Forum cover with title and blue and grey flower design
English Teaching Forum 2016, Volume 54, Number 1
Read about pragmatics, learn tips for publishing, and use the latest “Try This” activity in your classroom. All of this and more can be found in the newest English Teaching Forum.

Read about pragmatics, learn tips for publishing, and use the latest “Try This” activity in your classroom. All of this and more can be found in the newest English Teaching Forum.

Format: Text
International Subscriptions: English Teaching Forum is distributed through U.S. embassies. If you would like to subscribe to the print version of English Teaching Forum, please contact the Public Affairs or Cultural Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in your country.
U.S. Subscriptions: English Teaching Forum is exempted from the Congressional restriction on distribution of Department of State-produced materials in the United States. U.S. residents who want to order the printed edition can order from the U.S. Superintendent of Documents.

Table of Contents

The Pragmatics of Greetings: Teaching Speech Acts in the EFL ClassroomExpand

When Taro’s name was called, he stepped away from the tired and disoriented group of Japanese students who had just completed the long flight from Tokyo to Toronto and a bus ride to the University reception where they would meet their Canadian host families. His host mother walked right up to him and gave him a hug.

Taro stood with his arms at his sides looking uncomfortable, if not alarmed. He did not know how to react. Japanese do not touch during an initial greeting.When his host mother ended the hug, he gave a nervous laugh. She smiled to disguise the awkwardness of the moment.

Taro was not the only one in the group unprepared for their initial meeting with a host family. Although they had studied the English language before their trip, the group lacked an understanding of its pragmatics and, in this case, the speech act of greetings.

As a language teacher, I have long realized that knowing the words of a language is only part of speaking it. Knowing how to interpret a communicative act is equally important, and it needs to be taught explicitly. Therefore, I make this learning a regular part of the class experience. As the chaperone for the group of Japanese students in this anecdote, I was able to witness the benefits of pragmatics instruction when a host mother greeted another of the exchange students, a girl who had participated in my class the year before. She knew what to expect through watching videos and participating in class discussions on the speech act of greetings.When her host mother gave her a hug, she hugged back with a smile on her face. She also knew that the appropriate response to her host mother’s greeting of “Nice to meet you” was a reply of “Nice to meet you, too.”

Greetings are one of the few speech acts that children are taught explicitly in their native language (Kakiuchi 2005). Yet, the communicative function that greetings serve is usually understood as subordinate to other purposes in the ultimate goal of communication (DuFon 1999). In the language classroom, this subordinate position often means that teaching greetings is neglected; too little attention is paid to the roles that greetings play in various cultures and how these roles may affect the ultimate goal of communication. This article will provide background information on this important speech act and instructional strategies for use in the classroom to help teachers equip their students with a critical component to successful interactions.This article also describes four awareness-raising tasks that introduce the greeting speech act as a cycle of explicit pragmatic instruction, including keeping a greeting journal, watching contemporary TV shows, using discourse completion tasks (DCTs), and participating in role plays and mingles.  

(Download the attached PDF to read the full article.)

Author: B. Bricklin Zeff
Format: Text
International Subscriptions: English Teaching Forum is distributed through U.S. embassies. If you would like to subscribe to the print version of English Teaching Forum, please contact the Public Affairs or Cultural Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in your country.
U.S. Subscriptions: English Teaching Forum is exempted from the Congressional restriction on distribution of Department of State-produced materials in the United States. U.S. residents who want to order the printed edition can order from the U.S. Superintendent of Documents.
Pragmatic Activities for the Speaking ClassroomExpand

Being able to speak naturally and appropriately with others in a variety of situations is an important goal for many English as a foreign language (EFL) learners. Because the skill of speaking invariably involves interaction with people and using language to reach objectives (e.g., ordering food, making friends, asking for favors), it is crucial for teachers to explore activities that help students learn the typical ways to express these and other language functions.

To interact successfully in myriad contexts and with many different speakers, learners need to develop a repertoire of practical situation-dependent communicative choices. The study of how language is used in interactions is called pragmatics, and while appropriate interactions come naturally to native speakers of a language, EFL learners need to be aware of the many linguistic and strategic options available to them in certain situations. Though pragmatics is an extensive field within linguistics, much pragmatic research has focused on speech acts performed by learners and the linguistic and strategic choices they employ (Mitchell, Myles, and Marsden 2013).

To use pragmatically appropriate speech, EFL users must account for not only the form and function of a second language, but the context as well (Taguchi 2015). In doing so, they will be more comfortable speaking to interlocutors who may vary in age, gender, social class, and status (Kinginger and Farrell 2004; Ishihara and Cohen 2010). Special conversational choices are also required based on the relationship between speakers—whether they know each other and for how long. In addition, conversational expectationsand desired objectives can influence linguistic and strategic choices of what to say. The ability to account for and adjust to these variables when speaking English defines one’s pragmatic competence.

Despite its importance in EFL communication, the teaching of pragmatics is often overlooked in the classroom and underrepresented in teaching materials and teacher education courses. Reasons include insufficient class time, lack of interest, or inadequate recognition of its importance in interpersonal communication. There may also be a shortage of practical and achievable activities for the classroom that introduce and promote the development of such nuanced language use. While teachers may recognize the importance of pragmatics and want to use it in their lessons, many are unsure how to select and incorporate pragmatic teaching activities in EFL classes. This seems  to be the case in Japan, where I teach, and I suspect the situation is similar in other EFL contexts. 

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how to identify pragmatic teaching points, to introduce related activities, and to generally encourage attention to pragmatic speaking ability in language classrooms. This article promotes the idea that pragmatic skills identified and developed in EFL settings contribute to communicative success. It begins by discussing pragmatics as a general field within EFL education before moving on to present the notion of speech act sets (SASs), which are step-by-step conversational options normally used to successfully communicate a variety of language functions. SASs are considered valuable tools for examining language and strategic choices made during speech production, and they also provide useful templates for language teachers who want to add a pragmatic element to their speaking lessons; as such, the concept of SASs is promoted in the literature in an effort to advance pragmatic studies through a speech act perspective (Ishihara and Cohen 2010). Through comparisons of student output from two SASs for the language functions of apologizing and requesting, this article demonstrates how to identify specific pragmatic teaching points and use them to inform pragmatic instruction. This article also suggests classroom activities that teachers can use to help learners develop and refine their pragmatic abilities in English.

(Download the attached PDF to read the full article.)

Author: Joseph Siegel
Format: Text
Publish, Don't Perish: Ten TipsExpand

Going public with our research is an important part of the research process. Besides the intrinsic value of sharing our experience and our insights with a community of peers, in higher education, publishing is vital for job security and promotion. Despite these forces encouraging us to publish, few academics actually do.

Reports from all over the world reveal that the publication rate among scholars is low. Academics in South Africa and Australia, for example, publish an average of 0.4 articles per year (Gevers 2006; McGrail, Rickard, and Jones 2006). The importance of publication compared to the relatively small numbers of teachers and scholars who publish, however, is an issue not only for tenure-track professors at universities; kindergarten through twelfth-grade (K–12) teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL), EFL administrators, and TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) professionals have experience and ideas that could be more broadly shared in outlets from newsletters to academic research journals.

Researchers have identified a number of explanations for why publication rates are so low, including time constraints, inadequate skills, and lack of institutional support. Among academics for whom English is an additional language, the challenges of writing for publication are even more complex (Benfield and Feak 2006; Uzuner 2008). English as an additional language (EAL) students and academics face difficulties because of unfamiliarity with genre patterns and the structure of articles in English journals that are generated in cultural contexts different from their own (Hyland 2003). EAL scholars must learn the unwritten “rules of the [publishing] game” as it is played in academic journals of the English-speaking world (Gosden 1992, 136).

The purpose of this article is to provide an introduction to identifying the hidden rules and explicating the sometimes intimidating world of publishing. It focuses on the journal article genre, but the insights and advice are useful for teachers and scholars both inside and outside the university. For example, K–12 teachers who wish to share lessons from their classroom experience or EFL administrators who want to publish their observations and practical solutions will find helpful suggestions. The article presents a tool for teaching about publishing in a way that can benefit teachers and scholars who are interested in getting their ideas into print. It will assist younger academics who have never published before and will serve as a refresher course for senior academics who have already published. The article begins with an overview of the literature on obstacles to writing that academics face. We then offer ten practical tips for overcoming these barriers in order to get articles published.

(Download the attached PDF to read the full article.)

Author: Katherine Carter and Judy Aulette
Format: Text
Reader's GuideExpand

This guide is designed to enrich your reading of the articles in this issue. You may choose to read them on your own, taking notes or jotting down answers to the discussion questions below. Or you may use the guide to explore the articles with colleagues.

For example, many teachers discuss Forum at regularly scheduled meetings with department colleagues and members of teachers’ groups, or in teacher-training courses and workshops. Often, teachers choose an article for their group to read before the meeting or class, then discuss that article when they meet. Teachers have found it helpful to take notes on articles or write a response to an article and bring that response to share in a discussion group. Another idea is for teachers to try a selected activity or technique described in one of the articles, then report back to the group on their experiences and discuss positives, negatives, and possible adaptations for their teaching context.


  1. Have you heard of pragmatics before? What does it mean? What are some examples of pragmatics when using English?
  2. What might be some examples of pragmatic “mistakes”? Can you think of a verbal or nonverbal pragmatic mistake you have made when speaking English or your native language? If you were in the same situation again, what, if anything, would you do or say differently?


  1. Think of the standard greetings (verbal and nonverbal) in your native language. How are they similar to or different from the greetings discussed in this article? Would your students potentially make mistakes with any of these greetings in English? Which techniques from this article would you use to help your students make these greetings in English?
  2. In the section called “Task 3: Using discourse completion tasks (DCTs),” the author provides several situations that can prompt students to practice English in various social contexts. Can you think of other situations, perhaps at your school, that would work well for discourse completion tasks? Try writing some and using them with your students.
  3. The author recommends asking students to keep greeting journals. Before you do that, try keeping a greeting journal yourself for a week.What does keeping the journal help you notice? What might you tell your students about your experience before you give the greeting- journal assignment to them?


  1. Imagine that you are at a meeting at school. Your supervisor makes an announcement that worries you. What do you say in the meeting? What do you say to a coworker after the meeting? How are the things you say in each situation the same? How are they different?
  2. You are going to explain to a friend how to make a special kind of food from your country.Which would be easier, explaining how to make it in your friend’s kitchen or explaining over the phone? Why? Which would require more detail and explanation? Why? You need to make a request to a colleague at school.What do you say to get the colleague to agree? How do you say it? Think of things such as words, phrases, idioms and other expressions, and intonation.


  1. Look at the speech act set (SAS) for apologizing in Figure 1 on page 14. Imagine that you borrowed a coworker’s book and spilled coffee on it by mistake. How do you apologize? Use the SAS to write an apology.
  2. What are some good attention getters for apologizing? For requesting? Write two lists.
  3. What is a softener? Why are softeners important? What are some good softeners for apologizing?
  4. Look at the SAS for requesting in Figure 1 on page 14.Which parts of it are easiest for your students? Which parts are hardest? Why? How can you help your students learn to make effective requests?


  1. What English language teaching journals and publications do you like to read?
  2. Why do you like them?
  3. Have you ever written an article for publication? If yes, describe your experience in a few sentences.What did you learn from your experience? What would you do differently next time?
  4. Do you want to write something for publication? Why or why not? What questions do you have about how to get your ideas published?


  1. Imagine you are going to write an article (or a Teaching Technique) for English Teaching Forum.What successful English teaching experience, special knowledge, or expertise do you have to share with other teachers? Brainstorm a list of ideas and topics that you could use in an article. You might check the English Teaching Forum submission guidelines (americanenglish. to help you think of ideas.
  2. Are any of the factors discussed in the article holding you back from writing for publication?Which ones?What suggestions in the article can help you move forward?
Format: Text
Teaching Techniques: Physical Vocabulary in the Beginner-Level ClassroomExpand

After having success with this warm-up activity in my theater classes, I adapted it for my beginner-level English classes, knowing my students would appreciate the opportunity to move around. The activity allows students to create their own physical interpretation of a vocabulary word, which increases their ability to remember it (Asher 1996). I introduce the activity with a class and then use it frequently as a warm-up to review vocabulary. The activity requires little preparation and few materials: just something to play music with and cards for introducing vocabulary terms. Best of all, the activity incorporates movement in a way that is easy for students to understand.


The entire class walks in a circle throughout the activity. Each student changes the nature of his or her walk (rhythm, gait, pace, etc.) in response to vocabulary prompts.

The activity is best suited to beginner classes in which students are learning basic vocabulary, but both older and younger students enjoy the activity. And, while the activity is easiest to use in classes with fewer than 30 students, it can be adapted to larger classes by having one group walk at a time, with the other groups taking turns calling out the prompts.

Because this type of physical activity may be unusual for some students, allow them to acclimate to using movement in the classroom. I recommend using music.

Moving to music comes naturally to most learners. Try to play four or five genres with different tempos; choices can range from somnolent background music to something more energetic, like punk rock or heavy metal. You don’t need to play an entire song—just enough to allow the students to react to it. For this activity, lyrics are not important, as students will be responding only to the music.

The Free Music Archive (freemusicarchive. org) has music in nearly every genre imaginable, available for play or download.


Arrange the desks or chairs in a large circle, or, if the classroom is small, push them to the walls to make space in the middle of the classroom. Keep in mind that the students will have to return to their seats during the class, so the desks should be out of the way but still accessible.

Write the words walk, listen, and show on the board. Ask the students what walk and listen mean. If they can’t explain, ask them to show each action by pointing to the word show on the board. If no one knows these words, demonstrate each of them yourself while repeating the word. To check comprehension, repeat the word and ask students to demonstrate (that is, “show”) the meaning. Encourage students to “show” you the word rather than calling out a translation.

After students understand the concept, ask them to form a circle in the middle of the room. Say “Walk,” point to the word walk on the board, and motion for the students to walk in a circle. Then say “Listen,” point to the word listen, and play a relaxing song.

Now, ask the students to “show.” Demonstrate by joining the circle and walking with the rhythm of the music, swaying, using your hands or doing anything you like, but continue to walk in a circle. Encourage the students to do the same. After they have found their rhythm, change the genre of music and encourage the students to move differently. Start from slower selections and move to faster tempos.

While there may be a little embarrassment at first, students should overcome their hesitation when they realize they are moving more as a group responding to the music than as individuals. Adolescents, in particular, may be reluctant to “show” the music. You can deal with this reluctance by asking students a few days before about their favorite music. Usually when they hear familiar selections, they are more inclined to “show” the music.

It is best to limit this activity to around five songs; about 30 seconds per song is sufficient. After students have “shown” you a sufficient variety of music, have them return to their seats.


One way to transition to the language function of this activity is by using weather- related adjectives (e.g., hot, cold, windy, rainy, stormy, snowy). Introduce these terms by using labeled pictures on cards. (If you are not a great artist, clip pictures out of a magazine and add your own labels.)

With students seated, show them a card, point to the picture, say the word (for example, “cold”), and then point to the word show on the board. Show “cold” to students by wrapping your arms around your body and shivering. Say the word while you show it.

Present more cards, again saying each word and pantomiming an action; then go back to your card for cold and ask the students to show the word. Let them look at the picture and react. They don’t have to repeat the word yet. Continue in this way until the students have “shown” all the adjectives.

Return to the board and write say. Hold up the cold card again, say “Cold,” and then point to the word say and repeat “Cold.” Gesture for students to say it as well. Then point to show again and pantomime shivering. Gesture for students to do the same. Start from the beginning with the cards. Go through them one at a time. This time, students say the word and show it. If students forget to “say” or “show,” point to those words on the board.

Because one goal of this activity is to allow students to find their own physical understanding of the adjectives, encourage them to show the words in their own way. If you have a particularly expressive class, consider letting them show all the words without help after you provide the first example.


After students have demonstrated their understanding, have them return to the middle of the classroom. Point to the word walk on the board and pantomime the action so students will know to walk in a circle.

Now, instead of playing music, you can hold the cards up and call out each word while pointing to show on the board. As students walk in a circle, they must “show” the adjective. Most of them will naturally incorporate this into their walk, but if they are having a difficult time, demonstrate how their walk would adjust to the adjective.

If you feel comfortable, give a theatrical performance of someone walking in a frigid blizzard for cold, but allow students to interpret the other adjectives on their own. Instruct students to say the words as they show them by pointing to say on the board again if necessary. Remember to reorder your cards so you are not reading them in the same order every time.

After students feel comfortable with the activity, you can change the length of the pause between cards so that students have to quickly change the way they are walking. You could also call out two adjectives at once so that the students have to try to show them simultaneously (which is always funny).

Initially, this activity can be limited by students’ experience. That is why I recommend starting with the simple weather vocabulary. Students may have never experienced cold weather, but they usually know how to show it. They may not have any idea how to show concepts such as “humid” even if they understand them. In exploring these concepts by relating them to known vocabulary, students find ways to respond to vocabulary that is more complex. Humid, for example, could be shown as a combination of wet and hot, once those terms are understood.

After the initial class, I continue to use this activity as a warm-up to review the previous lesson’s vocabulary. If the class learns other weather adjectives, the students find ways to show the new words like misty or icy.

The activity helps students explore and personalize many beginner vocabulary sets. For example, “feelings” vocabulary sets are also easily shown. The reason I don’t start with feelings is that the whole body reacts to weather, but when I have started with feelings, students have had a hard time giving more than facial expressions. For “rooms in the house” vocabulary, students can show what they do in each room, and the same approach can be used for “places around town.” Rather than physically reacting to a command (“Stand up,” “Sit down,” etc.), students are reacting to their interpretation of a concept. As a result, vocabulary sets related to family members, food items, clothing, and even colors can be used (see the suggestions below).

As a warm-up, this activity serves the functions of refreshing students’ knowledge of a word and allowing them to have fun interacting with it. Encourage them to interpret each term for themselves when they “show” it. If students feel that they are only copying the teacher or other students, the activity ceases to be enjoyable. As long as students feel free to react personally to the word, they will continue to enjoy the activity.


  1. Clothing. Sweaters are heavy; formal clothes are stiff; casual clothes are loose; footwear changes the way students walk (everyone loves showing high heels or a “slippers shuffle”). With less obvious articles of clothing like hats and socks, students can pantomime putting them on or adjusting them.
  2. Family members. Students usually agree on universals such as mothers hold babies, sons jump around, daughters skip, fathers have a dignified walk, grandparents hobble, and aunts and uncles take on idiosyncratic actions (ask students about their aunts and uncles to discover these characteristics).
  3. Rooms in a house. This topic is usually appropriate to include after students have learned common action terms such as eat, sleep, drink, read, and watch TV. Students pantomime each action depending on what they usually do in each room: they watch TV in the living room, eat in the dining room, and sleep in their bedroom. The garage usually suggests a driving pantomime; for basements, students start at full height and “walk downstairs,” bending their knees as they go.
  4. Colors. It is important to have already studied feelings before using colors in this activity because the two are linked. Students determine for themselves how certain colors make them feel. I ask them this and write feelings on the board next to each color in a mind- map cloud. After we have explored the emotional range of each color, students walk and show these colors.
  5. Food. Students respond to food items usually by showing a pleased or disgusted overall appearance, varying in terms of severity. I introduce the scale of preference (hate, dislike, like, love, etc.) as part of this lesson, and students explore in advance ways of showing varying degrees of preference for food items.


Asher, J. 1996. Learning another language through actions. 5th ed. Los Gatos, CA: Sky Oak Productions.

Jonathan Maiullo began teaching English to Sudanese and Afghan refugees while an undergraduate at Michigan State University. As a Master’s International student, he volunteered as an English teacher-trainer in Yeghegnadzor, Armenia, with the Peace Corps.

He has since worked as an actor for an international EFL theater troupe based in Buenos Aires, and most recently, he was an English Language Fellow in Asunción, Paraguay

Author: Jonathan Maiullo
Format: Text
Teaching Techniques: Give or Take? Test Review in the ESL/EFL ClassroomExpand

“Give or Take?” is a fun game that teachers can use to review vocabulary in the English as a second language or foreign language (ESL/ EFL) classroom.This game is easy to prepare, and it is a fun and efficient way to review for quizzes or larger midterm or final exams.

It can be adapted to almost any grade level or ESL/EFL classroom as long as there are a sufficient number of vocabulary items to review. In my experience, adults love playing this game as much as children do.While this game is not intended for new English language learners (ELLs), it may be used with low- to advanced-level ELLs as long as they have a basic understanding of the vocabulary being used. As with any game of competition, some caution is advised for using this game with young learners or learners with low maturity levels.

The game takes about five minutes to prepare and can last for about 30 to 40 minutes.You will need a whiteboard and pens, a chalkboard and chalk, or a piece of paper big enough to be seen by all the players in the game and pens to write on it.You will also need one bell or noisemaker for each team, although when I have forgotten my noisemakers, I’ve substituted old dry-erase marker pens and instructed the students to tap them on the desks to make sounds. For environments with limited resources, recycled paper can be used, and students can raise their hands instead of making a sound.

(Download the attached PDF for game instructions and materials.)


Author: Aaron David Mermelstein
Format: Text
My Classroom: ChinaExpand

Yu Huang and Yu Zhu are senior high school English teachers at Hezhang County No. 2 Middle School in the province of Guizhou. In China, most middle schools consist of six grades of students; the first three years are considered junior middle school and the latter three years are commonly referred to as senior middle school (or sometimes senior high school). Both Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu are dedicated to helping their students build interest in the English language inside and outside the classroom.

They work diligently to increase their students’ confidence and give them access to more opportunities. For both of these women, communication and professional development are paramount to forming productive relationships with other teachers and the students—which leads to success in language learning.

Hezhang County, tucked away in the mountains of southwestern China, is a lesser-known, rather isolated part of the country. Although there are high-rise apartments in the town of Hezhang, many students come from farming communities outside of Hezhang’s small urban area. “Most of my students are from the countryside,” said Ms. Zhu. “Their parents go outside of the county to search for jobs, so the students rent apartments near my school and look after themselves.”

Despite the challenges in Hezhang, Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu have both chosen to work in their hometown. With highly qualified teachers flocking to the international metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, more rural areas, like Guizhou province, are left with fewer educators. Ms. Huang had the opportunity to teach in her provincial capital city but turned it down in order to make a difference in her local community.

“Everybody thought I should grasp the chance to work there, but at last, I chose to come back to No. 2 Middle School because I like the atmosphere here and I am used to the way we communicate with each other, and I have a family here,” said Ms. Huang.

Specifically, she has become used to the way of communicating with other teachers, including Ms. Zhu. These two women met at No. 2 Middle School as workmates while grading student exam papers. Their work relationship developed into friendship when they discovered they shared the same passion for bettering themselves as teachers as well as empowering their students. “We found that we had many similarities, so we started to cooperate to improve our students’ English,” said Ms. Zhu.

Another similarity these two teachers share is their educational background. Both Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu studied English with the initial intention of finding a stable job. Ms. Huang was an English major at Guizhou University in the provincial capital of Guiyang from 2002 to 2006 and had dreams of working for an international company. Ms. Zhu studied at Bijie Normal School from 1999 to 2001. After teaching primary school for three years, she decided to go back for another two years of schooling at Guizhou Normal College in Guiyang from 2004 to 2006. In the end, both women decided that working with students was the perfect way to stay fresh. “Young people always have new ideas, and staying with them can help me keep a young state of mind,” said Ms. Huang.

Although it is not unusual to find Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu in the same classroom, it is unusual for Chinese senior high school teachers to co- teach. “We are the first partners in our school. We sometimes give class together,” said Ms. Huang. “I don’t know of any other teachers in our school who work together in the same way.” In order to provide more opportunities for their students, the two teachers spend an average of four hours per week planning together, co-teaching, assisting each other, and even exchanging classes. “We do not share an office, but we make time to meet together, sometimes at a coffee shop,” said Ms. Zhu.

Both Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu teach two or three 40-minute classes per day. Each class has about 70 students, whom they see each day of the week. Although this may appear to be a light schedule, both teachers are responsible for designing curriculum and supervising extracurricular activities in addition to their teaching duties. Their students range in age from 15 to 18 years and come to them with a wide range of abilities. Like most teachers, they face various challenges inside the classroom, in addition to mixed ability levels: large class sizes, lack of student motivation, few resources, and so on. Rather than complain about these problems, Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu seek solutions together. According to Ms. Zhu, “The first time we worked together, we were teaching the same grade, so we usually talked about problems we faced in different classes. We discussed and studied these problems and tried to find a better solution for our students.”

In addition to problem-solving together, the two teachers visit each other’s classes as co-teachers or as teaching assistants. “If I am trying a new strategy, Ms. Zhu will come to observe me and assist the students as needed,” said Ms. Huang. “We also will sometimes exchange classes to give the students a fresh perspective.” Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu have discovered that working together benefits them as well as their students. “We learn together and motivate each other,” said Ms. Zhu, “and our students find it very interesting to experience these new teaching styles.”

To  stay abreast of new teaching styles, Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu partake in self-study as well as various teacher trainings. According to Ms. Zhu, “Ms. Huang is devoted to studying methodology and trying innovative concepts. She has inspired me to study hard, too.” Both teachers have attended trainings offered by U.S. Department of State English Language Specialists and English Language Fellows. “We attended a five-day training in the summer of 2014 and several shorter trainings in 2015,” said Ms. Huang, “where we learned many new strategies.” Both teachers agree that these trainings have been an invaluable part of their professional and personal growth as teachers. “If I could make any recommendation to current and future teachers, I would tell them to grasp every opportunity for further study or training,” said Ms. Zhu, “and to try their best to learn as much as possible.”

Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu work together not only in the office, the classroom, and teacher trainings, but also after school hours with their own English club. They quickly realized that 40 minutes per day was simply not enough to accomplish their teaching goals and satisfy the needs of their students. For this reason, along with several other English teachers, they established the “Magic Life English Club.” The name was chosen by the student club members to highlight the power of English and its influence on one’s ability to travel, navigate the Internet, and live a life that may have seemed possible only in a fairy tale.

The club was started less than one year ago, but it already has over 120 participants from the middle school attending regularly. Because the club is still in its infancy, the leaders hope that even more of the 3,657 students in their middle school will attend. The club meets at the school once every two weeks for at least an hour and is led by different groups of students each session. Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu are there as organizers and facilitators. “The students enjoy being in control and having the chance to share their knowledge with their peers,” said Ms. Huang.

For the two teachers, the English club is also the perfect environment for them to try out new strategies. “We tried the running dictation activity that we had learned about in one of our trainings,” said Ms. Zhu. “The students seemed to love it—all the members took part and were interested in the activity.” Running dictation is a fast-paced interactive strategy that integrates reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Typically, students are divided into several teams. Each team has “runners” and “writers.” The runners must go to various places around the classroom to read and memorize a small passage, which they will dictate to the writers. The teams compete to complete their passage first and also have the most accurate passage. Ms. Zhu reported, “With so many students in our club, it was difficult to control everyone during this activity.” So, it was back to the drawing board with Ms. Huang to problem- solve and find possible remedies.

Another challenge that seems ubiquitous among Chinese teachers of English is getting students to speak more. Students’ oral competence is often connected to their confidence and self-image, so overcoming such fears among teenagers is not an easy task. However, Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu persist in addressing this difficulty in creative ways; one such way is through music and singing. Ms. Huang’s proudest moment as a teacher was noticing the changes in one of her shiest students. At the beginning of the semester, the student timidly muttered the “ABCs” in front of her peers, but by the end, she confidently sang a multi-verse song for the whole class. Ms. Zhu also likes to use music in her classroom. “I use websites, like or, to find song lyrics which are appropriate for the lessons I am teaching,” she said.

Problem-solving and creativity go a long way in the classroom; so, too, do relationships. Both teachers emphasize the importance of building strong relationships with their students and colleagues by spending time genuinely getting to know others. For example, Ms. Zhu creates an inventory for all her students to fill out on the first day of class so that she can learn more about them and know how to contact them outside the classroom. She typically asks them about their family members, hobbies, dreams and goals, preferred learning styles and habits, email address, and other social media contact information. Likewise, Ms. Huang spends time before and after class talking to her students one-on-one to understand more about their dreams and desires. “I like to talk with them. First, I will be their friend, and then I will be their teacher next,” she said.

Both Ms. Huang and Ms. Zhu want their students to use English as a universal language to communicate and access more information and opportunities. They accomplish this goal by cooperating and by communicating openly with each other, their colleagues, and their students. Most importantly, they recognize the importance of professionalism and continuing education. Ms. Huang recently found out that she has been selected by the Chinese national government to participate in a summer exchange program at Georgetown University later this year. She plans to use this opportunity to strengthen her own skills as a teacher and then share them with others through teacher- training workshops. “My goal for this next year is to spread ideas to other teachers—first teachers in my school, and then in my county. I could be a trainer next year,” said Ms. Huang.

Already one teacher is inspired by Ms. Huang’s work. “She is my hero,” said Ms. Zhu.


This article was written by Rebekah Gordon, an English language teacher who is currently serving as a renewing English Language Fellow hosted by Southwest University in Chongqing, China.

Author: Rebekah Gordon
Format: Text
Try This: Luck of the Draw (Pragmatics)Expand

LEVEL: Beginner and Upper Beginner

TIME REQUIRED: 30 minutes, plus time for students to present

GOALS: To practice common greetings; to use appropriate greetings with different community members; to understand when to use informal and formal greetings

MATERIALS: Paper cut into strips (enough strips for each group to have four during the activity), two different colors of pens or

markers, two large cups or containers, pencils and paper for students

OVERVIEW: This activity will allow students to practice using greetings by creating a brief skit. Students should be familiar with common greetings and know whether they are considered formal or informal. Students should also understand appropriate register, meaning the use of language that is suitable in particular social situations. Creating a skit can be a useful practice activity for students from varying proficiency levels, especially when addressing pragmatics. The procedures outlined below make the task accessible to beginning-level students, but the variations can offer more advanced students a challenge.

PREPARATION: Find two containers that can be used as “grab bags” for students to draw from. Cut paper into strips, sized so that you can write one word or phrase on each strip. You can use either two different colors of paper or two different colors of markers or pens.


  1. Ask students to help you brainstorm a list of formal and informal greetings as a warm-up for the activity. If necessary, remind students of the difference between formal and informal greetings by saying, “Remember that formal greetings are those you would use when speaking to someone older or to an important person in the community such as an elder or a professor. Informal greetings are those you would use with friends or close family members. Think about the different ways you can greet these types of people.” If students need assistance, you can start the list by providing an example of each type of greeting, such as “Hey” for informal and “Good afternoon” for formal.
  2. Ask students to help you brainstorm a list of people they greet in their everyday interactions. These could be members of their family, friends, people at school, or anyone in their community. As your students provide ideas, list them on the board while a few students copy them onto the strips of paper you have prepared. People from the list should all be written on the same color of paper or in the same color ink. Some people your students might come up with are:

•          mother

•           father

•           sister

•           brother

•           grandmother

•           grandfather

•           aunt

•           uncle

•           friend

•           teacher

•           store clerk

•           restaurant worker

•           seller at a market

•           taxi or bus driver

3. Ask students to think about people they may not interact with often but that they still have to greet sometimes. Students can also list people they have not interacted with before. One option is to provide one or two examples from the list below and then give students time to discuss their ideas with a partner or small group before asking the whole class to share. Record these people the same way as in Step 2, by writing them on the board and having a few students copy them on the same color paper or using the same color ink. Ideas for people students greet less frequently are:

•           doctor

•           nurse

•           priest/imam

•           dentist

•           headmaster or principal

•           community elder

•           government official

•           police officer

•           the president or prime minister

•           movie star/actor

•           popular singer

•           famous artist

•           religious elder/member of the clergy

•           judge

•           potential employer

•           boss or manager

•           work colleague (same rank or higher rank)

Note: Be sure that you create enough slips with types of people on them for your whole class. For the skit, each group will draw three slips from the “grab bag” of people, so you may need to create multiples of some types of people in order to have enough slips. For example, you might have three slips with judge, three slips with grandmother, etc.

4.  After you have created slips for many types of people to greet, ask students to think about the places where these interactions might take place. These can be actual places where students have had interactions or their ideas about made-up situations. The goal is to get your class to come up with a variety of places. Some examples are:

•           in your home

•           in your neighborhood/village

•           on the street

•           at a market or store

•           in your classroom

•           in the hallway or around the school

•           at the doctor’s office

•           at a restaurant

•           at a shopping mall

•           on a bus or train

•           at work

•           at the bank

•           at a coffee shop

•           at the post office

•           at a place of worship

Create slips for the places the same way as you did for the people in Steps 2 and 3, but use a different color of paper or different color ink.

5.  When all of the ideas about people and places have been written on slips of paper, create two grab bags using the containers. Attach a label to each container, marking one “people” and the other “places.” Students can assist you by folding each slip of paper and putting it into the appropriate container.

6.  Let your class know that you will show them an example of how the activity will work. Ask for three volunteers to act as your group members for the explanation. Then, choose three slips of paper from the “people” container and one from the “places” container. Write the people and the place on the board so that students can see them.

7.  Model a discussion with your group of volunteers. For each of the slips you drew from the “people” container, you will need to decide how the person should be greeted. Ask the class and your group of volunteers questions such as:

•           How would I greet this person?

•           Can I speak to them the same way I would my friends at school?

•           Do I need to speak to them in a different way?

Try to get the class to give you ideas about exactly what greetings they would use for each person.Write these on the board under the names of the people.

8.  Once you have discussed each of the people and written some ideas, model how to act out a scenario in the place you chose. Assign each volunteer one of the people drawn from the container and explain that the volunteers will have to act out those roles during the skit. You can even create a sign for the students to wear or hold up, or write each student’s name next to his or her role on the board so the class will remember who that person is. Tell the volunteers that you will greet each of them as if you are meeting in the place that you have drawn from the container. For instance, if your place is the market, have the group members act as though they are carrying shopping bags and looking for items to buy. If the place is a coffee shop, students might be waiting in line to order or sitting at a table sipping coffee.

9.   Act out a quick version of what the skit should look like by encountering each person individually and greeting him or her appropriately. Each student volunteer should respond by returning your greeting accordingly. They can get ideas from the list of formal and informal greetings on the board from Step 1 if needed. The purpose of this example is to model what students should do in the activity and to remind them to use formal and informal greetings appropriately. Once you have completed your fast example, give students time to ask any questions they may have, and offer any further explanation you think is necessary.

10. Inform students that they will be working in groups of four. You can use any method to group your students, or allow them to choose the classmates they will work with.

11.  Tell students: “You will draw slips of paper from each of these containers and then use them to plan your greeting skit. You will choose three people and one place. In your group, you will have to assign one person to play the role of a student your age. The other three group members will act as the people you draw from the container. The skit will take place in the location you pull from the other container.”

12.  Once the students are in groups of four, they will need to choose their people and their place for the skit from the containers. This is probably easiest if each group selects one representative to go to the front of the classroom to make the selections and then return to the group.

13.  When all groups have selected three people and one place, give the following instructions: “Think about the three different people you chose from the container. Your group needs to discuss how you would greet each of these people. Remember to think about exactly what you would say to each person if you met him or her in the place that you chose. Think of what the people would be doing in the location of your skit. Are they shopping, eating a meal, or sitting on the bus? Try to show what is happening in the place you chose. Your group can write ideas on paper if you want to.”

14.  At this point, circulate around the room and listen to the groups’ discussions. Answer any questions students may have, or offer assistance if they need it.

15.  Once the groups have had enough time to discuss their ideas for how to greet each person in their skit, you can say: “Now you need to decide who will take on each role in your group. One person will be a student like you. The other three will act as one of the roles you chose from the container. Then, you need to create your skit. Remember, it should happen in the place you chose from the container, and each person needs to be greeted appropriately.”

16.  Give students time to plan and rehearse their skits. They can write a script if they find it helpful, or if you want to have a written assignment to use for grading purposes. Otherwise, students can perform the skit from memory. Again, move around the room to help groups that need assistance.

17.  Before asking students to present their skits, give them guidelines or questions to think about as they watch the different groups. You can say: “As you watch your classmates present their skits, I want you to think about a few things. This way, when everyone is finished, you can give each other feedback or advice about how you used the greetings. I will write questions on the board for you to think about as you watch each other’s skits.”

18.  Write on the board: Did you think the greetings you heard were good ones to use with the people in the skit? If yes, why? If no, what greetings would you use? Explain these questions to students, and model how to give feedback to their classmates by saying: “For example, I watch a skit where someone greets the principal of our school at the market by saying, ‘Hey, Principal Rousso, what’s up?’ I do not think this is the right greeting, so I would tell the group, ‘I think that you should use a more formal greeting to say hello to the principal,’ and give my idea for something different to say.” You can also have students write the questions, give a written response to each one, and then hand in their papers at the end of the activity. Or, you could have students use a checklist (see Extensions) to give the groups feedback on their skits.

19.  Once all the groups have had time to plan and practice their skits, they can present them in a variety of ways. Depending on the size of your class, one option is to have each group of students present to the whole classroom. Or, if you have a large class, you can split the class in half and have each group present to its half of the class. Another option would be to pair groups and have them present to each other. Depending on how the groups present their skits and how you ask students to provide feedback, you can monitor the presentations and also participate in the discussions.



1.  This activity can also be used to give students practice with other kinds of speech acts. Using the same procedures, you can assign your students a skit to practice apologies, introductions, closings, or any other speech acts you have been teaching them.To challenge students even more, create a third “grab bag” container and allow the class to brainstorm additional types of interactions they could use to create their skit. Here are some ideas:

•           apologize

•           give advice

•           make a request

•           ask permission

•           order a meal in a restaurant

•           make introductions

•           make an excuse for being late

•           close a conversation and say good-bye


2.  For higher-proficiency students, you can assign the skit without going through the brainstorming (Steps 1–7). Instead, allow students to choose any speech act to use in their skit.Tell students that the goal of the skit is to show how one would interact differently, using the chosen speech act, with people in varying roles and relationships.The groups can choose their own people and place for the skit and even create a detailed scenario. As an added challenge, groups can write down the people in the skit, the speech act, and a short description of the scenario and then exchange their ideas with another group.Then, groups of students would have to act out the skit according to the guidelines they receive. Here are examples of the types of scenarios students might come up with:

•  apologizing to your boss, a coworker, and a client for being late to a meeting                                           

•  making an excuse to your classmates, your teacher, and the headmaster for missing a group presentation in class

•  inviting a coworker, your boss, and your friend to a dinner party


  1. Provide a checklist (as mentioned in Step 18) for students to use to assess and give feedback to their peers. Here is an example that you can write on the board for students to copy and use during the activity.
  2. If you want to extend this activity, the feedback students give to each group about their skit can play a bigger role. Groups who received suggestions about how to change their skit can use the feedback to make changes and improve their work. If some groups received only positive feedback, they could choose another set of people and a different place to plan a new skit.Then, all the groups can present again, showing either their improved skit or a new one.
  3. This activity also allows for some repetition to give students more opportunities to practice and reinforce their skills. For example, groups could keep the same people in their skit but change the location by drawing a different place from the container. Groups can also repeat the process with a different speech act or a different group of four students from the class.
  4. As students learn more ways of interacting, they can continue their skit. Because the original activity focuses on greetings, there are many possibilities for adding to the dialogue. If students work in the same groups, with the same people and place, they can add more speech acts to form a full conversational exchange. For example, after students learn about making introductions, they can practice introducing a friend to each of the individuals in the skit. Of course, this will require that students take on multiple roles by acting as the friend when they are not the person greeting or being greeted. Once students learn different ways to end a conversation and say good-bye, they can continue by adding a closing to the interaction. Any of the speech acts listed above in Variations, or others your students are learning, can be used to continue the skit and give students additional practice with using appropriate register in different situations.


This activity was written by Amy Hanna, who has taught ESL to students in primary school, university, and adult education classrooms, trained teachers in TESL methods, and developed materials for English language programs in the United States and abroad.

Author: Amy Hanna
Format: Text
The Lighter Side: Three Pragmatics PuzzlesExpand
Format: Text