So I taught an immersion course for the first time this year. The students were college undergraduates who were smart, highly motivated, knowledgeable and badly needed to improve their spoken skills. In general Israeli students who know English can chat quite happily about mundane topics, but when things get deeper or more academic they get tongue tied.
The goal: 2 academic hours a day, 5 days a week to get them more fluent in an academic setting.
So here are my reflections:
- Immersion means it should be in English ALL the time. Don’t allow L2 to creep in , except for the quick scaffold: translating words or hearing their translation to avoid misunderstanding. Having students chat to each other in L1 is just as much immersion as them speaking to you or you speaking to them. Creating an English speaking climate and culture in the classroom is an absolute key.
- Be very selective about your materials. One of the more challenging aspects of teaching this course was finding appropriate materials that were challenging but not overwhelming, containing useful vocabulary and presenting controversial topics that could be subjects for class discussion and debate. It took time to dig around and find materials which were culturally digestible and, above all interesting.
- Constantly check for understanding. You would be surprised at how many words are chronically misunderstood and therefore misused. The more vocabulary they acquire, the more confident they feel in assuming they understand a word. Especially phrasal verbs when they know the verb base like, for example ‘wasting’ and ‘wasting away’.
- Give them a range of activities. Sticking to the same format does not an interesting course make. A text can be pulled in numerous directions and it should be. Examples; synonym matches, open ended questions for summarizing arguments, checking knowledge, gap fills after the text had been read to check understanding, quizlet quizzes etc etc
- Flip the classroom. I would give them TED talks to watch or texts to read and have them ready to discuss them in class. This allowed a lot more active communication to take place rather than it being teacher centered. Don’t be afraid to go over the texts again, even when they’ve read them. Chances are there are many juicy chunks of vocabulary they have either misunderstood or overlooked.
- When explaining words, translation is never enough. Demonstrating uses of new words is a key and encouraging them to try and use them is the next step. This is where guided writing or spoken activities come in handy. You give them thee collocation/phrase/word and ask them to use it in a natural way.
- Just because they are adults it doesn’t mean they don’t like to have fun. Quizlet really helped me in adding a bit of friendly competition (they played team scatter against each other). I also got them to do some fun role-playing situations which they really enjoyed.
- Listen to their feedback. We may have the expertise and the knowledge, but adult students have quite a bit of insight into how they learn best. Listen to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t try something new with them (and have them protest at first) but their should be an equilibrium between teacher input and student feedback.
- Literature has been and always will be a great tool. I wasn’t ‘teaching’ literature but found that literary texts such as short stories, excerpts and poetry were a rich resource for thought provoking ideas and vocabulary acquisition.
- When it comes to written tasks, encourage them to express themselves freely. I found that topics that everyone has an opinion or say in gave them an opportunity to speak from the heart which is always a great basis for written work.