Earlier today, I attended my first English Language Society (ELS) meeting as a teacher. I had always been an ELS teacher since I entered the school, but this was the first time my school schedule was shaped in a way that allowed me to attend a meeting. Before this, I always had a class to teach while the clubs were in session. It was a new experience, but in a sense, it wasn’t, either. I’ll explain that a bit later.
The students that made up the members of the ELS were standard 4, 5 and 6 students from all levels of proficiency. Some were well-versed in English, while most were at a below average to low level of proficiency. These students didn’t choose to be in this particular club. They were assigned with clubs, so it is the responsibility of the teachers to do the best with what we had to help increase the students’ level of interest towards the language. A daunting task, if I may say so myself.
For this first activity, we decided to go with a game of charades, with most of the items that the students having to act out being movies that were perceived to be popular among kids their age. Conducting the activity felt familiar to me, since I’ve conducted such activities before during my teacher training days. We had ELS there too, and we had to come up with and conduct our own activities, our lecturers playing the role of observer and provider of guidance. I had also done language-game-programmes with school children in the past, so I drew on that experience to conduct this one as a full-time teacher.
What I could observe from conducting the game was that, while most of the students understood the premise of the game, not all of them knew all of the movies that were presented to them. Some kids would come up to the front to act out a movie, but upon reading what they had to convey to their friends, they had no idea what movie was written on the paper (one didn’t even know Harry Potter). This caused the game to go through hiccups and lulls, since some would have no idea what to do in front, and resorted to just standing in front of the rest of the society until the time ran out.
This made me think about how we sometimes take it for granted that other people share our own interests and, in this case, have watched the movies we have watched, when in reality, it is far removed from the truth. We got to get through eight turns during the game earlier, and only three were answered correctly by the students. That’s a low percentage of success, showing that the students really have not watched most of the movies that we thought everyone would have watched within the past three years (such as Batman, Harry Potter and Guardians of the Galaxy).
There are several reasons to explain the lack of proficiency in the majority of students in my school, and one of the main ones is the lack of exposure. They simply have not been exposed enough to material in English, things that were my main sources of learning such as TV shows, movies and songs. I am of the opinion that if they were to be shown more such English language materials, their proficiency would shoot up significantly, but only if that exposure was consistent and interesting to them.
I tried showing Frozen to one of my standard 3 classes last year, and a group of students walked away from the show five minutes into the movie. When asked why they didn’t want to watch, they said that they found the movie boring.
An approach that worked for us and some other people not necessarily means it’ll work for others. That is the challenge of the English as a second language (ESL) teacher. To find something that works for all students, and to keep it engaging so that interest in learning doesn’t diminish along the way.