Reading Tips – How to Skim or Scan

How do they read so fast?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

If you teach English to International students, I am sure you have heard this question many times. International students want to be able to read as quickly as a native English reader reads and still understand the text. However, what most International students do not understand is that many of these readers are not truly reading the entire passage. In fact, the native readers rarely read every word. Instead, native readers will either skim or scan the passage for information needed to answer general questions about the passage.

If you are an international student and you want to be able to read a passage quickly and understand it, learning the skills of skimming and scanning are vital to this goal. Additionally, these skills are very important for your academic success.  For example, when you have lengthy reading assignments in your classes, you might have to skim or scan in order to determine the main ideas quickly to discuss the passage with your classmates. Furthermore, these skills can be useful on timed tests such as TOEFL or IELTS.

In the Intermediate Reading Class the past few weeks, we have been practicing these skills.  I think many of the students have seen a great deal of progress in their reading and understanding of the text. So, if my students can do it, you can do it also. If you would like more information, check out this useful handout. Happy reading….or skimming / scanning! Whatever you do, just READ, READ, READ!

Check out this link for extra practice and tips on skimming and scanning.


Toby, Level 3 Reading Instructor

Toby, Level 3 Reading Instructor


TOEFL Test December 7, 2012

If you plan to take the TOEFL PBT test be sure not to miss the TOEFL Prep Class on Wednesday afternoons. We meet from 2:45 – 4:00 in Classroom #2. This class prepares test takers for the paper based TOEFL test. We will practice listening, reading, and grammar questions similar to those from the test. In addition, we will discuss strategies and test rules to help you become familiar with the style of the PBT test.

One of the best things you can do to prepare for the test is become familiar with the instructions and question styles. This will help you save valuable time while taking the test and know what kind of answer you may be looking for.

Come join us on Wednesday. This course is open to all full-time students in the AUM ESL program.

The next TOEFL Test at AUM will be on Friday, December 7 from 9:30am – 11:30am on the 7th floor of the Library Tower.  To register for the TOEFL Test contact the ESL Office at 334.244.3131 or stop by in person – Office #700 on the 7th floor of the AUM Library Tower. The TOEFL Test fee is $35.

*AUM requires a minimum score of 500 on the PBT TOEFL test. The requirement for IBT TOEFL is 61.

Kody, TOEFL Test Prep Instructor

Fall-2 Christmas Trip to Fantasy in Lights

We’re really excited about our upcoming Christmas trip to Callaway Gardens Fantasy in Lights in Pine Mountain, Georgia.  For those of you who are still “thinking” about going and have yet to sign-up, take a look at this list of 15 facts about Fantasy in Lights.


Now in its 21st year, Fantasy In Lights continues to be the most incredible holiday light and sound show in the South. Here are a few fun facts from behind the scenes:

  1. Fantasy In Lights opened in 1992 with five scenes. Since then, it has grown to include more than a dozen lighted scenes with music and many with animation.
  2. The original scenes were designed by professionals who had formerly worked with Disney’s Imagineering department.
  3. The total show includes some 8 million lights. This is equivalent to the number of lights on 26,666 standard 6-foot tall Christmas Trees.
  4. It takes a lot of electricity to keep the lights burning and a lot extension cords to deliver it – some 3,500 of them.
  5. More than 32 miles of cable is required to power the sound and lights.
  6. About 12 million cable ties hold all the cables in place.
  7. Three of the scenes are controlled with digital show controls, just like those used in Broadway productions.
  8. If you connected all of the light strings used in Fantasy In Lights, they would stretch more than 725 miles. That’s enough to outline the state of South Carolina or stretch end to end from Pine Mountain to Baltimore, Md.
  9. It takes approximately 3,900 man-hours to install Fantasy In Lights, 1,780 man-hours to maintain it while the show is open, and 1,020 man-hours to disassemble it.
  10. It takes six weeks to install the entire show, with each scene requiring three to four days for installation.
  11. The newest scene, Enchanted Rainbow Forest, has 410 controlled images. This has almost three times the number of images used in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
  12. Ninety-nine percent of the frames used in Fantasy In Lights are custom designed and built just for Callaway.
  13. To turn on the show, more than 1,000 switches have to be flipped every night. It takes two workers at least 45 minutes to turn them on and another 45 minutes to turn them off at the end of the night
  14. Each scene receives a major overhaul every three to four years. This process includes rewiring and restringing with new lights.
  15. Each January, Fantasy In Lights is stored in a 6,500-square-foot warehouse, where it remains until the elves visit us again in the Fall to begin another year of the show!


Now, that is impressive, right? We would love for you to join us on this fun Christmas trip.  If you’re an international student and haven’t signed up, we still have about 15 seats available. Stop by the ESL office on the 7th floor of the library tower to reserve your seat and ticket today!

10 Tips for Better Spelling

We have been working on the spelling of plural nouns in grammar the last couple of weeks, and one of the students asked how to improve his spelling. After thinking about it and looking online for a few things, I thought to myself this is something that all students (not just beginner level grammar students) could use to improve their spelling. It is a few things that I found on a website. If you want more practice, simply search for spelling practice/rules on google, and you will find many helpful things.

Ten Tips for Better Spelling

  1. This may be the best-known spelling rule:
  • i before e, except after c
  • or when sounded like “ay”
  • as in neighbor and weigh
  • Here are some words that follow the rule:
  • IE words: believe, field, relief
  • CEI words: ceiling, deceit, receive
  • EI words: freight, reign, sleigh
  • Some exceptions: either, foreign, height, leisure, protein, weird
  • “CIEN words” are another exception to the rule. These include ancient, efficient, and science.
  1. Here’s another familiar spelling rule: “Silent e helps a vowel say its name.” This means that when a word ends with a vowel followed by a consonant and then silent e, the vowel has a long sound. That’s the difference between rate and rat, hide and hid, and cube and cub.
  1. Have you heard the expression “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking?” This means that when there are two vowels in a row, the first usually has a long sound and the second is silent. That’s why it’s team, not taem; coat, not caot; and wait, not wiat. Remembering this rule will help you to put vowels in the right order.
  1. Learn the basic rules for spelling with plural nouns so that you know whether to use s or es and how to make plurals of nouns that end in y or f.

  1. In general, though, memorizing rules isn’t the most effective way to learn spelling. Most rules have exceptions—and besides, you are best at learning words that you have made an effort to understand. A good way to understand a word is to break it into syllables. Look for prefixes, suffixes, and roots. Practice each short part and then the whole word.
  • dis-ap-pear-ing
  • tra-di-tion-al

After you break apart a word, ask yourself: How is this word like other words I know? Spelling the word traditional may make you think of spelling functional and national. Finding patterns among words is one of the best ways to learn spelling.

  1. It’s also helpful to try making up a funny memory aids. For example, do you have trouble remembering which has two s’s—desert (arid land) or dessert (a sweet treat)? Remember that with dessert, you’d like seconds. Similarly, do you have trouble remembering how to spell separate? Remember that there’s a rat in the middle.

  1. Another kind of memory aid is to make up a sentence in which the first letter of each word can be used to make the spelling word. The sillier the better—goofy sentences may be easier to remember.
  • chili: cats have interesting little ideas
  • physical: please have your strawberry ice cream and lollipops
  1. Make sure that you are pronouncing words correctly. This can help you to avoid some common spelling errors, such as canidate instead of candidate, jewelery instead of jewelry, and libary instead of library.
  1. Put together a list of words that you find difficult to spell. Go over your old papers and spelling exams to track down these troublemakers. Once you’ve got your list in hand, see if some of the tips above will help you.

  1. And lastly: Don’t rely on electronic spellcheckers! They can miss errors—especially when you have used the wrong word but spelled it correctly. To prove it, we’ve taken a sentence and messed up all the words. And the spellchecker thinks it’s fine.
  • “I might need some new shoes for gym,” Harry told our Aunt Ann.
  • “Eye mite knead sum knew shoos four Jim,” Hairy tolled hour Ant

Found on…

P.S. #10 (to me) is by far the most interesting, as I have had many students send me similiar messages…the words were spelled correctly, but the word choice was not correct for the meaning he or she was attempting to communicate. As always…ENJOY!!

Obie, Level 1 Grammar & Writing Instructor

Thanksgiving Around the World

Thanksgiving in the United States is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It is often thought of as a particularly American holiday because of the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians. It is interesting however, that most cultures, religions, and/or countries have some kind of a holiday that involves giving thanks. Many of them are associated with harvest time. Some of them are still celebrated as separate holidays. Some of them provide background for the United States’ Thanksgiving.

Did you Know? 

In ancient times the Hebrews had a feast at which they gave thanks to God for their harvest. It was called Sukkot and Jews still celebrate it today. The ancient Greeks had a harvest festival in honor of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. They brought gifts of honey, fruit, and grain to her shrines. The Romans honored Ceres, the goddess who protected their crops. They called the festival the Cerelia, and that is where the word “cereal” is derived.

Did you know?

For hundreds of years the Chinese have celebrated a festival of the harvest moon. This brightest moon of the year shines on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The festival is called the Mid-Autumn Festival. The Vietnamese call this festival Tet Trung Thu. Koreans celebrate it as Chu-Sok.

Did you Know?

People in southern India celebrate at least two harvest festivals, Onam in the fall and Pongal in midwinter. Onam is a harvest festival associated with the legendary King Mahabalia. Pongol is the celebration of the rice harvest, the biggest festival of the year.

Did you Know?

In England, the thanksgiving celebration was called Harvest Home. It took place when the last field was harvested and the crops were brought safely to the barns. Thanksgiving has also been celebrated in Canada for a long time. It was probably begun many years before the Pilgrims landed in America.

So when the Pilgrims did land in their new home on December 21, 1620, they already knew about ceremonies of thanksgiving. They had, of course, come from England and were familiar with the custom of giving thanks after the harvest. So, one year later, after a year of terrible hardship and frighteningly little success, Governor William Bradford proclaimed the first day of Thanksgiving in the Plymouth Colony. This was the feast day that many think of when we hear “the first Thanksgiving.” It was the one shared with the Indians, who had helped the Pilgrims and introduced them to the native foods and strange farming practices of the New World.

Source: Multicultural Holidays – Teacher Created Resources

We want to know!

Help us learn more about you and your culture. Do you celebrate Thanksgiving or a festival or holiday that involves giving thanks? How is the holiday celebrated at your home? Do you celebrate more than one holiday that involves giving thanks? What foods does your family eat for your thanksgiving holiday or festival?

What is Black Friday?

Thanksgiving is a major holiday in the United States when Americans give thanks for many different things. Moreover, there is a famous day that usually overrides the Thanksgiving festivities for many families  This day is Black Friday. Recently, many of my students have been asking me, “Toby! What is Black Friday?”

Well, Black Friday is a day where many shoppers in the United States wake up very early (or never go to bed) to go shop at stores that open very early in the morning to get the best shopping deals of the holiday season. This day is usually a very long day for retailers who make a large portion of their yearly profit on this major three-day shopping weekend.


If you are interested in finding out more information about Black Friday, check out this video from YouTube that explains it all. It has some very good information, and it is set up to allow you to actively listen for information to help you answer the questions.

Have fun watching this video and Happy Shopping on Black Friday Weekend!

Toby, Level 5 Listening & Speaking Instructor

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

This week in Low-Intermediate Grammar we are studying active and passive voice. Active and passive voice are both important and should be used for different reasons. Let’s look at the differences.

Active Voice

One common sentence structure in English is SUBJECT + VERB + DIRECT OBJECT. This sentence style emphasizes the person or thing that does the action. Look at the example below.

            We will make a decision about our trip soon.

The emphasis in this sentence is on “we”. In other words, the sentence is focused on the people doing the action.

Passive Voice

Passive voice sentences also have common SUBJECT + VERB structure. The difference in passive voice is that the subject is the receiver of the action. Look at the example below.

            A decision about our trip will be made soon.


In this sentence the emphasis is on “a decision about our trip,” not the people making the decision.

There are different reasons for using both. One reason is to emphasize different subjects. A good time to use passive voice is when the “actor,” or person doing the action is unknown. Look at the example below.

            The money was stolen.

In this example, the person who stole the money may be unknown. Therefore, passive voice is used to emphasize the action, but not the actor.


In your writing you should think carefully about what information you wish to send. Any writer must choose the more appropriate voice for each.

Source: Keys to Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners by Keith S. Folse

Kody, Level 2 Grammar & Writing Instructor


So, what do you know about Thanksgiving?  If you think you don’t know much, but you’re curious about this popular holiday that will take place next week, then just keep reading!

Thanksgiving is an important holiday in the United States. Many people spend Thanksgiving Day sharing a special meal with friends and family members. Many people talk about the things for which they are thankful and take time to thank the important people in their lives.

Traditional Thanksgiving foods include turkey and dressing, corn, casseroles, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and bread rolls. Dessert is often a pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, or apple pie.




  • In the United States, Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
  • Fifty-two Pilgrims and fifty Native Americans attended the first Thanksgiving celebration.
  • Around 700 million pounds of turkey are consumed in the United States each Thanksgiving.
  • Benjamin Franklin suggested that the turkey should be America’s national bird, but Congress chose the bald eagle instead.
  • President Abraham Lincoln declared the first nationwide Thanksgiving celebration in 1863.


Sharing Thanks
Many families make lists or talk about things for which they are thankful while they enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Watching Football
Watching the traditional NFL football games is considered by many to be as much a part of Thanksgiving as a turkey.

Decorating the Christmas Tree
Many families put up a Christmas Tree on Thanksgiving because it generally marks the beginning of the American “Holiday Season.”

Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy’s has celebrated Thanksgiving and beckoned Christmas with a big parade in New York City. The parade is televised, so many people watch to see the beautiful parade floats and giant helium balloons.

Breaking the Wishbone
Some families make wishes on the wishbone from the turkey. Two family members grab on to each end of the wishbone and pull while making a wish. It is said that whoever gets the larger piece will have his or her wish come true.

Images Source – google images

Greetings from the Director

I would like to thank all of you for choosing us for your English language training. It has been a great semester, and we are already half-way through. I hope everyone is happy with his or her classes and enjoying the elective courses and extra-curricular activities the ESL Program offers.

I would like to invite all of our students and teachers to our Thanksgiving dinner, which will be held on the 7th floor of the Library Tower on November 15 at 6:30 p.m. This will be a night with lots of delicious food and fun.

Also, The ESL Office will sponsor a trip to “Fantasy in Lights”, a light and sound show on December 13. We have limited seats available, so if you are interested, please hurry up and sign up for the event in the ESL Office.

On behalf of our ESL instructors and staff, I would like to thanks each of you for being part of our ESL program. We value diversity, and we are very grateful for your cultural contribution to our program and the university.

Gokhan Alkanat

Senior Program Manager for ESL

NPR is a great site for listening practice!

If you are interested in having another source of listening practice, visit National Public Radio online ( This site has a variety of topics that you can choose from, and has a box you can type in a topic to search for things that interest you. Most of the audio files have a transcript that you can use to follow along with. This would be beneficial for you to be able to see the words and their pronunciations. Before viewing the transcripts, try writing down the Main Idea and some Details (words and other information) that you hear. After writing down all the things you can pick out of the listening, view the transcript and compare the information you wrote down to that in the transcript. So, take some time to practice a little on your own with this very useful resource. As always…ENJOY!!!

Obie, Level 4 Listening & Speaking Instructor