Low Beginner Introductions: Where Are You From?

Here’s an introductions speaking task for low beginner ESL answering the question “Where are you from?” I love tap sheets (see below). You could have students cut out the words and then arrange them into sentences, but you could also use it as is as a tap sheet, over and over.

Break students into pairs. Hand out one sheet per pair. Have each student write their country into one of the empty boxes on the sheet. Then have Partner A begin speaking and simultaneously, with a finger or the eraser side of a pencil, tapping on the words on the page to form the sentence in order:

Partner A will tap: “Where (tap) are (tap) you (tap) from (tap) question mark (tap)?” Partner B will tap: “I (tap) am (tap) from (tap), [country name] (tap) period (tap).”  The roles are then reversed. 

Students do not say the punctuation out loud, but they must tap on it. You may notice I have replaced this font’s letter I with a serif I because students at this level often confuse lower case l with upper case I.

Click on the image below to download the tap sheet for use in your own class. 

You can follow up this introductions speaking task with an introductions writing task. Have students read and fill in the blanks, using a scaffolding approach until they are able to reproduce the entire dialogue.

Again, click on the image below to download it for use in your own class. 

Let me know how it works in the comments below. Do you love tap sheets as much as I do? 

Soft Skills: Cultural Differences in Gift Giving

One of the most important things we can do as ESL teachers is help our students crack the cultural code. Gift giving has a lot of unspoken rules which may seem inscrutable to newcomers. Unconvinced? See if you were aware of these cultural attitudes to gift giving in other cultures:

  • In Japan, red cards are associated with death notices.
  • In Saudi Arabia, perfume can only be given to a woman by another woman or a close relative. 
  • In Thailand and many other cultures, giving a knife signifies the intention to sever the relationship.
  • In China, giving a clock symbolizes death. 
  • In Egypt, giving flowers is confined to funerals and weddings only.
  • In Hindu culture, a gift made from leather or anything from a cow, which is considered sacred, would be inappropriate.
  • In Indonesia, giving food may signify that you feel the recipient’s hospitality is lacking. 
  • In some cultures, giving an umbrella is thought to bring misfortune. 
  • In some cultures, giving a gift to your boss is expected. 
  • Gifts of towels and handkerchiefs are associated with funerals in many cultures.
  • White flowers are associated with mourning in many cultures. 

So, what about here? Is it just the thought that counts or do we also have unspoken rules about which gifts are considered appropriate

Take a look at this picture below from Callan’s Holiday Jigsaws and Callan’s American Holiday Jigsaws. This mother does not look very happy about the gift she just received. Any idea why that might be? 

Some mothers don’t like to be reminded of their assumed role as the family maid and prefer instead a more personal gift. Others might be pleased. Gift giving is not an exact science. It is as important to understand the recipient as it is the culture.

Generally speaking, in North America, it isn’t considered appropriate to give a gift to your boss, as it may be perceived as an attempted bribe. Gifts of clothing and perfume are generally considered highly personal gifts only appropriate for people who are closely related or in a romantic relationship. However, clothing below the elbow or knee, such as gloves or socks or tights, is often acceptable from anyone. Less personal gifts, such as wine or stationery, are often considered appropriate for people with whom you have a professional relationship.

The following discussion worksheet on this soft skill of culturally sensitive gift giving includes a clock, a knife, an umbrella, clothing, and perfume as a springboard to discussion on cross cultural differences. Geared to mid-beginner to upper intermediate, the discussion can be used in a class on intercultural competence, or in a Christmas unit. or business English class. Click on the image below to download.

Regarding question #2, another teacher and I each received a sexy bra and underwear set from a student in different years. Hers was from a male student and mine from a female student.

Let me know how the activity works in your class.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Discussion of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can make for an interesting conversation class for intermediate ESL or preparation for citizenship.

Students often assume freedom of expression is the right to say anything about any person or about the government. You can let them know about libel laws and Canada’s Hate Speech Laws. Unlike the United States, the Criminal Code of Canada prevents “hate propaganda”. Is this a good thing? Why do we have those laws?

Freedom of religion is not something that exists in all of our immigrant ESL students’ home countries. Falun Gong is an example of a religion banned in China. Should all religions be allowed?

The right to be free from discrimination is a right most immigrants appreciate. What it means in practice, however, is something that often surprises students. Does it mean if you are a landlord that you cannot decide which ethnicity of people you want to rent your apartment to? What about if you are running a business? Isn’t it up to you if you prefer to hire one gender over another for a specific position? 

The following worksheet can be used as a springboard for discussion on this topic. You are welcome to download and copy it for use with an intermediate ESL class. (Click on the image below.)

Task: Asking for Change

Here are some exercises for Canadian and American English language learners to prepare for the real world task of asking for change.

Start by making sentences used in asking for change. (Click on the image below to download this worksheet.)

Brainstorm with students what they may need change for: a washing machine, a parking meter, a bus, a shopping cart, a pay phone and a vending machine are common answers.

Here is the Canadian worksheet with the answer YES. (Click on it to view it large on your computer and download it.) 

Click on the flag for the American version of the worksheet with the answer YES.  

Here is the Canadian worksheet with the answer NO. Click on the image below. 

Click on the flag for the American version of the worksheet with the answer NO.  

Once students have mastered these dialogues in class, they may be ready to leave the classroom and practice asking for change in the real world. I take students to a gas station convenience store. I approach the clerks first to ask if they are willing to assist in the activity. I assure them we will move aside if customers enter. I provide lots of change for the clerks, so they are not required to give away change. I exchange my coins for the clerk’s bills and hand them to the students. 

Students often tell me that their hearts are racing before they head up to the counter. What a feeling of success when they return with correct change! For many of them, it’s the first time they have used English in a real life setting to accomplish a task. It’s a memorable activity that brings the classroom study into a practical, useful context.

Soft Skills: Top 12 Tips for Gift Giving in English Cultures

Cross cultural differences in gift giving pose challenges for immigrants and visitors with their unspoken rules of etiquette. Students can develop their soft skills by cracking this sometimes inscrutable cultural code with the help of this online true or false quiz. Or download the exercise that follows for use in a high beginner or intermediate classroom. The answers can be downloaded following the quiz. 

Answer TRUE or FALSE. Check your answers below. 

1. Chocolates are an appropriate gift for a boss or supervisor. TRUE or FALSE.

2. An expensive kitchen knife is an appropriate gift for a good friend. TRUE or FALSE.

3. Wine is an appropriate gift for neighbours. TRUE or FALSE.

4. A fancy bra is an appropriate gift for a coworker, provided the gift giver and recipient are both women. TRUE or FALSE.

5. A beautiful blouse is an appropriate gift for a female teacher. TRUE or FALSE.

6. A vacuum cleaner is an appropriate gift for a wife or mother. TRUE or FALSE.

7. White flowers are an appropriate gift to take to a dinner party. TRUE or FALSE.

8. A clock is an appropriate gift for a mother-in-law. TRUE or FALSE.

9. A cute stuffed animal is an appropriate gift for a female coworker. TRUE or FALSE.

10. A leather belt is an appropriate gift for a male relative. TRUE or FALSE.

11. A gift card for a favourite store is an appropriate gift for a friend or relative. TRUE or FALSE.

12. A beautiful umbrella is an appropriate gift for a female friend. TRUE or FALSE.

Click the image below to view or download the Gift Giving Quiz Answers.

You can also download a free two-page gift giving exercise for classroom use by clicking on the image below.

Let me know how it goes.

Soft Skills: Low Beginner Name Introductions

Here’s a speaking task for low beginner English language learners. I love tap sheets (see below). You could have students cut out the words and then arrange them into sentences, but you could also use it as is as a tap sheet, over and over and over and…..have you taught really low beginners? 

Break students into pairs. Hand out one sheet per pair. Have each student write their first name into one of the empty boxes on the sheet. Then have Partner A begin speaking and simultaneously, with a finger or the eraser side of a pencil, tapping on the words on the page to form the sentence in order:

“I’m (tap) [his name] (tap) [period] (tap). What’s (tap) your (tap) name (tap), [question mark] (tap)?” Partner B will tap, “My (tap) name (tap) is (tap) [name of student] (tap), [period] (tap). Nice (tap) to (tap) meet (tap) you (tap), [period].” The exercise ends with partner A’s sentence, “Nice to meet you, too.”

Students do not say the punctuation out loud, but they must tap on it. I’ve omitted the usual comma before “too” to make it easier. You may also notice I have replaced this font’s letter I with a serif I because students at this level often confuse lower case l with upper case I.

Click on the image below to download the tap sheet for use in your own class.  Do you love tap sheets as much as I do? 

You can follow up this introductions speaking task with an introductions writing task. Have students read and fill in the blanks, using a scaffolding approach until they are able to reproduce the entire dialogue.

Again, click on the image below to download it for use in your own class. 

Soft Skills: Introducing Yourself and Others

What’s in a Name?

Asian students often choose to take on an English name that is more easily pronounced by Westerners. Fine if it’s their choice, but I’m a big fan of learning how to pronounce my students’ real names (it’s not that hard!) and the story behind them. 

I’ve created an Introduce Your Partner exercise to learn about students’ given names, surnames and nicknames names for an intermediate class. Students can also practice the important soft skill of introducing themselves and others. You can click on either image to download it and use it in your own class.

Here is what the final task will look like:

And here below are the questions that lead up to the task. Students are to first answer the questions about themselves, in preparation for asking and answering the questions with a partner. 

Expanding on “Where Do You Live?

Once students have moved past the absolute beginner stage, it’s fun to move beyond the basic “Where do you live?” question and get really specific. Where in the world do you live? Where are you now?

You could add to this vocabulary list below, depending on the level of your students, if you are working with kids, for example, and want to give coordinates for space ships, such as Milky Way Galaxy and Earth. Teenagers may want to add GPS coordinates. But here are the basic words:

World

Continent

Country

State or Province

City

Neighbourhood

Street

Number

Room

Chair

So, if I were in the classroom now with my students, I could say, for example, that I am in the World, in the continent of North America, in the country of Canada, in the province of British Columbia, in the city of Vancouver, in the neighbourhood of Fairview, at 555  West 12th Ave. in Callan’s ESL School in room number 8, on the left side of the room in my chair. 

Students can take turns giving their location as above and also saying where they live.

Below is a free handout I made to practice answering the question “Where are you now?” and “Where do you live” in writing. Following it is a speaking exercise from Callan’s Conversation Surveys that I follow it up with, for speaking practice. You are welcome to download both worksheets and copy for your classroom use. 

This handout below from Callan’s Conversation Surveys is great for teaching students how to give the location of their home more specifically than just a street address.