On the Lighter Side: ESL Tunes and Talking Pens

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 29, 2007 1 min read
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A couple of booths in the exhibitors’ hall for the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Inc. conference last week caught my fancy and displayed products that I think might interest teachers of English-language learners.

At one booth, Shane Dixon, of Provo, Utah, was strumming a white guitar and singing songs with lyrics in the style of James Taylor (who was popular when Baby Boomers were in high school). Mr. Dixon is a teacher of English as a second language and was promoting his “ESL tunes,” which he sells on a CD, called “Grammar Rocks.” I tried out one of the grammar exercises with him. He sang and strummed: “When you came, I was there. ... You learned from me. I learned from you.” I listened to three verses and then tried to fill in words that were missing on a poster that contained some of the lyrics. You teachers out there will recognize this as a “cloze activity.” The interaction lightened my spirit, after having observed sessions on topics such as how to best teach academic English. I can see how it might lighten up a grammar class.

In addition, I stopped by a booth where Jean Velvikis, from Across the Globe, showed me how a “talking pen” works. It’s a device shaped like a fat pen that is really a digital tape recorder. It’s been programmed to contain the words of various bilingual books the company sells. A child can brush the pen over a symbol in the front of each book that causes the pen to “read” the story aloud in English or over a symbol to choose the second language used in the book, whether it’s Vietnamese, Spanish, or something else. The device makes the switch back and forth between languages very fluid. Last week, the company had only demonstration talking pens--and hadn’t yet released the product on the market or set a price for it.

Here in my office, I came across another Web resource, “Inspiration Lane,” created by an ESL teacher in Florida, that has some activities that are on the lighter side for English-as-a-second-language classes. Check out “Caption Central,” which offers an opportunity to write captions for photos at the bottom of the opening page.

Teachers: feel free to share other Web resources that have worked for you to design interesting lessons for English-language learners.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.