This week’s guest blogger is David Arabian, a weeknight 4B teacher at Language ETC. He shares an activity that he and his co-teacher, Paul Stanton, use to keep upper-level students engaged. I like their idea and plan to try it with my Advanced class. For more along these lines, see the recent post on conversation topics.
By David Arabian
In the 2010 Winter Term I was a brand-new teacher. I was assigned to teach Basic B — almost total beginners. For the first class, my co-teacher didn’t show up, and the only teaching experience I’d had was supervising the language lab the previous term. With little or no idea what I was doing, I spent the whole two-hour class teaching from the Ventures textbook.
Needless to say, after two hours of watching me stand in front of the class, clumsily leading activities drawn directly from the textbook, students got bored. Cell phones came out, doodles were drawn. I quickly learned that students need more than what’s in the textbook to keep them involved. After two years of teaching, I now always try to add extracurricular activities and materials to supplement the lessons and keep students involved and passionate about learning. My current co-teacher, Paul Stanton, uses a great method to accomplish just that.
Paul has been volunteering at LETC for three years, and he uses a simple and effective approach to getting his students engaged. In the second half of class, after we’ve gone through the Ventures lesson, Paul will lecture on a “big” topic — an issue relevant to life in America.
It’s simple: he thinks of an issue, something he feels pertains to the students’ lives, then lectures on it. He leaves time at the end for questions and discussion, and questions always come up along the way. Students voice their own opinions on the matter, and practice their English skills while doing so.
“We always go through the book curriculum with time left over. It’s during this extra time that I like to teach information that is important for living in the US,” Paul says. Recent discussion topics have included the US political system and the country’s current obesity crisis. In the past, Paul has led discussions on the difference between credit and debit, the credit rating system, consumer protection, and how the electoral process works.
This approach gets students to practice their English speaking and listening skills, and they pick up new vocabulary in the process. It’s a change of gears, and piques their interest. “Students — and I — can get very bored with two hours of the curriculum out of the book,” Paul says.
Especially at higher levels like 4B, Ventures alone doesn’t allow students to reach their full potential. The book provides a good framework for learning grammar and syntax. But as our student Estela says, “Some of us are shy . . . If you speak about politics you can learn to express yourself and learn about real life.”
In these first few weeks of the 2012 Spring Term, we’re again tackling “big” topics with our class. I’ve found that the stronger students participate even more, while the quieter ones are drawn out, since these issues typically affect everyone in some way. Though some of the issues are complex, when students are interested in the topic, they can handle difficult material.
But is a complex political discussion right for every class? “The bigger subjects are very important for all levels, but better understood at the higher levels,” Paul adds. At the lower levels, students may not be ready for such a discussion, since they lack advanced listening comprehension skills and vocabulary. But that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt the activity for lower levels.
Paul and I are still tweaking the method a bit. Soon we will try to incorporate more structured group discussions. His approach has definitely made me want to bring “something big” to all my future classes.