Stuart Mill English

How to Learn, How to Teach English

Website Review:

In short: Voxopop is a message board website. You don’t type your thoughts and read stuff that others write. Instead, you record your voice and listen to stuff that others record. It’s pretty cool. And it’s great speaking and listening practice.

For students: Check out all the different categories and add your voice. (You can just listen first, then you’ll need to set up an account to add comments.)

For teachers: You can start a private Talkgroup just for your class. You can use it for homework or for extensions on stuff you did in class.

P.S. Jason Renshaw (a.k.a. English Raven) made a great video review of Voxopop a while back. You can check it out here.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching English British Council

Website Review: Teaching English

In short: The best site for English teachers on the internet. If you only have time to visit one site a day, this should be it. What do you need? Activities for you classroom? They got ‘em.  Training to make you a better teacher? Oh heck yeah. A worldwide community to bounce ideas off of, get help from, and have fun with. Si. Da. Nae. Hai. Tak. Yes. Yes. Yes.

For students: This site is mainly for teachers, but if your teacher isn’t using it, you might tell them about it. Also, check out their sister site for students:

For teachers: If you can’t find what you’re looking for, they also have links to tons of other sites. Oh, and make sure to like them on Facebook…

April 21, 2011 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Website Review:

In short: Wow, what a great site. Some of the best things are:

  • 6 minute English—Real people being interviewed on a topic and explanations of the natural English. The vocabulary explanations that you can listen to and read are super helpful. Plus, there are two years of weekly episodes to listen to.
  • Get that job” has lots of useful quizzes that’ll help you get ready to apply for a job in English.
  • Short lessons on Business English and traveling in London with quizzes.
  • And much more. The “Grammar, Vocabulary, and Pronunciation” category has 11 sections (This pronunciation tool is especially cool.)

For students:The Flatmates” are fantastic short episodes about a group of young Londoners. Listen every morning. It’ll only take a few minutes. It’s a great way to start your day.

For teachers: Be sure to click on the for teachers tab to find tons of great stuff (like lesson plans) that practically turns the site into a full-on curriculum.

September 27, 2010 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Website Review:

In short: One of the five best ESL sites on the internet. They have everything. They’ve been putting out great material for 15 years and let’s hope they never stop. Their own menu bar says it all: Articles, Lessons, Techniques, Questions, Games, Jokes, Things for Teachers, Links, and Activities for Students.

The site is organized perfectly. There’s no distracting advertising. If you have a slow connection, this site will still load quickly. What more could you want?

For students: The “Activities for Students” button will take you to this site, There, you’ll find many fun things you can do to improve your English.

For teachers: You can learn from the articles and use the lessons, techniques, etc. Why not contribute as well? See if you can get an article published. You’ll learn a lot while preparing it and give a little back to the community of teachers and students around the world.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking about Essays

Thinking about Essays

For teachers of writing, correcting essays presents problems. First, there are so many. Second, how can you get students to remember those corrections?

Jason Renshaw argues on English Raven that students expect too many corrections. More than that, they don’t get much out of the corrections. He does an experiment where he asks students a week later to remember any of the corrections he’d made. The students do a terrible job. Jason’s test might be a little unfair, but the idea is that if a student sees a paper full of red marks, they don’t look at anything. On the other hand, if they have just a few red marks, they examine them more closely.

Is this true? Maybe. A good study would be useful, but here are some important variables:

  • How many essays will they write and how often will they write? If they write more essays and have everything corrected every time, then the simple errors will decrease.
  • How motivated are the students? If they’re pouring over their essays, rewriting all the mistakes, etc., more corrections should help them more.
  • What is their level? Are the corrections teaching them new things or just reviewing old material? If a student makes a mistake with the Cauasative Have at lower-intermediate level, you don’t want them spending their time learning it. There are bigger fish to fry.
  • What are the students’ goals? Do they just want to be able to communicate or is style important to their future writing?

Anyway, from a serious student’s perspective, all their mistakes are at least interesting. And the important mistakes might surprise teachers. Sometimes a student has struggled over a sentence, but the teacher doesn’t realize it. If you don’t let them know where their mistakes are, they may never know if they were successful with a particular sentence.

On the other hand, students need to understand the time constraints teachers have. If you don’t have the time to give each essay detailed corrections, then you don’t have the time. There’s no changing it.

The Stuart Mill English business corrects all the mistakes and then we note key mistakes. For the busy teacher, maybe a better strategy would be to simply underline all the mistakes (so that your students know that you know) and then to add three key mistakes at the end of the essay. You could explain those errors—why they are wrong, the grammar principle behind them, and suggestions for practice. If the student wants more work, suggest that they rewrite the essay and try to find a way to rewrite anything that was underlined.

One last point: one of the keys to learning is repetition. If a student spends two minutes with their essay, one correction or fifty won’t matter. Follow-up exercises are more important than anything else.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , , | 1 Comment

Post Writing Exercises

Post Writing Exercises

OK, so you’ve corrected the essays, now what? In many ways the hard part is over. You and your student have something to work with—a personalized tool to help the student improve. The goal now is to reinforce those corrections. Here are some ways you might do that.

Rewrite For the next class, ask the student to rewrite their essay.

Rewrite (No Looking) For the class after that, ask the student to rewrite their essay without looking at the first one.

Sharing is Good Rather than peer editing, how about peer bragging? Partner up the students and tell them to choose a couple sentences from their essays that were difficult for them to write, explain how they wrote them, and why they’re correct.

Peer Editing But let’s not forget this tried and true method. Give the students a rubric and that will help them correct each other’s essays.

Use Those Mistakes Choose three key mistakes in the essay. Now, give a new topic and have them include sentences that practice the structures they had trouble with. Did they write “I have eaten there yesterday”? Tell them to include present perfect sentences in the next essay.

Use Those Corrections Again, target three key mistakes. Have students copy the corrected versions of those sentences. Then, give them a new topic, but tell them they need to use those same three sentences in the new essay. For instance, if they wrote “I have eaten there yesterday” and you corrected it to “I ate there yesterday”, their next essay should include the sentence “I ate there yesterday.”

Grammar Games Sites like,, and seemingly have practice exercises for everything. Do a bit of a web search and you’ll be able to direct your students to some sites where they can practice the stuff that troubled them in their essay.

Pair Students Up If a student makes an error with, say, the passive voice. Look for a student who wrote good passive voice sentences. Match them up and have them write an essay together. Students are often better at explaining things to each other than you are.

Straight Memorization Students rarely memorize full sentences, but they should. Full sentences are just as important to memorize as vocabulary. Highlight some of the corrected sentences from their essays and make them memorize them. Then, give them a quiz later.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , | 1 Comment

Motivational Homework

Motivational Homework

Ideas for giving homework to medium-motivated students

Some students are going to do any homework you give them…and then go watch an English movie before falling asleep to English music.

Some students would rather sleep with a cactus than do the homework you give.

But some students will do just enough to get by. Maybe they’re finishing assignments right before class, but they usually make an effort. Maybe not a big effort, but they do want to learn.

The problem, of course, is that they really don’t enjoy studying English all that much. The best students do. How do we, as teachers, help the students get into studying at home more? Here are some general strategies and specific ideas.

Send them to websites Students who do simple tasks on websites might find themselves using the site for a lot longer. If every night you send them to a new site, they’ll eventually find a site they like. Plus, someday when they think about how they’d like to have better English, they’ll know just where to go to practice.

For example…if they go to the British Council’s site and play a game for homework, they might start playing some more games. If they go to to read a news story, they might start reading more stories. (You might even send them to the Stuart Mill English blog and have them find a site they like on their own.)

Make it fun Yes it’s important for students to write essays and do fill-in-the-blank exercises. But it doesn’t need to be the only homework you give.

For example… Have them listen to an English song. Ask them to summarize a movie. Have them do Google image searches for funny vocab words. Tell them they should find the best scene from a movie on YouTube and email you the link.

Personalize it On the first day, pass out a survey and ask each student what they like to do in their free time. Try to give them homework that matches their interests.

For example… Do you have a bunch of sport fanatics? In a travel unit, have them research the best place to play their favorite sport. In a directions unit, have them explain how to play a new sport.

Maybe lots of students in your class enjoy eating. For a get-to-know-you unit, they could make a list of the top ten restaurants to take a new friend. For a unit on cities, they could research food in a different city.

If a bunch of your students like shopping. Ask them to plan outfits (with prices) for a clothing unit. Or tell them to bring in a cool piece of technology and describe how they decided to buy it instead of a similar product.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

August 13, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , | Leave a comment

Homework Compromise


A compromise solution for giving homework

Teachers, have you checked out the Student Stuff section of the blog? In it, you’ll find a lot of good ideas—particularly for homework.

A lot of ESL teachers don’t give homework for two big reasons.

“Students don’t do it, and then the next lesson plan is useless.”

Fair enough, but homework is essential to learning. Unless you’re with the students twenty hours a week, you really don’t have time to do all the review and repetition that they need. Moreover, when you give up on giving homework, the students give up on doing it. You hurt your best students—the ones who would have done it.

So, why not give the homework and just have them hand it in?

“When students hand it in, then there is too much stuff to mark.”

Well, that kind of negates the first point, but what’s still needed is a way to give homework that the next lesson doesn’t depend on and doesn’t require so many hours for teachers to correct.

Try this As homework, direct the students to an ESL website and give them a simple task. At the beginning of the next class, give them a quiz that they can’t fail if they visited the site.

Call this the fishhook method. Once you get the students to the sites, you’re hoping they’ll be hooked. Even if they only need to stay for a couple of minutes to be able to pass the quiz, many will stay for much longer.

Here are seven sites and possible homework/quiz ideas. Write down the name of three games. Describe one of the stories from the site in three sentences or less. Practice the present perfect. Write three present perfect sentences. Choose a sound and practice. Which sound did you practice? Choose one interesting thing on the site and describe it. Watch a video and write a three sentence description. (send them to a specific article) What were three words in the crossword puzzle?

August 5, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , | 2 Comments