Beginner Ideas: Describing Pictures with “There is” and “There Are”

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There is a table. There are two hands. There is some coffee. There are two cups. There are two cups of coffee. There are two bracelets. There is pink nail polish. There aren’t any faces…

Early on when teaching beginners, there usually comes a point when my students have enough vocabulary to make simple sentences with the verb “to be,” but they can’t yet say much else. They can describe what they see in front of them using “there is” and “there are.” They can form plural nouns and use the words “some,” “a lot of” and maybe “any.” They have learned to use numbers, and they might even know a bit about adjective order in English. They still need more practice with “to be,” though, before we move on to other verbs.

At that point, I like to bring out the pictures. I show a series of simple pictures to my students, and we work together to describe what we see. I try to look for pictures with a mix of images that they already know the words for, as well as some words that they haven’t learned yet.

Here are some examples of the types of images that I might start with:

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How can I use pictures with individual students or small groups?

  • Flip through the pictures individually, and prompt students to name or make simple sentences with the words that they know. (There is a bicycle. There are two people.)
  • Allow students to ask you questions such as “What’s this?” or “What are these?” or “How do you say __________?” about objects in the picture. Encourage them to ask you “How do you spell __________?” when they would like you to write a word on the board.
  • After you finish going through a series of images, go through them again, to review the new vocabulary.

How can I modify this idea for a bigger class?

It is possible to use the idea above as a whole-class warmup or end-of-class activity for a bigger group. However, you can definitely make changes if you’d like to let your students work in small groups or pairs.

  • You might show one image to the entire class. Ask students to write a list of things that they see in the picture in small groups. Prompt them to ask each other “What’s this/that” questions, and to look up unknown words in their dictionaries.
  • You might also start this activity by having students write their lists individually, and then compare ideas in small groups.
  • After the groups are finished speaking, bring the class back together, and review all of the sentences and new vocabulary that students came up with.

Or:

  • Divide your class into groups. Give each group a different picture to work with. Tell your groups that they should be able to describe everything that they see in the picture. Give them time to find the new vocabulary that they will need.
  • After they finish, call a group up to the front of the room, and display their image on the projector. Prompt students from other groups to ask them, “What’s this/that?” questions about the picture.
  • Once again, after each group has had a turn, flip through all of the images again to review new vocabulary that students have learned.

 

What do you think?

Have you used any of these ideas with your students? How else have you used pictures to teach beginners? I’d love to hear from you, so please take a moment to leave your comments in the box!

On Teaching Beginners…

I love teaching complete beginners to speak English! For me, it fees like starting a project from scratch and then watching it develop.

I like teaching the basics and then seeing students connect the dots in their minds as they learn new things. (For example, if they learn “I don’t understand,” on day 1, they often have a lightbulb moment when I teach them to form negative sentences three weeks later.)

I like the feeling that if I train them well from the beginning, I can help them avoid the common basic mistakes that more advanced students make all the time (“go TO,” not “go IN!).

I love when a few weeks in, the occasional beginner student looks at me all bright-eyed, and says something like, “Wow! I understand everything we learn!” or “Wow! English is easy!” or “I can’t believe I like English!” And then they share a horror story about a nightmare teacher who told them they were bad with languages and would never learn English, or about getting stuck in a class where they didn’t understand anything. Beginners are really appreciative, and when I’m doing my job right, I know it.

Luckily for me, none of the other teachers at my school seem to share my enthusiasm for teaching low-level learners, so when they come along, I’m usually the one asked to teach them. A lot of teachers who I’ve spoken to seem to think that it’s harder to teach beginners than to teach intermediate and advanced students, but for me it’s the opposite. (Advanced students ask hard questions!)

This month, my goal is to put together of series of posts to help other teachers who need help with their beginner classes. If you’re one of those people, I’d love to hear from you:
-What questions do you have about teaching beginners?
-What are some problems you’ve had in the past?
-Do you have any beginner horror stories?

Or if you’re like me, and you do love beginner classes:
-What do you like about teaching beginners?
-What tips do you have for anyone who is struggling?

Please take a moment to answer a question or two in the Comment section.  🙂

Beginner Box, Part 2 – How to fill your box with questions and get your students speaking!

Beginner Box, Part 2: Growing List of Beginner Conversation Questions for Your Classroom

Yesterday I posted about creating a question box geared toward your Beginner ESL students. Today I’m going to give you a big list of simple questions to fill your box with. There are tons of lists of conversation questions on the internet, but most that I can find are aimed toward Intermediate students and above. My goal is to create a massive resource for teachers of lower-level classes who want to get their students chatting. 

I’m trying to keep the questions simple, with no phrasal verbs or idioms. Some of them may require students to look a word or two up in the dictionary, but not more than that. Some of them are yes/no questions, but if the student is ready, you can encourage them to elaborate. For example, if the question is, “Do you like dogs?” Your student might say, “Yes, I do. I have a dog. My dog’s name is LuLu. She is brown and white. She is friendly.” Etc…

Please keep in mind that this is a growing list, and I plan to update it regularly, so if you have any suggestions on questions or categories to add, please leave a comment in the box at the bottom of the page.


The Categories

I’ve organized the list into the following categories:

  • Simple present
  • Simple past
  • Future (Includes “will,” “going to,” “want to,” and “would like to”)
  • Describe… / Talk about…
  • Opinion questions

I would suggest color-coding your question cards (blue for present, pink for past, etc.) to make it easier for students to pick questions that are relevant to them. Again, this list is a work in progress, so if you have suggestions for other categories, feel free to let me know.


The Questions (so far)

Simple Present

  1. Are you happy today? Why?
  2. Are you tired? Why?
  3. Are you hungry? What do you want to eat?
  4. When are you angry?
  5. Are you hot or cold today?
  6. What do you do every day?
  7. Where do you go on the weekend? (Saturday and Sunday)
  8. Where do you go after class?
  9. What is your favorite restaurant? Where is it?
  10. Who is your favorite musician?
  11. What is your favorite comedy movie?
  12. What is your favorite action movie?
  13. Do you like horror movies? Why or why not?
  14. Is your city safe or dangerous?
  15. Is your city exciting or boring?
  16. Do you prefer dogs or cats? Why?
  17. Do you prefer hot weather or cold weather? Why?
  18. Is a monkey a good pet? Why?
  19. Is a mouse a good pet? Why?
  20. What animals live in your city?
  21. What’s your favorite animal?
  22. What’s your favorite food?
  23. What do you drink on hot days?
  24. What do you drink on cold days?
  25. What do you eat on hot days?
  26. What do you eat on cold days?

Simple Past

  1. Where did you go yesterday?
  2. What did you see yesterday?
  3. What did you eat for breakfast?
  4. What did you eat last night?
  5. Where did you travel last year?
  6. What was the last thing you bought?
  7. Did you exercise last week? How?
  8. When did you last play sports?
  9. What did you last cook?
  10. Did you speak English yesterday? Who did you speak to?

Future

  1. What are you going to do after school today?
  2. What will you do after you learn English?
  3. What will you do this weekend?
  4. What would you like to eat today?
  5. What are you going to eat this evening?
  6. What are you going to eat for lunch?
  7. What will you do after you learn English?
  8. Who are you going to speak to later?

Note: The prompts in the next two categories (Talk About and What Do You Think About…) are intentionally open-ended. Encourage students to say anything that comes to mind on the subject. You will probably need to teach the meaning of “Talk about” and “What do you think about,” but students will catch on quickly.


Talk About:

  1. Talk about your family.
  2. Talk about your hometown.
  3. Talk about your neighborhood.
  4. Talk about transportation in your hometown.
  5. Talk about food in your country.
  6. Talk about shopping.
  7. Talk about clothing.
  8. Talk about a famous person from your country.
  9. Talk about the weather.
  10. Talk about your house.
  11. Talk about your first day in this city.
  12. Talk about animals.
  13. Talk about police officers.
  14. Talk about doctors.
  15. Talk about school.
  16. Talk about horses.
  17. Talk about summer fruit.
  18. Talk about recycling.
  19. Talk about winter.
  20. Talk about summer.
  21. Talk about spring.
  22. Talk about fall (autumn).
  23. Talk about your job.
  24. Talk about coffee or tea.
  25. Talk about apples.

What Do You Think About…?

  1. What do you think about animals?
  2. What do you think about cars?
  3. What do you think about bicycles?
  4. What do you think about books?
  5. What do you think about new technology?
  6. What do you think about sports?
  7. What do you think about crowded places?
  8. What do you think about children?
  9. What do you think about fast food?
  10. What do you think about chocolate?
  11. What do you think about makeup?
  12. What do you think about vintage clothing?
  13. What do you think about horror movies?
  14. What do you think about action movies?
  15. What do you think about comic books and animation?

Thanks for taking a look at my gradually-growing list. I hope you find it helpful. If you decide to use them in your class, I’d love to know how they worked out for you.

And if you have any suggestions for new questions or categories, please don’t hesitate to let me know. You can leave a comment below, or email me at inyourcountry1@gmail.com.

Little Box of Beginner Questions – Part 1 – How to make a and use conversation box for your ESL class

Create a Beginner speaking box for lower-level ESL students

Every week or so, I have some variation of the following conversation with a different teacher:

Other Teacher: Which level are you teaching?
Me: Beginners.
Other teacher: That’s hard! You need so much patience.
Me: Yeah, that’s true.
Other teacher: I prefer teaching the higher levels because I like having conversations in class. You can’t really do that with beginners.
Me: Um…Well, that part’s not so true.

I love teaching the lower levels! I think it’s a misconception that beginner language learners can’t have good conversations. I mean, obviously, absolute beginners won’t be discussing politics on day one, but after a few weeks, my motivated adult students can say a lot more than, “Hello, my name is…”

I have a Brazilian student, for example, who often talks about violence in his hometown and starts conversations with classmates about safety in their countries. Another student from Japan is fascinated by trash cans in America and loves to talk about littering, recycling, and garbage removal around the world. These aren’t light topics, and of course the students make grammatical mistakes and need assistance with vocabulary, but with lots of body language and giggling, they can usually get their points across. I really think that once they get settled into the class and get comfortable in their environment, beginners like to talk as much as anyone else. 

So if you’ve been assigned to teach a beginner class, and you’re feeling kinda jittery: Don’t worry! Your babies will be chatting about all kinds of important things soon. Beginners don’t stay beginners forever, and when they start talking, you can really see the effects of your teaching.

The Little Box of Questions

The little box is my go-to tool for prompting students of all levels to talk. I fill it with assorted questions on a variety of random topics and give students time to chat. You can use it in whole-class activities, or split students into smaller groups  and give them time to talk spontaneously in small groups.

How to Use Your Little Box:

You never know when a box full of random questions will come in handy. Here are a few suggestions for how and when to use it:

  • Monday morning ice-breaker or Friday afternoon cool-down: Start and end the week with a little chit-chat.
  • The “Speak for ____ seconds” strategy (I posted about that here: Prep-Free Speaking Activities)
  • Small group fluency practice – Students take turns selecting and either answering or asking questions to their groups. (You might need more than one box to make this work smoothly in larger classes).
  • Random class survey – Students choose one question, ask it to as many students in the class as possible, and write down what they learned.
  • Random journaling prompt – Students choose a random question and write a journal entry about it.
  • Practice for the speaking section of the TOEFL (This one isn’t for your beginners, obviously, but it’s a good adaptation for Intermediate and Advanced students).
  • A one-to-one tutoring activity – Try it out when you have an individual student, and you want to step away from the book.
  • Allow small groups to use it independently when they finish an assignment early.

Can you think of any other ways to use a box? I’d love to hear ideas from other teachers. Please leave your comments and questions in the box below.

In my next post, I’m going to be sharing my list of beginner-friendly questions to fill your box with, so check back soon!