From ESL to the Oscars: Former ESL Students Make It BIG with Big Mama's & Papa's Pizzeria

Lin Cui, Harper College

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As L2 learners begin to expand their repertoire of language use beyond the basic level, they often feel the need to express accurately not only facts but also their feelings.  The structure “always + progressive tense” is a good starting point.  From the idea of  Astorga (1999), who has examined the role which images play in language learning and meaning making, I have tried using images in teaching this structure and found that they help foster students’ imagination and thus motivate them to use English (Van de Werff, 2003). Here is the procedure:
  1. Review that the frequency adverb “always” is usually used with the simple tense to explain a fact. Show the following two images and ask the class to write two sentences using “always." For example:
    • Grandma always smiles whenever she holds little David.
    • Little David always cries when Grandma is away.
  2. Ask the students: What if the above two sentences were spoken by David’s mom and David’s babysitter respectively?  What kind of emotion would each of them display? How would they express that emotion?   Write on the board:
Grandma is always smiling whenever she holds little David. (said by David’s mom) 
Little David is always crying when Grandma is away. (said by David’s babysitter)
  1. Have the students read the sentences and “taste” their implied meanings.  Does each speaker sound happy or unhappy?  Ask the students to explain how similar and different the above two sets of sentences are.
  2. Write the formulas on the board and then explain the position of “always” in each of the formulas by referring to the examples above.
Always + simple tense = fact
Always + progressive tense = fact + feeling
  1. Show more images.  There are many interesting images available on Google Images. After the instructor models the first one, the students practice the rest in pairs. 
  2. The students stay in pairs and come up with examples of their own.  They discuss whether each sentence implies a positive or negative feeling. Using the image below as an example, the instructor encourages the students to expand the sentence into a short dialogue:
A: My cousin Sam’s always playing Solitaire. He’s driving his mom crazy.
B: He must like the game. Does his mom remind him to finish his homework first?
A: Yes, she’s always reminding him, but he keeps on playing.
  1. Each pair writes the dialogue on a piece of large chart paper, which is then posted on the wall for everyone to have a round of “gallery walk."
Astorga, M.C. (1999). Test-image interaction and second language learning. Australian Journal of Language and Culture, 22, 212-233.

Van der Werff, J. (2003). Using pictures from magazines. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 7, July 2003. Retrieved from
Lin Cui is an associate Professor in the ESL & Linguistics Department at Harper College, Palatine, Illinois.

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