Thursday, May 22, 2014

Show & Tell

When most of us think about “show & tell”, we probably revert back to our days in Kindergarten or 1st Grade.  I personally don’t remember having show & tell activities in my early elementary years, but I certainly remember how excited my own kids were on their show & tell days.  They carefully picked out the items they were going to share with their classmates and for them it was the best day of the week.  

This year, we began doing show & tell every Friday in my high school beginner ESL class....yes high school.  These are teenagers - ages ranging from 14 - 18.  Just like my own children, students have eagerly participated and seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed it.  

Show & Tell in the ESL classroom affords learners a wonderful opportunity to grow their public speaking and listening skills.  Public speaking is nerve wrecking for most of us, but it is especially challenging for English learners.  While S&T in my class is very relaxed and comfortable, it is also structured and guided.  The focus is on developing their speaking and listening skills.   Topics are announced early in the week and often relate to the unit of study or the week’s reading assignment.  Most of the time, it is tied in to their culture or native country.  In fact, I try to assign topics that they are comfortable with so they are not presenting material that is totally new to them.  Again, the focus is not so much on the content, but on improving their communication skills. Also, with several different countries and cultures represented, there are lots of questions and lots of contrasting and comparing.  But how is it relaxed and comfortable? Well, my approach to class is that we are family.  It’s a safe zone, where they can ask any question and make mistakes without feeling humiliated.  While the expectations for preparation are high, it is clear that we learn together, laugh together, celebrate one another’s differences and support one another as we grow.  Also, although I am not consistent, I participate myself.  Just like I love learning about them, they like to know about me.  

Some of the topics covered this year include foods, flags, currency, President’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, New Year’s.  For example, early in the year, we studied the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.  S&T culminated the unit with presentations of their native country’s flag and the significance of its colors and/or any graphics on their flag.  Back in February around President’s Day, we studied the history of the holiday and related vocabulary.  The S&T topic for that week was-you guessed it-President’s Day (or a similar type of holiday) in their native country and included in their presentation was a picture and information on their president.  When we learned about U.S. currency, they brought in their native country’s currency (some just printed pictures from the Internet) and they also had to figure out currency exchange rates.  Some weeks were more relaxed with topics such as “bring something old” or “bring something in a box”.  The latter was lots of fun because the contents were to be a surprise.  One student really got me when he arrived at class claiming to have left his laptop at home.  When it was his turn to speak, he had a shoe box in hand and voila, his laptop was in there.  

Students are graded using a rubric. Rubric is consistent, but may change if appropriate to the topic.  Grading categories always include preparedness, posture, eye contact, volume, enthusiasm and listens/asks questions. Each student is expected to ask at least one question (or make an appropriate comment) of each presenter.  They are never penalized for stumbling on a word, although as part of their preparation, they should try to know how to pronounce most of the content.  Some of the speaking is spontaneous, particularly when answering questions, so they may get a little stuck, but as I stated it’s all good.  Even though they took off pretty quickly, by now, they are very comfortable and are actually disappointed when he have to skip a week (which is rare). The hardest part was getting them to ask questions, and for some this has been huge, but by now, they are doing well.  After everyone presents, they reflect and write about their experience in their blog.

So if you teach adolescent or adult English learners, I encourage you to try it.  It really is lots of fun, but most of all they will gain some invaluable skills. And on the flipside, you will gain some invaluable knowledge about their background, culture and family.  It’s a win-win situation for all.

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