About Ketan Hein

I am an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience. I teach kindergarten and elementary students in South Korea. I have taught middle school and adult ELLs in the past, too. My goal as a teacher is to help my students develop and achieve fluency in English, but also in other areas of their lives. I try to educate the whole child.

How to Write an Essay for ESL Students (and Teachers)


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This month, my academy will hold an essay competition for our students. We will provide a variety of topics for our students to choose from. Each class, grades one to five, will write an essay or paragraph according to their abilities and appropriate level (with the teacher’s instruction). So, that brings to mind the question…

How do you write an essay?

Before we start writing, we need to look at the writing process.


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It all begins with planning what you will say and how you will say it.It’s best to use some graphic organizers to plot out your thoughts.

This site has tons of free graphic organizers!


Once you have some notes taken (main ideas and supporting details), make an outline and form those into sentences.


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Visit here and here for some free templates.

Now it’s time for your first draft. This may seem daunting, but it’s not that bad. A first draft is typically three to five paragraphs long, and contains three parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

Think of an essay like a hamburger: your “bun” consists of the introduction and conclusion, and the “meat and fillings” are the main points and supporting details.


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The picture above illustrates just one paragraph, but an essay is typically four to five paragraphs long. So, take that burger and multiply it by four or five.

Once you have a draft written, edit any spelling, grammar, or other errors you have. It’s best to have a peer or a teacher proofread your essay as they may be able to spot mistakes you can’t. After you finish correcting mistakes, go through your essay and see what sentences you can remove, if there is more you can add, or any sentences reword for better flow.

This process takes a couple of drafts before it is completed, but once it’s all finished, you have a perfect (or near-perfect) essay! You should be proud of it!

You can visit here and here for more information.

What makes a good essay?

Writing a good essay takes practice. Writing quality content, getting the structure right, allowing your ideas to flow easily from one to the next, and summarizing it all up nicely is not an easy task.

There are five characteristics of a good essay.

They are…

  1. Format and presentation – you should use a font that is easy to read, as well as a size that is not too big or too small. I recommend typing up your essay on a computer, using Arial typeface and 12pt size.
  2. Content – It’s best to find a topic you are knowledgeable about, and also find resources for. You should be able to support your topic with facts and credible sources. Academic journals can be found online or in a library. Also, make sure there are no grammar or spelling errors. You should use the appropriate words, too. Powerful adjectives and verbs as well as using complex or compound sentences really punch up your essay.
  3. Organization – Make sure your ideas flow logically and use smooth transitions. A disorganized essay is unreadable and will confuse your readers. Making an outline helps focus your essay and organize your paragraphs. If you come down with “writer’s block”, looking at your outline can help you break through it.
  4. Depth – A great essay not only has quality content consisting of well-supported reasons and examples. It also brings out something new for the reader. Whether it’s an informative essay, an opinion, or an abstract essay, make it thought-provoking and engaging for the reader.
  5. Conclusion – You should end your essay with a solid conclusion. It should summarize your main points and restate the topic plainly. You may also end with a final thought on the topic or pose an idea for the reader to take away from it.

Go here, here, or here, for more help or information.

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Five Things Teachers Can Do to Improve Learning For ELLs For the New Year

I came across this excellent page on Colorin Colorado’s website. Colorin Colorado is an ELL website based in the United States, and they work with ELL students and families. They have plenty of tips and resources for teachers and parents! I’d like to share these tips with you!

Strategies for the New Year

1. Increase ELL students’ English language production and peer interaction.

Specific and measurable goal: ELL students will verbally demonstrate their English speaking abilities in classroom work at least three times a week.

There are two key items ELLs need in order to improve their English — time and practice. There is nothing teachers can do to rush English acquisition, but there are many ways to provide opportunities to practice English in the classroom. If activities are structured to support student-to-student or group interaction, ELLs are required to use English to explain concepts and contribute to the work. This gives teachers an opportunity to gauge what the student has learned, and it demonstrates student progress in English language development.

Teachers can also informally assess for correct use of language structures and academic vocabulary. If ELLs are having difficulty with phrases or vocabulary, the teacher will be able to offer guidance or further instruction to support language development. See the Hotlinks section for links to ideas on interactive learning activities.

2. Explicitly teach English language vocabulary and structures.

Specific and measurable resolution: I will identify, teach, and post key academic vocabulary and structures for one content lesson each day.

In, “What Teachers Need to Know about Language” by Lily Wong Fillmore and Catherine Snow, the authors state that:

Teachers play a critical role in supporting language development. Beyond teaching children to read and write in school, they need to help children learn and use aspects of language associated with the academic discourse of the various school subjects. They need to help them become more aware of how language functions in various modes of communication across the curriculum. They need to understand how language works well enough to select materials that will help expand their students’ linguistic horizons and to plan instructional activities that give students opportunities to use the new forms and modes of expression to which they are being exposed. Teachers need to understand how to design the classroom language environment so as to optimize language and literacy learning and to avoid linguistic obstacles to content area learning (Wong Fillmore & Snow, p. 7).

The need to understand English language structures and language acquisition theory is increasingly important as the number of ELLs increases in classrooms. However, very few teachers have had the formal training required to be prepared to identify and teach the English vocabulary and structures found in specific content areas. When I first started teaching ESL, my students knew way more about grammar than I did. I joked with them, “I don’t know English; I just speak it.”

Content teachers can begin by reviewing a content area lesson and identifying not just the vocabulary that every student needs to know, but other vocabulary words and grammar structures that ELL students may not be familiar with. See the Hotlinks section for resources on how to provide explicit instruction on English vocabulary and structures.

3. Build on ELLs’ Background Knowledge to Increase Comprehension

Specific and measurable goal: I will elicit background knowledge from ELLs in one content area through a variety of activities, including questioning and graphic organizers.

Learning something new is like stacking building blocks. The more you have, the higher you can go. It is not always apparent what building blocks ELLs come with due to language barriers, and sometimes ELL students don’t connect their previous experience with the lesson currently being taught. That is where the teacher’s skill at drawing on background knowledge becomes so important.

Teachers can work creatively to elicit background knowledge from students on content topics in order to increase comprehension of the material. This may be as simple as taking the time to do a “K/W/L” (Know, Want to Know, Learned) chart, or as individualized as asking questions about the topic: “Has anyone ever visited the jungle? A jungle is like a rainforest. What do you see in a jungle?” Students can share their knowledge and see how it is connected to new academic information. See the Hotlinks section for more resources on strategies to increase connections with student background knowledge.

4. Increase ELL Parent Involvement

Specific and measurable goal: Teacher will contact one ELL parent each week to share information on his/her student or to inform the parent of a school event.

No matter what language you or your students’ parents speak, parental support is a big key to academic success. ELL families are often at a disadvantage when it comes to supporting their child because of language and cultural barriers. It can be easy to interpret ELL parent “no shows” as a lack of interest in education; however, very often ELL parents want their children to succeed as much as any other parent but are unable to participate to the same extent that other parents participate due to these barriers or their work schedules.

Regular, open and friendly communication from the teacher can make a big difference in ELL parent participation. It can feel daunting for an English speaking teacher to call a non-English speaking parent, but usually there is someone in the family who speaks enough English to interpret the message for the parent, or the parent speaks enough English to understand a simple message. It may also be possible to get help from a bilingual school staff member to assist in making a quick phone call. ELL parents will be very pleased and excited to hear positive news about their child and will feel more comfortable asking questions and visiting the school in the future. The more informed the parents are, the more likely it is that the student will get support at home and parents will have the information they need to help their child be successful. See the Hotlinks section for links to further resources with specific ideas for ELL family outreach.

5. Increase Writing Opportunities

Specific and measurable goal: Students will engage in a weekly writing activity that will focus on developing a certain skill such as creative vocabulary use, the correct format of an essay or the peer editing process.

The ability to write effectively and accurately to convey a message is a very important skill for a college student and in most careers. However, it often seems as if the curriculum is largely focused on developing reading and math skills. Of course, these are very important too, but students need to have many positive opportunities to develop writing skills in a variety of formats in order to strengthen their communication skills. For ELLs this is particularly important. Depending on their writing skill level in their first language and their English language abilities, writing may be frustrating. Students need to engage in a variety of writing to develop an understanding of different types of writing and to identify their strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

I could not write better tips than these. They’re focused on helping ELLs improve their speaking, reading, writing, comprehension, and encourage parent involvement at home!

Here’s the link to the full article:


Ho! Ho! Ho! It’s Almost Christmas! – Five Fun Holiday Activities for ESL Students!

Christmas Fireplace

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Doesn’t that look cozy? The warm fireplace, decorated tree and living room, the colors and lights… just makes you want to curl up in that rocking chair with a good book and a glass of wine, while listening to Bing Crosby, right?

Christmas is just a couple of weeks away. That means planning for vacation trips, buying gifts, visiting relatives, and a little break from school (much-needed for both students and teachers). Christmas also is a great holiday in which you can teach about virtues of kindness and hope, Christmas music, winter sports and activities, and favorite toys and other things. You can also spend time making crafts and decorating your classroom!


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Five Fun ESL Activities for Christmas!

Christmas can be an exciting time for ESL students. If your class has a large number of diverse students, you can share different songs, foods, and cultural traditions with your students. Everybody has their own way of celebrating the holiday. You can also use the time to discuss other holidays such as Kwanza, or Hanukkah. There are plenty of ways to include both religious and non-religious activities and themes into your lessons.

  • An easy, fun, and simple activity/craft for ESL students is making a Christmas card for a family member. Just get some colored construction paper, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, and other items you’d like (glitter glue, glitter pens, sequins, etc.), and let the kids go crazy (under supervision, of course)!
  • Another fun activity is singing Christmas songs. Music is an excellent way to teach language, and a lot of fun, too! Most carols are fairly easy to learn, and students can learn to enunciate their speech better, build general fluency, and develop literacy skills!

  • Writing a letter to Santa is a creative way to help ESL students develop written expression. They can learn the proper format of a friendly letter, how to address it, and share what they want. After all the students finish


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  • Play Christmas Pictionary. It’s a great way to teach Christmas vocabulary. Split the class up into two teams, and one member from each team has to draw a Christmas-related item on the whiteboard. The first time to guess the most words wins!


  • This last activity is fun for all because you can eat it! Cooking is a delicious method to teach about food, ingredients, and sequential writing (recipes). Whether you can use an oven, microwave, or even just the refrigerator, there are plenty of snacks you can make in the classroom! Students love getting dirty and mixing things. You should scale the type of food to each age/class level appropriately. It’s also wise to choose foods that don’t require too many ingredients, and that’s not too costly. Also beware of any food allergies may have, and find suitable substitutes for them (if necessary).


For more activities go here.

I wish you all a save and happy holiday season!

Spend it with loved ones and appreciate what you have!

Eat, drink, and be merry! 


Teaching ESL to Adult Learners

credit goes to ESL- Centro Guadalupano

credit goes to ESL- Centro Guadalupano

Have you ever taught ESL to adults?

I have. For the past two years, I have taught a short-term English conversation class to Korean adults at the Andong City Library; the class lasted for 15 weeks in the spring and again in the fall. It has been a positive experience for me as I have been able to learn new skills and try different strategies. Teaching ESL to adult learners comes with its own issues, but also has some advantages that don’t come with teaching children. Continue reading

Ten Common Mistakes ESL Teachers Make in the Classroom (And How to Fix Them)

Nobody is perfect. That’s the truth. It’s the same for doctors, lawyers, parents, students, and teachers. Nobody likes making mistakes. Big or small, mistakes can kill self-esteem, loom over our heads like some grim reaper created out of our own idiocy. In a classroom, teachers often make mistakes early on in their careers; veteran teachers make mistakes, too.


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Building Phonological Awareness in Kindergarten ESL Students

Teaching young learners is like taking care of a plant – it takes dedication, patience, and daily care. You need to water plants daily, give adequate sunlight and air flow. Then it will grow into a beautiful flower, or leafy plant.

young plant

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In the same way, teaching young learners takes lots of preparation, daily instruction and practice, and a whole lot of love and patience. Helping children develop social, personal, and language skills is all part of a teacher’s job.


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In developing language skills, building phonological awareness is one of the building blocks of development. I recently came across a fantastic article focused on this topic, and I’d like to share part of it with you. Continue reading