Tips? Who and how much?

Tipping is a part of American culture. Most of us know to leave a tip for hair stylists, waiters, massage therapists, pizza delivery people, and valet parking? But, what about other services, such as movers, hotel housekeepers, and take out food? What’s the standard? Who should we tip? Along with vocabulary and grammar in a lesson on tipping, you’ll also be sharing in American culture with your students. Take a look below for lesson plans and resources.

The information here is for teachers. Students can use the link on the Civics/Culture page at

Lesson Plans and Resources for the Classroom

Video with recommendations for tipping:


Multilevel ESL Classes and Differentiated Instruction

Students come into our classrooms with varied levels of knowledge, experience, and motivation. With differentiated instruction, the teacher plans and carries out varied levels of instruction in response to this variety of needs.

What is Differentiated Instruction?

And, for those who want to read a little more, here’s an interview with one of the “gurus” of DI, Carol Ann Tomlinson.

Much of the research and information about differentiated instruction centers around K-12 education. However, many of the recommendations are applicable to the adult ESL classroom.

In summary, there are two key points about differentiated instruction:

  1. Teacher uses a variety of instructional methods and activities to meet the needs of all of the students.
  2. Teacher uses a variety of assessments to evaluate knowledge, instruction, and learning.

Here are some links that include academic research, classroom strategies, and approaches, specific to ESL.  (w/lesson plan idea)

This link has specific recommendations for differentiated instruction in the classroom. Although it is geared toward K-12 education, the activities and ideas are applicable to the adult classroom.

The Core Tenets of Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Instruction for the English Language Learner: Strategies for the Secondary Teacher

This article obviously is targeted towards  the secondary level teacher, but there are many strategies included here that apply to adult learners. It includes specific examples of differentiated activities.

More learning strategies..

Differentiating Reading and Writing Strategies for the Classroom

  • shorten a lengthy text
  • Provide visuals along with the text
  • Simplify text
  • Write words instead of complete sentences
  • Write a fewer number of sentences
  • Create an illustration to demonstrate comprehension
  • Use a word bank for cloze activities
  • For a dictation activity, (lower level), have students write the beginning letter of the word, while the higher level students write the complete word

 Differentiated Learning Stations

  • Open ended activity. Example: Students draw a picture to illustrate a story. Beginners can write key words, other students can write sentences. The video demonstrates using thought bubbles for this activity.
  • From simple to complex. For example, in the Memory Game, the higher students use vocabulary words, while the beginner students use pictures and letters.
  • Students choose the activity.


Food Idioms–Lesson Plans and Videos

Today’s post is about food idioms. It focuses on materials you can use in the classroom for some of the common food idioms that we use in the United States. It is structured to be used in combination with the food idioms post on the English Language blog ( has information and practice for students! Use them together and save lesson planning time! Scroll to the bottom of the page to find quizzes.

Lesson Plans This lesson plan is not specific to just food idioms, but you can follow it and use the idioms of your choice.

Video #1

Butter someone up – be extra nice to get someone to do something

Take it with a (pinch) of sale – be careful, don’t believe everything you are hearing

A piece of cake – easy

Go pear shaped — get fat

Not my cup of tea – something you don’t like

Video #2

Take the cake – be #1

A bag egg – be a bad person

A big cheese – a leader or important person

Bread and butter – basic necessities

Cool as a cucumber – to be calm and relaxed

Cup of tea – enjoy it, like something

A hard nut to crack – to be difficult to understand or figure out

Out to lunch – be crazy or mad

Apple of my eye – someone you like very much

Couch potato – lazy person

A piece of cake – easy

Spill the beans – reveal a secret

Take something with a grain of salt – believe only part of something

Have a bun in the oven – to be pregnant

To butter someone up – be extra nice to someone for personal benefit

One smart cookie – very intelligent

List of even more idioms in chart form:

Quiz about food idioms:

Practice using idioms:  Students read the sentence and select the correct word/idiom from the drop down box.

What Do YOU Have Planned for Halloween?

Halloween Lessons and Resources

by Sage_Solar attribution 2.0 generic ccby2.0

by Sage_Solar
attribution 2.0 generic ccby2.0

Halloween is next Saturday, and many ESL teachers will include some type of lesson or celebration about the holiday. Here are some links to some of the most popular sites that offer lessons on Halloween. This post just might save you a search or two!

If you are new to teaching ESL, or unfamiliar with Larry Ferlazzo, this might be the first place you want to look. It is filled with links and ideas, from lower level lessons to lessons on metaphors and figurative writing!

This site includes a powerpoint lesson, crossword puzzle, and other writing practice.

TONS of info and activities!

Above and beyond the usual vocabulary lessons about Halloween, this blog site has some good suggestions for classroom activities. This information is free, but they also have a paid site with complete lessons.

Comprehensive reading and associated comprehension activities about Halloween.

This site includes games for a Halloween party, but you could adapt some of them for the classroom.

That should be enough information to get you started on a fantastic Halloween lesson. What are your favorite activities or websites for Halloween?

Free Lesson Plans and Activities

If you are searching for lesson plans you might want to visit the ESL Virtual Library of Lesson Plans. It’s a collection of plans and learning activities created by teachers at North Carolina community colleges.

Who can use the site? Anyone who teaches ESL!

What can you find on the site?

  • Lesson plans
  • Civics lessons
  • North Carolina Curriculum Guide (includes lesson plans and activities)
  • Citizenship Preparation
  • In My Own Words (students’ stories about coming to live in the United States)
  • Links to Literature (student activities to link literature to American history and civics)
  • Participatory Learning in ESL
  • Living in America (addresses civics and culture)
  • Salud Latina (health lesson plans)
  • Technology (lesson plans focused on civics/incorporating technology)
  • The House I Live In (civics, housing, and the American Dream)

Can I use these materials in my class? Yes, of course! That’s exactly what the site is for! Use the materials for lesson planning and classroom activites. There are worksheets, activities, lesson plans, videos, audio collections, and games.

Who created this content?  Most of the lesson plans were created by instructors at North Carolina community colleges. Each lesson plan includes the creator’s name/community college.

What is best about this site? It’s full of lesson plans and activities. Once you choose a topic you’ll find multiple levels of information. You just have to start looking around!  It’s very easy to navigate.

What levels are the lessons intended for? The majority of the lessons are appropriate for beginner and intermediate level students. As with most lessons, you can simplify or expand the lesson to accommodate the students in your class.

What is challenging about the site? As a user, I want to know the credentials of the authors, and also the sources and reasons behind a post. At times it’s not clear to me the purpose of a post, or the source of the information. But, that wouldn’t stop me from using the site! It has tons of information!! Take a look!

Teaching Vocabulary to Lower Level Learners

The New American Horizons organization is a wealth of resources for ESL teachers. They have multiple videos for ESL teachers that demonstrate teaching techniques and tips. Today we’re going to focus on vocabulary instruction for lower level students. There is a link to a video included in this post at the bottom of the page.

Some key points from the video:

TPR is a great way to introduce vocabulary! Why? It includes multiple skills and senses, such as watching, touching, speaking, and listening.

Teach the vocabulary in context.

  • Begin with explicit instruction.
  • Recycle the vocabulary through diverse activities.
  • Use the vocabulary in new ways.
  • Connect the new vocabulary to real life.

Questions that come up during the lesson.

  • If they are related to the current lesson, then deal with them at that moment.
  • If they are not related to the subject, address them later. (For unrelated questions, I usually have a “parking lot” list for things to address after the lesson.)

Classroom routines are important to support learning. Use the same games and activities for each lesson.  Students focus on vocabulary practice rather than learning a new game.  Use these activities to assess learning and where the gaps are. For example, students might be able to identify a word on the page, but can they spell it, or actually use the word?

Examples from the video:

  • Bingo-play first with pictures to associate the sound/picture relationship, and then next, with words.
  • Spelling activity-teacher dictates, students listen and use letter tiles to spell the word
  • Line up activities (by alphabetical order, birth date, etc.

Use the different activities to assess learning and where the gaps in learning are.  For example, the students may be able to identify a word, but can they spell it, or use it?  Watch this video for more details!


Adult ESL/ESOL Exchange on Facebook

Do you like to trade ideas with other ESL teachers? Ever wonder what other teachers are doing in the classroom? How about “best practices” for teaching a particular grammar point or managing a classroom? These, and other ideas, can be shared and discussed on a new Facebook page. Beth McMillian started the group called Adult ESL/ESOL Exchange, and it’s open to all ESL teachers!

It’s new, so you can be one of the first to join. Want to give it a try? Just click on this link:

Pronunciation of Simple Past -ed Sounds/Activities and Exercises

Until I became an ESL teacher I had no idea there were rules for pronouncing the simple past of regular verbs! I guess that is probably the case for most native English speakers! But for our students it can be a confusing undertaking to correctly pronounce the –ed endings of the simple past. What follows here in this post are: 1) the pronunciation rules for simple past, and 2) exercises and practice activities, 3) two videos.

Verbs that end in: Pronunciation: Examples:
D or T sounds D Wanted, decided
UNVOICED sounds (k, f, p, sh, ch, th) T Cooked, worked, kissed
All Other sounds (A, B, E, G, H, I , J, L, M, N, O, Q, R, U, V, W, X, Y, Z) id Damaged, listened

Exercises and Activities for Pronunciation Practice of Simple Past:  (includes audio) (online practice) (includes audio)

Speaking Games:  Gone in Thirty Seconds. Although this isn’t geared specifically toward pronunciation practice of -ed endings, it’s wonderful for that very purpose.  The directions are written on the game, it’s easy, and the students seem to like it. And, playing the game helps to build relationships in the classroom!

Memories Game.

Traditional ESL Lesson:        

Rap Lesson:    

Using Stories in the ESL Classroom

Stories are a wonderful way for our students to practice the four skills. There are so many ways to use them in a class. They’re not just about reading.  Today’s post offers places to find stories, and then, how to use them in your classroom. What resources for stories do you use?

For all levels.  Each of these sites has readings of various levels. You can select the appropriate level for your class and go from there.

For lower level learners, complete with phonics instructions:

Stories for listening practice, complete with audio files:

How can you use stories in the classroom?

Besides reading and comprehension practice, what else can you do with a story? What are some other ways to use a story in the classroom? LEA, the Language Experience Approach, is a great way to incorporate story into the class. But, I am going to cover that in a separate post. Today is about both fiction and non-fiction stories.

Sequence the story. Depending on the length of the story, cut each sentence into strips. Give one set to each student/pair. Have them put them in correct story sequence.

Identify grammar structures.  For example, for the lower level students, have them find all the verbs. Or, identify the past tense verbs in the story.

Summarize the story. Have students retell the story to a partner.

Identify certain letter sounds. For beginner students, identify phonics you are working on, and have them identify them in the story. (A story can be a few simple sentences!)

Sequence sentences in the story.  Use some of the sentence strips from the “sequence the story” activity, and cut the words into individual words. Students sequence each individual sentence.

Rewrite the story. Rather than retelling the story to a partner, have the students rewrite the story in their own words.

Discussion. Use the story as a prompt for discussion about the issue.

Debate. If a story has two sides to it, have the students debate the issue. One group can be “for” the issue, and the other “against” the issue.

Identify sight words.

Illustrate the story. Students can draw a picture of the key parts of the story. Then, use the picture to tell the story to a partner.

Dramatize the story. Students in small groups can put on a skit to dramatize the story. Great speaking practice!

Practice asking/answering information questions.

Jigsaw. A jigsaw is when a group of students each gets a different part of the story to read and understand. Then, they are regrouped, to retell the story. Here is a link for how to use a jigsaw in the class.   Jigsaws are a little more challenging to do for the lower levels, but CAN be done. Just keep the story very simple.

Read aloud with a partner.

Audio recording. Students can record themselves if they have a smart phone. Students can use this for self-assessment, pronunciation practice, or even comprehension.

Story circle (more sequencing). Students rewrite the story one sentence at a time. Put students in a group. The first studens writes the first sentence. Then, the student passes the paper to the next student, who writes the next sentence, and so on, until the story is rewritten.


What can you do to get students to class on time?

Our classes have exact starting times, yet many students seem to trickle into class.  Do you wonder why? Is it because of their schedules? Is it the teacher? Is it the class? I am not sure we’ll ever know the complete answer to these questions, but one thing we can do is make the first half hour of class interesting and a reason to arrive on time. Additionally, you can avoid wasting time waiting for the late students to arrive. What do you do the first 30 minutes of class? How do you manage the “trickle in” effect? Here are some ideas to get you thinking about that first half hour, and how to manage it.

Songs. Sing together, or play a song and create activities using the song. Have students tell you their favorite songs and then use the lyrics for English practice. Or, the class learn the lyrics to a new song, and practice it as class begins.

Current events. Discuss local and national events.  Use local/national news broadcasts as prompts. Create vocabulary practice using current events. Practice identifying new grammar structures, summarizing, retelling, predicting, changing tenses, etc.

Pronunciation.  Play pronunciation games, or choose different pronunciation issues to focus on and practice.

Topic discussion. Give the students a particular topic to discuss with a partner. Possibly include question prompts to get them talking.

Weekend report.  For the Monday class, create an activity about events from the past weekend. Students could do a short, impromptu writing about what happened over the weekend, or it could be a speaking activity. Practice particular grammar structures while reporting, as needed.

Photos of local landmarks or places to see. Take photos of places around town that students might be interested in learning about. Or, popular places to visit. Then, students can use the photos as writing prompts, speaking prompts, or discussion topics.  You could also use photos of places that students regularly visit, such as a favorite restaurant, club, workplace, etc., and create activities using those photos.

American culture. Students are always interested to learn about American culture. Think about general American culture topics, and also local cultural events and customs.

Share personal photos or stories. It seems the students like to learn about their teachers. Share photos from vacation, about your family, a hobby, or whatever inspires you.

Video clips. Students can write about video, discuss with another student, practice retelling the story, identify specific grammar used in the video, sequence the story, and more.

Show ‘n Tell. We learned it in kindergarten, but adults enjoy learning about each other and other cultures too.  They can bring something that they created themselves, or an item that is important to them. Or, something from their culture they want to talk about.

Introduce students to a new website for English practice. Have them practice on the computers in pairs or small groups.

Tell a story or a joke.

American history. Talk about key historical people in American history, events, celebrations, etc.

Photos. Take student photos and then use those photos for activities, such as describing picture, making predictions, etc. They always get a kick out of seeing themselves onscreen!

Audio. Use audio recordings of classmates talking, and then use them as a warm up or introduction to class (with their permission, of course). Have students read short stories, and then the others can answer questions about the story. Or, record a dialogue between students and create an activity around it. If you have a smartphone, there are multiple smartphone apps available for voice recording.

Card games or board games. Games that are instructional, or ‘just for fun”, as long as done in English, will provide additional practice for the students.  Lower level students like Go Fish with phonics cards, for example.

Thanks to the TESOL blog for the inspiration and some of the ideas! The link to the blog is here: