By Chris Widmer, ELL Instructor
One of the most important things that I took away from the ICLC was how to use students’ experiences and things relevant to them to teach all aspects of ESL. The main benefit is that students are more engaged in lessons that are relevant to them, but there are additional benefits that I had not considered as well. For instance, lessons that use relevant experiences show the students how to apply the lessons that they are being taught and take abstract ideas and make them more real for the student. Additionally, on a self-serving level, students that are more engaged and that see the applications of their lessons are more likely to have better attendance, to return for other classes, and to bring in new students by word of mouth.
The prime example for this was in a lesson outlined about immigration statuses. Many adult ESL students are going through the rigors of immigration either for themselves or for family members and a lesson on that is likely to be relevant and interesting for them. The instructor started the lesson by generating discussion on what the students knew about immigration and then moved directly into a vocabulary lesson that included the words the students would need to know for the rest of the lesson. From there the instructor can move to any other category since the basic knowledge is established. In this instance she decided to work on grammar and talk about using the modal verbs "can" and "should." The rest of the lesson detailed ways that the instructor could use the topic for listening, speaking, and reading--all which related back to the discussion generated at the beginning of the class and which included and reviewed the vocabulary and grammar the instructor started with.
This type of lesson was designed specifically to make sure that the topic was relevant to the students and that it was consistent throughout the lesson so that the students could see clear, real world applications for the concepts they learned. Such a lesson is more likely to engage the students and also drive their interest to learn more and practice more as they can see that it is useful to them immediately.