Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

If we are growing, we're always going to be out of our comfort zone.

~ John Maxwell

We had a board meeting on Saturday to discuss plans for the upcoming summer session of ESL. One issue that came up was the difference between trying your English skills in the classroom - a safe environment full of encouraging (and equally struggling) friends - and trying it out in the "real world" with strangers.

We brainstormed about different ways to try to help our students with this, and I came up with the idea of offering my students a "Challenge Course", loosely modeled after the televsion show "The Amazing Race."

Every week or so, I'll give my "contestants" (i.e., students) a new challenge that requires them to interact in the local, English-speaking community. And I'll define the evidence that they need to bring back to class in order to pass each challenge.

I'll probably do it up all fancy - with special envelopes, written instructions, maybe some photos and other materials to help them prepare for the challenge. Even money, when the task involves buying something... (We're talking under $5, of course.)

Some of my ideas so far include:

1. Go to the post office and buy a postcard stamp. I would provide the postcard, and after they showed me the stamp, they could write a message and send it to someone...

2. Buy a $1 lottery scratch-off card - note that our state has LOTS of different ones, so there would be some choosing among options involved (i.e., more language practice).

3. Go to the local Super Walmart and ask an employee to help you find a _____ . I haven't decided what yet, but it would be something unusual, so that it was unlikely that they already know the location. Bring the object and the receipt to class.

4. Go back to Walmart and return that object and get the money back.

5. Go to the local library, apply for a library card and check out a book.

For the "Grand Finale" I thought I'd have a restaurant meal with each student individually. They would have to call and make the reservation. And then they would have to order from a menu in English. Of course, I'd try to keep our meal-time conversation in English as well. ;)

At the dinner (or lunch) I would give each student his/her Certificate of Completion of the ESL Challenge Course.

What do you think? Would these mini-challenges be a good way to help my students take those first scary steps of using their English in the real world and build some success-based confidence? Do you have any ideas for other mini-challenges I could present to them?


CarlaF-in Atlanta said...

I like it. Just be sure to give them a lot of time to complete the tasks :0

MD said...

I think this is a really great idea! Especially "go to Walmart, ask someone to buy something. Then go and return it". These were some of the first things that my mother managed to do when learning English, and I think they gave her a real sense of accomplishment.

Another possibility is "go to a store/post office and find out their opening hours for an unusual day" - say, find out if the pharmacy will be open on Memorial Day, or Independence Day, and at what time. Or go to the bus terminal and find out bus schedules for that day - basically, something slightly unusual, and enough in advance that there won't be signs posted just yet. This is assuming schedules and times change for those days in the US - I have forgotten by now.