<b> Forum for discussing activities and games that work well in the classroom </b>

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Post by mggialdi » Sat Nov 10, 2007 4:56 pm

I'm an English teacher in a secondary school in Italy. I teach classes of 20-25 pupils aged 11-13. This year, in my "terza media" (pupils aged 13) I have many girls and boys who have just arrived to Italy, they can't speak Italian and they know very little English either. Their level is thus very different from the level of the rest of the class. I can't do the same topics I do with the others,as they're too difficult for them, and I need some material they can afford alone in class after a short explanation while I'm teaching to the rest of the students. Does any of you know a website or something where I can find such material? Has any of you got advice to give me to deal with this situation? Thanks in advance!!! :roll:

Sally Olsen
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Post by Sally Olsen » Sat Nov 10, 2007 5:27 pm

I would suggest that you find or make material on the same subject as you are teaching for these students. They will feel slighted if they are excluded. Everything can be made simpler - just Google the topics and get material that is easier. You are probably underestimating their knowledge in their own language. Perhaps you could even get materials in their own language so at least they can learn the content. That will make everyone feel better and you can work on enhancing their English gradually. They will adapt by the end of the year and next year you won't recognize them if you believe in their capacity to learn.

I would pair them with a native student, let them sit side by side and get what they can. Don't worry that they are not taking everything in at the moment. It will come. Right now they need friends and to know that they are welcome. Their social needs are much greater than their educational ones.

Set little goals for them so they can feel they accomplished something in the overwhelming amount of information - 9 words from the lesson in their alphabet books with translation, a diagram copied neatly, pronuncing a word even they don't know what it means. Get the native spaker to talk about what they are doing and point and use as much body language as possible even if they don't understand. They will find a way to communicate.

Give the native speakers some incentive to help - a party every month or so, a pretty certificate, extra marks if that is possible, awards of citizenship.

Take a video of the class and the participation now and then in three months show it again and you will all be surprized at the amount of change.

Brainstorm at the end of each class about teaching techniques and get the native students to tell the class what worked with their partner. If you have native students left over without a partner you can get them to be observers to see what is going right in the class exchanges. Don't bring up the failures at all.

Let them choose their partners but watch for boy/girl matches made with other goals in mind. If you are wary of partnership, act on it and change the partners. You can tell by the body language of the immigrant students if they are comfortable with their partners.

A few immigrant students won't want to work with a partner so respect that and be there to help out as much as you can.

Teaching someone else is the best way to learn something and you can keep checking with the students and reinforcing moments when you see how great it is working for the native speaking student, how much more excited they are about the subject and how much better they learned something.

If you can tape record moments or video tape you will have ammunition to show disgruntled parents when they complain that the ESL students are holding their precious back.

Teach to the top and then let the top teach.

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Post by iain » Mon Nov 12, 2007 8:44 am


I suspect that there could be a significant gap between the ideal circumstances which Sally’s proposals would require and the practical realities of mggialdi’s classroom situation. Even maintaining reasonable control in a class of 20 thirteen year-olds is a considerable task, especially in foreign language lessons where, unfortunately, many kids are lowly motivated as they have no external stimulus or access to the language. These problems are probably exacerbated in an ‘unequal’ multi-ethnic classroom like mggialdi’s.
As far as I understand the situation, there are no native-speaker children in the class to act as ‘tutors’ to the ‘strugglers’ and it is probably unlikely that even the ‘stronger’ pupils would be of huge help in that role if there is already a communication problem within the class. As for the other suggestions, you would need to see if school provided the class with internet access and video and audio recording equipment. As for out-of-school activities, this would rely on the willingness, support and time of pupils and their parents, as well as the already under pressure teacher.
In some school systems a teacher’s hands are fairly tied – a third-grade class must follow the third-grade programme – so following the simple step of streaming the class into natural levels and using first or second grade syllabus with the pupils who have missed out, may not be an option.
Unfortunately many keen and motivated teachers find themselves in this kind of hopeless situation, often because the facilities and materials required to do a good job simply don’t exist and the will to help among those in authority is just not there.

Sally Olsen
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Post by Sally Olsen » Mon Nov 12, 2007 1:34 pm

I heartily suggest that you come to Mongolia to teach for a year. When you go back to Italy you will think you are in heaven, the students are angels and facitilies legion.

Edward de Bono wrote something I have found very useful and use in my classroom often. Think of ideas as hats. I wrote with a green hat of creativity trying to get mggialdi’s to think outside the box. iain wrote with the black hat of realities that detail the situation as it is. Can anyone else write with the red hat of emotion or the yellow hat of optimism or the white hat of just facts?

By the by, by native speakers I meant native speaking Italian students who can sit next to the immigrant students and at least teach them Italian or learn this third language together. People can learn more than one language at a time.

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Post by alexcase » Thu Nov 15, 2007 5:04 am

This is just a single suggestion rather than a panacea, but how about doing something where the students who are not Italian can use English to explain something about where they come from. This would depend on them not being sensitive about being pointed out as being different, which depends a lot. This is one example of a more general tip for mixed-level classes, which is to use lots of project work.

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Post by mggialdi » Thu Nov 15, 2007 12:39 pm

I'd like to add some info about the class I'm working in to make the situation clearer:

1. The new students all come from different countries. They have different religions and customs, as well as different ages (some of them are nearly 15);
2. At school we have internet connections, but our media center has 8 working computers and my students are 25;
3. We have no video equipment, needless to say we don't have a language laboratory;
4. the school is closed in the afternoon, so it's very difficult to find places for parties and for alternative activities;
5. At the end of this year students will have to take a state exam, called "esame di licenza media". The teacher has to follow a programme with very clear contents and language structures, in order to prepare them for this exam and for the years to follow.

Teaching in Mongolia is no doubt more difficult than teaching in Italy, but I agree with Iain when (s)he says that in some school systems teachers' hands are fairly tied. Anyway, I found Sally Olsen's advice very interesting, and starting from next week I will try and pair my foreign students with native ones. They will do the same topics I do with the others even if my expectations are clearly different. I (and they) have got nothing to lose... I'll let you know!
Other suggestions are welcome...

Sally Olsen
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Post by Sally Olsen » Thu Nov 15, 2007 3:24 pm

Great white hat reply with a little yellow optimism thrown in. How about hearing from someone about how they feel emotionally about this?

13 year olds? I have always suggested bundling the 13 to 15 year olds up and sending them to some place warm (in the case of Canada to Florida) and let them party until they drop. They are really only interested in what their hormones are telling them at that age. Then they can come back at 16 and buckle down to life.

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Multicultural teenagers? Well...

Post by veranike » Thu Nov 15, 2007 5:23 pm


Here are my ideas :idea:
try to use:
  • international words, slogans
    lots of realia,
    pictures and picture dictionary
    the computers/Internet (you mentioned that there are 8 of them) for collaborative activities, project work or research (see e.g, great worksheets in the book: Dave Sperling's Internetactivity workbook)
I agree with Sally and Alex; social issues are more imporant for them first. For this reason you can exploit cultural differences by comparing them. Try to find interconnections to meet the criteria of the curriculum; you/your students can e.g.
  • use recipes, I mean present national or local specialities; for teaching imperatives
    use pieces of art or
    photos of cities, natural features, etc. for picture description / or roleplay: tourists-tourguides / or conditional sentences: "I'd like to visit X's country, because..."
    talk about festivals, special occassions, superstitions to practice present simple
    present folk tales, folk songs or poems of their own nation-> What feelings do they generate? (this may not be suitable for teenagers, but it depends on the circumstances, anyway)
    talk about national heros, famous people (characteristics, looks), etc.
To build self confidence (both social and linguistic) and encourage group-dynamics check out the following:
  • Drama Techniques in Language Learning (by A. Maley & A. Duff, CUP- I found the 1982 edition better than the newer version)
    Classroom Dynamics (by Jill Hadfield, OUP)
    Cultural Awareness (by B. Tomalin & S. Stempleski, OUP)

    books, articles by Mario Rinvolucri, Herbert Puchta and other authors of humanistic approaches
Be creative! Good luck! :)

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