I’m almost done with my ESL teaching class—this is the last week! It has been a remarkable experience. Among other things, I’ve learned that teaching language can be a wonderful way to talk about things that really matter to us. That’s why last week, I did a grammar lesson on George Floyd.
One of the things we’ve learned is that for a language lesson to work, whatever language we’re teaching must be embedded in a meaningful context. People remember language when it matters to them. And so, a crucial part of each lesson is to set the language you want to teach in a context that students will find interesting and relevant to their lives.
So, last week I was teaching a grammar lesson on a sentence structure called the “present simple passive.” This is a passive voice form where instead of saying “Many people eat pizza,” you say “Pizza is eaten by many people.” You use that form when you want to emphasize the pizza rather than the people.
What context could make this meaningful? Well, like people all over the world, I have been riveted by the story of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, and the protests that have followed. So, I decided to plan my lesson around that. I created sentences like “People everywhere are saddened by the murder of George Floyd,” “Many black people are assaulted by the police,” and “George Floyd is now remembered as a powerful symbol.” And as students learned the grammar form, they also had the opportunity to talk about how they thought and felt about George Floyd and the protests.
Long story short: the lesson was a great success. The students both learned some new grammar and got to speak in English about something we’ve all been thinking about. It was a very productive 45 minutes! I’m looking forward to many more rewarding conversations in the future as I become a teacher with my on class.
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P.S. In one of my colleagues’ sessions, I heard something that cracked me up. She was talking about the “ssss” sound, and to get students to make the sound, she asked the class, “What does a cat hissing sound like?” One student immediately replied, “Like a cat.” I think the guy should have gotten bonus points for that. 😹