Many a TLG volunteer spends a few evenings a week teaching their host siblings (and sometimes host parents!) English lessons. The lesson contents and styles vary depending on the interests and needs of the students – some lessons focus on homework help and reviewing school lessons, others expand into unknown nether regions of slang or pop music. The lessons I teach my two host brothers usually start off by reviewing some of their class work or going over their homework, then expand on what they’re learning in class (or, often, teach basics they’ve forgotten). It can be hard to keep young, energetic kids engaged in a lesson, especially after they’ve spent most of the day in class. Here are some strategies I’ve used to keep not only my host brothers, but also the rest of my family, interested in English lessons!
I try to start out with some thing physically active – since the kids have been mostly sitting all day. Here’s a chance, with only one or two kids, to let them move around without a classroom erupting into chaos! I do a simple flashcard review, but instead of just holding up the cards, I place them around the room. Then I say “Find the dog!” Or “find the red card!” and I time them using the stopwatch on my phone (oh, those handy Nokias!) which adds some urgency to the game! This quickly gets them warmed up and energized for some English. I also do head-shoulders-knees-and-toes, even with my older host siblings, and they love it!
I’ve been using these following activities to teach questions words (Why, When, Where, How, etc) but they could be adapted to teach anything at all!
Most of you probably have used this before, but if you haven’t, give it a try! We write down lines the first time and practice them. We’ve done Lost in the City, At a Restaurant, At the Store and At the Doctors. If you’ve already done a lot of role-play, then maybe you can jump straight into….
Make a Telenovela
After they become comfortable with the role-playing format, expand it into something all of us here in Georgia know and love – the telenovela. These badly dubbed, melodramatic shows are on every afternoon in my home. While I can’t follow the dialogue, I do know that Dramatic Brunette #1 was kidnapped by Angry Man #3 but then rescued by Crying Blonde #2. After spending a hilarious evening making fun of a telenovela with my host siblings, giving each other Spanish names and mimicking the lines, I decided this was a way to move past the same old role playing and play off of our mutual love of comedy and cheesy drama. We write scripts (using the question words in my case) and film short scenes heavy on the anguished faces and raised voices. Right now we read off our papers during the sense, but I’m hoping to move to memorizing the lines! (It will be much easier to fall dramatically to the ground and/or flee the room when not worrying about reading off a script.) I’m using a simple digital camera to film and then editing the scenes on my iMovie program on my Mac. The whole family has become interested in these films (and we’ve also began calling each other Pedro and Maria) and they are great ways to get the students speaking!
Plan a Trip
This activity may be less active than the role-playing ones, but it serves to not only teach English, but some geography and world culture as well! I pulled out the big map of the world I had brought (you could find a map or use Google if you have regular internet) and had my brothers plan a trip to wherever they wanted! Again, I incorporated the question words and had them answer (both written and orally) why they wanted to go there, how they would get there, etc. We drew lines from Georgia to the countries they chose and looked up photos online of places in that country. I planned my own trip as well, as an example (and to expand their view a little – they never chose countries outside of Europe, so I chose Morocco, New Zealand and India). The rest of the family soon joined in chatting about countries they would like to see, and it was a great way to give the kids one example of why learning English can be useful – it’s spoken in many of the countries they wanted to visit!
(If you have internet, which I assume you do because you are reading this…)
A one-on-one hour long lesson can be pretty mentally draining, so I try to include a “break” by watching a little TV in English. We’ve been watching (in 5 minute increments) the PBS Kids show Arthur (full episodes on YouTube). I pause it now and then to make sure they are at least getting the gist of what is happening.
Of course, each situation is different, but these activities have definitely helped lift the strain of sitting for an hour with a kid that would rather be outside. Now I get requests for “telenovela?” before I even remind them we have a lesson!