TESOL Connections

Taking on Pragmatics in Oral Communication Classes

by Alice Savage

Help your ELs become more confident at interpreting social cues, making their own intentions clear, and navigating social contexts through explicit pragmatics instruction. Take a look at your own interactional skills to develop and build a lesson around pragmatics role-plays. Role-play rubrics included. 

In print, one voice dominates, but in oral communication, many voices collaborate. This negotiation of culture, personality, and intention makes pragmatics an ideal fit for the oral communication class. However, oral communication already has a lot of moving parts; should we really add one more?

The answer is yes. Research shows that without instruction, students can take up to 10 years to develop a sense of second language appropriateness, but with explicit pragmatics instruction, learners can make informed choices (Ishihara & Cohen, 2010; Houck & Tatsuki, 2011). With pragmatics instruction, speakers become more confident at navigating social contexts because they can interpret social cues as well as make their own intentions clear.

Accessing Pragmatics for Teaching

Yet, integrating pragmatics into materials has been an uphill climb. We are only just beginning to see pragmatics-informed elements in course books. Many, though not all, feature cheerful interactions in which everyone gets along and is happy. Pragmatically speaking, these are easy situations. A bigger challenge is to successfully negotiate a conversation that potentially causes discomfort and thus requires sensitivity. To illustrate, notice that it takes far fewer words (and far less grammar) to accept an invitation than to decline one:

Sure, that sounds great! What time?

Ohhh, I really wish I could. That sounds like so much fun, but I have this other thing, and I really can’t get out of it. Maybe another time.

So, if pragmatic material is hit-and-miss in course books, how do we access it? The answer is that we look at our own skills. Native speakers and culturally experienced nonnative speakers have much experience with pragmatics, even if we haven’t thought about it deliberately. Here’s a test. Check the boxes for which you can remember the last time you successfully navigated each of the following situations:

❏ Made small talk with a new acquaintance
❏ Encouraged a friend
❏ Declined an invitation
❏ Escaped from a talkative neighbor
❏ Maneuvered someone into offering you a favor
❏ Disagreed with a partner without causing distress
❏ Negotiated an action plan, roles, and activities
❏ Comforted someone in distress
❏ Gave critical feedback with a positive result
❏ Changed the subject of a conversation
❏ Accepted a compliment (or criticism) gracefully
❏ Bargained successfully with a contractor or salesperson

It is likely that you have experienced many if not all of these pragmatic situations in English, though you may feel varying degrees of competence. Many of these skills are quite difficult, and some, such as giving critical feedback, can even benefit from training. Yet it is still possible to use your own experiences, skills, and strategies to discover the pragmatics of common interactions. The good news is that there are no hard and fast rules about how to properly disagree, for example. However, there are patterns and degrees of effectiveness.

Pragmatics Role-Play

A useful way to investigate the moves and language of a delicate conversation is to engage in a scaffolded role-play. When you put yourself into a certain type of interaction with another human, the language that emerges may surprise you as you signal your intentions and read and respond to your partner’s. You may notice certain gestures or changes in tone that convey meaning, as well. Often, the experience produces more authentic text than what you might come up with if your simply tried to write a scripted dialogue on your own.

The following template can be used to create an original scaffolded role-play, which can then be used to inform a pragmatics lesson. You need a partner and a way to record your conversation, and/or you can involve a third person who watches, takes notes, and makes observations.

Part I. Prepare: Discover the Pragmatics Yourself

Step 1. Plan the Scenario

Organize the scenario by filling out the chart with general information about the people, the place, and the intentions or goals. For additional topic ideas, go back to the checklist of situations.

Questions to Answer


What is the context?  Two ESOL teachers at a conference meet for coffee. 
What are the roles?  Partner A works for a community college and is on a hiring committee.
Partner B has applied for the job. 
What are the intentions/goals?  Partner A must follow protocol and not divulge information about the hiring process or the work of the committee. At the same time, you want to preserve the friendship.
Partner B hopes to get some inside information that will give him/her an advantage, but does not want to come across as pushy.

Step 2. Conduct the Role-Play

Set a timer for 5 minutes and begin recording your conversation with a partner—a colleague or friend. If you have an observer, that person watches and takes notes. Initiate the conversation following the guidelines of the scenario. As you speak, try to use whatever skills and strategies you have to achieve your goal.

Step 3. Reflect and Observe

After the conversation, discuss your initial reaction to the conversation with your partner. Share observations and feelings about whether your moves felt aggressive, appropriate, or passive. Use the following questions to guide your conversations, and take notes. You can use this information in lesson planning.

  1. What were the moves or shifts from one topic to another or one intention to another? (E.g., “So that reminds of something that I wanted to ask you…”)

  2. How did you reinforce social cohesion? What did you say? (E.g., “I know, right!”)

  3. How did you inquire? (E.g., “Can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer, but…”)

  4. How did you respond or evade? (E.g., “Well, you know how it is…I can’t say much other than the job description.”)

  5. How did you handle the response? (E.g., “Oh sure, I totally understand…It’s just that I’m so excited about the possibility. Can I ask you about your program? I’d love to learn more about it. Like, what books do you use to teach…?”)

Part II: Build a Lesson

Once you have material to work with, you can then adapt/write your dialogue for lesson planning. You may alter the context or language to suit your purposes, but the dialogue will be informed by your experience in the role-play.

Use your dialogue to create a lesson. Ideally, you have an audio (or better, a video) recording of the script done with a colleague or friend, but you can also work with the written dialogue. If you do, consider modeling it by playing two sides. Then use the Pragmatics Menu, downloadable here (.pdf) for easy classroom use, to focus your lesson on raising awareness, providing practice, and eventually having students create their own original role-plays.

An example of a lesson plan activity that can prepare students for the role-play might be to provide language practice for handling an evasion. You can provide examples of the language of the two sides for intonation and then have students practice with a partner. Give them some cues, such as asking for a different favor or trying to get information about a person.

Partner A: Evade

Partner B: Respond to an Evasion

You know how it is… I can’t really say. Oh, I totally understand. That’s fine. That’s fine.
Um, I’m not sure what to say. Okay, I get it. I don’t want to put you in a difficult position.
Well, I can’t really talk about that, but I can talk about… That would be great, I’d love to hear more about…
I’m not supposed to talk about that.  Oh, right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. Let’s talk about… 

Including Pragmatics in Your Assessments

Though it is generally advisable for teachers to design and continually revise their own rubrics, the examples in these Sample Role-Play Rubrics (.pdf), taken from our community college ESOL program at Lone Star College System, show how you might value pragmatics in your assessment.

  • Give students the rubric when you assign the role-play so they know how to prepare.
  • Include prewritten descriptors to save time in the moment. You can also record or film the role-play.
  • Structure the rubrics to give feedback on both sides of the conversation, so the evaluation would also include a role switch.
  • Set a timer for 3 or 4 minutes to give pairs equal speaking time.
  • Give students copies of the rubric and have them practice using it to give feedback to peers while they are waiting for their turn.


Pragmatics role-plays with colleagues and friends can be a great activity for an in-service lesson or workshop. Participants often discover conversational skills and strategies that they had not been aware of previously. They may also make connections to experiences in which others met or did not meet expectations for cultural appropriateness. These types of conversations remind us of the organic nature of language and its role in helping us communicate all sorts of information above and beyond the simple exchange of facts.

Finally, it is important to note that pragmatics lessons are not rules for behavior. Even within our own English-speaking subcultures, we differ in whether we accept or are offended by other people’s choices. We can only inform students about available language patterns and their potential effects. English learners must always be free to make their own decisions about how they want to use these patterns.


Houck, N. R., & Tatsuki, D. H. (Eds.). (2011). Pragmatics: Teaching natural conversation. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

Ishihara, N., & Cohen, A. D. (2010). Teaching and learning pragmatics where language and culture meet. Harlow, United Kingdom: Pearson Longman, 2010.

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Alice Savage teaches at Lone Star College System in Houston, Texas, USA. She also writes materials for the ESOL classroom and has published with TESOL Press, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and Pearson. Visit her blog with Colin Ward, English Endeavors, for more ideas about teaching pragmatics and other language and skills.


Activities to Invigorate Repeated Input

by Brianna Johnson and Sara Sulko

Are you bored with seemingly endless listening repitition activities? Then your students probably are, too. When teaching listening and speaking, one of the biggest challenges English language teachers face is effectively utilizing repeated input. Learn how to successfully include repeated input in your listening class in ways that result in comfort with listening, more confidence in listening skills, and better overall comprehension of listening materials. 

Though teaching listening and speaking can bring some of the most rewarding, student-focused, and communicative lessons, teachers undoubtedly face challenges ranging from technology glitches to the ongoing search for the “perfect” listening passage to fit a lesson. One challenge in particular stands out: effectively utilizing repeated input (RI).

The Benefits of Repeated Input

RI encompasses the repetition of listening passages more than once (and often several times spanning several lessons) to allow students the necessary input to improve comprehension and overall listening skills. Our students often plead for another repetition on a listening assessment, and this desire is not unfounded in theory. Research has indeed shown the benefits of RI with schema activation and background knowledge (Long, 1990). In addition, multiple listenings are quite authentic (Vandergrift, 2004) because native speakers often utilize clarification requests in normal speech for reasons such as low volume, unclear enunciation, or misplaced attention. Despite these facts, students—and, yes, even teachers—become bored with seemingly endless repetitions of the same passages in class. What, then, can we do to take the boredom out of RI?

The strategic elements that we believe contribute to successful inclusion of RI in the listening classroom are as follows:

  1. The class listens to an excerpt multiple times.
  2. The excerpt is a topic of interest for the class (Chou, 2015).
  3. The activities based on the excerpt are varied and interesting.

If these three aspects take place, then RI should result in more comfort with listening, more confidence in listening skills, and better overall comprehension of listening material.

Seven Repeated Input Activities

Between the two of us, we have come up with strategies and activities to help ourselves and our students maintain interest in RI with seven activities that resist boredom (many of them get students physically involved and out of their chairs) and help maximize the benefit of multiple listenings to the same material. These strategies can even go home with the students so that they feel more empowered to mirror classroom practices there.

1. Wall Crawl

After listening to an excerpt or passage, place large strips of paper around the room. Students walk around the room decoding information to record on handouts you’ve provided them with. Information on the strips of paper can really address any aspect of your current lesson, from simple multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank answers regarding vocabulary or main ideas to more advanced information regarding whodunit mysteries, inferences, and speaker identification. Encourage students to decipher information in groups and to collaborate and discuss ideas before listening again to the material for comprehension checks.

2. Cloze

Create classic cloze activities using audio scripts to focus on new vocabulary or grammar for the students. It draws their attention to whatever is needed to fill in the blank. The blanks can also come at regular intervals, like every seven words, to encourage students to listen more closely to the passage.

3. Language Spotting

Ask students to raise their hand, stand up, high-five a partner—whatever you decide for them to do when they hear target language. For example, students may stand up every time they hear a vocabulary word on their list or a verb tense being studied. This works well with beginner listeners, but it can be a fun activity for more advanced learners as well. This is also prime time to use incorrect answers, or “spots,” as excellent contrastive analysis material, such as when a student stands for the main verb “have” when the target function was to listen for present perfect.

4. Role-Play

After students listen to an excerpt, they can role-play what they just heard or what they think they will hear next. This requires students to listen carefully to the passage and use language similar to the excerpt. This can also be exciting for students who love to talk in class but can also serve as “organized bravery” for the quieter students.

5. Identifying Language Function

A classroom discussion about the purpose, speaker, and audience in a listening passage breaks up the repetitions with production and critical thinking. Students should support their ideas with reasons and examples, giving thorough oral responses. This activity models classroom discussions for students with more academic aspirations.

6. Question Writing

Question formation and generation is challenging, so we often look for ways to practice this skill. In this activity, ask students to write questions about important details in the passage. These questions can be written for other students to quiz their understanding, or they can be questions that persist after listening. Directing students to write questions for others about what they think is important requires them to categorize and synthesize information. Furthermore, writing questions about what they are still curious about offers insight to the teachers as to what interests students and what they find hard to grasp. One strategy we use often when introducing a listening passage for the first time is playing a small section, stopping it prematurely, and asking the class what they are curious about so far.

7. Direct Quotes

More advanced students may need sources for presentations or compositions. We can help students practice using audio as a source by taking direct quotes from a listening passage. This also requires taking very detailed notes with a focus on accuracy. If your institution has a computer lab available during class time, this is a great individual activity in which students have access to the listening using headphones. They can even work on their presentations or paper collaboratively with their other instructors, or you can provide your own materials to have students incorporate quotations into. Students can always compare each other's transcriptions for peer-to-peer interaction.

Overcoming Repeated Input Challenges

Though the benefits of RI are clear, it may pose challenges in the classroom for students. First, students may develop listening fatigue. To avoid this pitfall, try not to drill one activity over and over again for one particular passage—switch it up often, and resist the urge to systematically (i.e., mundanely) go over the answers to each activity every time. By the end of multiple listenings, students may figure out answers to the first activity just from better understanding the listening in general. In addition, vary the length of the passage, perhaps listening again to short sections only or revisiting parts of it at different times within the lesson or among several lessons to lessen fatigue and heighten curiosity.

A second challenge to RI is that some students may struggle to understand its importance. Therefore, explain why listening to the same passage again is beneficial: RI helps them practice multiple skills that they can apply to many different listening situations and increase their comprehension. To bring this point home, we often have students pay attention to how much they understand on the final listening compared to the first—this usually helps them buy into the practice just through that awareness.

Remember: If we are bored, our students probably are as well.


Chou, M. (2015). The influence of topics on listening strategy use for English for academic purposes. English Language Teaching, 8(2), 44–54. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/elt.v8n2p44

Long, D. R. (1990). What you don’t know can’t help you: An exploratory study of background knowledge and second language listening comprehension. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 12(1), 65–80. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263100008743

Vandergrift, L. (2004). Listening to learn or learning to listen? Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 3–25. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0267190504000017

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Brianna Johnson has taught K–12 English in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and Bordeaux, France. She has also worked with adults as an ESL lecturer at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, The University of Iowa, and Purdue University Northwest. She recently completed her eighth and final year of ESL/EFL teaching and has now embarked on a career as a bilingual speech-language pathologist at the University of Maryland College Park.

Sara Sulko received her BA in communication and Spanish. She earned her MA TESOL from the University of Southern Illinois Carbondale. She has taught ESL at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the University of Missouri, where she continues to teach. Sara’s areas of interest include classroom technology, intercultural communication, and teaching beginners basic communication skills.

TESOL Board Approves Final Phase of Governance Restructuring

Apprise yourself of the recent changes to TESOL's governance structure, including the creation of professional councils, the Affiliate Network, and TESOL Communities of Practice (comprising TESOL Interest Sections and Professional Learning Networks). Learn how these governance changes might affect you. 

At its meeting in October 2017, the TESOL Board of Directors approved several changes composing the final phase of governance restructuring for the association. In 2014, the board initiated the governance restructuring as a result of the final report of the Governance Review Task Force. Subsequently, the board initiated the restructuring in two primary phases: changes to the association’s governing documents and creating the Professional Councils that replaced the Standing Committees. With this final phase, the board has created two new Professional Councils and initiated changes to the affiliation program and member groups within the association.

New Professional Councils

Two new Professional Councils will join the roster of six others that the board previously created in 2015. The first of these, the Public Policy Professional Council (PPPC) will support TESOL International Association by helping and advising on the association’s strategic initiatives related to public policy. The PPPC will work closely with the association staff to advise, encourage, and assist on matters related to public policy with the goal of enhancing and sustaining the association’s reputation as a globally relevant resource of high-quality, balanced, and effective advice, information, and advocacy on English language education public policy issues. The focus of the PPPC will not be limited to public policy in the United States; the council will also address international public policy.

The second new Professional Council, the Affiliate Network Professional Council (ANPC), will advise on initiatives and activities that advance the association’s strategic direction through the Affiliate Network. The ANPC will succeed the current Affiliate Leadership Council and will help build and sustain a strong and robust Affiliate Network. Both of the new Professional Councils will have their first meetings in March at the 2018 TESOL international convention in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Affiliate Network

In addition to these new councils, the board approved changes to the affiliation program for the association. Founded on the work the Affiliate Task Force, which conducted its work and provided its recommendations to the board in 2016, the Affiliate Network reframes the relationship between TESOL and its affiliated associations. It is envisioned to facilitate TESOL’s relations with local, regional, and national teacher associations that share and support TESOL’s mission, and the network is built on four key pillars: respect, significance, flexibility, and mutuality. The ANPC will help build and sustain a strong and robust Affiliate Network.

Communities of Practice

The largest change approved by the board of directors is the creation of the new Communities of Practice (COP) for member groups within the association. There are two types of COPs: Interest Sections (ISs) and new Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). Both types of COPs assist in cultivating content in areas of expertise and serve as area-specific resources for the association. In addition, both types of COPs help by developing leaders within the association, engaging members around professional issues relevant to their areas of interest, and facilitating dialogue and community.

These COP changes are largely built upon the work of the Interest Section Task Force, which conducted its work and provided its recommendations to the board in 2016. Similar to the Affiliate Network, there are several core principles guiding COPs: trust, inclusivity, strategic alignment, sustainability, and cultivation of leadership. Both types of COPs must adhere to TESOL’s mission, vision, core values, and nondiscrimination policy and support the association’s strategic direction.

Interest Sections

ISs remain a focal point of membership interaction. Each IS is rooted in and contributes to a specific area of knowledge within the field to stay ahead of current practice and research. They provide a greater variety and level of sustained activities, such as IS-specific projects and year-round outreach. ISs have more autonomy than they had previously to develop strategies for communications, member engagement, and leadership development. ISs are held accountable to the TESOL Board of Directors through annual reports and updates.

Professional Learning Networks

PLNs, the newest type of group members will see, are informal, discussion-based groups that are self-structured by their members. They typically emerge in response to specific or timely issues or actions and therefore form and dissolve easily. Many of the current forums will likely become PLNs in the new structure. Although many members participate and are active in forums, forums are not officially recognized as part of the association’s governance system. The PLNs have been created to provide a flexible model for groups like forums to be recognized and be part of the association’s governance system.

The transition period to the new COP system is underway, with current groups applying by the end of January to be either an IS or PLN. The COP system will become operational in April 2018, with opportunities for new groups to apply coming in late 2018.

50 Ways to Be a Better Teacher in 2018

by Chris Mares
Teaching is a complex endeavor, and a good teacher must be many things. In 2018, stretch yourself, take risks, and try new approaches. Resolve to be a better teacher—or the best teacher you can be. 

When I told my father I was writing a book called 50 Ways to Be a Better Teacher, he said, “No one’s going to buy it if you’re telling them they’re not good teachers.” He had a point. But that’s not what I meant. We can all be better. It’s fun to strive. Stretch oneself. Take risks. Try new things.

Plus, the book was part of a series titled, “50 Ways to …”. Ergo, I didn’t have much choice.

But I did have a purpose. It came as a result of a 1-week TESOL Certificate Program I taught two summers ago. On the last day, one of the participants said, “What is it you want us to take away from this program?” I said, “Excellent question. Let me mull it and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

That evening I went for a dog walk in the woods. And a think. The next day I produced my list. I had organized it and typed it up as a handout. And here it is.

Ways to Be a Better Teacher

  1. Get comfortable with yourself.
  2. Find your inner teacher.
  3. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  4. Commit to growth.
  5. Experiment and take risks.
  6. Teach intentionally with purpose and direction.
  7. Teach all your students.
  8. Find a way to reach everyone.
  9. Remember that if you are prepared to do it, your students will do it, too.
  10. Echo, echo, echo.
  11. Recycle, recycle, recycle.
  12. Remember to raise schema: Students need to be engaged and interested.
  13. It’s always about students’ needs and interests.
  14. It’s not about you.
  15. There are always ways to resolve all situations and misunderstandings.
  16. Take a step outside yourself and observe yourself.
  17. Ask high-yield questions, not low-yield questions.
  18. Be prepared.
  19. Give yourself a time limit for your preparation time.
  20. Remember you are a language informant; you don’t have to be a grammar expert.
  21. Just because you can’t draw is no reason not to draw.
  22. Just because you can’t sing is no reason not to sing.
  23. Learn about your students’ languages and how they work.
  24. Learn about your students’ cultures and education system.
  25. If a student asks a question and you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know but you will find out and then make sure you do get back to them.
  26. Establish clear rules and expectations.
  27. Be consistent, reliable, and unpredictable.
  28. Switch things up.
  29. Be positive.
  30. Be holistic.
  31. Be humanistic.
  32. Make your classroom a safe and respectful place.
  33. Remember that you may have to balance the expectations of the institution you are working at with your own principles about language learning and teaching.
  34. Develop a philosophy of teaching.

We spent a couple of hours going down the list, clarifying and elucidating the bullet points. There aren’t 50; 50 is just a number. There are many ways to be better at anything. One way to use the list is to work down it systematically, five at a time, and to then try and be mindful of these particular tips. Once you’ve been through the whole list, go over it again, randomly, choosing five at a time to focus on.

During our discussion it became apparent that my list was partly a reaction to how I had initially been trained when I did my Cambridge Certificate in TEFL, many moons ago, in Hastings, in Sussex, England. It was a rigorous training. The paradigm was rigidly PPP: present, practice, produce. The focus was on language. Lesson plans were rigid and to the minute. There was a point but it wasn’t for me. And, useful as it was, in many ways, the approach seemed to ignore the human aspect of teaching.

Teaching is a human endeavor. It involves the relationship between teacher and student. The relationship between the teacher and the self that teaches. It involves being able to sense and feel a class and to juggle multiple variables while observing what is going on.

Teaching is complex and underappreciated. It is also magical and inspirational.

When people used to ask me what I did, I would say that I was an ESL teacher. “Oh,” people often said, looking for someone else to talk to. “I see,” they would add, eyes flitting around the room.

Now I say that I prepare international students for undergraduate and graduate programs at the University of Maine—which is what I do. It’s a complex job. As all teaching is. A good teacher must be many things.

According to Tomlinson (2003), a good language teacher:

  1. is patient and supportive.
  2. has a good sense of humor.
  3. is enthusiastic about teaching and positive toward their learners.
  4. is a confident teacher with positive self-esteem.
  5. is interesting, stimulating, and creative.
  6. is a good communicator.
  7. is flexible.
  8. takes initiative.
  9. is sensitive to the needs and wants of each of their learners.
  10. teaches responsively.
  11. is critically aware of current theoretical and methodological developments.
  12. has a large repertoire of pedagogical procedures.
  13. makes principled and modified selections from their repertoire in relation to the needs, wants, learning style preferences, and expectations of their learners; their own personality, beliefs, and teaching style preferences; and the social and educational cultures of their teaching context.
  14. is a positive user of the target language.
  15. is positively aware of how the target language is used for communication.
  16. is positively aware of the cultures of the learners and users of the target language.

That’s a lot (and, combined with my list, happens to add up to 50)! I agree with Tomlinson. If you look back at my initial list, you will see that being a teacher involves know about teaching techniques, committing oneself to personal and professional development, working on developing a positive attitude, taking good care of one’s physical self, and, finally, taking good care of one’s inner self.

Becoming a better teacher or the best teacher one can be is considerably more than being able to present to students, have them practice, and finally have them produce.


Tomlinson, B. (2003). Developing materials to develop yourself. Humanising Language Teaching, 5(4). Retrieved from http://www.hltmag.co.uk/jul03/mart1.htm


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Chris Mares is currently the director of the Intensive English Institute at the University of Maine. He is a teacher at heart, a teacher trainer, author, presenter, writer, musician, and athlete.  He enjoys people, animals, and cooking. He can’t wait for 1 January when he will be returning to full-time teaching and be shot of administration (not his forte).

    Game On in 2018: 2 Grammar Games to Engage ELLs

    by Elinor Westfold and Loren Lee Chiesi
    This year, make learning grammar more fun for your students. Games are a great way to motivate and challenge your ELLs during grammar class. 

    Grammar can induce dread or—worse—boredom in English language learners (ELLs). In 2018, resolve to make learning grammar more fun for your students. Playing games during grammar class is one of the easiest ways to motivate ELLs to practice challenging grammar structures. Games help students focus on grammatical forms in meaningful contexts and build automaticity. Furthermore, playing games in our classrooms helps our diverse students collaborate more effectively (Chen, 2005; Wright, Betteridge, & Buckby, 2006).

    We developed the following two games to help our high intermediate and advanced writing students practice accurately using subordinate clauses. However, they can easily be adapted to many levels and contexts. 

    Game 1: Adjective Clause Matching

    This 30-minute activity motivates ELLs to write accurate adjective clauses connected to pictures. Students then use their own sentences to play a fast-paced and kinesthetic game that rewards rapid reading skills and repeatedly exposes students to correct adjective clauses.


    • A PowerPoint presentation with high-interest pictures (see a sample presentation in PowerPoint or PDF)
    • Index cards
    • A table at the front of the classroom

    Step 1

    Put students in groups of three or four. Tell students that they are going to play a game and that they will create sentences with adjective clauses, which will be materials for the game.

    Step 2

    Using the PowerPoint, show the students a picture and model a sentence about the picture that contains an adjective clause.  For example, show the sentence, “This is a cow that can relax.” paired with an image of a sitting cow.

    Step 3

    Show students a slide with three to four pictures in on it (Figure 1). Tell each group or each student to choose just one picture from the slide and write a sentence about it on an index card. Each index card should have only one sentence. While students write, circulate and help them check their grammar. Repeat this step with four or five picture slides, and then ask the students to place all index cards on a table at the front of the classroom so that their sentences are clearly visible.

    Figure 1. Example slide for “Adjective Clause Matching” game, Step 3.

    Step 4

    Each group sends one student to the front of the classroom. These students stand around the table with their hands behind their backs. Project a slide with just one picture on it (Figure 2). Students look at the picture and then read the cards and try to grab the card or cards that best match the picture. If multiple cards match one picture, one student can grab all of them or multiple students can grab different cards. Each card is worth one point. The students then read their cards aloud so that the class can confirm their answers. The students bring their cards back to their groups as evidence of their points.

    Figure 2. Example slide for “Adjective Clause Matching” game, Step 4.

    Step 5

    After the first round, a new representative of each group comes to the table. These new students repeat Step 4.

    Continue repeating Steps 4 and 5 until all the index cards have been used or the class has run out of time. The rounds go quite quickly as students become accustomed to the game and eager to have their chance at the table. The group that has successfully grabbed the most cards wins. As an extension, ask students to discuss which sentences described their pictures most effectively, or ask them what the game has taught them about the function of adjective clauses.

    Picture Selection Variation

    This game can also be played with copies of pictures instead of a PowerPoint. In Step 3, each student selects a picture, printed on sturdy paper or laminated, and writes a sentence about it. The teacher then reads or projects the sentences, and the students select pictures instead of sentences.

    Adaptations for Lower Levels

    Teachers can adapt this game to help learners practice other kinds of descriptive language. Lower levels can write sentences with adjectives or prepositional phrases. Higher levels can use participial phrases. You can also scaffold by providing main clauses to which students can add adjective clauses, such as, “This is a person who…” “This is a place where…” or “This is a thing that….”

    Game 2: Noun Clause Trivia

    Trivia games are an enjoyable way to engage a variety of student strengths, such as content knowledge, speed, and, of course, grammar skills. Trivia can be easily adapted to incorporate themes from a unit in a textbook, core vocabulary, target skill practice, or the content of a reading assignment. In this 20-minute game, students repeatedly practice forming noun clauses from wh– questions. Rather than being tedious, this repetition becomes thrilling.


    • A PowerPoint Presentation with wh– questions related to class content or to interesting facts about students’ home countries (see a sample presentation in PowerPoint or PDF)
    • A piece of lined paper for each group
    • A whiteboard or blackboard

    Step 1

    Students sit in groups of three to four, and each group chooses a writer. Tell students that they are going to play a trivia game, and that they will need to use noun clauses to respond to the questions.

    Step 2

    Show a PowerPoint slide with a wh– question, such as, “What is the longest river in India?” (see Figure 3).

    Figure 3. Example slide for “Noun Clause Trivia,” Step 2.

    Step 3

    With the help other group members, the writer of each group races to write two sentences:

    1. We know/we don’t know + a noun clause.
    2. The answer, as a full sentence.

    For example, as an answer to the question in Step 2, students might write: “We know what the longest river in India is. The longest river in India is the Ganges.”

    Step 5

    When a group agrees on the answer, all students in the group should raise their hands. Call on one member of the group. Students do not know who will be called on, so they must all be ready to respond with the correct answers. The selected student then reads the two sentences aloud. A group can get a maximum of two points for each question: one for a correctly formed noun clause and another for the correct answer. If they correctly form a noun clause, such as, “we don’t know what the longest river in India is,” but do not know the correct answer, they can still earn one point. Record each group’s points on the whiteboard or blackboard. The group with the most points at the end of class or at the end of the PowerPoint presentation wins. To reflect on student learning, initiate discussion on what the game illustrates about the form and function of wh– noun clauses.


    This game is easy to adapt to encompass more types of noun clauses. The PowerPoint can include yes/no questions instead of, or in addition to, wh– questions. For a more challenging activity, students can write their second sentence using reported speech, such as, “We think that the longest river in India is the Ganges.”

    Teachers can also collect answers in a variety of ways, depending on the size and layout of their classrooms. With a small class or a class sitting in a half circle, give students 2 minutes to write answers to each question and then quickly check each group. This means that every group can get points for each question, which heightens the competition and sense of achievement. Students can also compete individually by quickly writing answers on the board.

    Students can play “Wheel of Fortune style.” In this case, Group 1 gets the first opportunity to answer the first question, but, if they are wrong, Group 2 can “steal” the question by responding correctly. Group 2 then starts with Question 2. In this case, give students a brief pause to confer with their group mates before giving them a chance to answer.

    Based on student feedback and our own teaching experiences, these games increase our students’ confidence and enjoyment in using the target grammar.  When students are actively using the grammar for a defined purpose, they are more creative, efficient, and motivated to recognize and emend their mistakes and those of their classmates.


    Chen, I. (2005). Using games to promote communicative skills in language learning. The Internet TESL Journal, 11(2). Retrieved from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Chen-Games.html

    Wright, A., Betteridge, D., & Buckby, M. (2006). Games for language learning. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

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    Elinor Westfold relishes thinking of creative ways to help her students become grammar experts and enthusiasts. She graduated from the University of Washington with an MATESOL and has taught in a wide variety of contexts, including universities in China and Turkey, and IEPs and community colleges in the United States. She is currently an associate professor of ESL at the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, California, USA.

    Loren Lee Chiesi enjoys sharing her love of reading, writing, and language learning as a TESOL educator. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer and earned her MATESOL from SIT in Brattleboro, VT. She has worked as a TEFL educator in Benin, Morocco, Turkey, and the United States. She currently resides in Yangon, Myanmar and works as a TEFL teacher trainer, freelance writer, and yoga instructor.


    3 Ways to Become a More Mindful Educator This Year

    by Tomiko Breland
    In 2018, learn how to be more aware of the world you move in and how to channel that awareness into conscientious action in the classroom.

    Every year, we make New Year’s resolutions. We promise to lower our blood pressure, raise our expectations, and balance our checkbooks. We vow to become better professionals and build stronger relationships. This year, as English language educators, let’s focus on becoming more mindful—more aware of the world you move in—and learning how to channel that mindfulness into conscientious action.

    Outlined here are three achievable goals to help you improve yourself and the world you move in, complete with action steps to help ensure you start—and stay—the course. Choose one (or more) of the resolutions below and get started being a better, more thoughtful English language professional today.

    1. Reduce your paper trail.

    Why It’s Important

    Increase your classroom’s sustainability and, in so doing, make your work easier, more efficient, and more organized. The amount of paper each school uses varies depending on student and teacher count and policies, and estimates vary from 250,000 to 360,000 sheets annually. (According to the Green Schools Initiative [n.d.], schools in Los Angeles, California, USA, go through 75,600 tons of paper per year!) In addition to bettering your classroom management, decreasing classroom paper use can also decrease greenhouse gases, nitrous oxides, and other toxic affluents (Green Schools Initiative, n.d.).

    Action Steps

    1. Commit to having at least one paperless day of class per week—or, if you’re up for the challenge, a full paperless week every month. You might be surprised how innovative your lessons can be when you can’t rely on paper, and how excited your students will be to rely on varied modes of learning.

    2. Invest (mentally) in a great classroom management app—or several. It can certainly be daunting to put so much trust into a new technology, but it can be well worth the risk. There’s an app for nearly every aspect of classroom management:

      • Class Dojo and Remind allow you to share photos, videos, and messages with parents and students (so you can do away with sending paper flyers home);
      • Teacher’s Class BEHAVIOR PRO helps you track all kinds of student behaviors (so you can get rid of that behavior log, or scribbled notes in your attendance log);
      • Smart Seat creates seating charts and records attendance (so you can toss that attendance log completely); and
      • apps like TeacherKit do it all: organize multiple classes and manage seating charts, attendance, student behavior, and grades.
    3. Get others involved. The Northeast Recycling Council created a great list of suggestions and guidance for reducing paper use in schools at the classroom and school levels, complete with a memo to send out to staff. (Just be sure, of course, to send that memo out electronically!)

    2. Improve your knowledge of working with special-needs students.

    Why It’s Important

    “Between 1989 and 2013, the percentage of students with disabilities who were in a general education class for 80 percent or more of the school day increased from about 32 percent to nearly 62 percent,” and yet “many teacher-education programs offer just one class about students with disabilities to their general-education teachers” (Mader, 2017). The increasing number of students with disabilities in general education makes it more important than ever for all teachers to know how to work with this student population. It can be especially important for English language educators, who may have a difficult time determining if their language learners’ difficulties acquiring language stem from their racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds or from a language disorder.

    Action Steps

    Take an online teacher education course to further your knowledge of this subject. Try one of these:

    Don’t have the time to commit to a full course? Try this 77-minute webinar:

    3. Don’t let a first-year teacher fail.

    Why It’s Important

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2015), in the United States at least 17% of new teachers leave the field in their first 5 years of teaching, and there are a number of reasons, including low salaries and poor performance. Another reason, one that we as educators can help mitigate, is a lack of support. First-year teachers who don’t have a mentor are more likely to quit. Kate Walsh, the head of the National Council on Teacher Quality, has said, “We treat the first year of teaching like it is some sorority or fraternity hazing. Educators expect a new teacher to be sick…at the thought of how she is going to survive the day just because that's what they once did” (Pondiscio, 2016). You remember what it was like when you first started: Throw someone else a lifeline.

    Action Steps

    This one is simple, though not necessarily easy. Become a mentor and take a new teacher under your wing. If your school doesn’t already have a mentoring program in place, simply reach out to your administrator and let him or her know your intentions. He or she is likely to have a suggested mentee for you and can facilitate the arrangement. But before you reach out, make sure you know what it takes to be a great mentor. Here’s some reading to get you started:

    You can make any number of New Year’s resolutions this year; these suggestions can help you not only feel better, but they can also help improve the world around you.


    Green Schools Initiative. (n.d.). Changing paper consumption. Retrieved from http://www.greenschools.net/article.php-id=75.html

    Mader, J. (2017, March 1). How teacher-training hinders special needs students. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/how-teacher-training-hinders-special-needs-students/518286/

    National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Public school teacher attrition and mobility in the first five years: Results from the first through fifth waves of the 2007–08 beginning teacher longitudinal study. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015337.pdf

    Pondiscio, R. (2016, March 25). The teacher hazing ritual. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/articles/2016-03-25/poor-teacher-training-omits-classroom-management-expects-first-year-fails


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    Tomiko Breland is TESOL project editor. She received her BA in English from Stanford University, her MA in writing from the Johns Hopkins University, and her certificate in TESOL from Anaheim University. In her free time, she writes and edits fiction.