So, you’ve been asked to teach a class for English for specific purposes designed for construction workers.
Where do you start? Here’s some tips for getting started on an excellent class for English for construction workers.
How to Teach English to Construction Workers
Assess Your Students’ Needs
Like any ESP class, it will be important to know what your students already know and what they need to know. If possible, try to find out in advance as much as possible about your students before the first class meeting. More likely than not, your students may have limited English, so prepare for some introductory level skills in English. If you aren’t sure of your students’ level or prior knowledge, prepare a generalized first class meeting that will enable you to learn as much as possible. Plan your first class to focus on introductions and how to describe yourself to the class. How they describe themselves will let you know about their speaking abilities as well as their vocabulary knowledge. In addition, have a few listening diagnostics available on the first to determine what level of listening they have. Also, ask questions or have simple questionnaires prepared to find out what they want to know in English. What kind of construction will they be doing? Will they be working in residential areas or commercial areas? Will the be building new constructions or repairing existing buildings? Will the be focusing on one specialty, like sheetrock or roofing? Once you’ve spent an hour or two with them, you’ll be better able to adjust the rest of your schedule to match their needs.
Focus on Practical Grammatical Constructions
On a construction site the need for things like past perfect continuous and the subjunctive will be pretty rare. When doing teaching structures, stick to the basics of present, past, and future simple. The most useful grammatical structure will likely be the imperative or commands. Spend some time working on practical commands. In a low level class, do some activities that they can practice then and there, such as Open the book. Close the door. Turn on the lights. etc... Also, avoid using metalanguage terms like “subject” or “verb tense” as it will add to the confusion. ESP is about practical English that they can put into use right away.
Another major grammatical concept your students will need to learn is question formation. It’s essential that they be able to ask their boss, colleagues, or clients questions clearly to avoid confusion on the job site. If your students don’t yet have a good grasp on the construction vocabulary, have them practice asking questions to get to know their classmates. Focus on both WH-question formation (Which city are you from?) and yes/no question formation (Do you like to watch sports on TV?). Then, have students report to the class about what they learned about their partner.
An important unit to teach with your students will be safety commands in order to help protect from accidents and injuries. Introduce these vocabulary items early, including the idiomatic ones, so that students have time to practice them. Include words like warning, look out!, helmet, danger, electric shock, etc... Especially concentrate on the words that are intangible as they will need more explanation. Make sure students can read safety postings and warning labels. Bring in examples of warnings and pictures of signs to improve understanding.
There’s a lot of vocabulary needed at a worksite. Safety vocabulary is essential, as discussed above, in addition to the variety of tools used in construction. Based on your needs analysis that you did on the first day, choose the most appropriate vocabulary to benefit your students and try the following activities to practice.
Print out pictures of various tools and paste them on the board using putty. Put students into teams, and then have two students come to the board at one time. For beginning level students, call out individual vocab items and have the students race to the board to see who can pull the correct picture first. For more advanced students, call out phrases like “Grab the 2x4 and use the power drill to fix it.”
Alternatively, you can do picture bingo to help your students practice vocabulary. Put the pictures of the tools or vocabulary items into randomized bingo boards. Here is a good free bingo picture generator that lets you add your own images. Print off several versions of the bingo boards and distribute them among students. Use paper clips or light pencil marks to reuse the boards again and again. To mix things up, after a student wins, let he or she be the caller to practice pronunciation practice.
After students feel confident with grammatical structures and vocabulary, move them to role plays so that they can practice these skills in a semi-authentic way to build their confidence in using the language. Give students various scenarios to practice such as:
- Getting daily instructions for a job
- Asking their colleague for help
- Asking their boss for what to do
- Having small talk at lunch
- Getting injured on the job and talking to their boss
- Asking to borrow a tool that they don’t have
- Asking a client if they are satisfied with a particular design
In addition to good speaking and listening skills, your students will also need to develop reading skills. Construction workers will likely need to read items like signs, blueprints, and instructions. Use the Internet to find as many authentic replications of these as possible for students to practice their reading skills. Focus on short excerpts of text that students can immediately apply in class. If you struggle to find authentic readings appropriate for your students, create your own texts or have your students create their own. A good way to practice this is to give students a simple picture that could be easily replicated or redrawn by a student. Tell the student that they should write out instructions for how to draw the picture on a piece of paper. Then, students will give their written instructions to another student without showing them the picture. The students should then read the directions carefully and attempt to recreate the picture. Have the students compare their drawings with the original picture and critique their partner’s instructions for how they could have been more clearly written.
Teaching a new class for the first time can be intimidating, but use the resources available to you and remember your goals for the class. Teaching construction workers can be easy, even if you’ve never worked in the field yourself!
How would you design a new class?
What would you include?