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.
In addressing this issue and thinking of different ways to engage and motivate my higher-level learners, I came to the realization that while students may have vast language knowledge, they may not have had practice of it in various contexts, while they may be able to communicate well in English, they may be lacking in the art of communication. i.e. social skills, tolerance and understanding, and while they may bring with them a lot of background knowledge on various subjects, they may be lacking an awareness of the world around them, and their greater purpose in it.
This might work really well in a class of mixed ethnicity students, opening numerous doors for understanding and communication; something the world needs now more than ever. However, in a class of students who are all of the same nationality, you will find that elements of culture add a lot of value to lessons as well. Interesting topics like food, clothes, movies, art, sports, etc. can include content from around the world, allowing students to identify and appreciate differences and similarities.
Part of our job as teachers is to educate the youth and instill in them a drive to do better and be better. This includes their responsibility to their communities and the people around them. It means making them aware of what needs to be done, why they need to be the ones to do it and most importantly, what they are capable of doing. While there may not be much opportunity or time for large community projects, there is room for exploring ideas, creating situations and learning how to practically tackle them in the real world.
Finally, a lesson we do not often remind our children of, if they are taught it at all is that they are part of a whole world of people, places and problems. Just as we might encourage them to serve their community, we may also encourage them to serve humanity. With the rise of hate crimes, anti-minority violence and global issues like climate change, refugee problems, poverty, war, etc. the youth need to be enlightened about the challenges the world is facing, and most importantly, what they can do to overcome these challenges, even if in the smallest way.
In the classroom
1. The refugee crisis:
a. Imagine and talk about what it might be like to have no home
b. Reading articles, case studies, etc. on stories of immigrants
c. Looking at and reflecting on award winning photographs documenting the refugee crisis
d. Writing a proposal to a community leader on how to manage the large flow of immigrants into a country
e. Researching and understanding how refugee crisies come to be
2. Climate change
a. Project work to understand how climate change occurs
b. Creating a presentation on ways to tackle climate change, one person at a time
c. Creating a petition for the protection of wildlife from climate change
d. Presenting a case to raise funds for a wildlife / an earth cause
3. Hate Crimes
a. Reading newspaper articles covering hate crime stories
b. Including poetry about love (eg. The Language of Love by Poet Ali), diversity (eg. The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane De Rolf), and tolerance. Students might listen to them, explore themes in them, or create their own and then present them
4. Food and Health
a. Sharing recipes from one’s culture
b. Watching famous chefs cook their native cuisine
c. Exploring strange delicacies from around the world
d. Learning about persecuted minority cultures through their food
e. Create a class recipe book with recipes from around the globe
5. Art and Music
a. Looking at revolutionary artwork (eg. Banksy)
b. Listening to music that tells a story (eg. John Legend’s Glory)
c. Creating artwork that represents oneself, and one’s culture
d. Looking at paintings that present a way of life
Rich content and activities that allow students to apply existing knowledge exposes them to a variety of language structures, enabling them to use various language skills and grammar, and consequently learn from each other in the process. Furthermore, hands on activities, which get students to work on practical tasks, enables them to practice useful skills like teamwork, cooperation and communication. It also gets them to think outside the classroom and hopefully be able to apply their learning in their lives.