I wear many different hats at Project Learn, but one of the most rewarding is instructor. I currently teach a beginning English as a Second Language (ESL) class for refugees. Most of the students in the class have a farming background, and they went to work as young people, interrupting their education around middle school as a result. Literacy became an afterthought for many of them as they concentrated on working and earning to provide for their families.
During a recent lesson, we worked on fruit and vegetable vocabulary to draw upon their farming background and provide a strong context in which to learn new words. When learning a second language, embedding a lesson within a context, providing an opportunity for movement and physicality, and allowing for an emotional tie to the subject matter all help with language acquisition—making the words, or the concept, “stick.”
First, we learned the names of our ingredient fruits. We broke the words into syllables and practiced spelling. Then, we wrote a simple recipe together using the vocabulary and some new verbs and nouns like wash, cut, mix, knife, bowl, and cutting board. The class culminated with all of the students making fruit salad together and using their vocabulary.
The students valued the lesson because they were able to be active and engaged. There was a tangible and delicious outcome to their efforts. And when I assessed them, they retained most of their vocabulary, which means the lesson did its job and the students learned. It was a sweet victory for all.