12 & Higher Education Teachers

As the move to blended, hybrid, and completely online learning continues to make waves in the field of English language teaching, more and more teachers are left to figure out an entirely new teaching context. While many of the best practices from face-to-face teaching contexts can be transferred to online instruction, there are a few areas where teachers might have to change their tactics.

1. Clear Instructions & Deadlines

As ESL/EFL teachers, we all know that clear delivery of instructions is of upmost importance when standing in front of a group of ELs. Once we remove the face-to-face element, we can see how things could easily go awry. For this reason, in the online environment, it is necessary to use various media to communicate instructions. For example, you could use a YouTube video or Voki avatar to record a brief overview of the activity. Then, you could use text to write a bulleted list of your instructions. Be sure to include links where you refer to outside websites or documents so that students don´t have to search for those resources. The fewer number of clicks to get to what they need will lead to less confusion.

Another important area is deadlines. One common online activity is the discussion forum. However, often students go on, post their contributions, and then never return to the forum. By giving one deadline for the initial post and another for responding to classmates, you compel students to go back and read their classmates´ contributions.

2. Immediate Feedback

As mentioned earlier, losing the face-to-face element means that we have to try much harder when communicating with our students. This includes feedback. The online environment provides many tools, such as voice comments embedded into a Word document, text comments written into the text of a Google Doc, online gradebooks, and the list goes on.

When I started using an online gradebook with my 10th graders, they approached me much more about why they’d received a certain grade. However, at the end of the period, no one was surprised by their grade and students were more proactive about clearing up missed assignments. Another advantage to staying on top of feedback in the online setting is so that students feel more connected to the class and are less likely to drop out, which is a problem in online courses.

3. Clean Design

You don't have to be a graphic designer to be able to apply the CARP principles (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, and Proximity). We have all stumbled upon a website where the colors of the font and the background made it nearly impossible to read the text. This is where contrast comes in. Next, is some of your text flush to the left margin and other centered? By aligning text, you show that your paragraphs or sections form a group and are of equal importance. Repetition often indicates boredom, but having the same format for each set of activities makes it easier for students to digest the information instead of figuring out where it is.

Finally, proximity means that information that is related should go together. Group a set of instructions and then have some white space between it and another section. One way to incorporate these principles is to look for examples of websites that you like and work them into your course design. The Non-Designer’s Web Book is a great resource, with examples and a checklist of dos and don’ts for website design.


Heather Gaddis has been an ESL/EFL teacher in the United States, Mexico, and Turkey since 2008. She became interested in teaching online after taking a TESOL course. She then completed a master´s degree in educational technology.


TESOL's New Strategic Plan: Invitation to Share Your Thoughts and Ideas

by Luciana C. de Oliveira

Help TESOL International Association as it begins to develop its next strategic plan. Read about the current plan, about what strategic plans should encompass, and about how you can share your thoughts on the direction of the association. 

TESOL International Association has started its process to write its next strategic plan. But what exactly is a strategic plan? A strategic plan helps an organization communicate its goals to its members, guides the organization’s priorities, provides actions for the organization to achieve its goals, and contains critical elements that guide the organization’s focused work.

In a recent blog post, President-Elect Andy Curtis shared a definition of strategic plan, provided by the Ontario Ministry: “A strategic plan acts as a road map for carrying out the strategy and achieving long-term results.” He goes on to say that, although different organizations may have different terminology related to creating their strategic plans, the point of the exercise is the same—“to articulate clearly and concisely what the organization wants to achieve, and to state how it will go about meeting those goals and objectives.”

As TESOL members, we are able to share our thoughts and ideas about what should be part of TESOL’s next strategic plan. To help guide your thinking, you might want to look at TESOL’s current strategic plan, which runs from 2011 to 2014. The plan has three main goals:

  1. English language learners receive quality education through TESOL International Association’s leadership in the field.
  2. TESOL International Association members participate in the association to build expertise and are recognized for their involvement and professionalism.
  3. Individuals and organizations look to TESOL International Association to inform policy and practice.

These goals are ambitious and important for us as an organization, but one issue that we see with these goals is that they cannot really be completed, as they are permanent, ongoing goals—pledges that the professional association has made to all of its members. Therefore, a subcommittee within TESOL’s Board of Directors has been discussing the possibility that TESOL’s current goals—or some version of them—could be more effectively expressed as measurable objectives or in a format like a vision statement.

TESOL does have a mission statement—“To advance professional expertise in English language teaching and learning for speakers of other languages worldwide”—but as the association approaches its 50th anniversary in a couple of years (2016), now may be a good time for the association to think about creating a vision statement as well, perhaps based on the existing three main goals, on some new goals, or on some other vision.

If you go to TESOL’s website, you’ll find a page that lists what we currently refer to as our three main goals, together with four objectives under each of those goals, making 12 objectives total. Three of the key questions that the board subcommittee has been considering are:

  1. Which objectives in the current strategic plan (2011–2014) are worth keeping in the next strategic plan (2015–2018)?
  2. Which objectives can be considered completed?
  3. Which objectives can be considered not completed, but we still want to keep in the next strategic plan?

On that page, you will also see a timeline for the development of the new plan, which started in March at the TESOL 2014 convention in Portland and goes until March next year at the TESOL 2015 convention in Toronto.

The members of the Board subcommittee working on the new strategic plan are:

Andy Curtis (President-Elect)
Deena Boraie (Past President)
Rosa Aronson (Executive Director)
John Segota (Associate Executive Director)
Lillian Wong (2012–2015)
Luciana de Oliveira (2013–2016)
Aya Matsuda (2014–2017)

All of the members of the subcommittee are open to receiving your input on this process. If you have any suggestions, please send them directly to any of us on this subcommittee. We look forward to hearing from you.


Luciana C. de Oliveira is an associate professor of TESOL and applied linguistics at Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York, where she coordinates the MA TESOL program with K–12 certification. Luciana is a member of the TESOL Board of Directors (2013–2016). Luciana is the editor of a new book series, published by TESOL Press, focused on the Common Core State Standards and English language learners.

Drawing Songs of Literacy in a Multilingual Classroom

by Bobby Abrol
Linguistically diverse students need language experiences they can share with their classmates; use singing and art as a culturally respectful starting point for that sharing. 

Imagine a third-grade class of 60 students who spoke 16 different languages. 

That was the reality of my first teaching job. It was in India, and it was challenging in the extreme, but I’m still grateful for what I learned in that multilingual classroom. There, I felt a desperate need for language experiences my students could share. Teachers of multilingual classes in the United States say that they feel this same need. In all countries, linguistically diverse students need in-school language experiences they can share with their classmates.

But what can work as a starting point for sharing? In my class, singing came to the rescue. (This was a surprise to me because I didn’t know anything about music, other than that I enjoy it.) My students often entered class singing folksongs they had learned at home. 

I decided to capitalize on this by starting each morning with an oral activity I called Singer of the Day. Children have strong visual imagery, and most of the lyrics they sung painted mental pictures, so I added art into my next activity, Draw Your Friend’s Song. This paved the way to the third activity, using written language in Magic Sentence for Today

My mantra was “Respect the children’s cultures; begin from what they know.” They came to class with a vast experience of their culture. Expounding on the pedagogical principle of building on their background (Kramsch, 2003), I decided to lock up their old textbooks in a dilapidated cabinet and begin with the new singing/drawing/reading “textbooks” composed with joy by my students. 

Singer of the Day

We began each school day with a folksong, an old familiar one that an individual student knew from hearing it at home. I asked Neha, who had a newly-arrived baby brother, to start. I was sure that anything related with her baby brother (a theme from her context) would excite her, so I decided to begin with her. “Neha, can you sing the lullaby that your mother sings at home to your brother?” Neha started, and we were off on a musical fiesta. 

She sang it in her native language, and a few who knew that language joined in. This activity lifted the spirits of my class; one after another wanted to be singer of the day. It was as if each of them had been waiting to be called upon to sing in their beloved native language. 

Then I presented an offer to them. “You teach me your songs, and I’ll teach you how to write them.” It’s not hard to figure why students responded well to this offer. For the first time, they felt respected for what they already knew. For the first time, the teacher took a back seat and, in their many different languages, the students took the charge of the phonetics, lyrics, and meanings of the words in their songs for their class. 

Each day it was an educationally precious moment for me to see the joy on their faces as a student would sing his or her folksong. I would write it on the chalkboard in the school language. Suddenly, inscriptions on the board started making sense to them—because they could connect them with the words of their songs or their friend’s song. I saw the concept of organic reading and writing proposed by Ashton-Warner (1974) in practice. 

It was sheer joy to see them run their fingers over the text copied from the chalkboard and experience being a reader. Students would make repeated trips to the board, asking about one word after another. I acknowledged their wonderful oral skills, and they learned to associate writing (partially copying at this stage) with meaning. 

A friend of mine, who teaches English as a second language in Texas, told me that she did something similar: 

I put the words of the songs on the board when my students from Mexico sing in Spanish. They know lots of lullabies. My English-speaking students picked up the Spanish words easily, but then they wanted to share their [own native] lullaby…. I had a few students from India, too, and they sang lullabies in Hindi, their native language. All the other students wanted to learn the Hindi words.

I was happy to hear that the same approach that worked so well for me in India also worked well in a multilingual classroom in Texas.

Draw Your Friend’s Song

Most folksongs, lullabies, and ballads are event-specific, context-based songs. The lyrics deliver visual imagery. I realized this in my classroom in India when I noticed a student, Hemant, drawing a vivid scene after hearing the singer of the day. The scene had five women sitting together with a new bride, each one of them dressed traditionally. This imagery corresponded to the song and the explanation given by Mahima, whose song was a famous wedding song.

For me, this was a pedagogical discovery, to see that my students could organically combine songs and drawings in language learning. From then on, I told them to draw every song. Each student would draw using different cultural symbols—jewelry, clothes, food, trinkets from his or her own cultural heritage. My classroom walls were soon adorned by their beautiful representations, showing a variety of cultures and ethnicities. 

My students would come running to me with their drawings, wanting to label certain items with the right words. These were golden learning moments; the students wanted to listen and draw, and then to read and write because the words had a personal meaning for them.

My friend in Texas remarked that she was going to try the art extension of the singing, “[The American] song, ‘Here Comes the Bride’ probably has a Mexican version and an Indian one, too….Maybe a rancher’s song, like ‘Give me a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play…”

Magic Sentence for Today

“You are looking beautiful, Ms. Abrol!” My student Rupa never failed to make this comment to me at the beginning of our school day in India, and then she would listen as I said it back to her. One day, I decided to use her sentence as a language resource, as I had used the lyrics of some songs. I wrote it on the chalkboard and then invited my class to help me write it in each of their languages. 

Amid lots of giggles and chuckles, we produced the following list—the same sentence in four major languages. 

 You are looking beautiful


 Tum sunder lag rahi ho


 Tam chokhi laag rei ho

 Khadi boli

 Aapni sundra chehra


The idea was to show the similarities and differences in a variety of language structures. It was easy to see the similarities of Hindi and Khadi boli (as I now see with English and Spanish, in Texas), but it was harder to find relationships between English and Bengali.

To add more fun to the activity, I had students replace “beautiful” with a different (less positive) word, and you can imagine the rest of the fun. 

It Is Just a Beginning

The above three activities worked well in my multilingual classroom in India, but they appear to be relevant for multilingual and ESL classes in the United States, too. With these activities, language diversity is a plus, not a problem. 


Ashton-Warner, S. (1967). Teacher. New York, NY: Bantam Books. 

Kramsch, C. (Ed.). (2003). Language acquisition and language socialization: Ecological perspectives. Continuum.



Bobby Abrol taught in multilingual elementary classrooms in India for a few years, after which she worked on the development of language curriculum for preservice teachers at Chhattisgarh, India, and then taught in a teacher education program in New Delhi. Currently, she is a doctoral student at the University of Houston, Texas, and her research interests are the teacher as a learner and teachers’ stories using narrative inquiry as research methodology.

Grammatically Speaking

by T. Leo Schmitt
In the July 2014 Grammatically Speaking column, T. Leo Schmitt explains cleft sentences, or what some students see as "sentences with unnecessary words." Teaching tips and language notes included! 

If you have a question for Grammatically Speaking, please send it to GrammaticallySpeaking@tesol.org. We welcome all types of language questions.

Dear Mr. Schmitt,

After teaching a class on being concise, I have students who ask me about “unnecessary” words in sentences, such as “John was the man who worked at the bank,” instead of “John worked at the bank.” or “The Rhine is the river that forms much of the border between France and Germany,” rather than “The Rhine forms much of the border between France and Germany.” I think there is a difference here, but I do not know how to explain it to my students. Do you have any suggestions?

Annie L

Traditional Grammatical Explanation

Dear Annie,

Thank you for the fascinating question. The two examples you give are examples of cleft sentences, while the shorter alternatives are simple sentences. A cleft sentence combines an independent and relative/adjective clause. A cleft sentence can take a pattern that looks something like “X is the Y that/who does something,” where the independent clause uses the verb “to be.” You give two good examples. 

A structure like this includes a sense of presupposition. In the example you give, it is understood that somebody works at the bank. Our cleft sentence here indicates that the individual in question is John. This becomes clear if we try negating the two sentences: “John was not the man who worked at the bank.” the presumption is that there is a different man working there. In contrast, if we say “John did not work at the bank,” there may be no bank at all or it may be staffed entirely by women. There is no presumption of any man working at the bank.

Your students make a point that these are not absolutely “necessary” words. However, one of the many beauties of language is that we can express an idea in a wide variety of ways, using a wide variety of words and grammatical structures. While their general gist is essentially the same, the choice of language that we use can make subtle, and sometimes important, differences that allow us to express ever deeper and more complicated thoughts. Thus “John was the man who worked at the bank” and “John worked at the bank” both express the same essential concept. The latter is short and to the point. However, the latter adds a degree of emphasis that is not otherwise present. For example, when referring to two people, for example John and David, this form will allow the writer to emphasize how John differs from David.  It could also be read that the two people are, for example, John and Mary, where John is the man (who works at the bank). 

The relative/adjective clause following the initial independent clause is usually of secondary importance in a cleft sentence and the initial part has the emphasis. 

Teaching Tips

Clearly this kind of differentiation is for advanced students. For lower level students who encounter this pattern, it may suffice to briefly explain this as an alternative. 

For advanced students, it may be useful to have them examine multiple examples of cleft sentences and compare them with noncleft sentences holding the same meaning (as in the examples you gave). Teasing apart some of the subtleties of different structures expressing the same basic meaning is a challenge for advanced writers, whether native or nonnative. By seeing multiple examples in context, students should begin to get a better feel for how and when to use these patterns. 

Language Notes

Cleft sentences allow a writer to foreground a specific thought in a sentence. Although they are also used in spoken English, they seem to be more common in writing, most likely because speech offers other ways to emphasize an idea, such as stress or tone. 

In an age when we can bold, italicize, or underline, it may be possible that patterns like this that serve as a form of emphasis in written language may eventually disappear or become less pervasive. However, as long as human beings seek to express increasingly complex ideas with the wonder of human language, Orwell’s newspeak remains an unlikely end result. Concision is often a desirable quality in writing, but there are many times, especially when discussing complex and challenging ideas, when more words and more complex grammatical patterns are not just appropriate but necessary. For me, being concise means using as few words as necessary, but also never fewer than necessary. And even the greatest writers (among whom I certainly do not count myself) may miss that mark. 

There are other varieties of cleft sentences including structures such as “What worked best was soliciting the occasional fact.” Clefts can be quite complicated.

Last Month's Brain Teaser

Look at the two sentences below. What traditional rule of grammar do they both appear to violate? How would you explain this to an English learner?

  1. What’s more sad on NPR this morning: a story on villages infested with tuberculosis in Tajikistan* who refuse to believe the disease is spread through airborne contact, assuming it is cold water that causes it or interviews with fangirls at the red carpet premiere of the Lone Ranger who believe that the movie will be a good history lesson?
  2. Bragging is cool but bragging with evidence is more cool.”

Dear Mr. Schmitt,

The use of the comparative forms "more sad" and "more cool" would be classified as errors in traditional grammars. The prescriptive rule generally states that one-syllable adjectives form the comparative with the inflectional affix "–er" to make "sadder" and "cooler."

Interestingly, descriptive grammarians note a trend toward using the periphrastic construction "more" + adjective. A quick look at the history of the English language shows that there is a tendency in English to do away with inflectional endings. In Old English and Middle English, there were many more inflectional endings.  Another example of this is the disappearance of the "–st" inflectional ending in "thou goest" (which is now "you go"). 

If a citation is needed, Diane Larsen-Freeman referred to this trend at the 2014 TESOL convention during her presentation "Complexity Theory: Renewing Our Understanding of Language, Learning, and Teaching." She used the example "more clear" to illustrate the difference between an error and an innovation.  "More" + adjective is an innovation, and it's catching on!

Thanks for reading, 
Roisin Dewart
Université du Québec à Montréal

Thank you, Ms. Dewart. The traditional rule for adjectives is that short (usually one-syllable) adjectives take an “-er” for the comparative. However, there does seem to be a trend, as you and Diane Larsen-Freeman note, toward using “more + adjective.” This has been around for a while, and we will see if it really catches on!

This Month's Brain Teaser

Look at the two sentences below. What traditional rule of grammar do they both appear to violate? How would you explain this to an English learner?

  1. I never was nor never will be false.” 
  2. It don’t mean nothing if it don’t mean something so you don’t mean nothing to me.”

The best correct answer will be published in the next column of Grammatically Speaking.

Please e-mail your responses to GrammaticallySpeaking@tesol.org.

When writing to Grammatically Speaking, please include your name and location (city and state, province, or country). If your question or response is selected for publication, your name and location will be printed unless you specify otherwise.

Examples cited in this column are authentic examples of language use and are not the author’s creations.


Teaching Intros and Conclusions to ELLs Without a Safety Net

by Walton Burns
Effective writing is hard! Use these activities and worksheets to show your English language learners the rules of writing introductions and conclusions—and when to break those rules.  

Writing is like art. It’s hard to describe exactly what makes for good writing, but you know it when you see it. This is perhaps most true for introductions and conclusions, where you are targeting your audience most directly. And it’s hard to write something for a general audience. Unfortunately, as teachers our job is to explain to our students exactly how to produce effective writing. To make it easier to teach, we often build up a safety net of rules. However, the more I go over the rules in class, the more I realize how vague they are or how often great writing breaks the rule:

  • A good introduction should make the topic interesting—but what’s interesting to you isn’t always interesting to me.
  • A good introduction should have enough background information to open the topic, but not too much—and how much, exactly, is that?
  • We need a clear, strong thesis statement—but how many excellent pieces of writing do you read where the thesis statement is implied, or broken into two sentences, and those sentences are located far away from each other?
  • The introduction is the first paragraph—unless it’s the second because the first paragraph is an extended hook.

And conclusions?

  • A conclusion should sum up,
  • or make a recommendation,
  • or conclude the topic somehow, in some way, to satisfy the reader.
  • But it shouldn’t have new information—unless it’s brief new information, or everyone knows this information…

The rules are pretty vague.

And when we teach students to write by rote, let’s face it, the results are pretty boring. Remember that while beginners may not have great English skills, your students may be sophisticated writers with excellent writing skills in their own language. We don’t want to stunt them with a formula devised for school children.

So how can we get students to write good introductions and good conclusions? By taking away the safety net that makes the rules, and exposing them to as many authentic examples as we can. To make that process easier, I developed these two worksheets—one is for beginners and the other is for more advanced students that provide fairly formulaic intros and conclusions with pretty basic problems. They serve as jumping off points to get students reading analytically to inform their own writing:

The Worksheets

Introductions worksheet (.docx)

Conclusions worksheet (.docx)

Beginner Introductions and Conclusions worksheet (.docx)

This is how I use them:

  1. Review what makes a good intro and/or conclusion as a class, which shouldn’t take long.
  2. Break students into groups and give them each a worksheet. Let them discuss and evaluate for about 15–20 minutes. Remind them that there are good and bad points about every example.
  3. Break students into different groups and have them share ideas with new students for about 7 minutes.
  4. Come back together and go over the good, the bad, and the ugly about each one.
  5. For homework, send students to a news opinions page (The New York Times is great, or BBC Words in the News has articles written for ESL websites. Local papers are also a good resource). Have them pick an introduction and a conclusion and analyze what is good and bad about it.
  6. The next day, students present their introductions and conclusions in groups.

For very advanced students, you could take away the safety net entirely by skipping the rules. Give them authentic materials in class and simply ask them what they think makes an effective opening or closing. You can even put their first drafts on the chopping block to be reviewed by the class.

I find that students love this exercise. It shows that you take them seriously as readers and critics as well as writers. It allows them to form their own insights about what makes good writing rather than forcing them to write to a set formula. And it produces more complex writing, which is the ultimate goal.

What do you find is effective for teaching your English learners to write good introductions and conclusions?

*Note: A version of this post first appeared on englishadvantage.info.


Walton Burns has taught English for 13 years, starting in the Peace Corps in Vanuautu. Since then, he’s worked around the world. His  students have been Kazakh oil executives, Afghan high school students, and Chinese video game champions. As a writer, he was on the author team for Inside Writing, a genre-based writing course book for Oxford University Press. He currently writes ESL materials and blogs at englishadvantage.info.