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Essential Writing Skills, First Edition
Linda Wong, Lane Community College
Teaching Tips

Teaching is a form of art requiring a wide range of presentation skills, a knowledge of subject matter, and an understanding of the process of learning, learning styles, and motivation. The following tips will enhance the classroom experience for both you and your students.

Tip 1: Work to Adjust Attitudes
Tip 2: Recognize Students' Insecurities
Tip 3: Recognize Differences in Learning Styles
Tip 4: Stress the Value of Verbalizing
Tip 5: Ask Rather Than Tell
Tip 6: Plan Small-Group Activities
Tip 7: Discuss the Role of Rote Memory
Tip 8: Use Humor in the Classroom
Tip 9: Incorporate Multicultural Information

Tip 1: Work to Adjust Attitudes | top |

The majority of students who enter your grammar/writing classes have enrolled because they lack a strong background in writing mechanics. Frequently, they do not see learning grammar and strengthening writing skills as a positive experience or an exciting challenge. One goal for the classroom is to adjust students' attitudes. English is undoubtedly a complex and often frustrating language; however, using a wide variety of learning activities, conducting open discussions, and de-emphasizing grading can create a positive, exciting learning experience. Presenting grammar as ""a creative process of analysis and problem solving--a process of "unlocking the mysteries"--recognizes that grammar can be learned, understood, and applied, but that the game must be played by following the rules.

Tip 2: Recognize Students' Insecurities | top |

Initially students are often overly conscious of making mistakes in class. Continually emphasize that one student's mistakes are common mistakes for many--this will assure students that they are not the only ones who find writing to be a challenge. When a mistake is made, be sensitive to your method of response. Avoid stating outright, "That's wrong." Instead, ask leading questions that will help students reach the correct answer. Provide additional examples. Encourage other students to explain how they arrived at their answers. Provide a simplified example of the skill being discussed for the student who made an error.. Reinforce correct answers with praise. Allow students to self-correct some of their work without requiring that the work be graded.

Tip 3: Recognize Differences in Learning Styles | top |

Your learning style influences your teaching style. Analyze your preferred style for teaching in the classroom. Analyze the types of approaches or activities you tend not to use; then be willing to gradually introduce some of the "avoided approaches," for these are possibly approaches that will be needed by some of your students. An effective classroom approach should include a variety of techniques, activities, and experiences. Suggestions are provided in future tips.

Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learning Styles Three common (and traditional) learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

The visual learner prefers to see things in print; to see things presented graphically (visual aids, charts, diagrams); and to have different levels of information color-coded to help create a strong visual-memory image and memory cue.

Auditory learners prefer to have information presented verbally; to be able to ask questions openly; and to participate in class, partner, or small-group discussions.

Kinesthetic learners prefer to learn by doing--by using computer software; by creating manipulatives such as flash cards or grammar cards for sentence structures; or by working at a chalkboard, which allows movement. Many kinesthetic learners are impatient sitting at desks for too long a time; their attention increases with the opportunity for movement.

Recognizing these differences and striving to incorporate approaches that are multisensory promotes greater interest, enthusiasm, and more thorough learning.

Linear and Global Learning Styles The linear learner learns best when information is presented in a well-organized, structured, and logically sequenced manner. Clear examples and specific steps, rules, or techniques are favored. When the teacher is more "globally oriented," the linear learner may feel frustrated, confused, and less successful. Detailed course outlines; weekly lesson plans; clearly defined assignment sheets; ample examples and models of desired outcomes; detailed expectations; handouts with charts, steps for a process, or definitions to learn; and well-managed use of classroom time enhance the learning progress of the linear learner.

Global learners may become impatient with too much structure and mat feel that they are being "hand-held" and guided too closely. Global learners tend to be more creative, to enjoy a "discovery approach" of finding patterns rather than being told or shown, and to generalize the skills that are studied. Global learners often thrive in small-group situations, discussions, and activity-oriented tasks that are not limited to just one correct answer. They do well with taking a skill and figuring out how to apply it to a different situation. Encouraging or asking students to apply skills in original work; to create pictures, charts, or lists of information that needs to be studied; or to take leadership roles in small-group discussions works well for global learners.

The challenge for you, the teacher, is to be aware of your own tendency to be a linear or a global learner/teacher, and to be sure to incorporate both linear and global approaches in your classroom. Within the course of any given week, strive to create a classroom atmosphere, instructional delivery approach, and classroom drill or practice activities that meet the different learning styles of students in your course.

Tip 4: Stress the Value of Verbalizing | top |

Reciting information, explaining rationale, reading original work, and paraphrasing information being studied are methods that recognize the value of verbalizing.

Frequently, students who study by themselves or who study silently do not receive the feedback necessary to show how clearly they understand information. Mentally they may believe that they understand a concept, but when asked to express it on paper or verbally, they "go blank." Verbalizing utilizes the auditory channel and is a powerful method for strengthening memory.

The chapter study sheets in this textbook, when used properly, encourage students to recite out loud and to use their own words to define and explain important concepts. Model this approach in class and use the study sheets for class review throughout the term. Providing class time for students to ask and answer questions or to complete activities in a total-class approach are ways to incorporate verbalizing and to promote active learning.
Tip 5: Ask Rather Than Tell | top |

There are many times in the classroom that a lecture-style approach is appropriate, efficient, and structured. However, using this approach on a regular basis leads to inactive learning, or perhaps no learning at all. In contrast, asking questions encourages students to generalize and to apply the skills that are being studied.

When activities are done in class, "walk students through" them with questions such as the following:
  • "Where is the subject of the sentence? How do you know that is the subject? What are the two parts of speech that are used for subjects of sentences?

  • Where are the verbs in this sentence? Do the verbs form a partnership with the subject? What's the verb tense here? Will we ever find a verb in a prepositional phrase?

  • Where are the prepositional phrases here? Where in your textbook is the list of prepositions that can be referred to when needed?

When work is corrected in class, ask individual students to give answers for one question or sentence at a time. If errors are made, use a questioning approach to help students correct their own answers.

Tip 6: Plan Small-Group Activities | top |

Frequently, peer teaching and discussions are more valuable than full-classroom discussions. Small-group work allows students to become better acquainted, to develop a sense of community, to extend support and encouragement to each other, and to learn in a more informal setting.

If you do not have tables in your classroom, consider locating a place with tables that students may move to for a portion of your class time. Provide a basic set of small-group guidelines, which may include staying on task, completing an assignment within a specific time period, and techniques for reporting information to the total class. Many assignments in the textbook may be discussed and completed in small groups; provide each group with an answer key to self-correct their work at the end of the time period.

Throughout the small-group activity time, your role is to circulate, listen to discussions, answer questions (or refrain from answering questions and let students find the answers later with the answer keys), clarify information or give extra hints to get on the right track, and observe the interactions of the groups.

If a group is functioning well independently, your role will be minor. If a group is having difficulties interacting, you may need to start them off with questions or suggestions. One suggestion might be to have students "go around the table," with each student taking a question or a sentence and explaining the answer to the others. Other group options are given below.

  1. Assign students to groups. Give some thought to the composition of each group. Include a student who has demonstrated a good understanding of the skills and concepts, and also a student who needs the added help from a strong leader. Ideally, each group will have at least one student who is comfortable verbalizing, who can encourage others to participate, and who has demonstrated positive leadership skills.

  2. Identify the groups by having students "draw "straws" or "group number cards." The groups will be completely random. Circulate to see that each group is able to organize itself and get on task. Provide assistance if necessary.

  3. Allow students to self-select their groups. Establish basic guidelines, such as: "Form groups of two to four students. If the group you sit down to join already has four students, find another group to join." Be sensitive to students who may feel uncomfortable, shy, or insecure about sitting down to join a group. You might casually steer such a student to a specific group and linger near the group until things get started.

  4. Simply divide the class into groups based on where they happen to be sitting at the time. For example, assign all one row or all one quadrant to work together.

  5. The length of time the group stays together as a group may vary. You may want the group to work together for just that one day, or you may want it to be a working group for one or two weeks before groups are changed again.

  6. If you have work-study, peer tutoring, or a student incentives program, consider arranging for a former student to participate leading one or more of the groups. Students who have successfully completed your class are valuable assets and can provide current students with encouragement, motivation, and study suggestions. They may be excellent group leaders, peer tutors, or discussion leaders for supplementary instruction. Of course, for

mer students reinforce their own skills and demonstrate the importance of mastering the skills to the current students.

The various methods above may all be used at different times. Do not feel that you need to select one method to use all term. Variety makes the classroom more interesting and provides students with new opportunities to work with other students. You may find that the choice of methods for organizing groups will vary from term to term based on the composition of your classroom.

Tip 7 : Discuss the Role of Rote Memory | top |

Most of the learning strategies used above encourage a personalized, global, creative, and multisensory approach to learning. Sometimes in the process, however, we fail to emphasize the role of rote memory. Rote memory is best suited for memorizing some of the basic or foundation skills and definitions of key terminology.

When rote memory is used to learn definitions or rules, students need to memorize information in close to the form in which it was originally presented. Although they do not have to memorize word-for-word, the wording should closely parallel that of the original. Students will be able to communicate to each other and in class more effectively when they know basic definitions of terminology or basic rules that must be applied in a specific situation. Failure to know these basics may lead to a weak foundation upon which all the higher-level skills are built.

The majority of learning requires that students do not use rote memory; instead, they need to be able to explain information in their own words and to work with information in a variety of ways so they can see relationships, apply the skills to new material, and internalize the learning process. However, rote memory work should not be completely abandoned, for it serves a valuable purpose in learning the basics.

Tip 8: Use Humor in the Classroom | top |

Teachers do not need to be entertainers or classroom clowns; however, including appropriate humor in the classroom adds a light-hearted atmosphere that puts students at ease and creates a more enjoyable setting. Begin to watch for and collect humorous articles or cartoons related to grammar and writing. When a student says something funny, enjoy the laugh along with the rest of the class. Let your own personality, good nature, and humor shine in the classroom. You and your students will enjoy the time spent together throughout the term.

Tip 9: Incorporate Multicultural Information | top |

Whenever possible, include multicultural information in the classroom. Many times the students themselves will be the most valuable sources of multicultural material. Take time to ask questions and to compare the structure of the English language to other languages that students in the class speak. Discuss choice of words, common expressions, and ethnic or cultural language patterns that appear in students' work.

Frequently, discussion about formal and informal language becomes necessary. Differentiate between formal language with all its rules and informal language, such as the language used in conversations with friends, without demeaning the informal language structures that may be used by some students. Discuss the need to be able to shift into formal language when the writing task requires standardized English.

Studying grammar and writing is truly a study in language itself. Including multicultural information enriches the classroom experience and supports the concept that language is alive, changing, and expanding.

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