Call me crazy, but sometimes the best resource for ESL students is simply a blank notebook.
At first, a notebook holds nothing but blank pages, but if your ESL students use it strategically and intentionally, it can become a gold mine of information tailored just for them. Here’s how.
Try These 4 Fantastic ESL Resources in a Notebook
A Personal DictionaryStudents encounter new words everywhere they go: restaurants, stores, television, English speaking friends, newspapers…the list could go on forever.
ESL students are learning new words all the time. Although learning language patterns and rules is what takes a speaker from ignorance to fluency, without the vocabulary to go along with it they won’t get anywhere. Learning new words is always on ESL students’ to do lists. And as much time as they put into learning new words, they will always encounter more they do not know. That is when the personal dictionary in your handy blank notebook comes into play.
Students encounter new words everywhere they go: restaurants, stores, television, English speaking friends, newspapers…the list could go on forever. For some ESL students, they can stumble and even stop when they encounter an unfamiliar word. I encourage my students to, instead, note these unfamiliar words in their notebooks. This way, they will be able to check the word at a later time but can continue with the activity they are doing: reading, speaking with someone, watching television, whatever. Later, when they have time, they can look up the meanings for these unfamiliar words.
Personally, I prefer that my students write their definitions in English for any new word they encounter. They do not always agree. So the notebook allows a compromise. Students list their unfamiliar words on one side of the page only. If they choose, they write a definition in their native language in a second column on the same page. Then, they fold the page over so they can still see the English word but their translation is covered. They then write an English definition on the folded section so it lays next to the English word. That way they have definitions in their native language and in English, and the folded page is easy to find in the notebook.
Each person now has an ever expanding personal dictionary. They can study the words if they like or simply reference them as needed. My students also bring their notebooks to class with them to clarify questions on spelling and definitions.
Word Root Cellar
Another useful vocabulary resource for ESL students is understanding word roots and affixes. I often teach them in vocabulary classes or as I introduce new vocabulary to students. When ESL students learn and understand word roots, suffixes, and prefixes, they have tools for deciphering unfamiliar and otherwise intimidating words.
A word root resource page is similar to a personal dictionary page. Whenever I teach a word root, I have students put it in their notebooks. These word roots get listed in one column of the page. In a second column, students write the meaning of the word root. I then have students fold the page over so they can still see the root but not its meaning and write examples of words using that root. I like students to keep a separate page for functional affixes as well. Again they list the affixes along the left side of the page and the meaning or function of them along the right side of the page. On a folded over flap, they write examples using those affixes.
If you choose to teach your students word roots and haven’t done it before, you might want to start with some of the following.
Culp Blame Culpable, inculpate, culprit, exculpate Luc Light Lucid, elucidate, pellucid, translucent Tort Turn Contort, distort, retort, tortuous, extort, torsion Vor Eat Voracious, devour, herbivore, carnivore Rupt Break Corrupt, erupt, rupture, disrupt, bankrupt, interrupt Eu Good Euphemism, eulogy, euphoria Mal Bad Malevolent, malediction, malefactor Bene Good Benevolent, benediction, benefactor Un- Not Unhealthy, untitled, unwanted -ly Changes an adjective to an adv. Carefully, happily -tion Changes a verb to a noun Celebration, confrontation, hibernation
Journal Me ThisToo much stress on writing correctly can paralyze some students. They become so concerned about writing things right that they write nothing at all.
So much of langue instruction, both for native speakers and second language learners, is focused on grammatical and correct use of language. That is a good and necessary thing, especially when a student is learning language rules and uses. However, too much stress on writing correctly can paralyze some students. They become so concerned about writing things right that they write nothing at all. For these students a personal journal or diary can be very useful. When I encourage students to journal, I tell them I will not be correcting what they write, and in some cases I will not even read what they write. I do require, though, that all their writing be in English and that they do not use a dictionary or other reference when they journal. This practice does two important things for my students. First, they become more comfortable writing in the first place. They don’t let fear of a bad grade or lack of knowledge stop them from getting words on the page, which is the first step to getting reluctant writers moving in the right direction. Second, my students learn to use the language that they know in creative ways. If they do not know a particular vocabulary word or grammatical structure, they use what they do know to communicate the same idea. This is what native language speakers do naturally and is a strategy that is practical for every ESL students.
Some students may be natural journalers. They are creative and never lack for ideas to write about. For others, writing does not come as easily. Busy Teacher has hundreds of journal prompts and story starters that you can suggest to students who need a little push in the right direction. I often encourage students to journal at home but also set aside a couple of 10-20 minute sessions in class each week for this type of writing.
Verb Tense Review
Learning the twelve English tenses takes time for ESL students, and your grammar book probably does a great job of explaining them. But I find that students benefit from having a handy resource they can check quickly without having to open their grammar book when they have verb tense confusion. If you are teaching tenses to beginning and intermediate students, you may want them to add the tenses to their notebooks one at a time as they learn them. If you are teaching advanced students, they may benefit from a twelve tense review that can go directly into their notebooks.
Whether your students are beginning or advanced, they may also like to have a list of irregular verbs in this section of their notebooks. This list can be expanded as your students encounter irregular verbs. A simple list will have the infinitive, the past tense, and the past participle (e.g. to eat, ate, eaten) for each verb listed.
Though a notebook may start with blank pages, it can quickly fill with graphite gold if your students put forth the efforts.
A personal dictionary, a word root and affix summary, a journal, and a verb tense review with list of irregular English verbs will all be valuable resources to your students as they learn to speak, write, and read English.
What special resources do you encourage your students to keep in their notebooks?