Within this series of teaching exercises in the ESL classroom, I have chosen to focus on a mixture of personal and academic focused approaches. These exercises were made with an adult community college classroom in mind and the pretext that students would be an eclectic mixture of Asian/Latin American speakers. As I will likely be working on the west coast of the U.S.A. keeping the diverse immigrant and refugee community in mind, I opted for specificity at the individual level with worksheets and references geared at specific speakers and I opted for general approaches toward classroom level exercises. The proficiency of the classroom would likely be limited speaking proficiency with moderate listening/comprehensive proficiency.
The skills that would be focused on in the curriculum and exercises include phonemic awareness, intercultural awareness, speaking and listening, writing, nonverbal communication, and basic grammar at the descriptive level. I imagine the student population may have differing ideas of how they fit within their community through collectivist or individualistic ideas and through these exercises I would like to encourage a reflection of their own experiences through the English language. In that way I hope to create an environment of ease and freedom so the students may transition through second language English learning as easily as possible.
In the process of creating these materials, I referred to my specific strengths and experiences for ideas. Most of my expertise stems from my work in the performing arts and linguistics. As such I created exercises that were more interactive and personal while emphasizing aspects of language development that are skimmed over or minimized in a typical second language classroom, such as phonemic awareness. By infusing my expertise with intercultural awareness and exploration, I feel these exercises allow students the opportunity to look at language learning in a new way, giving them the tools and ability to traverse the many unspoken and spoken barriers that crossing cultures may bring to language learning.
Through considering my target group and the interactive capabilities I could expect from them, I focused more on the individual students’ experiences and possible problem areas and less on grammar and vocabulary. Two reasons for this. Vocabulary and grammar can always be integrated into interactive exercises by their nature of being specific learning categories, while the experiences of the student can be overlooked and un-involved. As well, the students need opportunity to voice their own experiences through English which gives them ownership on the progress they create as well as permission to take what they learn in the classroom and practice it in their lived experiences.
ESL students in this demographic of adult immigrants in an American college setting would most likely already have some experience with the English language. This class could function to provide them with tools to expand their proficiency and confidence in communication. As discussed in the first chapter of the textbook, “language reflects the worldviews, the thought processes, and lifestyles of its people.” (DeCapua 29) Students need to find ways to take ownership of this new language to talk about their own experiences and life stories. Certain exercises in these materials focus on the practice of communication in a reflective way, such as The Photo Impression, The Monologue or The Tactics Game. This allows them to take time to consider and refine the way they want to communicate both intent and meaning allowing them the opportunity to exercise their own ways of expressing through English.
Other exercises are focused on the interpretative and listening aspects of communication, such as The Observation Diary and Emotional Bank exercises. Through these exercise students are encouraged to focus on para-lingual features, such as nonverbal communication and direct/indirect expression. By observing others go through emotional expression and day to day interactions, the students can connect real life expressions to nonverbal cues, such as turn taking and gestures. The expression of emotions and the way communication breaks down varies across cultures and directly affects how nonverbal communication is interpreted and understood. (DeCapua 174-175) By creating interactive and observational exercises with this in mind, students should be more adept at conversational English and creates more confidence and motivation to speak outside of the classroom.
One of the most important focuses I have in my teaching and throughout these materials is self-awareness. The study of intercultural communication, such as ESL, begins as a journey into another culture and reality and usually turns around to reflect on one's own culture.(Martin 18) This is generally the basis of culture shock and it is my hope to make the natural transition of culture shock for my students easier and valuable. By reflecting on their own cultural experiences and use of communication, students are better able to understand the specific differences and perspectives that they will be studying in the ESL classroom. For example, The Holiday Special, The Talking Point and The Scenario Switch exercises include a self-reflective aspect on how persons from other cultures may react to their own traditions and perspectives.
As well as self-awareness, many of these exercises emulate possible adverse reactions and situations which may or may not be positive, allowing the student to prepare for miscommunication and ways to identify and recover from it. This can result in different levels of culture shock, but by exploring the cultural aspects through these exercises like The Scenario Switch and Talking Point, the students can learn to transition more smoothly and be prepared for it. The exercises reduce the gap between the cultural distances that may include cultural aspects of communication, such as privacy, saving face, and societal roles, that can increase the chance and intensify culture shock. (DeCapua 127) They can also encourage appreciation of unique expression, such as in the Holiday Special, which allows students to traverse communication by expressing interest in the cultural differences and reducing presumptions and prejudice.
Based on the expected maturity level of the target group, it is important to encourage a taste in culturally relevant dramatic material. In the First Dramatic Literature Exercise, the students will be focused on digesting and interpreting a culturally relevant piece. It is important to leave a certain amount of flexibility in the content so that students may relate to it more easily, but also leave room for new works that may better reflect the vernacular and real lifestyle interactions that could occur. By encouraging literacy, the students will be able to work through aspects of English that may be different from their own language, such as para-linguistic use of silence, nonverbal cues such as gesture and proxemics, and direct versus passive voice. It also gives them freedom to interpret and reevaluate their interpretation based on other characters reactions to any given dramatic scene.
Linguistically, aspects of grammar and vocabulary can be taught in conjunction with most of these exercises. In the emotion bank exercise, for instance, we could provide irregular verb usage as well as color identification. For the Talking Point and Scenario Switch, we can practice introductions and contextual vocabulary. All these exercises focus mainly as creative outlets for the students to take advantage of. Many times, coursework can focus to highly on skills of writing and reading, where it is extremely important to also listen and speak. By providing interactive yet critical exercises, it is my teaching philosophy that students will be provided with experiences that build their confidence in conversational English that will in turn provide them with the ability to walk confidently into culturally relevant situations such as a job interview.
DeCapua, Andrea, and Ann C. Wintergerst. Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom. University of Michigan Press, 2016.
Martin, Judith N., and Thomas K. Nakayama. Experiencing Intercultural Communication: an Introduction. McGraw-Hill Education, 2014