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Global Issues and Activism in English Language Teaching

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Global Issues — Week 1

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For now, instead of doing podcasts, I’m going to type up reflections of my current teaching and make materials available via the blog. It’s faster than making podcasts, and probably just as useful/useless. Plus, I can do it from work. 🙂

Week 1: Materials Used

On the first day, I did all of the typical first day stuff: a brief introduction of myself and the class, going over the syllabus, and an icebreaker activity. Most of the content of the syllabus was determined by the ELI, with just bits and pieces coming from me. Oh, and when I asked students their names, I also asked them why they had taken the class. Several people said they had taken it because they thought it would be related to their business goals, which is interesting, and might mean that this class goes in a different direction than I had originally intended.

I’m planning to let students have a pretty big say in terms of the content that we cover. Next week, I’m planning to introduce a reading circle activity. This will mean that one day a week will be set aside for discuss articles that the students prepare themselves. I haven’t yet decided if we will do reading circles for four or eight weeks.

For the icebreaker, I made a “find someone who…” activity asking students to walk around the classroom and find classmates who did or had done various things. These things related to global issues to varying degrees. For example, students were asked to find someone who never turns off their air conditioner, someone who doesn’t eat meat, someone who has done volunteer work, etc. Students seemed to enjoy it, and it was also helpful for me. It helped me gauge the level of involvement with global issues that these students had. For example, one student was genuinely shocked by the idea of finding someone who turns of the water when they brush their teeth.

“No one does that!” he exclaimed. Yikes.

The last thing we did on day 1 was a discussion activity, with a follow-up freewrite for homework. Questions were general, asking them which issues they felt were important, and which issues they thought would be important in the future. I had them discuss this in groups, and then for homework I asked them to write a response. I did this in part to get a sense of their writing level, but more to get a sense of what their interests were. I’m planning to start with consumption and consumerism, after that, I’ll try to follow their topic ideas.

On day 2, I began by introducing the vocabulary journal. I think this is a good project for a global issues class, and I wanted to introduce it early. I knew that a lot of new vocabulary would come up, starting in the next activity.

The second thing we did was a label reading activity. I brought in a bunch of products that had global issues-themed labels. These included things like organic, fair-trade sugar; Gentle Floss; and recycled toilet paper. I circled the relevant words and phrases. In the past, I did this activity without circling anything and students seemed overwhelmed. Students wrote down the words and phrases, their parts of speech, definitions, and what issues they were related to. I rotated the objects through the groups every couple of minutes. Afterwards, we discussed the words as a class. Students asked me the ones they didn’t know, and I in turn asked the class. For words that no one knew, I supplied the definition. During the activity, I asked students not to use their dictionaries.

Next, students did a group discussion based in part on the label reading activity. They talked about how they made their shopping decisions, whether or not they considered global issues, and where they got their information from. Again, it was helpful to me to get a sense of where students were in terms of these issues. Several students said that they never thought about global issues while shopping, and they clearly thought it was very strange for anyone to do so. As a teacher, it is good to know this, because it means I can not take for granted any background knowledge or attitudes.

Finally, for homework, students were asked to freewrite about something they had bought recently. I asked them to choose an item that they thought about, instead of one they bought impulsively, and to explain why they made that particular choice. In hindsight, I think my writing prompts were a little too serious and overly ambitious. Based on what came up during the group discussions, I would have made the writing prompts even more basic and “shopping-friendly” — moving them away from global issues and information seeking to more personal reflection.

In addition to this being my first “real” class at the ELI, this is also the first class I have taught with an intern. There is an MA student from USF’s Applied Linguistics program who will be observing me throughout the semester, and she will also teach a few classes herself. So far, I really like having an intern. It’s great having someone ask you why you did various things in your class, and also to offer alternative approaches.

I’m not yet sure what we’ll be doing in class next week, but once we’ve done it, I’ll post it up here. If you have any questions about what I did, please post them in the comments. Also, feel free to adapt my materials for use in your classrooms, but do not publish or distribute them without asking.

Tags: blog · consumerism · ESL activity · food and hunger · global issues activities · Global Issues class · lesson plans · reading · reflection · the environment · visual prompts · vocabulary

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