ESL etc.

Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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Sorry… It’s Global Justice Again

July 22nd, 2014 · 2 Comments

This is a guest post written by Linda Ruas from the New Internationalist Easier English Wiki. If you have materials or ideas you’d like to share, please email me.

I have often felt I need to apologize in some way for my wiki.

Reading about breast-ironing in Cameroon, slavery in Mauritania, the feral rich in India, dark tourism in Cambodia. I suppose I felt it might be too serious, too “political”, too taboo or heavy, too real, maybe, and not enough fun for some learners and teachers. But every time I read an article from New Internationalist, I felt really strongly that more people should be reading it. They contain complex ideas, though, often written in dense, idiomatic language, and, for my ESL learners to understand them, they needed to be simplified.

So I started simplifying the articles and making “Ready Lessons”, and collected them all together in the wiki. My learners loved them and they developed their critical thinking and debating skills. They all became more interested in global justice issues and were more able to talk and write about controversial topics in the UK and their countries. We’ve had heated discussions, which spill over into an on-line class discussion forum, and we’ve had shock, revelation and tears. Better in the supportive, trusting environment of a class than, say, in an oral exam if they first encounter similar topics there. And finally, I plucked up courage to present the wiki at a conference for teachers.

At first, some of the teachers were worried that global justice topics in class would be too negative and pessimistic. Some said that global justice was ok as long as we make it palatable by sneaking in a joke, or giving it an interesting twist. I’m not against jokes and fun, and integrate global justice topics with other lighter, often student-generated lessons, but joking about disabilities, fracking and land grabs seems inappropriate. Teachers in the private sector often worry that students’ parents might complain – which is why “PARSNIPS” (politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms or pork) are banned in published course-books. But we cannot teach language with no content at all, and many materials simply present the socially acceptable face of western materialism, enforced beauty and celebrities.

So here’s my presentation: “Around the world in 90 minutes: global justice in the ESOL class”

On a sunny Sunday morning in June, at the NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults) teachers’ conference in Sheffield, UK, we travelled around the world together, discussing various stories and activities to engage learners. The topics were, more often than not, positive, looking at successes and solutions. The tasks were engaging through role-plays, jigsaw readings, various types of dictations, contextualised grammar work and group letter-writing. And now, I don’t think I feel I need to be so apologetic.

→ 2 CommentsTags: blog · global issues resources · lesson plans · reading · reflection

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New Internationalist Easier English Wiki – Update

July 7th, 2014 · No Comments

I first posted about the New Internationalist Easier English Wiki about a year and a half ago. Since then, they’ve added a lot of great materials to their site. The New Internationalist is a magazine focused on promoting global justice and, through their easier English wiki, they make articles more accessible to English language learners and provide supplementary lessons, in both powerpoint and PDF form. These lessons include vocabulary activities, discussion questions, visual aids and writing prompts.

A good place to start is the ready lesson collection, featuring a list of all of the supplementary lessons that they offer. You can also browse through past issues of the magazine that have been re-written in simplified English. They’ve currently got the last twenty issues available, many of which include infographics in addition to articles. On each issue’s page, the wiki also features simplified versions of some of that month’s most relevant blog posts.

The New Internationalist Easier English Wiki is a great source of comprehensible reading materials on a wide range of topics. Past recent issues deal with the politics of language loss, organ traficking and the pitfalls of resource wealth. The international angle of these topics make them particularly relevant and engaging for our students.

→ No CommentsTags: blog · climate change · consumerism · cultural issues · environmental justice · fair trade · finance · food and hunger · global issues activities · global issues resources · human rights · infographics · lesson plans · peace and war · politics · poverty & wealth · protests · the environment

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The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies

May 1st, 2014 · 1 Comment

This transcript of a speech given by journalist Chris Hedges offers a very powerful look at our current state of affairs. The introduction of the article draws parallels between our self-destructive path and the novel Moby Dick, which opens the door to using this article as part of a unit on literature, as well as one on current events, global issues, business, etc.

And, since this is a video transcript, this could also be done as a listening activity. Much of the information may already be known to students, but it pulls together the big picture in a powerful and concise way. It also makes the point that, when we face difficult situations, those in power tend to marginalize voices that speak the truth. An exploration of this idea would be a great addition to a unit on critical media literacy.

Thanks, Krista

→ 1 CommentTags: art as activism · climate change · consumerism · finance · financial crisis (2008) · global issues activities · history · listening · natural disasters · poverty & wealth · reading · the environment · video

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The #GlobalPOV Project

April 18th, 2014 · No Comments

The #GlobalPOV Project is an initiative by the Blum Center at the University of California, Berkeley that addresses poverty and inequality through innovative digital media. Their videos are extremely visual, and are thus a good way to communicate complex ideas to English language learners.

As an example, “Can Experts Solve Poverty?” would be a great video for students bound for college or graduate school. Among other things, this video challenges the assumption that all of our problems can be solved by technical expertise. A critical approach like this would be particularly relevant to students pursuing degrees in fields like business, science or engineering.

If you have ideas for using one of these videos in your class, please share them in the comments.

Thanks Khalid!

→ No CommentsTags: blog · fair trade · global issues activities · poverty & wealth · video · visual aids

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TESOL 2014 – Resources from the LGBTF Forum Roundtable

March 31st, 2014 · No Comments

Here is a list of resources discussed at the LGBTF Forum roundtable at TESOL 2014.

And if you’re a TESOL member, I encourage you to join the LGBTF Forum (through The e-list (where these resources were shared) is an active one.

Thanks Carter!

→ No CommentsTags: blog · global issues resources · LGBT Issues · listservs · professional organizations · TESOL 2014

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TESOL 2014 – Part of the Solution: Making Language Programs More Environmentally Sustainable

March 27th, 2014 · No Comments

This roundtable discussion was the second of two sessions presented this year by the TESOL Environmental Responsibility Forum. In this discussion, participants looked at ways an English language program could improve their overall environmental responsibility.

I started the session by briefly describing my experience in attempting to green two different English language programs. The project was undertaken while I was a graduate student. I’ve written (and spoken) about it at some length here. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

I also talked about the Green Team that I put together at my current job. I outlined the three prong approach that evolved, which I think is a good general approach to bringing environmental practices into an organization:

  1. start where you are – Start by gathering people from different areas together and sharing best practices.
  2. do the next right thing – Look for changes that have low cost, high reward. Take advantage of resources at your school / in your community.
  3. dream big – Have a few long term, large scale dreams. Find peer institutions who have done them and make contacts. You never know what might happen.
    1. I’ll update this post with links / materials that emerged from our discussion as appropriate. Please check back after the convention. Also, if you’re a TESOL member and you would like to join the Environmental Responsibility Forum, please email me your name and member ID and I’ll add you to our list.

→ No CommentsTags: administration · blog · consumerism · food and hunger · greening an IEP · TESOL 2014 · TESOL Environmental Responsibility Forum · the environment · vegetarian / vegan · vocabulary

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TESOL 2014 – Fostering Sustainability: Bringing the Environment into the Language Classroom

March 27th, 2014 · 1 Comment

This session is the first of two offered this year by the TESOL Environmental Responsibility Forum. If you’re a TESOL member and you would like to join the forum, please email me your name and member ID and I’ll add you to our list. In this session, eight presenters shared activities for bringing the environment into the English language classroom. The session was a great success, thanks to the work of all of our presenters!

Here are some of the materials that presenters used and / or referred to during their sessions:

  • Donna Obenda shared an activity that uses glogs to engage students with sustainability. PPT | Handout 1 | Handout 2 | Handout 3
  • Beth Russell talked about using Orion Magazine to bring environmental issues into the English language classroom. PPT | Handouts
  • Valerie Jakar told us about some activities she had done, including one using the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. PPT coming soon
  • Susan Crowley shared materials for addressing issues related to food and nutrition. PPT
  • Krista Bittenbender Royal discussed an activity for teaching the rhetoric of greenwashing. PPT and handouts
  • Earlene Gentry talked about a number of ideas for bringing environmental issues into the classroom in an Egyptian context. PPT
  • Anthony Lavigne shared an idea for using TED talks to engage students with global and environmental issues. PPT | Handout
  • Julie Vorholt introduced us to her NGO fact sheet and elevator pitch activities. PPT

Finally, please see this handout for contact information for each of the presenters.

→ 1 CommentTags: blog · global issues activities · TESOL 2014 · TESOL Environmental Responsibility Forum · the environment

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Environmental Responsibility Forum @ TESOL 2014

March 19th, 2014 · No Comments

At the upcoming TESOL International Convention in Portland, we will have the inaugural sessions of the TESOL Environmental Responsibility Forum. If you’re a TESOL member and you would like to join the forum, please email me your name and member ID and I’ll add you to our e-list.

Session Information
Thursday, March 27th, from 10:30-11:45 AM, in room E143, we have a 75-minute session entitled Fostering Sustainability: Bringing the Environment into the Language Classroom. This will include 8 presenters, with each presenter sharing an activity for bringing environmental issues into the English language classroom, presented in a pecha kucha format featuring 20 slides for 20 seconds each. This session will be full of great classroom activities!

Later that same day (3/27), from 2-2:45 PM, in the Roundtable Discussion Area of the Expo Hall, I will be facilitating a roundtable discussion entitled Part of the Solution: Making Language Programs More Environmentally Sustainable. In this discussion, participants will be invited to share their experience in bringing environmental responsibility to English language programs. We will focus on ideas for action outside of the classroom – program-level changes, projects and policies. Please join us!

I hope to see you in Portland! For those unable to attend, I’ll post materials from both sessions after the convention.

→ No CommentsTags: blog · conferences · greening an IEP · professional organizations · TESOL 2014 · TESOL Environmental Responsibility Forum · the environment

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Dale Hansen on Michael Sam Coming Out

February 25th, 2014 · 2 Comments

Michael Sam, a University of Missouri student who is expected to be drafted in the NFL, recently came out. Public reaction has been mixed, with some NFL personnel saying that they wouldn’t be comfortable having a gay player in the locker room. This video, featuring Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen, offers a powerful response to these complaints, highlighting the hypocrisy and double standards that such prejudices require. The video is quite short (just about 2 minutes) and would make a great addition to a class discussion on sports, current events or equal rights.

→ 2 CommentsTags: global issues activities · LGBT Issues · listening · video

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Valentine’s Day activity from Teaching Tolerance

February 6th, 2014 · No Comments

This Valentine’s Day activity from Teaching Tolerance provides insight into Valentine’s Day’s roots as a holiday of resistance. It also highlights the injustices that can occur during this holiday — “moments of exclusion and ostracism, assumptions of a heterosexual norm” — and draws a parallel between the ban on gay marriage and the ban on soldier marriage that may be behind Valentine’s Day’s origin. One interesting way to use the ideas in this activity with a more advanced class would be to take a more traditional Valentine’s Day activity (like this board game) and look at it through a critical lens, having students address questions like this:

  • Where, in this activity, might someone feel ostracized or excluded?
  • Where can we see assumptions of heterosexuality?
  • If a student wanted to keep their sexual orientation private, could they? Or could there be pressure in this activity for them to “out” themselves?
  • How could we change the language of the game to make it more inclusive?

Note that the link to resources on the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (part of the grade 9-12 activity) is broken. It should probably go here.

This is just one of many activities available from Teaching Tolerance. They have loads of materials on wide variety of social issues including gender equality, poverty, and civil rights.

Thanks Krista!

→ No CommentsTags: blog · bullying · global issues activities · global issues resources · human rights · k-12 · lesson plans · LGBT Issues · poverty & wealth · racism · speaking

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