We welcome Linda Ruas to the iELT blog to share her thoughts on the power that we have as teachers to fight injustice…
The other day, I did a lesson about sport with my multilingual pre-intermediate ESOL group in London, but with a twist. The texts were about two organisations: ‘Coaching for Hope’, teaching football (and literacy) to young child miners in Burkina Faso; and ‘Human Rights Watch’, fighting for women in Iran to be allowed to publicly watch volleyball matches. It was real, contentious, current and the learners were so interested that the lesson ran itself and remembered all the key language the following lesson.
We’re lucky teaching a language, as the content is not usually prescribed, leaving us (or the learners, of course!) free to choose what to speak, read and write about. So why choose to use the traditional ‘If I won a million pounds, I’d ….’ to practise the hypothetical conditional (and support/promote the eurocentric consumer society view where everything centres around how much money we have) when we could choose to imagine what would happen if all countries opened their borders to refugees, or if a maximum wage were introduced?
We have the power to raise awareness about more important things than the lifestyles of celebrities or the latest model of car or phone. One easy classroom task to do (thank you Marcin Stanowski – http://superteachers.pl/whats-in-your-bag/) is to get learners to turn out their pockets/ bags onto the table, and simply discuss where everything comes from, how items were made, the resources and any possible suffering (eg. sweatshops) involved and how they can improve their eco footprint.
We could develop a list of alternative ‘global issues’ contexts for practising tenses and other structures, eg:
- Present continuous: what’s happening in various regions of the world to try to stop climate change?: http://bit.ly/1Nh16mC;
- Present perfect: what have all the groups in these stories done to help refugees?: http://bit.ly/1Kv1gWf;
- Past simple: use regular and irregular past simple forms to retell short stories about women wearing veils: http://bit.ly/269c04n;
- Comparatives: practise comparing literacy and life expectancy in North Korea and Myanmar: http://bit.ly/1JIQECL ;
- Question forms: in this lesson about Pangolins (what are they??): http://bit.ly/1Wzs2jC
Or we can ditch the focus on grammar and concentrate on skills development and respond to and guide emergent language, reading, speaking and writing about organ trafficking in the US, landgrabs in Mozambique, Fundamentalism, Monsanto, new feminism, transgender, and fracking. You can find all these – Easier English texts and Ready Lessons – on the Easier English New Internationalist wiki: http://eewiki.newint.org/index.php/Main_Page. Try out some of the lessons. Get your learners to choose a text to read before class, and then discuss possible solutions to all the problem issues they’ve read about. Then do a bit of ‘Radical Phonology’ by getting learners to make protest banners about the issues they feel most strongly about and practise phonology in authentic contexts by chanting. We’ll look at some of these, and tasks to engage learners in my session at InnovateELT.
I’ve just been at the IATEFL conference in Birmingham, and what inspired me most this year was how many teachers are involved in social and global justice and change projects. From Judy Boyle’s The NO project http://thenoproject.org/ , raising awareness of slavery and human trafficking to Nick Bilborough’s Hands Up https://handsupproject.org/ teaching English online to Syrian and Palestinian children in refugee camps Gaza and Jordan, through story-telling and learning by heart. And the amazing, ever-expanding Heart ELT – ELT for Social Change http://heartelt.org/project started by Julie Pratten. Something seems to be happening in ELT to bring more awareness and social responsibility into the classroom.
Just how much power do we as English teachers have to make a difference in the world?
Linda Ruas is currently working as an ESOL teacher, CELTA trainer and teaching coach at Greenwich Community College, London. She also runs the New Internationalist Easier English wiki. She has taught and trained teachers in Brazil and Japan.