Sometimes being an ESL teacher is kind of like being a parent.
We take pride in our students’ accomplishments. We feel a vicarious thrill when we see them learning and becoming more proficient at the English language. Sometimes we even want to take them under our wing, protect them from the struggles that life would throw at them. But like every good child, there comes a time when our ESL students need to leave the nest. No English program lasts forever, and eventually the ones who came to us with rudimentary English communication skills will move out into the world to survive and communicate on their own. And while we might take a moment and mourn our empty nested classrooms, we can feel good about how much our students have achieved and be confident that they will succeed once they leave our domain. To prepare them for success outside the ESL classroom, here are eight suggestions for getting your ESL student ready to transition out of ESL classes.
8 Tips for Helping Students Transition out of ESL Classes
Make Their Assignments Like Real Life Challenges
Language isn’t just something you learn. It’s something you use. It is a means to an end. It is a tool for communication. And though your students are still learning to perfect their use of that tool, you can make their learning practical by giving them assignments similar to what they will have to accomplish outside the classroom with the English they have learned. Think about where your student are headed. Will they have to take notes on a college lecture? Do it in class to prepare them. Will they have to give a business presentation? Do in as part of your program. Any time your assignments can reflect a challenge they will encounter outside the classroom, the more prepared your students will be when they have those same tasks out in the real world.
Use Realia As Much As Possible
The newspaper isn’t written with second language learners in mind, and neither are televisions shows, business communication, podcasts, and the other sources of English your students will encounter outside the classroom. It may feel like we are doing them a favor when we use only modified materials in class, but we’re not. The ESL classroom is a safe, supportive environment and the perfect place to start wrestling with the unmodified material second language learners will encounter in the real world. So as much as possible, bring real life English into your classroom. These materials written and spoken for native speakers are often referred to as realia. Real. Instead of making students make the jump to this type of English after your program, encourage the jump early when you can be there to help them catch them if they stumble. Bring in magazines, video clips, novels…anything that interests your students and is produced for native speakers. Then help them tackle the materials the right way. Teach them the strategies for comprehension. And then when they encounter these materials outside your classroom, they will still have the strategies you taught them even if they don’t have you to help.
Expose Them to Different Types of Speakers through Field Trips and Guest Speakers
“I don’t have an accent,” said every native English speaker everywhere. We simply don’t hear the nuances in our voice that others do. I know you’re an ESL teacher, and realistically you probably have less of an accent than the others that live near you, but that’s exactly the problem. Your students are used to hearing you, and they understand you better than any other English speaker. When they leave your classroom, however, they leave that all too familiar accent (or lack thereof) behind. Give your students experience with other speakers while they are still in your classroom. I’m not even talking about the difference between American and British English, though that’s a good one to address in the classroom too. Simply giving your students a chance to talk to someone who does not teach pronunciation as part of their day job will challenge them and help prepare them for English in the real world. So get your students out of class. Take field trips. Listen to online lectures. Bring guest speakers into your classroom. Have students watch self-produced videos on YouTube and listen to amateur podcasts. All of these things will help your students get accustomed to the type of speech they will hear from people outside the classroom. And since that’s where they’re headed, it’s worth taking time on in class.
Connect Students with a Mentor If Possible
Not every teacher can connect their ESL students to a mentor, but if you can then do it! Think about where your students will be once they leave your classroom. Are they going into the workforce? Will they attend school? Think about connections you have or could make and then introduce your students to someone who might be able to mentor them either now before they go or after they are in that environment. It might be someone in their job field, a student who attends the school they are headed to, or even someone in the community like the Big Brother/Big Sister program. The more people that your students can go to for information and encouragement, the more likely their success in the wide, wide world.
Role Play Situations Which They Are Likely to Encounter
When your ESL students leave the safety of your classroom, they will find themselves in different situations depending on their age and goals. Think about where your students are headed and then recreate the situation in your classroom. In other words, do roleplays. You might roleplay interviewing for a job or approaching a professor about a question or asking a fellow student to trade lunches in the cafeteria. You’ll have to think about the specifics of where your students are headed and then bring their future environment into their present.
Plan a Reunion
Reunions aren’t just for high school. Just knowing that you’ll see your strongest supporters again is enough to give anyone a boost through tough times. If your students are heading out at the end of the school year, plan on a back to school or back to ESL evening sometime in the fall. Keep those social relationships strong among your students. When they know the end of your class isn’t the end of their friendships, they will have strength to tackle the intimidating when they no longer see each other every day.
Connect with Their Parents If Appropriate
The more people that are involved in your students’ education, the more successful they will be. So if you teach young learners, get their parents involved in their education to guarantee the greatest success for them. Of course, this isn’t always easy, especially when Mom and Dad don’t speak English, but it’s worth trying for. Have a night for parents to get to know you. Send letters home, or even better, emails which they can copy and paste into a translation website. Invite parents to volunteer in class. Try to let parents know what you are doing in class and what your goals are for their children and then invite them to come alongside you and their children. You may not be with your students when they complete your program, but their parents still will be.
Encourage Students to Have the Right Attitude
Graduating from an ESL class or program isn’t about passing or failing. Your students shouldn’t think that just because they are finished with your classroom that they are done learning. The most learned people in the world have earned that title because they are never done learning, and that’s the same attitude your students should have when it comes to language. Just because they are done with your class, they aren’t done learning English. They should aim to keep learning more and more and increasing their proficiency in English. If you can help them establish this attitude while they are still in your class, they will see much success when its’ time to leave the nest.
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