3 awesome teaching tips from Rachel, our ESL teacher of the month!
February 07, 2019
Meet Rachel, who teaches in 3 different schools at the Commission Scolaire des Sommets, near the US border. This year, she has multi-level classes, so she has the added challenge of finding material that meets all her students’ needs. As our February teacher of the month, she’s shared 3 of her best practices for a non-traditional ESL classroom.
1. Use vocabulary to build fluency. Scaffold your lessons.
Rachel’s multi-level classes demand creative ways to reach her students. She needs to find balance–some students are weak, some are strong, both may be in different grades. This melting pot may seem daunting, but Rachel has found ways to make learning fun and accessible for all of her students. As we know, vocabulary is the basis for learning. Rachel starts her classes with vocabulary, and builds on it. These words are accessible to everyone, as all words are illustrated. To accommodate stronger students, she asks them to describe other images they see on a page that are not listed. She provides both visuals and written words to meet the needs of different learning styles. Building on simple vocabulary in context is a great way to reassure students, as most words they already know, just maybe not in English. These same vocabulary words are seen in different contexts in her lessons, so repetition and reinvestment occur without much effort. Everyone feels part of the class learning, with no pressure on weaker students while keeping the stronger students engaged as well. Poptropica English introduces theme-related vocabulary words right from the start of each unit, and these words are seen often in the activities, the comic strips and reinvested in the board games at the end of each unit. Playing a game using these new words is a fun way to build confidence as well as essential knowledge. A win-win for both students and the teacher!
2. Keep your classroom active with technology.
Technology...a necessary evil for some of us. Rachel tends to differ! We all know students learn by doing, and primary level students often have lots of energy! Instead of trying to stop this, Rachel works with it. She uses her IWB (Interactive White Board) to keep her students engaged. She varies her lessons by doing interactive lessons with the IWB. Students have fun and Rachel keeps control of the situation! Rachel also uses videos to keep her students engaged. For example, she plays dialogues that feature native speakers, with dynamic interpretations of the content. Students love this, as they ask her to role-play the same dialogues, using their ‘acting’ skills! Her students modify their voices to mimic the ones they hear or to create new ones! Some of her students also mime the actions they see. Poptropica English has an interactive digital platform with animated online lessons and games already integrated. For example, when teaching vocabulary, Rachel uses her IWB to project her lesson for the class. She then has students come up to the board and play a memory game with the vocabulary. They love it! She also uses the videos for each Island Adventure where students see and hear the Poptropicans in action. They then re-enact what they saw and heard and add their own personal touch! Fun all around.
3. Use engaging and interesting content.
English teachers are concerned about the themes they will exploit to keep students interested. Of course common themes come up, which reassures students, but the more dynamic the content, the easier it is for Rachel to teach her class. Student interest is half the battle a teacher faces. Teachers need to feel comfortable too before teaching a certain theme. Variety is key to keep a classroom fun. Rachel uses stories, songs, relatable characters and humour to keep students interested. So while the vocabulary is her base, she likes to teach it in interesting contexts that students can relate to. She introduces characters that are the same age as her students, and for 3rd cycle students, a little older. She allows students to actively participate in their learning by having them do role plays, read-alouds and personalizing content she presents in class, through these characters. Rachel says her classes go by very quickly, and students almost ‘forget’ they are learning English! This facilitates oral interaction. Rachel also gives students learning challenges with games and team competitions. Poptropica English features different Poptropicans for each level, and in grades 5 and 6, new age-appropriate characters that have their own storylines throughout each unit. Her students love the storylines and she tells us that although she would prefer that her students follow her rhythm, most read ahead to see what will happen in the next chapter! I think we can all agree that her students are VERY engaged!
If you, like Rachel, have great ESL teaching tips of your own, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and take part in creating a vibrant knowledge pool for ESL teachers!