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Foreign Language Skills for the Summer

Summer is a great break for students and teachers alike.  However, students can experience a huge educational deficit by not being able to practice the language they have been studying by not being exposed to it during summer months.  There are some fun ways for them to practice their language skills during this much needed vacation.   Study Blue is a great site full of flashcards that kids can review and even take a quiz with.  There are a multitude of languages and other subjects that teachers and students have made.  Spending 10 minutes here a day can keep their minds refreshed.  As a parent, you can even monitor your child's time spent here and their scores on activities they attempt.   Specifically for French - Tex's French Grammar is a great site put together by the University of Texas that reviews French grammar - from very basic to advanced.  There are listening and written activities that students can complete and... read more

ESL/TOEFL: Practice Listening & Improve Your Vocabulary with Radio Shows

Radio shows are a great way to practice listening to spoken English. Many radio shows post their episodes online and also include the text of the show. This way you can both listen to the show and also read the show. Reading the text allows you to check your understanding of what you heard. In addition to practicing listening skills, this is also a great way to learn new vocabulary. Below are links to some of my favorite radio shows available online.     Voice of America News stories.  Easy to intermediate vocabulary. For Voice of America, look for news stories with videos.  Below the video, you'll find the text of all the spoken parts.  For example, see the video of this story about the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in the United States.       NPR TED Talks  Talks by experts in technology, education, and design fields.  Advanced vocabulary... read more

Tackling Vocabulary Issues

In my experience tutoring students in both essay writing and test prep, one of the most difficult and tiresome challenges for both student and tutor is vocabulary improvement.  Because the ideal way to improve one's vocabulary includes reading a variety of sources over a long period of time, the optimal strategy for vocabulary improvement is often not available to students who have a very compressed schedule in which they must improve.  Many of my students have needed to show marked improvement in vocabulary within 2 weeks to a month, due to a looming deadline, so I have had to get creative to find efficient, effective techniques in vocabulary training.   One of the most important lessons when it comes to vocabulary is that multiple approaches are key.  Students should engage with the material using as many senses as possible.  This means not only reading a word and its definition silently, but also reading them aloud, hearing them read by... read more

Online Writing Resources

Many people, myself included, feel that for all its advantages, the internet has precipitated a steady decline in the quality of writing. Anyone can write anything anywhere, and while that gives a voice to many who otherwise might not have a public forum to share what they have to say, it also makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to uphold any sort of standards.   That said, the internet also offers plenty of resources for improving your writing. Here are a few of my favorites: Here you'll also find a thesaurus and several other reference tools. It may not be the Oxford English Dictionary, but it gives you plenty of good definitions and sometimes includes usage notes with practical implications for your writing, like differences in how similar words are typically used.   Difference Between Speaking of differences, this is a really cool site.... read more

Tutoring that Works

Engaging students in learning is one of the many goals that tutors face. We must adapt to meet changing learning needs, styles, interests and delivery formats. The sage on the stage paradigm, where the tutor provided all the knowledge to a passive student, is outdated. Today's students have more need for a guide on the side, who understands that the challenges they face, is willing to experiment with alternative tutoring methods, and acknowledge that engagement and feedback are crucial to a successful learning experience. One such tutoring methodology that has shown great promise both in the classroom and in structured tutoring sessions is problem-based learning (PBL). This concept has gained national recognition as a way for students to learn by confronting a problem related to the subject or the class material. This means that rather than the rigid and very traditional didactic approach, where a tutor simply “re-teaches” material covered in class through direction... read more

French resources -- Duolingo App

One of my favorite French resources is an app called Duolingo. Duolingo is free and it provides an easy way to track your progress and set goals for yourself. It's set up like a game and you win points for correct answers, and you can 'compete' with your friends at different levels. It also requires that you "strengthen your skills", which keeps your memory fresh and up to date by having you repeat certain parts of a lesson that you haven't encountered within a certain period of time. Duolingo is a great supplementary resource to go alongside formal classes, tutoring, or self-instructed study, and it's really fun and even addicting! Even as a fairly fluent French-speaker, I enjoy the vocabulary and grammar games because they help keep me engaged in learning and remind me of vocabulary words that I don't often use. I've also used it to start developing a basic vocabulary in German, Spanish, and Italian. Duolingo is available in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and... read more

Online Writing Resources

Many people, myself included, feel that for all its advantages, the internet has precipitated a steady decline in the quality of writing. Anyone can write anything anywhere, and while that gives a voice to many who otherwise might not have a public forum to share what they have to say, it also makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to uphold any sort of standards.   That said, the internet also offers plenty of resources for improving your writing. Here are a few of my favorites: Here you'll also find a thesaurus and several other reference tools. It may not be the Oxford English Dictionary, but it gives you plenty of good definitions and sometimes includes usage notes with practical implications for your writing, like differences in how similar words are typically used.   Difference Between Speaking of differences, this is a really cool... read more

How Do I Memorize All of THAT???

One question I get often deals with memorization, which makes sense.  There is a lot of memorization in any subject, but especially with Japanese.  New vocabulary and kanji are the two biggest examples I can give you.  Thankfully this is a short post.  To sum it up: I find a dual flashcards/sentences approach works very well for both instances.   The study of Japanese, in my experience goes from broad, simple concepts to more complex kanji and more refined and specific vocabulary and grammar.  Some words or kanji might be near identical, but have certain nuances.  This can double or even triple the amount of vocabulary very quickly.  As a student, I started off very strong, but learning the nuances as I progressed started to become very difficult and I had to revamp my game.   Before I went to Japan, I downloaded a great app on my iPod, jFlash, which takes a lot from Jim Breem's JDIC (an online Japanese dictionary),... read more

Great Vocab Website for SAT students

A website I like to use with my SAT students is This website has a vocabulary section which asks students to pick a synonym from a list of 4. For every correct answer, the website donates 10 grains of rice to the World Hunger Programme. It's a great way to study vocabulary and do good at the same time! You can create a profile and the website will track your progress with the vocabulary. For every 5 consecutive correct answers at a given level, the difficulty is then increased, so it is also a good way to challenge yourself. Encourage students to look up words that they have never heard of and create a list of their own of vocab words to study.    I've found this to be much more effective than simply using flashcards as it is less repetitive and more fun.  This is also a great resource for those learning English! Additionally, there are minimal vocabulary games for other languages, but the website is constantly improving, so in the future... read more

First Blog Post! Upcoming Vocab Quiz? Don't Sweat It.

Hello!   My name is Heather, and I'm a sixth grade English teacher in Arlington, Mass. I've never had a blog before, but this seems like an awesome place to put all my loves in one place: writing, education, and providing useful information. So here goes!   Each blog post will feature helpful hints & resources for teachers, tutors, and students alike. Everything I put up will be tried and proven effective by me, my colleagues, or my students.    Happy learning!   Love,  Heather   So begins blog post #1:   A few years ago, I swore by flash cards as a way of drilling myself on memorizable test material. I would spend hours slaving over stacks of color-coded index cards, carefully inscribing the name of the concept on the blank side, the definition and other useful material on the little blue lines on the back.    Fast-forward to today. Nobody has time for that-- not when... read more

English Practice over Winter Break

For practice over the winter holidays, try the following resources: Vocabulary practice Quizlet Create your own vocabulary lists with pictures. Writing You Can't Write English Under Pressure A stressful game to check your knowledge of spelling and word order. Listening Voice of America, "Stories about People" Hundreds of MP3 files and transcripts about famous people.   Speaking / pronunciation American English Pronunciation Practice Audio files for practicing pronunciation, especially difficult word pairs.   Grammar English Video Video English lessons on assorted grammar and vocabulary topics, including English slang. For example, try this video on the English meanings of "John."   For Spanish-speakers, Aprender inglés gratis Different levels, different English topics offered in Spanish.

Vocabulary Development

I find that many students, not just ESL students, need to work on vocabulary. Sometimes a reading comprehension problem is actually poor knowledge of the vocabulary used, even words we’d expect the student to know. When you ask students comprehension questions, also pick out several words and ask them give you the meaning. If you find they often don't have a clear understanding of the words you choose, then work on vocabulary before you work on comprehension, preferably before they read the passage. "Children’s books have more rare words for each 1000 words than educated adult speech!" For more information about teaching vocabulary, go to:  and at the top of the page, click on "Partial Vocabulary Workshop". There are also links to a number of good websites on the same wiki. 

Vocabulary & Reading Comprehension

In my work as a teacher, I cannot help but notice that many of the reading selections written for our students include words that are beyond our students' experience. Students simply do not have & could not usually acquire the background knowledge necessary for understanding some words they encounter in subject-specific reading selections, such as social studies & science. Reading instruction in language arts classes cannot adequately address all the words students need to know, as language arts teachers have other specific concerns to address every day. This is why every teacher must be a reading teacher & consider reading an integral part of their subject. Certain subjects are the best place for students to encounter, learn, and understand some of the vocabulary they need to know, while context clues are only useful if students already have the needed background knowledge. In other words, a context clue is not really a clue at all if students do not have the... read more

Expanding your vocabulary by "clustering" words

I just picked up (and started reading!) a book I would recommend for vocab study: "Hot Words for the SAT." The author is Linda Carnevale, M.A. The book is published by Barrons; I got my copy from Barnes and Noble.   Briefly, the author advocates learning new vocabulary words by clusters which have similar meanings to one another.  So for example, under "Words Relating to Friendly and Agreeable," she puts "affable, amiable, amicable, congenial, convivial, cordial, gregarious, jocular, levity."  This is a great way to teach and to learn new things!  I briefly tried this approach in the past with New Testament studies (I am agnostic today:) in attempting to learn clusters of Greek words.  Yes, I think I'm better with English:)  For students of religion who are interested though, I do recommend Louw and (Eugene A.) Nida, "Greek Words According to Semantic Domains," and (Bishop) Richard C. Trench,... read more

Study Vocabulary

The most important part of preparation to go back to school is to keep a list of vocabulary words related to each subject, define those words, and use them in a sentence.  Doing this one thing will almost ensure a student of making good grades in the school year.  This is because many tests at elementary and high school level are vocabulary questions, such as matching, fill in the blank, or define.  If a student is not very familiar with the vocabulary of a subject, that student cannot hope for more than an "average" grade.  However, if a student will apply himself and learn relevant vocabulary, he will excel.     For example, in social studies, what is meant by "latitude" and "longitude"?   In science, what is meant by "density" and "atomic structure"?   In math, what is meant by "place value" or "least common multiple"?   In reading, what is... read more

Learning the Language

There is a lot to be said for knowing vocabulary.  Just about any profession you enter will have its own "lingo", and being able to break sentences down word by word is incredibly helpful.  There are reasons why teachers push basic knowledge, like knowing how to alphabetize quickly, doing your multiplication tables in your head, and understanding how to break sentences apart.  Unfortunately, a lot of students come and go through school without learning the basics.  THIS is your opportunity to improve your communication skills; written and verbal.  If you know your vocabulary, you can discuss topics in a professional manner, and get your point across in a more understandable way.  It's harder to be misinterpreted when you use words appropriately.     If you're reading a textbook, look for underlined or highlighted and/or bolded words.  Read them out loud several times.  Make sure that you are pronouncing them... read more

How to Prepare Your Preschooler for the SAT Exam

Despite the title of this post, I’m not actually suggesting that parents hire an SAT tutor for their preschoolers or that they drill their preschool children on SAT practice questions. Rather, I’m suggesting there is one important skill essential to doing well on the SAT that is a lifelong skill and should be started early: vocabulary building. The average SAT test preparation book contains about 2,000 vocabulary words to study. If your child has an especially poor vocabulary in high school, hiring a tutor three months before the SATs will only do so much. Creating a good vocabulary must start as early as possible. Helping your preschooler develop a good vocabulary doesn’t mean using flash cards or lists of vocabulary words. The best way to learn new words is through exposure to them. Baby talk has its place, of course. When babies and toddlers are first learning to talk, listening to baby talk encourages them to imitate basic sounds that make up our language. However,... read more

Philosophy of Education for MJ T.

Philosophy of Education for M.J. T. To me the purpose of education is threefold: (1) provide students with a basis of knowledge, (2) teach students how to reason so that they can continue their education throughout their lives, and (3) instill in them a life-long excitement about and love of learning. Students must acquire a basis of knowledge, a framework on which to sort out and understand how various aspects of information in any subject area fit together to make the whole picture of where we have been and where we are going as a civilization. Science affects philosophy which affects the arts … ad infinitum. Nothing exists in a vacuum-sealed box. All knowledge is recursive and intertwined - reaches out and affects many areas outside the discipline in which it begins. I liken this basis of knowledge to a needlepoint tapestry mesh framework. The threads of different strands of information are worked in at various points. In some way every thread touches every... read more

Summer Slump Survival Guide

Five tips for surviving the summer slump! 1. Spend time getting physical exercise - it keeps the brain active. 2. Read as much as possible - choose books that interest you, not just what might be on your school's summer reading list. 3. WRITE - write a journal about what you did during the summer, places you went, reflections on books you read. 4. Limit the time you spend on computer games. 5. HAVE FUN.

Reading with Children

For parents who are trying to do any of the following: 1. Engage your child in reading 2. Increase your child's reading skills (fluency, comprehension, rhythm, expression, tempo, etc.) 3. Increase your child's language acquisition, vocabulary, grammar skills, and spelling skills This blog post is for you!!! There are some really unique ways to help your child become a "reader." I myself wasn't a "reader" until about the age of 10. Up to that point, though I loved books and collected books and asked for books for birthdays/holidays, I was not a reading self-starter. However, I loved being read TO! At the age of 6, I took a great interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books. Not only, was I fascinated with the time period (late 1800's), I also found a kindred spirit of sorts in Laura. She stood up for things in which she believed strongly, she was stubborn, and she was short! I found a heroine that was very much like... read more

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