Teaching Pronunciation: What should I do?

Thank you to Lisa Uribe Ceciliano for her insight and wisdom about teaching pronunciation! She taught the pronunciation class in the ESL Teacher Certificate Program for many years, and has a depth of knowledge when it comes to the subject. Here’s what she had to say in response to my questions.

What are your top five tips for teaching pronunciation?

  1. Be prepared with on-the-spot mini-lessons
  2. Don’t try to teach 3 hours of non-stop pronunciation – break it up
  3. After your presentation, PUT THE SPEAKING ON THE STUDENTS!!!
  4. Learn about teaching pronunciation so YOU feel comfortable teaching it
  5. Concepts like rate of speech, stress, intonation, rhythm, linking, and reduction are more important than concepts of individual sound clarity

BONUS TIP #1: Shoot for improvement, NOT perfection. Consider comprehensibility in choosing which topics to teach (“does “x” affect comprehensibility?” – if NO, move on; if YES, work on it).

BONUS TIP #2: (For students) speaking faster is not speaking better. Work on rate of speech.

How often should you teach pronunciation?
It should be built in the lesson based on the needs of the class. Some lessons need to be explicitly taught, while others can be covered in a short, mini lesson. It depends on the demographics and needs of the class. Assess their needs and the level of instruction that may be required.

What are your favorite websites for teachers?
eslblogs.waketech.edu (the WTCC EL Civics blog!)

What books do you recommend for teaching pronunciation?

Gilbert, Judy B. (2005). Clear Speech: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension in North American English. Cambridge University Press. (ISBN 978-0-521-54354-5)

Baker, Ann. (1990/2008). Pronunciation Pairs: An Introduction to the Sounds of English. Cambridge University Press. (ISBN 0-521-34972-9/ISBN 978-0-521-67808-7)

Hancock, Mark. (1995). Pronunciation Games. Cambridge University Press. (ISBN 978-0-521-46735-3)

Note: I can attest to the usefulness of all these books. Pronunciation Games has activities to address rhythm, stress, intonation, etc. There are activities for almost all levels too! Maggie

Wisdom to share with teachers:
See TIPS ~ especially learn how to teach pronunciation so you feel comfortable with it. We avoid things that make us uncomfortable. Don’t make it up – learn how to teach past tense endings – it’s easier than you think once you know it!

Also, have fun! Use props – feathers, rubber bands, foam, colors, games. Pronunciation has fun props ~ use them!

As a teacher make sure you are comfortable with the concepts! As with any material, once you understand the material and are comfortable with it, the instruction get easier.

Keep an eye (and ear!) out for students “relapsing” – progress is made while “in” the lesson, and then “forgotten” after the lesson, so keeping the awareness and practice going is important.

Final thought:
If you haven’t learned how to teach pronunciation, or if you’re not comfortable with it, take a class (the WTCC Certificate class can be taken by itself), or read up on it before you tackle it in class – just as you would with any other topic. There’s no “mystery” in teaching pronunciation – just understanding the concepts.

Thanks again Lisa for all the information! Super helpful!

In addition to the info from Lisa, here are a few other places you might want to check out:



A compilation of practice sites:  http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2008/03/31/the-best-websites-for-learning-english-pronunciation/

Help Me Understand the “Green Cards” and Educational Gains!

Let’s say you are a new, or newish teacher, at Wake Tech. Tomorrow is your first class! You’ve prepared a thorough lesson plan that covers all the four skills and includes creative, communicative activities. You even have a brand new pack of markers! You are READY!  With anticipation and excitement, you arrive at your classroom a bit early that first day.  Once you are settled into your class and awaiting the students, the intake folks throw some green cards your way and say “ Have a great class!” Um, um….….huh? If you’re like me, you probably thought, “What are these for? And why do I need them?”  So my dear teachers if any of that sounds a wee bit familiar, then you’re going to love today’s post. It’s all about those green cards, and why, you do, indeed, need them!

First things first.  What happens at registration? Each new student takes both a written and an oral test.  A file is created for each student which includes the following forms:  a permanent record, publicity release, attendance policy agreement, ability to benefit, and a green card. The permanent record includes personal contact information and is also where the student’s test scores are recorded. Now, about those green cards………

They are a tool to help you track your student’s progress. They are another record of test scores, and provide some insight into the student’s personal history and education. It includes the following information:

  1. Name, Address, Phone
  2. Native country and language – Do they know the Roman alphabet?
  3. Number of years of education- Do they have a solid academic background, or are they coming to ESL with limited educational experiences?
  4. Student’s identification number-This is the number that the students use to sign in to class at many of the sites.
  5. Test scores and dates-Both the written and speaking score will be included. You can take a quick glance at the green card to see if the student is making progress, has achieved an educational gain for the year, or when the most recent test was administered.
  6. Class level placement-Each time a student is placed in a class, their level and time of day is noted.

Let’s take a look at our student named RICKY MARTIN.

First test:         7/15/14 Ventures writing test (VW) and Best Plus (B+) test

Date                Lit                    Oral                 Form

7/15/14           50                    420                  VW/B+

9/10/14                                   471                  B+       ( Gain)

RIcky Martin Green Card

A note about educational gains……..The NRS (The National Reporting System for Adult Education is an outcome-based reporting system for the State-administered, federally funded adult education program.). It is the organization that manages and reports educational outcomes in adult ed. As you know, our funding is now predominately determined by educational gains, and not only by the number of students attending class. What that means for us as teachers is that we need to demonstrate to our funders that our students are improving. Students are expected to make an educational gain each program year. An educational gain is when a student goes to a higher NRS level. Let’s look at Ricky Martin’s test results.  Use the NRS chart to evaluate his test results.

Best Plus Score NRS Education Functioning Level
Below 400 Beginning ESL Literacy
401-417 Low  Beginning ESL
418-438 High Beginning ESL
439-472 Low Intermediate ESL
473-506 High Intermediate ESL
507-540 Advanced ESL

5/15/15   Ricky Martin got a Best+ score of 420, which placed him in the “High Beginning ESL” NRS level.

9/20/15   After 80 hours of class, he got a Best+ score of 471. This placed him into the “Low Intermediate ESL” NRS level. This is an example of a “gain”. He has moved up one level within the NRS.

Each student is expected to advance one NRS level every program year. These NRS levels don’t correlate exactly to our class levels, just fyi.

If Ricky Martin had scored 438 on his most recent Best+ test he would NOT have gotten an educational gain.

The next time you look at your students’ green cards, I hope the information makes a little more sense!

In the near future I’ll be reporting on the NRS.

Any questions you have about educational gains, green cards, or the NRS should be put in the COMMENTS section. I look forward to your feedback!

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 youtube.com 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:






https://www.englishclub.com/pronunciation/-ed.htm  (includes audio)

http://www.englishmedialab.com/pronunciation/regular%20past%20pronunciation%20ending%20sounds.htm (online practice)

http://www.pronuncian.com/Lessons/Default.aspx?Lesson=42 (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!  http://www.teach-this.com/images/resources/gone-in-30-seconds.pdf

Memories Game. http://www.teach-this.com/images/resources/my-memories.pdf

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. http://www.esljigsaws.com/jigsaw-method/what-is-a-jigsaw/   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:




Classroom Management–Best Practices

We are so lucky at Wake Tech ESL to have such wonderful students. It is not often that we have serious classroom management problems. If your class runs smoothly, it’s not by luck. Whether you recognize it or not, it’s probably due to a combination of a solid lesson and effective management. But what is the best way to manage a class? I decided to ask YOU, the teachers, for feedback. Earlier in the year I solicited feedback on best practices. Thank you to everyone who responded. And while the responses came from teachers across the different ESL levels, there were many commonalities. Read through the post to see what you and your peers had to say. And if you want to add to the conversation, please post a comment!

What are your top five best practices for classroom management?

  • Treat the students as adults (and expect them to act like adults)
  • Address any classroom problems early….”Nip it in the bud”
  • Speak to problem students privately
  • Maintain an environment of respect
  • Set expectations from the first day.

Do you have classroom rules? If so, do the students understand them? The most common answer to this question was, “Yes, and the students understand them. But, the rules are not posted in the classroom.”

How do you manage problem students? Speak to them individually. Try to find out the source of the problem. Is the student bored or frustrated? If the student is consistently bored or frustrated, could you address the problem by changing class level? Or, does the student have problems outside of the class that are influencing classroom behavior?

What do you think is the best seating arrangement for the classroom, and how does it impact learning/environment/behavior? There didn’t seem to be many strong opinions about this question. There was acknowledgement that different seating arrangements worked better for different classes. For example, for the intermediate and high levels, pods, or group arrangements seem to work well. For classes that are not conversationally focused, ERV, for example, the group seating arrangement is not necessary. For the lower levels, the U shape was popular, as was the traditional desk.

To dig deeper into the shared wisdom of our teachers, keep reading! Some of the comments are direct quotes, and some are summarized due to the frequency with which they appeared!

  1. Spend some time at the beginning of each quarter discussing basic behavior expectations in American classrooms.  This includes simple things we take for granted such as the fact that students should raise their hand before addressing the teacher, avoid side conversations while the teacher is delivering direct instruction, appropriate body language (no slouching, leaning against a wall, etc.), etc.
  2. Prepare students for any changes in the classroom. For example, set expectations for what happens when new students enter class from the most recent registration. How does that affect the students? What changes can they expect? What behavior does the teacher want to see?
  3. Be consistent and fair with classroom rules.
  4. All students are asked to read, sign and date a handout I wrote entitled “Wake Tech Student Code of Conduct.”  This handout defines and gives examples of the term “disruptive behavior” in clear, high intermediate language.  The handout also includes a summary of consequences and the process involved with single or repeated incidents of disruptive behavior.  The focus of the handout is on the importance of respect and the right of every student to a safe, disruption-free learning environment.   I assist students with unfamiliar vocabulary and actually create a mini-lesson based on the handout.  I am very conscientious of the need to check for student understanding of the handout’s main ideas and details before they sign it.
  5. Be willing to be open and transparent with your students. If a lesson is not working, be able to admit it and move on. Or, if the students don’t like the lesson, or are not interested in it, be flexible and redirect.
  6. The classroom is a democracy. Make decisions by consensus. What do the students want to do on any given day?
  7. Address problems early on. Don’t wait for them to escalate. They rarely disappear on their own, and usually get worse.
  8. Respect yourself and others. Listen when others are talking.
  9. Speak only English in the class.
  10. Address problems individually with the student. No public chastising.
  11. Phones in the classroom. Teachers were all over the map with the use of phones in the class. Some thought it was ok to use translators, others said English to English dictionaries were fine. Other teachers said no phones, in any circumstance. Only you can decide what is right for your class. But, there was universal agreement about talking/texting during class. If phone use becomes a problem, most teachers gave warnings, and then some type of action, such as getting an absence for the class, or taking away the phone.
  12.  Remember that usually “problem” behavior has a reason behind it. Try to find out the source of the problem and address that. Is the student bored? Is the student confused? Does the student have other problems influencing behavior in the classroom?
  13. Maintain an emotionally safe classroom environment.
  14. Keep it interesting. Change activities every 15-20 minutes.
  15. Vary the lesson between group and individual work.
  16. Encourage students to sit next to someone who does not speak their language.
  17. Use humor!
  18. Develop a relationship with your students. Learn about their lives outside of the class.
  19. Greet your students at the door. Say goodbye to them as they leave.
  20. Be clear, firm, and consistent with rules and their enforcement. Be fair.

Building Literacy in the ESL Classroom

Teaching literacy in a multi-level ESL classroom can be a big challenge! There is so much to think about when writing a lesson plan for this kind of class! How do you include the lower level literacy students in your lesson, yet keep the higher level students engaged? Is it possible to meet the needs of such a multilevel class?

If you want to learn some of the tricks of the trade, you MUST come to hear Patsy Vinogradov, PhD, on April 11th! If you are going to give up a Saturday to attend a professional development course, this is the one not to miss! Not only does she have stellar academic credentials, she has published many papers on literacy education, and provides actual suggestions for activities that you can immediately use in your class!

Look at these websites for implementing literacy education into your classroom.  These are not merely academic or learning theory. They include practical tools for classroom use.

1) MultilingualMinnestota.org http://www.multilingualminnesota.org/profdev.php

2) Englishcodecrackers.com  This site has short videos that demonstrate literacy teaching methods. There are downloadable worksheets, flashcards, pictures, and other teaching tools. They also have a great article about the LEA method and teaching top down and bottom up. If you have never used the LEA method in your classroom, take a look at Patsy’s video, and begin to implement it! It’s “magic”! http://www.englishcodecrackers.com/

Teaching low-literacy adults. Great demonstration from Reading Horizons.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrahDasEdXE

One of the more recent published articles by Patsy Vinogradov, and Martha Biegelow, is:

Using Oral Language Skills to Build on the Emerging Literacy of Adult English Learners University of Minnesota, August 2010

Key Points from http://www.cal.org/caelanetwork/resources/using-oral-language-skills.html (quoted from site):

  • Balance meaning-focused and form-focused instruction
  • Connect instruction to learners’ lives
  • Use both bottom up and top down instruction
  • Connect the curriculum to issues that adults care about in the outside world (e.g., children, work).
  • Use students’ native language(s) as needed for clarification in instruction (e.g., directions regarding tasks and activities).
  • Vary opportunities for use of language in interaction and practice of language forms (e.g., communicative pair activities and short grammar drills).
  • Create learner generated texts. One way to do that is through the Language Experience Approach (LEA). LEA is where students share an experience, and then describe the experience to the teacher. The teacher transcribes the story. These words can then be used as a text for reading and then for a multitude of activities. Have the students:
    • Write about shared experiences
    • Transcribe conversations or student stories
    • Share learner-generated texts in newsletters
    • Write about a photograph or other visual
    • Write in a journal or dialogue journal
    • Provide texts for wordless picture books
    • Create photo books with captions
    • Create class posters.

Sign up for the professional development classes on April 11, 2015. https://tabe.wufoo.com/forms/x3dw0vp1bokod2/