Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tips for Teaching Beginner Students

Olga Gilbert

In the middle of the class, the door opens and a new student timidly walks in. “Hello. My name is Olga,” I greet her. She smiles and nods. I point to my name tag and repeat, “My name is Olga. What’s your name?” The student shows her name tag and says her name. Welcome to our low beginner class!
What makes teaching this level so rewarding yet challenging? After all, you don’t need to know all the intricacies of English grammar or all the nuances of spoken language. Knowing what to teach and how to teach it makes all the difference in the world for students who come with very little or no prior knowledge of the target language.
Getting to know your students is always one of the best places to start. What they need English for (school, job, everyday use, etc.); whether they speak two or more languages (that will help them with strategies for learning yet another one); what their educational background is (some of your students may be PhDs, some illiterate) - this is only some of the information that helps us craft our lessons. Learning about your students’ first language is equally important: how the sounds are different from English; what about tenses, pronouns, word order? This website explains major differences between English and sixteen major world languages: Taking a few minutes to learn about your students’ first language will help you understand what areas may be especially difficult for them.
If you are like me and do not speak your students’ first language, how can you explain grammar to them? But do we really need to? Discovery or inductive approach is more preferable to traditional direct explanation:  In a nutshell, show several examples, help students discover the patterns (use different colour markers for that), confirm the rule and check for comprehension.
All language learners require a lot of practice, beginners even more so. You may think that drills are outdated and do not represent the Communicative Language Teaching model, but there is a time and place for using them effectively to practice the new language you have just introduced to your class:

In our practice activities, we always want to move from the more controlled ones (like drills, fill in the blanks) to more communicative, personalized tasks where students have an authentic reason for communication. Don’t get discouraged thinking this will not work for beginners due to their limited vocabulary. Try out some of these ideas:

1. Charts and questionnaires:

2. Find Someone who ...

3. Conversation Cards: each student is given a different card with a word (apple), phrase (like/apples) or a complete sentence (Do you like apples?). As they walk around asking each other questions from their cards, they can also exchange cards after each mini-conversation for added challenge.
4. Information gap: students work in pairs to find out missing information from their partner:
While activities 1, 2 and 3 practice questions using first and second person (I, you), # 4 allows you to practice third person (he, she, they). To make this more communicative, use information from the lives of your students.
Have you ever felt that explaining an activity is more difficult than actually doing it?  Our students don’t have the language to understand complex instructions. We need to break them down into smaller steps, use simple language and model, model, model. Don’t assume that your students know how to play tic-tac-toe, bingo or snakes and ladders. I did and had to pull back and spend additional time re-explaining the task. Now I carefully think through each step. The more interesting and interactive the activity, the more difficult it is to explain. Think through it in advance.
Beginner students rely on their teachers for direction, explanation and modeling. It doesn’t mean, however, that our classes cannot be more student-centered. Pair and group work in activities mentioned earlier promotes student interaction and increases student talking time.
Many more aspects of teaching beginners are still left uncovered - such as error feedback, when and how - and perhaps can be explored in a later discussion. Meanwhile, don’t be afraid to try something new in your beginner class in the new year. If you have questions or ideas concerning the above activities, feel free to contact me at

Valentine’s Day ESL Resources

Valentine’s Day:
Love and Valentine’s Day lessons (The Virtues series) (readings, including from the Bible; discussion questions, quotes and other activities) (excellent reading on the history and customs of Valentine’s Day, with glossary) (a reading with lots of accompanying activities) (Valentine’s Day conversation questions) (vocabulary and writing activities for lower level)
On Love:
What love means to kids (great conversation starters) (conversation questions on love for pairs)
Dating, Marriage, Relationships: (a collection of worksheets, lesson plans and lesson ideas) (ESL conversation questions on love, dating and marriage) (a reading and a variety of activities accompanying it, on romantic love) (love and relationship worksheets for lower level students)

Love – Sitting on the Mat

Elmer Warkentin
I asked Jesus, “How much do you love me?” “This much,” He replied. And He stretched out His arms and died. Your ESL student, your Muslim immigrant neighbour, your Hindu friend asks you, “How much do you love me?” What’s your answer? Jesus set the love bar very high, infinitely higher than our Valentines verbiage. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mk 12:31) “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)
Linda, a dear friend and missionary colleague in Nigeria, was just two days short of a hundred years old when she passed away in Swift Current last year. Linda served as the chef in a missionary kids boarding school in Nigeria and was deeply loved and appreciated for her dedication to making this a home for kids away from home. She loved those kids. And they felt it. But Linda had another passion.
Not far from the school were settlements of Muslim Fulani cattle herders. Linda had a burning desire to tell the women and children there about Jesus. But they wouldn’t let her in. For the next three years Linda regularly approached the entrance of a village, spread her grass mat on the ground and sat there. Yes, for three years. After three years, the village women came out to her and invited her to come in and tell them about her Jesus. “We know now that you love us”. Linda had an amazing ensuing ministry with these Muslim women and children.
I love Keller’s definition of Biblical justice. May I substitute ‘love’ for ‘justice’? “Justice [Love] means taking the threads of your life: your emotions, your time, your body, your physical presence, your money - and plunging them into the lives of other people.[1] That costs.
Dear ESL teacher, do you love your students? Are you prepared to sit on the mat?  How can you show that you love the internationals that God puts you in contact with? How do you show your students that you love them? It may be by sitting on the mat: visiting them in their homes, or having them into your home; eating, and learning how to make their food; meeting in coffee shops for hours on end just talking or listening.
I have an Iranian friend I meet with for coffee regularly who wants nothing to do with religion. We meet for coffee, talk, go for bike rides, and I have him and his wife join us on the campground for a halal barbecue, etc. I love him and hope and pray that one of these days he’ll “invite me in”.
Sitting on the mat – loving – is hard; it costs. It won’t make the headlines but God sees us and in His time our friends will open the door: “Come in, we know now that you love us.”

[1] Timothy Keller, “The Beauty of Biblical Justice”, para. 14, at (accessed January 13, 2018).

Friday, November 13, 2009

“Fun with Grammar” available for FREE download

Good News! has made the entire “Fun with Grammar” book available to download. There are also lots of other free lessons available on the site as well.

Here is the link to download the entire 354 page book in PDF.

Spread the word!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Free Bibles for Christian ESL programs.

Good news! We give thanks to God and to the Canadian Bible Society for this offer of free Bibles for Christian ESL programs.
As you will see in the message below from the Canadian Bible Society, these Bible are free of charge when the (minimal) Canadian Bible Society conditions are fulfilled. Follow the instructions given for contact information with the Canadian Bible Society to obtain these Bibles.
For further information or clarification, contact Ruth at any of the addresses given below.

(You may, of course, share this news widely amongst Christian ESL programs.)


We hope that this program will allow you to bring God's word to many, many new Canadians.
Ruth Stewart
Canadian Bible Society
10 Carnforth Road
Toronto, Ontario M4A 2S4
TEL: 416.689.3437
FAX: 416.757.3376

The Scriptures for Newcomers to Canada has been approved as a National Initiative by the Canadian Bible Society. The Bibles are available right now. To get free Bibles for your Church based ESL program contact your District of The Canadian Bible Society [see website noted below for the contact information for your District].
Each request for free Bibles is to be written & made by either the Teacher of the class or the Administrator of the program, providing the name and address of the host church; name of the teacher and the number of students registered along with the contact name & number of the person at the church who administers the program.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Note from The Canadian Bible Society

"The Canadian Bible Society exists to promote and encourage, without doctrinal note or comment, the translation, publication, distribution and use of the Scriptures throughout Canada and Bermuda, and to co-operate with the United Bible Societies in its worldwide work. Around the world, more than 140 Bible societies work together to make the Scriptures available in the “heart language” of people everywhere. Here at home, we seek to partner with local churches, ministries, denominations, and other parachurch agencies to reach every person with the life-giving Word of God, and to encourage its use.

There are 16 districts across the country that are the service arms of the Canadian Bible Society. Central Ontario District encompasses churches from Mississauga to Trenton, including the Greater Toronto Area, and north to Owen Sound, Bracebridge and Bancroft. Our District Director is Dr. Jeff Loach, and he is passionate about partnering with churches and organizations that are at ground level where people are in need of the Scriptures. Jeff loves to teach foundational Bible seminars, preach in worship, as well as distribute the Scriptures. Contact him to make a booking.

Our Bible Store sells every English version as well as 120 different languages of Bibles. If you need a copy of the Scriptures, we can help. The store is at 10 Carnforth Road, one block west of the intersection of Victoria Park Avenue and Lawrence Avenue East in Toronto. To reach the store, call 416-701-1761, or email To reach Dr. Loach, call 416-689-3436 or email We look forward to helping you and yours grow deeply in God’s Word!

Bibles in the the following languages are available:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Use The Jesus Film to Teach English

This is a fantastic resource for low beginner students. Take a look. Everything you need is provided: teachers guide, student handouts, plus lots more!
Just click the heading to go to the site.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Jennifer's Free and nearly Free Summer Activities in the GTA

Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition - July 6-8, Nathan Phillip Square

Free fishing weekend - July 6-8, no licence required


Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) - free admission one and a half hours before closing each night (excluding special exhibitions); half priced admission for Friday nights (4:30-9:30 p.m.) (all exhibitions)

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) - free admission Wednesday nights (6-9 p.m.) for permanent collection

Bata Shoe Museum - free admission Thursdays 5-8 p.m.

Textile Museum of Canada - Wednesday nights 5-8 p.m. Pay-what-you-can admission

The Gardiner Museum (of Ceramics) - newly expanded in summer 2006, free admission Fridays 4-9 p.m., and all day on the first Friday of every month


The Gardens of Casa Loma - free access on some Mondays in July to October, and Tuesdays from 4:00 p.m. to dusk
Toronto Music Garden - with free concerts most Sundays (4 p.m.) and Thursdays (7 p.m.)


"Fresh Wednesdays", Nathan Phillip Square - Farmers' market and free concerts (noon-2 p.m. starting July 11)

"Tasty Thursdays", Nathan Phillip Square - food sampling (small fee) and free concerts (noon-2 p.m. starting July 12)

Free Festivals at the Harbourfront Centre:

The Beaches International Jazz Festival:

For kids

Printable e-coupons
for discounted admission to a variety of places in Toronto and Ontario:

Great Stuff! Thanks for sharing this with us Jennifer.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Fun for Advanced Students

Try this out with your more advanced students...
My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned; I couldn’t concentrate.
Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just couldn’t hack it, so they gave me the ax.
After that I tried to be a tailor, but I just wasn’t suited for it.
Next, I tried working in a muffler factory but that was exhausting.
Next was a job in a shoe factory; I tried but I just didn’t fit in.
I became a professional fisherman, but discovered that I couldn’t live on my net income.
I managed to get a good job working for a pool maintenance company, but the work was just too draining.
So then I got a job in a gym, but they said I wasn’t fit for the job.
I finally got a job as a historian until I realized there was no future in it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Spring Outing Suggestions

Spring has Sprung!!
It's nice to see that temperatures are warming up and that the cold winter months have come to an end! Now it's the perfect time to celebrate new life with our ESL students.
The Toronto ESL Co-op has put together some valuable spring/summer trip suggestions for you. Did you ever consider taking your ESL students to Edwards Gardens in Toronto or the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington?? Or did you hear about the Summer Music Garden of Toronto? Many great spots offer ESL group tours which are worth checking out. These trips provide great cultural learning experiences and give more opportunities for relationship-building. Perhaps think of joining with the seniors group of your church for a garden trip. Alternatively, if you are interested, the ESL Co-op could organize a garden outing for several churches and their ESL students. Please let us know if you are interested by emailing us at:

Click HERE and take a look at the information and perhaps new ideas with 'spring' to mind'!!


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Phrasal Verbs

Hi ESL associates,
If you haven't noticed, one of the areas that many ESL students struggle in is "phrasal verbs". Here's an excellent site that captures some of the more often-used ones. (Just click on a letter in the alphabetical menu on the left of the web page and it will give you a list of phrasal verbs beginning with that letter) Hope you will find it a good place to start.
God bless.

C. Y.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Movie and Discussion

In our ESL conversation group we watched and discussed the movie hosted by Larnelle Harris called "The Passion - The Last Days of Christ". (This is not the Mel Gibson movie.) It is part of The Visual Bible series with Bruce Marchiano playing Jesus. The video runs for 45 minutes. I wrote discussion questions and prepared information on the historical and cultural background to help my ESL students understand the context of the events. The movie divides the last days of Jesus into six parts - The Triumphant Entry, The Last Supper, The Garden, The Betrayal, The Crucifixion and The Resurrection. I played each section and then stopped the tape to discuss what had happened. Please see the two page handout with all the discussion questions.
In addition, as an ESL group we will attend the Easter Drama and Music Production at our church.

- Carolyn

Monday, March 19, 2007

An Idea for Presenting the True meaning of Easter to ESL Students

Resurrection Eggs!

For many years now I have used the commercially made 'dozen eggs' children's tool to teach the Easter Story to my students.

Each of the 12 'egg' cups in the egg carton contains a small symbol from the Biblical account eg. a stone to represent the stone rolled over the tomb; a wine cup; a piece of rope, etc. All these are presented in a certain order and can be used with or without the reading of the appropriate scripture, depending on the group you are teaching.

These kits can be made at home or purchased at a Christian bookstore, costing between $ $20. Blessings carries these Ressurection Eggs and I'm sure Mitchell's does too.

Oshawa and Ajax ESL teacher

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Breakthrough for English in Europe?

*The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.**

**As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English".

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.**

**In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling** **kan** be expekted to reach the stage where! more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.**

**Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.**

**By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".**

**During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o"** **kan** be dropd from vords**kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensi** **bl riten styl.**

**Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.**

**Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.**

**If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza pepl.*

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sites for training short-term cross-cultural workers

An open letter to the members of the Southern Ontario ESL Ministries Coop:

As you may be aware many short term missions are focused on teaching English as a foreign language. (Just check out the report from the Czech republic on this blogspot.)There is a demand for training venues before those short-term teams begin their overseas assignments. Are there any programs who would be willing to serve as practice teaching sites? Details of how this would work out can be negotiated.

As world Christians this would be an opportunity to participate in God's global plan. A little experience makes a big difference.

Please reply to Anita Cassidy:

In Christ,

Marion Chang

Friday, September 15, 2006

Connecting our Students with Other Christian Resources

Do you ever feel you are out of your depth and wish there was someone more qualified to advise one of your students on a particular matter? Click this link to go to the Christian Sourcebook site Christian Resources

Thursday, July 06, 2006


From January to March at our church, Leaside Bible Chapel, we ran a course similar to Alpha called, "Christianity Explored". It follows a similar format to Alpha but the discussions center around a walk through the Gospel of Mark. Rico Tice of All Souls Church in London, UK introduces the discussions on DVD. It's an excellent course. Here is a powerpoint presentation of the way CE teaches facilitators to present the Gospel Message to interested friends. You can check it out here. It is suitable for people from all backgrounds, and of course you can adapt it by using your own stick figures to share the Gospel with someone on the spot.