Volunteers can be a wonderful addition to your ESL classroom.
Extra pairs of hands are always helpful, but how can they help best? Here are ten great tips to help you make the best of your volunteers as a resource in your classroom.
Use Your Volunteers Wisely Applying These Tips
Have a Vision in Mind
Volunteers can be valuable members of your classroom, if you plan ahead well. You should have procedures in place for them to sign in, especially if they are getting community service hours for their time. Once you know you are going to have volunteers in your classroom, you need to know how you want to use them. Are you going to teach the large group and then break into smaller groups with one volunteer heading each one up? Would you rather they circulate in the room as you teach, assisting as needed? Are you going to have some volunteers doing more clerical tasks, such as taking attendance or making copies? You need to go into this with some idea of how you want to run your class with volunteers. They will follow your vision.
Getting to Know You
While not always possible, it is a great idea to get to know a bit about your volunteers before they start with you, as that may have an impact on how you utilize them in your classroom. You may have a retired teacher with years of classroom experience, or you may have a high school student who is intimidated by the idea of assisting in the classroom at all. You may have someone who speaks the native language of the majority of your students. Everyone has skills they can use to contribute, and part of your job is to find a good fit for them in your class. If it would work for you, it would be a great idea to have them fill out a form to let you know their areas of expertise.
Bring in the Reinforcements
One way to use your volunteers is to introduce the topic to your class, teach the main part of the lesson and then break them up into small groups based on ability. Each group can be led by a volunteer. You can then circulate and supervise all of the groups. You may want to put someone who speaks some of the common native language of your class with some beginning students, as they may need that support. You also may want to put someone who you know likes discussion with an advanced group where you want to hear a lot of spontaneous conversation.
Making the Rounds
Another way volunteers can help out is to circulate around the room as your class is doing independent work. They can monitor the students’ comprehension as they walk around, helping students as necessary. Sometimes students will respond better to a volunteer than they will to you asking if they need help. Some students, especially beginners, are intimidated to ask the teacher for assistance, but feel fine asking a volunteer for some help.
Some volunteers may be more comfortable with less student contact. These volunteers can help out with clerical tasks before, during and after class. They may make copies, take attendance, prepare materials and the like. They may greet students as they enter. These volunteers are as important as those who assist the students with their academic work.
Volunteers can be great models for use of proper English in general, and especially for proper pronunciation. Some volunteers may be happy to act out your role plays for the class. Others may feel comfortable modeling pronunciation for your students. This is particularly helpful, especially for the advanced learners who may especially be concentrating on their pronunciation.
We Need Some Backup Here
Some volunteers may have the advantage of speaking a common native language of your students. While the goal of ESL class clearly is to speak English, there are times when an explanation would be helpful for that new learner. Having someone who can explain the term or the issue to the student in their native language may give that student the support they need at the time.
Tap them for Technology
Some of your volunteers may have an expertise in technology. If you are fortunate enough to have some computers, a smart board or some tablets in your classroom, this may come in handy. These volunteers can monitor whatever technology is in use at the time, assisting students as necessary. Depending on their expertise, sometimes they may even be able to help you with the technology in your room!
‘Round and ‘Round We Go
One great use of volunteers is to create a theme for the class and then set up related stations for students to explore. For example, you may choose food as a theme. You can have a station where students practice reading menus, another where they match “play food” with its proper labels and another where they are reading a recipe and following its directions. Volunteers can each manage a station. Students will rotate around the stations in the classroom. With this model, your students really get a variety of activities within one session.
Each One Teach One
Many volunteers have lots to offer the class. Ask them if they would be comfortable running a class. Let them know you will be there to support them. You can provide the topic and the materials. If they would like to choose their own topic and/or materials, they must be approved by you first. Allowing a volunteer to lead a class gives the students a different perspective and the volunteer some confidence. This can be a lot of fun for everyone.
Volunteers can be such an asset to any ESL classroom.
They will add to the experience for both you and the class in so many ways. If you are fortunate enough to have them, use these tips to make the best of your time together for the benefit of the students. You may find that you and the volunteers reap benefits as well.