It has been a great pleasure of mine to teach students from all over the world, from five different continents.
And while I have at least been out of my time zone, my travels aren’t extensive. I max out at two continents. It’s my time teaching international students in the U.S. that make my global connections possible. I support students travelling overseas to study because I believe English immersion is a terrific way to learn the language. I work hard in the classroom to make sure my students learn as much as they can. But because they are immersed in an English speaking culture, the instruction doesn’t stop there. My students have the opportunities to learn from lots of other sources. Here are some of the ways I encouraged my students to learn outside the classroom.
5 Sources Your Students Can Learn from Outside the Class
I might not let my preschooler watch much television, but TV is a good language resource for my international students. It is free, accessible, and entertaining. Often my students come to class with a list of words they heard for the first time while watching television. Most of the time they are able to find unfamiliar words in a dictionary and learn them on their own, but when the spelling of what they heard doesn’t match actual English spelling, I help them out.
An even greater benefit that comes from watching television is that English learners get massive amounts of input when it comes to pronunciation and intonation. There is only so much classroom time I can take to talk to my students. In fact, I usually try to get them speaking more than me. But that means my English learners only get a limited amount of input when it comes to native speaker pronunciation in the classroom. Listening to classmates with other accents is highly valuable, but so is hearing a native speaker. The feedback system in the human brain subconsciously takes the language we hear and adjusts how we speak to match it. This means that without even trying my ESL students are working on their pronunciations. Just by watching television!
When I taught at a small university, I had a great resource for connecting my ESL students with American conversation partners. By simply inviting another class of students into our classroom, I was able to make connections between my students and native speakers, who often became their friends. If you teach in a similar situation, try inviting an international business class to join you and make conversation with your students. Or a linguistics class. Or any other group that might plan on working with internationals at some point in the future. Not only will your students get some very willing conversation partners, they will help English speakers who plan to interact with the world.
If you don’t know an international business class, don’t fret. Put an ad in your local paper, invite your friends, or tap into other resources around you. Encourage your students to find an American friend who they can just talk to. The conversations don’t have to be structured or have an agenda as some students and volunteers might fear. It’s often better if they don’t. When English learners have regular, casual conversations with native speakers, they practice their discourse skills – holding their own in a conversation, interrupting, and handling interruptions as well as making small talk and getting to know people in an informal setting.
One of my favorite fieldtrips was so very simple. I took one of my classes to a local coffee shop and we ordered drinks. Interacting with native speakers is a great way for your students to learn. By ordering in restaurants, booking travel accommodations, or doing similar activities, students will get a read on how easy their English is to understand. They will also have to think on their feet and answer clarification questions from the person they are speaking to. Some students might be afraid to interact with strangers this way. They might prefer to point to pictures on a menu or just give a number when ordering their meal. If you encourage your students to think of these interactions as ways to learn outside the classroom, they will surely benefit in the long run even if they are a little uncomfortable up front.
Books, Magazines, Newspapers
I did spend some time teaching overseas, and in that time I had very little access to books, magazines, or newspapers written in English. ESL students in an immersion environment do not have that problem. They are surrounded by written English sources. You can easily bring any of these materials into your classroom and use them for lessons, but how much more useful would these materials be if your students took some of their free time to peruse reading material that entertains them? Even the TV guide is a good source for reading practice. Movie and television descriptions are short and to the point. It’s a great way for students to use their language skills and get some reading practice in. So remind your students that entertainment publications can be “teachers” to them, too. The more they read, the better their vocabulary and grammar will become. Plus they’ll know when to tune in for the best movies.
Reading isn’t the only skill your students should work on outside the classroom. Podcasts are a great way to use and improve listening skills. These days, you can find a podcast on just about any topic that interests a person, and your students will benefit if they find one or two they can listen to regularly. Even better, podcasts aren’t only for students in immersion situations. All around the world, people have access to English podcasts, and many if not most are free. Encourage your students to find a few that they can listen to during commutes, while working out, or during downtime. They will find that podcasts are great for listening and speaking practice, and they might learn a thing or two about something that interests them as well.
I know you are a great teacher.
If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading up on how to help your students outside of the classroom. But sometimes the greatest teachers are found outside the schoolroom doors. Encourage your students to think outside the classroom box when it comes to learning English, and they may find that their greatest teacher of all is themselves.