ATC Education Articles 


TESOL Programs
ATC - Advanced College of Languages and Training Canada
© Ali Shenassa, M.A., TESL. Permission is granted to individual teachers to make copies of the articles below for classroom teaching.
The ATC articles below are for the training and enjoyment of ESL teachers and students.

So you want to build your WORD POWER? Here are 6 tips!

By Ali Shenassa


Perhaps you've reached that stage in your studies where you feel you have a basic understanding of English grammar and it's now time to focus more strongly on building your English vocabulary. How do you get the best results? Here are a few hints:

1. Get the tools you need.

You need a good dictionary. Electronic dictionaries that work with English and your own language are useful, but make sure you also start getting into the habit of using the English to English feature so you can start thinking in English.

“Learner's” dictionaries are the best because they give you simple definitions with examples and grammatical information. Oxford and Longman are a couple of good brands for dictionaries. Most electronic dictionaries these days are learner's dictionaries.

2. Make a personal list of words that you want to make your own.

Should you add every word that you don't know to your list? No, that would be too many and too difficult. Instead, record those words that you see often but don't know the meaning of, words that somehow attract your attention, words that you want to become friends with. Here is an example of a format you can use:

Competent – adjective.

= Having the necessary skills and ability to do something well.

Example: I would only go to a competent doctor.

3. Review often.

Reviewing is one of the keys to memorization. The more time you spend with a word, the stronger your memory of it will be.

Some serious students use flash cards with the word and an example on one side and the definition on the back. They put all their cards in a shoe box and keep reviewing and rotating their cards from the front of the box to the back every week.

4. Use the new words you've learned as often as possible.

Some people say that if you use a word three times in conversation, the word becomes yours. Is it true? Perhaps. But use it twenty-one times, and definitely the word becomes yours. That's a guarantee!

5. Read, read, read.

Words are best learned in “context”. The context is the sentence or situation around the word. Reading is one of the best ways to learn words in context. Here the key is quantity.

ESL story books designed for different levels (also called “Guided Readers” or “Graded Readers”) are a great resource. Try reading without a dictionary and guess the meaning of the words you don't know from the overall context. This is a valuable skill!

6. Get to know "root words".

Did you know that "auto" means "self", and "bio" means "life", and "graph" means "write"? So you can guess the meaning of a complex word such as "autobiography" = a book you write about your own life. "Auto", "bio", and "graph" are root words.

Most root words have Latin or Greek origin and appear in many English words. Learning root words is a powerful way to guess the meanings and help you memorize many English words.

You can find a root word dictionary in most ESL bookstores. Below is a small root words quiz for you. The answers are written below in small letters.

Match the following root words and their meanings:

1. tele          A. people

2. port          B. see

3. vis            C. far

4. demo       D. carry

Answers: 1C, 2D, 3B, 4A

Below are some examples of words with these roots.

1. telescope
2. airport
3. visible
4. demonstration

Can you think of more examples of words including these roots?

Good luck with building your word power!

TESOL, TESL, or TEFL? What's the difference anyway?

By Ali Shenassa

So you want to teach English and travel the world… but what kind of certification do you need? Perhaps like many you've been surfing the internet trying to come to a clear understanding, and found that the more you search, the more confusing it all seems… here's a brief explanation:

There were slight variations in the perception of the terms TESOL, TESL, and TEFL when they were first introduced years ago, but in today's ESL world, they are used interchangeably to basically mean the same thing: teaching English to people whose native language is not English. The acronyms stand for:

TESOL = Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
TESL = Teaching English as a Second Language.
TEFL = Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

During recent years, the term TESOL has gained more popularity in North America and many parts of Asia, particularly in Korea, China, and Japan, and it continues its growth in other parts of the world. The terms TESL and TEFL are also recognized internationally.

Terrified of your first TESOL practicum? Here are 5 tips to help you do your best!

By Ali Shenassa


You're not alone! That first practicum when you have to teach the class all by yourself is a nerve-wracking time for most teacher trainees. Here are 5 tips to help you overcome your fear:

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Action is the cure for fear, and in this case, the necessary action before your lesson is to prepare thoroughly. Don't leave your preparation for the last minute. Start early and prepare well. The more you prepare, the more confident you will become.

2. Take the spotlight off yourself and let your students shine.

In his practical book, Learning Teaching, Jim Scrivener recommends that for your first lessons you plan student-centred activities that take the spotlight off you and place it on your students where it belongs.

Remember that the main part of your lesson should be the activities when students are working in pairs or groups or sometimes individually.

This means that you should put a lot of effort into your preparation to make sure you have engaging activities that give your students the opportunity to "learn by doing". It also means that you shouldn't worry about having to stand in front of the class and talking for an hour (which would put students to sleep anyway).

3. Remember the basic components of your lesson.

Most lessons have the following structure:

1. Objective (your job)
2. Introduction (your job)
2. Instructions (your job)
3. Activities (mostly your students' job with you monitoring the class)
4. Wrap-up (everybody can be involved).

Your job is to have a clear objective (what the goal of your lesson is), do an introduction (generate interest, lead to your topic, and present the relevant vocabulary, grammatical structures, or functions), give instructions (put students in pairs or groups or individually and tell them what they should do), monitor the students during the activity, and wrap-up the lesson.

4. Visualize your lesson before you teach it.

Do what great athletes do: they use the power of their imagination before a competition and "see" themselves go through each part of the race successfully and win.

Visualization works best if you mix it with positive emotions. The day before your practicum, run the movie of your lesson in your mind.

You might find that you'll need to make adjustments in the way your lesson should run. Run the movie again, until you can see a successful lesson and mix it with feelings of confidence and a job well done. You will be using the magic of positive thinking and visualization!

5. Boost your energy and confidence before your lesson.

In his book, The Magic of Thinking Big, considered a classic by many, David Schwartz gives us an amazing strategy we can use to boost our confidence and perform at our best.

Here is how you can apply it to your practicum: Start a few days before your lesson and make a list of all your positive qualities as a human being. Forget about the negative for now. We're focusing on the positive. For example, your list could be something like this: Kind, smart, good with people, etc. Write everything that you can think of on your list. Next, write down your positive statement of yourself. Make sure you include your name.

For example, your statement could read something like this: "Maria, you are a kind person. You're smart and you're good with people. You have good imagination. Use that imagination in your preparation. You have a lot of energy. Use that energy and let it show while you teach your first lesson..."

Now what you need to do is read this statement to yourself three times a day. This is a great habit you can continue after your practicum to stay positive and be at your best during your teaching career - a career which will help you grow as it will always demand your best.

How to create great wrap-ups for the ESL lessons you teach? Here are 5 tips!

By Ali Shenassa

Perhaps you’ve experienced abrupt endings firsthand – a movie that had no conclusion, a story that seemed to reach a climax and then left you hanging, or a meal that was taken away from your table before you had the chance to sink your fork into that last juicy morsel. Such situations leave us with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, a sensation that a piece of life didn’t reach its natural maturation, the notion that our experience of the creative work was unfairly aborted. So the conclusion or “wrap-up” is essential if we are to fully process the creative experience; the conclusion completes the entire circuit starting from the introduction all the way to the very end, allowing us to wrap up and digest the novel moments sandwiched in between.

Yet it is true that the wrap-up of an ESL lesson is often the part that is the least planned by teachers, and may become the shortfall of an otherwise flawless lesson. So the question remains - how do we create great wrap-ups for the ESL lessons we teach? Here are 5 useful tips:

1. Review the lesson.

Like a good trial lawyer who presents the jury with a concluding summary on the last day of the trial, driving home the important points, an effective teacher reinforces the key points of the lesson during the wrap-up. To make your review interactive and exciting, ask questions about the key points rather than present a boring summary, and encourage student participation. After a challenging session, students usually appreciate the added comprehensiveness a good review brings to the lesson. Your review can be as warm and comforting as an engaging story told around the campfire after a full day of strenuous activity.

2. Students compare their answers and check each other’s work.

There is often a bit of tension hanging in the air when students have been working on tasks which they’ll be put on the spot to present to the class. A great way to dispel this anxiety is to have students compare their work in pairs or small groups before having to give the answers to the teacher. The group-work itself is comforting as students get to speak to each other and come out of their individual shells. Sharing the responsibility for the answer also decreases the weight of a possible wrong answer told in front of classmates. As an added benefit, students can learn from each other and go more deeply into their work as a team.

3. Teacher checks the students’ work and gives feedback.

A basic wrap up is the teacher checking the students’ work. This could be going over the answers of a grammar exercise, which is pretty clear-cut, or something more involved such as evaluating travel brochures students designed in their teams. Be sure to use the opportunity to go over any problem areas and remember that encouragement is an essential ingredient of personal and educational growth.

4. Students present their work to the class or the world.

One of the more exciting wrap-ups for students is when they have the opportunity to present their work to the class or to a larger audience. Imagine your students have been working in small groups on creating a travel brochure about the attractions of their hometowns. Why not ask the groups to stick their brochures and photos to the board and present them to the class. Juice the process by giving the class guidelines about presentation skills such as energy, voice, and eye contact. Make sure team members participate equally in the presentations. To take it all to a higher level, you could ask the students to publish their work on a travel blog to reach the wider world of international travelers!

5. Teacher asks students for feedback.

It is a good idea to ask students for feedback about their learning process, particularly after intense lessons such as the ones involving presentations, drama, or other activities where students have left their comfort zones to find themselves again at newer heights. You could simply give the students the opportunity to share their feelings and thoughts and by doing so they will begin to process their own experiences, get a sense of closure, as well as gain insight into each other’s perspectives. The added benefit here is that any negative or confusing feelings can also be vented and your students leave your class with a clean slate, ready for your next exciting lesson and its great conclusion!


Ali Shenassa is a writer, teacher trainer, and the director of ATC Advanced College of Languages and Training Canada.

Stuck with teaching a multi-level ESL class?

By Ali Shenassa

Multi-level ESL classes can be a nightmare even for the most experienced teachers. Imagine having to teach four advanced students, three intermediate, and five beginners, all in the same class because two other teachers have suddenly fallen ill and the boss has put you in charge. How can you deal with this seemingly impossible situation?

In her book, Teaching Multilevel Classes in ESL, considered a practical guide by many teachers, Jill Sinclair Bell provides us with a systematic approach; here are 6 tips boiled down from her ideas:

1. Start your lesson with the whole group.

You want to establish the "good happy family" feeling at the beginning of each lesson. Starting with the whole group prevents small group identity which causes students to limit their contact only to those at their own level.

2. Use a theme-based approach.

Using a theme such as "health" or "culture" or "food" is the best way to keep class cohesiveness. You can introduce the theme for the whole class as one group and elicit relevant vocabulary and grammatical structures from students. Make sure you use lots of visuals to accommodate the lower levels.

3. Divide your students into equal-ability groups and set specific tasks for each level.

Now that you've done your introduction with the whole class, it's time to divide your students according to their levels. For example, you'll have a group of four advanced students, a group of three intermediate, and five beginners. Give each group a task that is appropriate for their level.

For instance, if you're working with the theme of "health," the advanced students can work through a medical article which describes ways to prevent catching the common cold and summarize the main points as one group. The beginners could work on vocabulary matching of the symptoms with pictures.

4. Put your students into mixed-ability groups.

Now re-group your students so that each group has beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level students. Give each of these groups a new collective project.

Each student in the group should have a task that builds on what they accomplished in their previous equal-ability groups. For example, the group project could be to prepare a role-play of a patient/doctor situation at a clinic.

The beginners could have the task of cutting out pictures showing symptoms and taping them on the board with the vocabulary written beside each picture. They may also be given the task of introducing the role-play and setting the scene with a few simple sentences.

The intermediate students could take on the role of patients and writing the script for describing their symptoms.

The advanced students could play the role of doctors who have to respond to their patients' questions as well as give advice on how to prevent future diseases.

5. Now do your wrap-up as a whole group.

The wrap-up is the closure of your lesson and you want to do this as a whole group to establish that "good happy family" atmosphere that you established during your introduction.

In our example, each group can perform their role-play for the entire class and students can then vote on the best performance. This will give the experience of the whole class as one team having accomplished a great project!

6. Some points to remember.

Remember that teaching a multi-level class is challenging and often a lot of work for the teacher and not always on target for the students. Keep a positive attitude, but don't feel discouraged if you can't keep everyone happy all the time.

On the positive side, teaching a multi-level class can give you valuable experience that you'll be able to use later on in your career, because after all, isn't every class really multi-level to some extent?



Here are two good books you can consult if you want to know more deeply about teaching multi-level ESL classes. You can find both books at

Teaching Multilevel Classes in ESL by Jill Sinclair Bell

Teaching Large Multilevel Classes by Natalie Hess

How can you make engaging introductions for your ESL lessons?


By Ali Shenassa

Movie directors know well the importance of opening scenes that “hook” viewers and propel them with proper momentum through the cinematic journey so carefully crafted in advance. Seasoned teachers know the importance of effective introductions too. In the same way that the quality of the first few minutes of a movie is an essential factor in the way the audience will engage with the rest of that movie, in the classroom a good introduction can sustain interest throughout your lesson while a poor one will undermine the rest of your efforts. Even if you've chosen a suitable topic and planned interesting activities, your lesson may never take off if the introduction is flat. But how do you create a successful introduction? Here are 7 tips:

1. The most important factor is your own enthusiasm.

Delivering engaging lessons, day in and day out, is no stroll in the park. When under the spotlight, teachers have in common with actors, newscasters, and other performers, the challenging duty to switch “on” at a moment’s notice. And after switching on, ideally, the teacher should continue to shine brightly. This is particularly important during the introduction when the teacher sets the tone for the entire lesson.

Think of yourself as a light bulb. If you exude energy, your students will become energized. If you seem bored or aren't truly present, you become a hollow shell that deflates your students' excitement and natural curiosity. Think of your brain as the control panel of a computer. Go into your control panel and turn the knob of energy all the way up. You'd be surprised at how much reserve energy you have if you decide to use it. And the reward for your professional conduct is that after a lesson where you did your best to energize your students, the energy you summoned stays with you.

2. Give each student the opportunity to participate from the beginning of your lesson.

Brainstorming about the topic on the board is a great way to elicit information from students and ensure they're invested in the lesson. Start by asking the group as a whole to contribute ideas, but make sure you also call on individual students so everyone's had the chance to take part in the process.

Don’t let the shy students sink into the quicksand of silence. There is a psychological phenomenon whereby an anxious student, reluctant to speak, and having been silent for some time, comes to dread speaking, and with every ticking second, muteness, like a dark heavy shroud, increasingly isolates that student from the rest of the group. Give the anxious students a hand. Gently pitch them simple questions they can handle. Offer them the chance to break the ice of silence early on in the lesson by guiding them to take a small step: a word or two uttered courageously in front of classmates with the support of a warmhearted teacher. 

3. Use visuals.

Images are powerful stimuli. They have a strong impact on the human brain. Pictures, postcards, board drawings, video clips, and other visuals connected to your topic are all effective ways to create a stimulating introduction that will color the rest of your lesson. And don't forget the pictures in the ESL textbooks you're using. Designers of high quality ESL books, knowing the appeal of visuals, usually insert colorful pictures at the beginning of each lesson. Draw your students' attention to these pictures by asking questions or throwing in comments. Delve deep into these pictures with your students like a team of divers seeking pearls below the surface, exploring each shiny image for its yield of words and ideas imbued with enticing reflections of the upcoming activities.

4. Personalize the topic.

Show your students how the topic of your lesson is relevant to their lives. Motivate your students by connecting your topic to their dreams, fears, careers, hobbies, personal views. If you're teaching a reading lesson on "Ghosts", for instance, one way to personalize the topic would be to ask your students: "Do you believe in ghosts?" or "Has anyone in this classroom ever seen a ghost?" I've had some very interesting responses and discussions following these questions.

5. Tell your students a personal anecdote.

Another way to generate interest is to tell the class a personal story connected to your topic. For example, for a speaking lesson about favorite travel destinations, you could tell your students about your own travels and which of them excited you the most. But be careful not to get carried away by your own story. Keep it short. Remember that your students will learn much more by having the opportunity to use language than by watching you use language.

6. Ask your students to predict the topic.

This is a trick you can use to create a sense of curiosity and excitement before your lesson. Students naturally want to see if they're right in their prediction about the topic and focus on what's coming next. For example, before a reading lesson using poetry you could write some vocabulary from the poem on the board and ask students if they can guess what the title of the poem is.

7. Give your students the tools they need to do the task.

Make sure that your introduction has the "protein" your students crave. In the final stage of your introduction, use the momentum and excitement you've created in the earlier stages to lead your students to focus on the objective of your lesson. Use the board if appropriate to elicit information and review what they already know and build on that by introducing any new vocabulary and grammatical structures needed for the tasks of your activities.

Keep in mind that you don't have to follow all of the above suggestions in each lesson. That would make your introduction too long. Your introduction should be short and energizing, preparing you and your students for the main part of your lesson - the activities where students get the opportunity to use language and learn by doing. Feel free to experiment and come up with your own strategies to add to the above list. Soon you'll start looking forward to the beginning of your lessons and to generating that surge of excitement that can sustain your students' enthusiasm through your activities all the way to the wrap up, which is yet another story...


Ali Shenassa is a writer, teacher trainer, and the director of ATC Advanced College of Languages and Training Canada.