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With globalization and technology growing ever so rapidly, individuals crossing borders and local issues becoming international ones, the need to understand cultural differences and traditions becomes an undeniable one. As such, it should become a crucial part of any classroom, if we hope to see a future of tolerance and appreciation of those with different life experiences and different cultures than ourselves. Culture can be brought into some of the most common ESL coursebook topics, like fashion, food, movies, towns and so on.
To me, critical thinking has always been about looking at something, whether a poem, a piece of art, or an idea, appreciating what is good about it, and questioning what I felt was not good about it, while trying to keep an open mind to the opinions of others, but maintaining my own independent opinion. This is something I encourage my students to do; praising independent thought and ideas that are new, even if strange. Also to me, critical thinking is something that requires creativity. But what is creativity? Hodges (2005:53-54) outlines the following as features of creativity:
Besides grammar and language structure practice, coursebooks provide skill work. Both of these are aspects that form a necessary part of language learning. However, the amount of functional language learning and skill development provided by coursebooks is limited both in variety and range.
Coursebooks are useful to have because they provide a structure to the course and give students an idea of what to expect as they progress. In addition, they provide handy exercises and review material that enable students to revisit lessons at home. However, I have often found myself moving away from the coursebook numerous times in the past and discovered that it enriched the lesson and made students more productive and learning more effective. Coursebooks have always been a base for me; a starting point, from which I can mind map my way to countless ideas and language opportunities.
Higher levels can be very enjoyable to teach because students have got so much existing language knowledge to exploit, enough language to be able to understand and follow complex instructions, and sufficient language to be able to communicate well with the teacher. However, higher levels can also be very challenging, and I have found if I am not careful, lessons become dull and predictable leaving students feeling like they haven’t learned much. Obviously, this is something we want to avoid.
As teachers, our responsibilities to our youth do not include only language or content teaching, but also the education of the future generations, and education goes beyond the coursebook. It includes life skills, personal development and character education, and these are areas for which the scope with higher level students is tremendous because they have gone beyond basic language skills, and are ready to venture into the more abstract, or the more creative realms of learning.
However, it is important to allow students to do it on their own, otherwise they grow very dependent on the teacher and never learn how capable they are by themselves. While illustrated books are one option and work well with students from a reading background, card games are a wonderful way to incorporate reading practice into Literacy lessons, especially for Secondary level learners. They may work well for some Primary groups, provided the students are patient enough to watch a long demonstration.
My first two-hour lessons with them were divided into 4 parts of 20 – 30 minutes, in which students wrote words on whiteboards, read together as a group, made words with cards and did some written dictation.
However, when I began to isolate the skills I wanted to teach and adapt activities I used with other levels, I found there was a variety of different games that could be used with Literacy learners, that made classes fun and learning successful.
In the context in which I teach, A0 primary and A0 secondary learners are rarely ever learner trained, as they come from school systems that place little emphasis on pro-activity and creativity. They also come to class with little or no Literacy skills (i.e. phonics recognition, reading and writing, etc.), although some of their spoken English might be fantastic.