Thursday, January 28, 2010

Part-Time Jobs: Are They Common for Young People in Your Country?

I have often taught my children (those who were or are currently in high school) about the importance of getting a job to learn responsibility and earn their own spending money in the United States, but I realize that this same idea and value might not be the same around the world for any number of reasons.

So, do children between the ages of 12-18 often get part-time jobs in your country (examples might include babysitting, delivering newspapers, working on a farm or in restaurant, tutoring other kids in school, etc.)? Why or why not?

What benefits can come from holding a job at certain ages during one's life?


Conversation Starters: How to Get a Natural Conversation Going

Starting a natural conversation with a stranger often isn't as easy as it appears, and language learners can sound somewhat unusual and strange if the don't make the right approach.

So, imagine that you are sitting on a plane, and a man or woman is sitting next to you. You anticipate a long, 9-hour flight, and besides a few books, you don't have much to do.

What is one question that you might use to start a natural conversation with the person next to you, AND what is one question you would probably NOT ask for the same situation?

Please share your ideas. Carrying on small talk with others is an art that must be learned, and it usually isn't taught in textbooks.

Check out my listening activity on this topic at:



Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dressing for Comfort or Style?

Why do people where the things they do? Do people dress to protect themselves from the cold, or do people want to get attention from others? Please share your ideas.

Our Changing Seasons: What's Your favorite Time of Year?

What is your favorite time of year? Please share your ideas.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Weekly Plans: What are your days like?

What are some of the things you do throughout the week? Share your ideas.


Game Shows: Would You Be on TV?

TV is one form of entertainment most people watch to a certain degree, and you can find just about any kind of program on the air these days. One type of popular program is the game show. In many cases, people try to win prizes by participating in some form of game or challenge. One popular show that appeared on and off US TV was the Dating Game in which a woman (or man) would ask a series or questions to three men whom she could not see, and then select one to go out on a date, the expenses for which were paid by the show.

Now, if you had the opportunity be a contestant on such a TV game show, would you do it? Why or why not?

Share your thoughts on this or other TV game shows.


Plane Travel: Best or Worst Experiences

Traveling by plane can be a very convenient way to get around the world if everything goes just right for you; however, as we all know, what we actually plan and how things turn out in life are two different issues.

On a positive note, I remember returning back to the United States after spending a couple of weeks in Saudi Arabia providing teacher training to language instructors there. It was a wonderful experience, and after the training, I was looking forward to being back home. Before I boarded the plane, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I had enough extra flying miles to upgrade me to first class, something I wasn't expecting, but I didn't pass up the chance to ride up front for the first . . . and probably last . . . time in my life.

On the other hand, I have had my share of unpleasant experiences in flying, and on one occasion abroad, my flight was delayed for over six hours in an international airport that resulted in my missing my connecting flight once I returned to the United States, causing me to have to stay in a hotel once extra night. Spending time in an airport in another country where you don't speak the language and you don't understand the flight announcements can be mentally and emotionally challenging. I just tried to smile and count my blessings that I had a family back home that was waiting for me.

Now, these experiences are not very extreme in nature, but it is likely that you have had both your share of good and bad travel moments. Please share them with us.



Monday, January 18, 2010

Home Security: Protecting Your Valuables

How do you go about securing and protecting your home from theft? Share your ideas.


TV, Radio, and Internet Ads: Who can you believe?

One of the ways that companies promote their products is through advertising, whether it be on TV, radio, email, or on Web pages. Personally, I feel that this can be a good market strategy as long as the company is truthful in its claims for its product. However, companies sometimes try to attract consumers who are desperate to find a solution to a personal problem like loneliness, hair loss, or weight gain.

So, what do you do personally to understand whether an advertisement is actually telling the truth? How do you measure its accuracy? What are some of the most interesting or outrageous ads you have ever seen?

Share your ideas.

Here is one listening activity I created on my site on advertising:



Thursday, January 14, 2010

Avoiding Stereotypes in Your Writing

One of the challenges/joys of teaching writing to ESL students (or any student) is helping them avoid overgeneralizations in their writing. For example, students often write in absolutes:

- "All Americans own guns."
- "Americans never take off their shoes before entering the house."
- "The homeless are that way because they use drugs."

One important techique for students to learn is to learn how to "qualify" or limit their statements, so they represent more accurate or logical reasoning. You can qualify your statements by related the comments to your own personal experience, use adverbs of frequency to avoid absolutes e.g., (often, generally, sometimes), or use other phrases such as "in some cases" or "depending on the circumstances."

Some revised sentences might look like this:

- "Some people in the United States own guns."
- "In my family, we take off our shoes when we enter the house in the United States, but this isn't always the case in every family. It often depends on the family customs."
- There are a number of reasons why people might be homeless, so we can't say that all or almost all people are in that situation because of drugs. There are many factors that lead to this situatio."

Now, if people don't qualify their statements, they either run the risk of offending their audience or just sounding rather swallow in their thought.

So, are there generalizations or stereotypes about your culture or social topics that people need to learn qualify to so they speak or write logically?

Share your ideas.


Monday, January 11, 2010

College Textbooks

One of the things that bothers me most is the cost of college textbooks these days. Specifically, I can't understand it when textbook authors and publishers, rather than reusing the same book for a number of semesters, print a "new edition" that tries to force students to buy a new book, when in fact, the book is almost the same. You can often see this when the book is now it is 21st edition!

This is unfair to students, and it is just one more way that businesses make money off students. A lucrative business model that does little to remove the financial weight from college expenses.

So, what do you think students can do to same money on books?

Share your ideas.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Study Tips for the New Year

As the new year begins, students often are starting new courses of study or even trying to set new goals in their language study. As part of this, let me suggest an important idea that often students don't consider as part of their learning.

I have taught language students for more than 20 years, and the thing that often has the greatest impact on their development as a person is the extent to which students learn to interact with people, inside and outside of the classroom. In other words, some of my students only see the purpose of taking language classes as a means of learning a language and fail to understand the necessity of learning how to deal with people as part of the communication process.

What good is learning a language when a person doesn't have the cultural and social skills to build relationships?

One simple idea is that students set goals to only use English in the classroom, especially when they are in a class with students from many differnt countries. By using a common language, students build bridges instead of walls. When students only use their language, they become self-isolated from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, these same students often wonder why they can't make friends beyond their own language group. (Situations where students are studying English as a foreign language are often different.)

Furthermore, these same students often tell me one minute that they want to be in classes with students from other countries to practice their English, and then the next minute they self-isolate by speaking in their native language. I'm speaking specifically of where students are studying English as a second language.

I guarantee students that if they try to speak the target language, they will not only improve their language skills, but they will also develop new friendships and gain greater confidence in succeeding in their other goals.

What is your opinion or experience on this topic?


Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year Activities

Well, the new year has begun, and I kicked off the new start by spending time with family. On New Year's Eve, we tend to keep things simple. When I was younger, I would stay up and welcome the new year; however, I generally go to bed before most people start their celebrations. Personally (and perhaps philosophically), too often, people start our a new year with a bang and wonderful new goals and plans, but these good intentions often don't last very long. Instead, I'd like to have plans in my mind, but start things off at a slower, but consistent, pace.

This kind of reminds me of a sport called ultrarunning (any running distance beyond a marathon). Many of the elite athletes aren't in their late teens, 20s, or 30s. Rather, people in their 40s, 40s, and 60s do quite well at very long distances because much of the game deals with the mental, not physical challenge. This mental toughness is often develop throughout life and has little to do with our youthfulness.

So, what kind of mental toughness is needed in other aspects of our lives? Share your thoughts.


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