Fall 2011: A New Term, a New School Year at Language ETC

The Language ETC blog is almost a year old! Readership got a boost recently when LETC’s terrific new website went live. To start the school year, here’s a roundup of some past blog posts with ideas that may be helpful for both new and returning teachers.

At the start of the term, you can simplify your team’s communication by setting up a Google group. It takes just a few minutes on the Gmail homepage. Then you can use the group address to send class logs to all your co-teachers and the volunteer coordinators without having to type in six or eight e-mail addresses each time.

Sitting in a circle or semicircle can help build community in the classroom. Photo © Elsie Hull.

When we arrive in the classroom to set up for class, one question is how to arrange the chairs. Rows, a semicircle, something else? There are advantages and drawbacks to each plan.

Now the students are trickling in, looking a little nervous, and we’re wondering how on earth we will remember all their names. Get everyone comfortable with name games and icebreakers adapted to different class levels.

To get acquainted, members of the class can interview each other and chart the results on posterboard or newsprint.

As we get to know our students better, their individual personalities start to shine through. That’s when it becomes clear that there’s a spread of abilities in the class — sometimes, a rather wide spread. Some students struggle with the Ventures exercises, while others zip through. Managing the multilevel classroom is always a challenge in adult ESL, where students have vastly different backgrounds and educational levels.

In that regard, it’s good to know about two useful resources: the Ventures Workbook and Add Ventures. They supplement the Ventures Student’s Book (the main textbook), providing additional exercises keyed to the content of each lesson. Among other uses, they can provide extra challenges for those zip-ahead students.

The language lab volunteers can suggest a variety of computer activities for your class. Try songs with sing-along lyrics, short videos, news clips, sports websites, and language games, in addition to the Ventures ESL software. Photo © Elsie Hull.

Another great resource at Language ETC is our language lab. Each class goes there several times during the term, and the lab is open at other times for students and teachers to use. One of our language lab volunteers shared some creative ways that teachers can use the lab with their classes.

As teachers, we get so used to hearing our students’ accents in English that we may forget how much they want to improve them. Many students are eager to practice their pronunciation in class, and there are some easy and fun exercises for this.

"Teacher talk" is an art. Students grasp more when teachers slow down, use body language, and write as well as speak new vocabulary. Photo © Elsie Hull.

Finally, as teachers, we get used to hearing ourselves talk — and talk a lot. It’s frankly easier to do most of the talking ourselves than it is to wait patiently while students stammer out a thought. Here are some tips from our former program director on the important subject of teacher talk.

There’s much more in the blog archives, so please explore. You can get a lively discussion going in class by using newspaper photos as conversation prompts.  Or treat your students to a change of pace by bringing in children’s picture books — great for learning new vocabulary. Challenge advanced students with lessons on negotiating difficult workplace situations or conducting personal business on the telephone.

"Fiesta DC" in Mt. Pleasant, one of the core neighborhoods for the DC Latino community.

For those interested in immigration and multiculturalism, there are articles on the Latino and African communities in the DC area. Maybe one on Asians soon, too.

And as an incentive to keep up the good work, check out the happy faces and delicious eats at the end of term graduation party!

Students bring in foods from their countries for the graduation party. Not to be missed!

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