Mike Mutschelknaus
Language Education (ESL), Language, Grammar and Vocabulary, Speaking and Listening
Material Type:
Homework/Assignment, Lesson Plan, Teaching/Learning Strategy
Community College / Lower Division
  • ESL English Language Learners
  • Immigrant
  • Refugee
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Media Formats:
    Audio, Downloadable docs, Video

    Academic listening and note-taking skills for community college second language students

    Academic listening and note-taking skills for community college second language students


    During the Spring 2020 semester, I taught this wonderful group of ESL learners in the classroom and on Zoom after the pandemic hit. This OER is a collection of resources, teaching ideas, and student artifacts about that experience. I hope it helps you. If you have questions, or just want to brainstorm, feel free to email me at <>. 

    Getting to know the "Finding Your Place" podcast series

    Finding your place banner


    Hello everyone! Here is a link to a brief video intro for this OER. My name is Mike Mutschelknaus. I teach at Rochester Community and Technical College. After the switch to entirely online instruction in Spring 2020, my second-language students really struggled to continue developing their academic listening and speaking skills. It was hard for me to deliver content, hard for us to generate meaningful conversations on Zoom, and hard to gather their homework for assessment because they had limited technology access. 

    I found a solution, the Finding Your Place podcast series. You should go there right now and check it out. It comes with an educator's guide and transcripts you can use. You can find the guide/transcript in the "Teaching Resources" section.  Although I use the podcast in my English for Academic Purpose EAP course with second-language students, you would also find it very useful for freshman orientation and first-year experience classes. 

    In this OER, I will share the EAP lesson plan I used for each podcast episode, discuss the technologies that I used that actually worked, and provide my reflections and additional resources. If you have any questions, or would like to collaborate, you can reach me at <> any time. I welcome your feedback.

    Basic lesson plan for each podcast episode

    Resources you need to get started

    • The Finding your Place podcast
    • The "Finding your Place" educator's guide and transcript. You can find this in the "Teaching Resources" section. You will need it for your students so that they can read and listen at the same time.
    • The Cornell note-taking videos. You can find these in the "Teaching Resources" section. These videos are important. One of the hardest things to do as a second-language student is to listen and take effective notes.  

    Basic lesson plan I used for each podcast episode

    • Prior knowledge skills: Before listening to any podcast, I tried to activate my students prior knowledge about the subject. Often, this was a class discussion about the topic. Students liked to compare the United States to their home countries. 
    •  Listening skills: We listened to the podcast as a class, pausing about every minute or so to do comprehension checks and allow them to take notes.
    • Reading skills: Next, we had students read  parts of the transcript out loud. Once the reading was through, we went back and defined words they didn't know.
    • Note-taking skills: Students used the Cornell note-taking method to take notes on the podcast episode.
    • Conversation skills: Finally, using their notes, students had one-on-one Zoom discussions with me about the podcast and how it applied to their own lives. 

    Teaching resources

    This section has resources for the podcast episodes. If you have additional resources that you find useful, please share them with me! --Mike--

    • GPS LifeplanThis is a great student goal planning tool, worthy of its own OER. My students found value in it because it has self-assessments that help students figure out their majors. 

      Conell notes (video 1)


      Cornell notes (video 2)

      Technology that worked, and didn't work, with second-language students during the pandemic

      Technology that didn't work

      McGraw Hill Connect: Before the pandemic, our textbook was integrated with listening and speaking modules. Students could go to MHC and do several exercises. We did this in a computer lab because some of our students struggled to get logged into MHC, even after several weeks. Once we had to switch over to online synchronous teaching, we couldn't use MHC any more. 

      Technology that kind of worked

      MinnState ZoomIf I had to do everything over again, I would have limited my use of Zoom to informal student conversations. For too long, I used Zoom like I was in a normal classroom, with me talking way too much, and the students just listening. Also, itt was very difficult to handle all of the student technology problems. They are Zooming from beat-up computers in dwellings with really slow internet and noisy families that afford them little privacy. 

      D2L Brightspace: We all use D2L in our daily teaching but, let's face it, the platform is not designed to encourage synchronous instruction. It functions well as a repository for documents, videos, textual discussions, and tests. It does not foster teacher-student or student-student interaction, at least in my opinion. Because of my experience in the spring semester, I have stripped down my D2L course to the strict essential elements so that it is a lot easier to navigate for second-language students. 

      College email: We all wish our students would use their official college email addresses with us. For some unknown reason, though, most do not. It's hard to use. It's hard to remember the username and password when you are not on it every day. I've noticed this with all of my students, not just my second-language students. For my students who used email, it was fine, although I did have to get over their creative spelling and lack of punctuation. For students who didn't use email, we had to call them instead to stay in touch. 

      Technology that worked really well

      My cell phone: The breakthrough moment in the post-pandemic course was when I made an offhand comment: "You can just take a picture of your homework and text it to me." This one unplanned comment saved the course and made it doable. That's what all of the students in the course chose to do for the rest of the course. 

      Also, we called and texted our students, and they called and texted us. As a matter of fact, a great deal of communication occurred via text. 

      Minnesota State Media SpaceA great place to make videos, and really easy to figure out. If you haven't tried it yet, you just log into it the same way you do for D2L Brightspace. 

      FlipgridThis is a free web site and app that teachers and students can use to have asynchronous video chats with each other. If you haven't used it yet, you should When you do, be sure to learn how to use the app. I prefer Flipgrid on my laptop because I'm 53. Most of our students, used it on the phone. Flipgrid worked really to keep students engaged.  

      Voice recognition typing in Google Docs: Students loved this! For second-language students, typing assignments takes up way too much of their time. I taught them how to do voice recognition typing on their phones as well. 

      Google Docs image


      A deep dive into "Crossing Cultural Boundaries" (supplemental episode 10)

      Getting students to talk about their home countries really helps on Zoom

      The best part of this lesson unit was when we talked about the differences between colleges in their home countries and colleges here in the United States. I realized that my second-language students did not have a very clear understanding of higher education here in the United States. 

      Why did this work so well on Zoom? I think it was really hard for my ESL students to comprehend me on Zoom. So, after we listened to the podcast and took notes on it, they wanted to make connections to their own countries. I had planned something different, but it turned out that the unplanned lesson plan was better

      Because that unscripted lesson plan went so well, I started asking my students to share more information about their home countries and cultures. Here's what we learned from each other: 

      • People in Oromia, which is part of Ethiopia, want greater freedom. The Oromo tribe is subjugated. 


      • In order to milk a mean cow, you have to tie one of its back legs to a tree and have a strong man hold the horns.

      mean cow

      • In Rochester, Minnesota, immigrant family parents still try to arrange their kids marriages, but it rarely works out as the parents hope. 
      • Hong Kong has more ghosts than Rochester because it has been a city for hundreds more years. So many more people have died there. 

      Hong Kong ghosts

      • Don't look behind you at night when walking in Vietnam. The spirits will catch you. 
      • It's hard to be a Somali teen because you don't speak Somali as well as your parents, and you don't speak English as well as your friends. 
      • Somali women think Ilhan Omar rocks! 

      Ilhan Omar

      Is it really necessary for us to learn about how to milk a mean cow? Perhaps not. On the other hand, much of the teacherly knowledge I impart to students probably isn't necessary either. Do indirect objects and non-restrictive adjectives clauses really matter that much? Probably not. So, these cultural discussions worked well on Zoom because students were relaxed, and they were able to use English at the very edge of their fluency to talk about these, and other, complicated topics. 

      Strategies to activate cross-cultural prior knowledge activation

      Students from other countries often have great English skills. What they lack is cultural knowledge. They simply don't have the same cultural references as a person born directly in the United States. So, what can we teachers do to overcome this issue? 

      I learned from my Zoom discussion about mean cows, Hong Kong ghosts, and Ilhan Omar that the answer is to activate students' prior knowledge by helping them to connect what they are learning now to what they already know from their home cultures.

      This works particularly well for first-generation immigrants. It is still effective with children of immigrant parents, but you need to know that they might know very little about their home countries. They still know a lot about their home cultures, though. If you are teaching a class comprised entirely of ESL learners, you'll discover that they love to talk about their home countries and cultures. I think this is because they know everyone else in the room has similar shared experiences. 

      However, if you are teaching a class with a mix native speakers and ESL learners, you'll probably discover that your ESL learners will not speak up as much in a classroom setting about their culture or home country. This is understandable. They might be nervous speaking English in front of a whole class. Or, they simply might not want to be seen as the Vietnamese Spokesperson or the Somali Expert.I could not get any of my ESL speakers in my mixed classes to say more than a few sentences in any Zoom class. I think if I had divided my mixed Zoom classes into small group discussions, the ESL speakers would have been more comfortable sharing what they knew. 


      A deep dive into "Communicating with Your Professors" (episode 12)

      How to talk to your professor video

      Here's the video link. I did this last spring for our Student Success Day. Three weeks later, COVID hit, and we all switched to online Zooming for the rest of the semester. I think there's good stuff in here, though, for students. 

      Student notes

      Here are three sets of student notes from episode 12 of Finding Your Place. It's about how to talk to professors.

      We listened to, and talked about, the podcast during a Zoom session. Then, on their own, students took Cornell notes on the episode, took pictures of those notes with their phones, and texted me those pictures.

      It was far easier doing it that way, rather than having the students go through the arduous process of  saving the images to a computer and uploading the images to a D2L Brightspace assignment drop box. 

      These three students' notes are arranged in order from "opportunities for improvement" to "ready for organic chemistry".

      Student A: Opportunities for improvement

      The good thing is that this student understands how to take Cornell notes and can write fast enough to keep up with the podcast. However, this student has no sorting mechanism. He does not distinguish between important and unimportant information. Also, in the summary section at the very bottom of the page, he does not process the notes into information that is personal to him, that he can use.  

      Student work

      Student B: Gaining comprehension skills

      This student, as well, can listen, and write fast enough, to keep up with fluent native English speech. That's important. Her notes show the discernment that Student A's notes do not. You can tell this by the key words she uses in the left column. Also, her summary statement at the bottom of the page is her own, succinct assessment of the details. In other words, she has processed the information and summarized it to make it her own knowledge. 

      Student work

      Student C: Ready for organic chemistry

      Student C has mastered the Cornell note-taking method. He captures appropriate details. He has specific key words in the left column. Finally, his summary shows that he has internalized the information and made it his own. This is the student you want to befriend in your organic chemistry class! 

      Student homework 2

      A synopsis on "Expectations of a Muslim Student" parts 1 and 2 (supplemental episodes 5 and 6)

      In these important episodes, two female Muslim college students share their experiences with us. I have not put any of my own opinion into these bullet points.I think these young women have the right to their own stories. --Mike-- 

      • How do you deal with parents who don't trust you as a female Muslim student in college? Be patient. It takes time. You need to form a real relationship with your parents because daughters all too often hide way too much from their Muslim parents because the parents just don't understand. Muslim fathers come from a very different culture than these daughters. You can't fix your parents. Arguing with your parents is hard. If you stay calm, your parent might come around to your side. There's a lot of stress dealing with parents. Is the fight really worth it?  Is the grudge match really worth it? Value the people you have in your life. 
      • How are you different in the house versus school? Keep your boundaries--don't talk about guys all the time around your parents. Try not to change your personality too much at home. Your parents need to accept you for who you are. There are two different kinds of stresses--school stress and home stress. Sometimes parents don't understand about the stresses of college life. 
      • Is there a responsiblity to help educate others about Islam? If they wear the hijab, they are more visible as Muslims and have to be prepared to answer questions about their religion, even if they don't really want to. If they don't wear the hijab, then they have to answer questions about why they don't wear the hijab, which is equally frustrating. 
      • What kind of pressure does your family put on you? There is the expectation that they need to choose one of three careers: doctors, lawyers, or engineers. It's hard to choose a different major and make the family understand it's importance. There is also the pressure that parents put on them because they gave up their life in the home country to come here to the United States. 

      Teaching reflections

      Teaching in an ESL environment

      Go here to watch the video.

      Teaching tips