Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Last Weekend

It's Saturday night (actually very early Sunday morning!) and you will be taking your exit proficiency test on Monday and Tuesday. I wonder how you are spending this last weekend. A lot is at stake for you, because if you don't do well on the proficiency test, you will have to retake the course--a huge expense and a big inconvenience for people who just want to get their degrees as soon as possible.

I hope that you understand that a proficiency test is designed to measure your competence in English. Unlike an achievement test, it cannot really be prepared for in the sense of reviewing particular grammar, vocabulary, or skills. A well-designed proficiency test is like a snapshot of your ability to function in English.

The best way to do your best on a test such as the MEIPE is to make sure you get plenty of rest beforehand; if you stay up all weekend studying for it, you will end up sleep-deprived and unable to do your best. Go to bed early on Sunday and Monday nights. Eat a healthy breakfast before the test, and make sure you arrive in the classroom (HBK 0123) in plenty of time. If you are late, you will be flustered and upset, and again, unable to do your best on the test. The time for studying is past. If you have been working hard all semester, your test results should reflect that, so don't worry. Have a nice Sunday, and good luck to everyone!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Maryland Day 2

We had a beautiful day for Maryland Day! We visited the Comcast Center, the Rock Museum in the Geology Building, and the new Global Village, where MEI Intensive English students had mounted some wonderful displays. We spent four hours there and came home very tired!

Looking down Terp Town Center at the TDK fountain

Jennifer, David, and Vicki

Vicki and me with the Basketball Terrapin (Comcast Center)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Maryland Day

Have you noticed the tents being erected on McKeldin Mall? Mysterious preparations going on in other parts of campus?

This Saturday is Maryland Day, which is the university's annual community day, when the campus is open to everyone and anyone to come and see what the University of Maryland is all about. There will be games, exhibits, performances, food, music, demonstrations, dance, children's activities and more. It's a wonderful opportunity for all to experience the university in all its diversity. Even those of us who live, work, and/or study here cannot begin to know all of what goes on here. It's a fascinating place! I hope you will take a few hours off from studying this Saturday to come and join the fun. You can get a sense of what it's all about from this website. I hope to see you there!

P.S. MEI's Intensive English Program will participate with tables in the Global Village area, Hornbake Plaza.

P.P.S. Even though rain is forecast for the next few days, it's supposed to be nice on Saturday.

P.P.P.S. Last year, I touched a live tarantula on Maryland Day! Yes, really!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

An Interview with Ibrahim Rustamov

Do you remember Ibrahim Rustamov, who joined us from Tajikistan for an online chat last week? You can listen to an interview with Ibrahim and another colleague from Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan), done by Avi Arditti of the Voice of America (VOA) when they were at the TESOL Convention in March. The site also has links to other listening passages, so if listening is your weak point, you can use this site for additional practice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tragedy at Virginia Tech

Yesterday at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, a student went berserk and murdered 32 people.

It was hard at first to grasp the full extent of what had happened. Gradually, as I watched the news on TV, listened to the radio, and read accounts in this morning's Washington Post, I began to realize the horror. (Click here for the Washington Post's coverage.) I feel so sad for the victims and their families and perhaps even sadder for the parents of the killer, a Korean immigrant from Centreville, Virginia. I can't imagine their grief and despair at the knowledge that their son could have committed such a heinous crime, coupled with the pain of losing him (he killed himself).

Monday, April 16, 2007

If the World Were a Village of 100 People....

We are studying conditional sentences in grammar this week. An exercise in the book asks students to use world population statistics to write a description of what a hypothetical global village would be like if it reflected these statistics.

The original essay upon which this exercise was based can be found here. Geographer Matt Rosenberg disagreed with some of the statistics and revised it here. Can you see any differences?

Sometimes the village has 1000 people instead of 100, as in this site. (Notice that the author shifts from the hypothetical conditional to simple present tense as she describes her imaginary "village".) You could practice your conditionals by rewriting the sentences using unreal conditional forms.

Finally, here is a little video produced by campers at Camp About Face in Georgia, USA:

Friday, April 13, 2007

Intercontinental Chat

This morning we used the first half-hour of class time to chat in my office at Tapped In, an online educational community. We were fortunate that one of the Webheads, Ibrahim Rustamov, joined us from Tajikistan, where he is Educational Coordinator for Relief International Online Schools.

Here is a picture of Ibrahim and me at the TESOL Convention in Seattle, Washington in March--our first face-to-face meeting!

Here are two excerpts from the chat:

NinaTL: Ibrahamjon, why don't you tell the class about your job?
IbrahimjoR: In 2002 I graduated from the department of foreign language of Khujans State University in Tajikistan, where I studied English and Farsi, so then I went to my home town, Isfara, to teach English at secondary school.
JennifeGst1: It's very interesting.
IbrahimjoR: and later in 2004 I joined Relief International Schools Online, where I worked as an educator at an Internet Learning Center, teaching students to use computers and partnering with US schools. In March 2007 I attended the TESOL Convention in Seattle.
NinaTL: How did you first become interested in educational technology, Ibrahimjon?
IbrahimjoR: In 2003, I got my first computer, and for the first time I used Windows Start button, though I had been using email since 1997. In April 2004 I began using computers with students, and the whole day I had to use my computer, learning and creating materials. Later I became interested in creating web projects with my students.

And later...

NinaTL: Can you please tell Ibrahim what you are studying here at the U of Maryland?
FelixGst3: I'm studying Plant Science.
NasserGst5: I’m studying fire protection engineering.
MacakinGst8: I'm studying Civil Engineering.
HsingchGst13: I’m studying dietetics.
FeitianGst6: I major in Animal Science.
NazaninGst4: I'm studying French literature.
KashishGst10: I am studying computer science.
JennifeGst1: My major is Library & Information Science, and I am minoring in children’s libraries.
IbrahimjoR: so different!
NinaTL: Most of the students are in graduate school,...
MohammeGst9: fire protection engineering
AzizGst7: I’m studying Electrical Engineering
GreivisGst14: I'm undecided because I need a major that won't take all my time, so I can play basketball at the same time.
MohamedGst2: I'm studying Entomology.
NinaTL: but we have some freshmen and a couple of transfer students as well.
MakotoGst15: I am studying semiconductors.
NinaTL: Is that in the dept. of Electrical Engineering, Makoto?
MakotoGst15: Yes, it is
NinaTL: For the graduate students, this class may be their only opportunity to meet students who are not studying the same thing they are.
IbrahimjoR: I'm impressed to learn about what you are all studying. Well done; good job! ;)

I think everyone enjoyed this intercontinental chat! You can learn more about RISO's Internet Learning Centers in Tajikistan here. Thanks, Ibrahimjon, for visiting us at Tapped In today!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Something to Think About

Jose Antonio Silva, an English teacher in Brasil, posted a very interesting video on his blog. The video considers the many changes that have occurred in the past century and makes predictions about some things that might happen in the next 100 years. Watch the video and see what you think!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Extra Practice

As requested by one of your classmates, I have arranged to have HBK 0123 for an extra hour on Tuesdays (11-11:50). We can use this hour any way you choose, e.g., Q & A, a writing workshop, extra SRA, discussion, grammar review, test prep, or whatever you think will help you. Please let me know if you plan to attend (of course, it is optional) and how you would prefer to use the time by posting a comment.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Miniature Earth

Here's a short video that will make you stop and think!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

We Have Some Visitors from Taiwan

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Today my former MEI colleague, Dr. Rae Lan, brought four of her students from Soochow University in Taiwan to observe our class, and we took some pictures! Natalie, Marcy, Dorothy and Claire are studying to be English teachers.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Back to Work!

Today was the first day back after spring break. I was in Seattle at the TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Convention, where I picked up lots of good ideas for teaching and learning English, some of which I hope to share with the class in the coming days and weeks.

We are continuing in Quest Chapter 6 and beginning a chapter on adverbial clauses. The students appeared rested and ready to work hard in the second half of the semester. I was disappointed that six students did not come to class today, however. I can't understand how they expect to improve their English enough to pass the class if they do not attend and participate!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Power of Reading

Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (first published by Libraries Unlimited in 1993 and now available in an updated second edition), has some interesting things to say about reading, writing, and the relationship between them. When English learners read for pleasure, Krashen writes, they develop the competence they need to move from a beginning level to the point where they can use English for such purposes as academic study, science, business, and so on. When they read for fun, they can improve their English without classes, without teachers, without studying, and even without people to talk to. (p. 84)

Krashen believes that "free voluntary reading," or FVR, positively affects vocabulary size, spelling, reading comprehension, grammar, and writing style; in fact, research indicates that it is better than direct instruction in improving these areas. (pp. 12-13)

In fact, Krashen writes, "writing style does not come from writing, but from reading." (p. 72) He surmises that although research cannot specify exactly what makes writing "good", "it is...sensible to suppose that writing style is not consciously learned, but is largely absorbed, or subconsciously acquired, from reading."

He notes that people read much more than they write: as much as 150 times as much, speaking of educated adults in the United States, and he further states that the amount of extracurricular (pleasure) reading one does is a strong predictor of English proficiency as measured by the TOEFL, whereas the amount one writes does not correlate with proficiency. This makes sense, according to Krashen, since "language acquisition comes from input, not output, from comprehension, not production." (pp. 74-76)

Television, Krashen says, "does not provide high quality linguistic input" because it is less complex than the language of books, although he admits that TV watching may encourage reading through dramatizations of books. This is because TV uses a small word base, probably under 5,000 words. Compare this to the 3,000+ vocabulary of an average American first-grader.). (pp. 78-81)

Go read a book!

[Page numbers refer to the first paperback edition.]

Friday, March 9, 2007

Missing Students

It's Friday morning, grammar quiz time as usual, and only 10 of my 16 students are here taking their quizzes. Yesterday, we had a chapter test and 4 people were absent. This is extremely frustrating for me! When students miss tests and quizzes, I have to administer them outside of class, and the rest of the students have to wait for their papers until everyone has taken the test. Thus, everyone is inconvenienced. But what irks me the most is that some of the students who miss tests and quizzes do not even bother to call me or email me to let me know what the reason for their absence was! They seem to feel that they can take tests whenever they feel like it.

While I have been writing this, two more students have arrived--another irritating thing. Many stuents apparently feel that it is perfectly acceptable to arrive late to class on a regular basis.

Naturally, if students are really sick or have a valid excuse for missing a test or a class or being late, I have no problem accommodating them. It's this cavalier attitude that "anything goes" that drives me nuts.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The World Is Flat

This year, the University of Maryland's First Year Book is The World Is Flat by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. This book concerns the way certain political events (such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) combined with new technologies (such as the internet and the World Wide Web) and new practices (such as supply-chaining) to enable people all over the globe to compete with people in the "developed nations" for jobs and wealth. Friedman lists 10 "flatteners"--events, technologies and practices that have contributed to these changes. The sections on "outsourcing" and "offshoring" seemed particularly relevant to what we had been studying in class in our chapter on the global economy, so we read a little about outsourcing today in class. Then I had the students analyze the uses of to on two pages of the text. The students worked in groups of three to determine in each case whether to was used as an infinitive or a preposition. It isn't always easy to figure out exactly how to is used in each case!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Find the Helicopter!

Do you know where this helicopter is on campus? The first person to identify its location in a comment to this post will win a candy bar!

Warming Up...and Then Cold Again

We have had a couple of days with temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and a lot of the ice has melted. Some of the students on campus even wore shorts and t-shirts! There were puddles of water everywhere. Then, yesterday afternoon, a "Canadian Clipper" blew in with gusty winds which made the higher temperatures seem very low indeed. When it is very cold, I detour through Plant Sciences on my way from the parking lot to my office, so that I can warm up a little on the way. It makes it bearable.

There's rather a lot planned for today's class, but if there is time I intend to have the students reflect on what they have been learning in another class this week.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dirty Snow

What I really hate about snow is how after a few days, it gets grimy, like this. I hate thinking that the air I breathe is full of that black stuff--I just don't notice it most of the time. The dirty snow reminds me that I am breathing polluted air. :-(

This photo was taken in the parking lot near the Comcast Center.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Reflections on Week 4

We are in the computer lab, and everyone is blogging. I have asked the students to reflect on several things which happened this week.

After having unseasonably warm weather during the month of January, we have been in the deep freeze recently, and Tuesday night there was an ice storm which blanketed the area with several inches of hard, packed ice. You can walk right over the top of it without even making a dent! Some of the students who are from warm places and have never experienced snow might think this is snow, but it's not. The campus closed early on Tuesday and remained closed on Wednesday. I spent the day (1) making bean soup and (2) clearing my driveway. We had to whack at the ice to break it before we could shovel it (we even broke one of our shovels!), and each shovelful weighed a ton. I considered actually getting my bathroom scale out so I could weigh it, but I was too tired! We also used a pick-axe to break it up. That worked better than the blade of the snow-shovel. I felt like a coal miner, digging for white coal.

I assigned an oral presentation for this week. The students, working in pairs and threes, could choose from four projects, three of which were videos. In the past, I showed these videos to the whole class. Fridays were devoted to videos, and we all went over to Nonprint Media Services to watch them together. This semester, I did not have time each week to devote to the videos, so I assigned them as part of the oral project. I wonder which method is better!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Home Again

I'm back! My husband and I had a great time in Charlotte, North Carolina. We stayed with his cousins and went to a big party last night celebrating the engagement of another cousin. We saw many friends and relatives of my husband's and met lots of people we didn't know before, friends and relatives of the groom. I had a chance to experience what my students experience when they find themselves in the middle of a conversation in English, not understanding everything, and wanting to participate but not being quite able to (only for me the language was Greek, which I speak, but not very well). :-)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Nina AFK

I will be traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend and will be afk (=away from my keyboard) until sometime on Monday, so if you send me an email, don't be alarmed if I don't respond immediately. See you on Tuesday!

Student Blogs

Student blogs are up and running! Students are already receiving comments from Hiromi in Japan, Dennis in Arizona, Carla in Argentina, John in Japan, and other far-flung bloggers and teachers. Some students have already begun to visit each other's blogs and leave comments, some encouraging, some funny! UMEI 005 is reaching out to the world!

Don't forget to give your blog address to your friends and family back home, so they can follow your progress at UM.

Thursday, February 8, 2007


What does Aziz have in his hand?

What do you think Nasser is going to do?

Everyone is behaving in this picture.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Second Week Begins...

Our class is settling down, although there could still be changes (new arrivals, withdrawals) up until next Tuesday, which is the last day of the schedule adjustment period.

Today we got a start in our textbooks, Understanding and Using English Grammar and Quest: Listening and Speaking 3. However, we couldn't get through all the material I had planned. Although the students would probably prefer to have fewer hours in class, I wish we had (at least) three hours per day!

Almost every student has created his/her own blog. This morning I showed them how to change the default settings for time zone, comment verification and moderation, etc., and assigned a first post for this week, introducing themselves. I have had several offers from EFL teachers in different countries to read the students' blogs and interact with the class. :-)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The First Day of Class

Class began today in our nice, big, light-filled classroom in Hornbake. There were 13 students (an unlucky number?!?) from 10 countries. We began a brief review of verb tense/aspect combinations and I assigned a written self-introduction for tomorrow. (I asked them to hand-write their self-intro so I can see what their spelling mistakes are!)

Everyone in the class seems pleasant and positive, even though I know very well that most of them would rather not take the class!

Here's to a successful semester for all!

In these pictures, the students are practicing using a variety of verb tenses and aspects:

A Wonderful Video

A friend sent me a link to a very nice short video today. I have no idea who made it, but it's got some excellent advice for living. Tell me what you think!

Everyone Must See This! - video powered by Metacafe

Thursday, January 11, 2007

UMEI 005

UMEI 005 (Advanced English as a Foreign Language) is a non-credit one-semester required ESL course offered by the Maryland English Institute for students at the University of Maryland (Maryland, USA). Course dates are January 24 - May 4, 2007. The purpose of the course is to support international students at UM whose English language proficiency does not quite meet the standard set by the university for full-time academic study. We target all four skills in the course, which meets two hours a day, Monday - Friday, for 13 weeks. The students are at both the graduate and undergraduate level, aged about 18-30, and are studying in various fields.

There are about 15 students in the class. We have a class blog and a class wiki, and the students have created their own individual blogs. I am sure they will be excited to read comments from English students and teachers from around the world!

Links to UMEI005 student blogs:







Dae Gun







By the way, we might also be interested in some synchronous interaction, e.g., text chat at Tapped In or voice chat on Yahoo Messenger. This would be possible on Mondays or Fridays, when we meet in the computer lab, from 1400 GMT to 1600 GMT.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The semester begins...

Welcome to The 005 Blog!

You are still on vacation, but I am already back on campus and planning the semester. I always have a class blog, and I like my students to have their own blogs too. A blog gives you a space on the web where you can express your thoughts and ideas in English. These can be read by your classmates, by other students (and non-students) in other places, by your family and friends back home, and (of course) by me, your teacher. We can interact with you by leaving comments on your blog.