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English Tutoring Lab Handouts

(Diablo Valley College)

(reviewed Fall 2008)

Reviewer:  Yuko Umeki

Recommendation:  Recommended


Available through the Diablo Valley College (DVC) Web site, English Tutoring Lab Handouts contains various learning materials for ESL students and English tutors. DVC is a community college which serves a large number of international students from all over the world and supports them in their goal to transfer to a UC or CSU campus. The part of the Web site designed for ESL students includes learning materials designed to help students with their vocabulary, reading, listening and note taking skills, written tests, and college essay writing skills. It even includes a stress reduction section for ESL students. The part of Web site aimed at English tutors has useful handouts for tutees, tips for successful tutoring and objectives for tutoring sessions. This Web site was created by the faculty, staff, and students of the DVC learning center in 2003.

Evaluation (Student Section)

As first thing I noticed is that it is quite tricky to get to English Tutoring Lab Handouts. First, a user has to click on student services and then find student programs. Within the list for student programs, a user can click on tutoring and a new screen comes up. Once inside the English Tutoring Lab, which is located in the center of the screen, a user can go to the learning center screen, on the left hand side of which is the link for Learning Center Handouts. Even though this site has excellent resources for both students and tutors, few will find these learning materials in such a complex location. Moreover, the title of this Web site, English Tutoring Lab Handouts doesn’t specify the contents of the available material. The faculty and staff at DVC need to modify the location and the title of this Web site in order to make it more user friendly and the materials easier to access.

The contents of the section are how to read textbooks, improve your vocabulary, improve listening skills, using abbreviations for note-taking, writing essay tests, how to take essay tests, stress reduction, developing the essay, editing the essay, and grammar and proofreading tips.

The section on how to read textbooks shows students how to approach textbooks. There are lists of suggestions for beginning readers such as note the title, author and publishers, study the table of contents, or sample a few paragraphs. Basically these suggestions have students analyze a textbook in three ways first instead of trying to read from the first chapter to the last chapter right away. I highly recommend this section especially to the beginning ESL readers because they tend to be intimidated by thick textbooks full of complex passages. This part helps them to tackle a textbook by looking at the author, the table of contents, skimming through each chapter or finding a bibliography. This section teaches ESL students how to use textbooks to extract only necessary information. The site also teaches a specific reading method named SQ3R. “S” stands for survey, which means to get an idea of what is involved before actually reading a book. “Q” stands for questions, which suggests that students need to be active readers by asking any questions as they read. “3R” stands for read, review, and recite. Students read a chapter once to find the main idea, and review the reading by marking important points, highlighting and so on, and finally recite their own understanding by writing a summary. These are effective reading tips involving a note-taking, critical thinking and writing skills. English teachers also can use this handout in classes and give students assignments using this reading method.

The improving vocabulary section gives three main suggestions about how to develop vocabulary. The first two methods are to make a list of words that you don’t know from a book and write each one down on one side of an index card and write the definition on the other side. I think this is an overused way of learning vocabulary; everyone already knows this method from high school. Another method gives tips for guessing meanings of words in a sentence without using a dictionary. This method is actually helpful for ESL students especially when they read a difficult passage. I could also see ESL teachers use context-clue methods and create a class or take-home assignment of guessing academic or complex words by the context-clue method.

The improving listening skill section gave only one handout explaining classroom clues for listening such as repetition or direct statements capturing an important point of the lecture. This is an interesting way to observe a classroom in terms of listening. However, I don’t recommend this so much because these classroom clues don’t directly help students’ listening skills.

Stress reduction is a unique section. I recommend this section because it gives advice about how to release stress by prioritizing things to do, doing physical exercises, having balanced nutrition and so on. Although what they state seems to be irrelevant to an academic Web site, busy students tend to forget basic necessity in the middle of a semester. However, there are some spelling errors in this handout so needs to be revised before passing this out in the classroom.

The developing essays part shows global approaches for essay writing. First, it describes example sentences of showing rather than telling. Telling sentences only describe the fact of what is happening while showing sentences add more vivid details to each telling sentence. These two examples definitely clarify the importance of detailed writing. Beginning ESL writers tend to form a sentence just stating the simple facts without showing visible details. In this section, they also have a handout for transitions which contains lists of transitional words with example sentences. Students can learn how to connect two independent clauses into one complex sentence.

The editing essay and grammar and proofreading sections demonstrate the global to local approach of essay writing. First, two handouts emphasize the significance of using a correct subject, avoiding abstract subjects like it or there, avoiding passive sentences or infinitive phrases as the subjects of sentences, and forming clear sentences. After students finish writing a first draft, these handouts will help them correct wordy unfocused sentence structure before proofreading. Teachers can also use this as a topic for classroom assignments. Finally, there are four handouts about parts of speech, six rules of comma, contractions and punctuation. These grammar rules are local issues that many students may overlook during the process of writing.

Evaluation (Tutor/Teacher Section)

This part contains the rules for tutors and tutees, strategies for tutors, the lists of questions tutors can ask tutees for their essays or textbooks, and goals of tutoring sessions. I recommend these lists of question phrases because these are quite helpful for both tutors and teachers. The section categorizes different types of question phrases in various situations that teachers will be likely to encounter. For example, when tutors/teachers want to clarify the response of tutees, they can ask questions like, “Can you rephrase your response?” or “Can you be more specific?” When we want to refocus on a certain topic during a discussion, we can ask them, “How does this idea relate to your thesis?” or “What similarities and differences do you find between these two writers’ view points?” The lists of questions about reading materials are also helpful. The handout divides into three patterns: reconstructive, interpretative, and application questions. First, teachers can ask basic questions about a story such as the author or the main characters. Second, teachers can ask further questions about the significances of reading. Third, teachers can ask questions to make students to think beyond the reading text, through which students can connect the main idea to the larger society and personal experiences. These question techniques are practical both in the classroom and tutoring session.

Subject Headings:  English for academic purposes, ESL materials, tutoring