One of a ‘toolbox’ of teaching techniques that I use with my overseas students in my role as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is our local paper! When you consider this, remember that I’m talking from the standpoint of an intensive, one-to-one, course, but I am sure that this would work equally well in a small group situation. Our paper arrives early on a Thursday. On both of the weeks he was with us I gave the paper to our student at breakfast and asked him to have a look through (this particular student was pre-intermediate level), finding three articles or advertisements that interested him.
The idea was then for him to bring the stories to our ‘classroom’ for discussion: here’s what happened! Week one saw him choosing three brief articles. The first was an article about a musician returning to her home town for a concert, the second a piece about a local artist offering to teach people at home, and the third a regular slot from the local branch of the Dog’s Trust advertising an individual animal. In each case my student was able to tell me a few things about the content of the article, and by looking at each in a bit more detail, the exercise gave me an opportunity to assess his English level (what did he clearly understand?; what was he struggling with?).
Giving him the opportunity to pick the content was also a good strategy, as I was getting an idea of what sort of things interested him. I knew about the music – that’s what he’s studying at home – but the art and the dogs, that was a good cue for me. I was able to follow up the interest with visits to a gallery to see the artist’s work (which we didn’t like), and also a visits to see the dog at the kennels. The key here is that the teacher has got to find the buttons to press to get conversation going.
From conversation comes vocabulary, confidence, and practice – all the things that the teacher wants to get across! Week two’s paper saw the results of a week’s immersion in my language: he chose the headline article (about the closure of local police enquiry offices); we considered an advertisement for a job at a local (world famous) tourist attraction; and we discussed a review of a classical concert which took place during the previous week. Again, the paper stimulated words, grammar, phrases, sentences, points of view. What makes this tool particularly useful is that it keeps the course content fresh, and, most importantly, is based on the interests of the student. When the student is trying to understand the English for something that interests him or her, THEN he will want to learn: and teaching a student who wants to learn is the only kind of teaching that’s going to work well!