5 essentials for teaching life skills

 

English language learners often want to learn English to improve their life chances. We can help them do so by incorporating life skills into our practice. In fact, it is my firm belief that teaching English and teaching life skills are the perfect match; each supports the other.

Here are five essentials for supporting learners with life skills.

Create a positive classroom atmosphere

It is not only our approach to teaching that makes ELT the perfect environment for incorporating life skills, it is the environment itself. As trainee teachers, one of the first things we learn is the importance of a welcoming, supportive, and encouraging class atmosphere. Students need to feel comfortable in the classroom and positive about their learning experiences.

Our classrooms must therefore be a safe space to learn from mistakes. We can create this by framing failures as learning opportunities and praising learners for their achievements. Giving students time to think before they respond, opportunities to reflect on their learning, and the chance to practise their skills in a supportive environment are invaluable for encouraging life skills acquisition.

Be patient

In creating a safe space to learn, we must also provide sufficient time for the adoption of life skills. Think about how you first learned to organise your time.  When you were in your early teenage years, it’s unlikely that you were as good at time management as you are now. You probably learned through a combination of advice from peers, teachers, parents, and other role models as well as simple trial and error. It’s possible that you may still feel that you still haven’t yet perfected this life skill. That’s because life skills take time and practice, and everyone is different.  Find out what your students’ aspirations are, give them the confidence to grow, and reassure them that their goals are achievable with a little hard work.

Be a role model

Students naturally look to their teachers for how to behave and succeed. We are role models. By presenting a professional, organised and well-prepared persona, we can inspire our learners to do the same.

Invite questions

Student questions can be tricky, but when they ask difficult questions, that’s when you know their critical thinking skills are developing. Actively encourage your learners to ask questions. Then support them to find the answers for themselves and to help their peers.

critical thinking

Identify goals

In many ways, developing life skills is aspirational. They are not something that anyone can truly say they have mastered and couldn’t improve on in some way. Although I’m regarded as an efficient spinner of many plates and master of deadlines, I may still get caught out with a last-minute photocopier malfunction making me late for class; there’s always room for improvement.  As such, we need to help our students to identify realistic goals based on each individual’s current abilities and give sufficient time to process the information, respond, and incorporate it into their lives.

Identifying individual students’ abilities and goals is a great starting point for incorporating life skills into your classes. Every teaching context is different as are the needs of every learner. Some students will already have a strong grasp of life skills, while others have a longer road to travel. Working with your learners and identifying which life skills are most appropriate to them is a crucial first step.

There are some ideas of how to do this in my previous post: Simple drawings to support life skills.

Want to know more?

My book, 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills is a collection of practical tips and activities to enhance students’ social, academic, critical thinking, digital, and work skills to help students become their best selves.

This guide is simple, supports all levels of learners, and many of the activities require little or no preparation or special materials. Each activity assists students to improve their speaking, reading, writing, listening, grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation skills while also practising their broader skills for life.

It is available now in print and digital from Wayzgoose Press from just £1.99.

For more info about me, my online courses and books you can sign up to my mailing list, or follow me via this blog or on Twitter: @E_Bryson

 

Welcoming whiteboards!

I can’t tell you how excited I was to be back in the classroom this week. I got to teach real live students! It was wonderful.

I also got to use a whiteboard. And a whiteboard marker! What a treat!

The beginning of term is a time for welcoming learners, getting to know them and double checking they know exactly where they are going and when.

This year, I’m teaching a beginner and a starter class. I tend to find that writing times, dates and room numbers on the board can lead to confusion. Drawing some simple icons can help make this information clearer.

I’d like to share the simple icons I use with you. You’ll notice that these are not works of art, that my whiteboard is a little smudged and that I probably wrote these in a hurry. That’s because I did. I’m a teacher. That’s how we roll!

Welcoming learners with simple drawings helps communicate information more clearly.
Keeping break time simple.

How do you welcome your learners? How do you make sure they understand their induction information? I’d love to hear your ideas, or to see your whiteboards!

If you like these ideas, and want to learn more about Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings, I’ve started running online courses. The current course is fully booked, but I’ll be running another in the near future.

Sign up to my mailing list so I can update you, or follow me via this blog or on Twitter: @E_Bryson

You can find more information about my online courses here.

ESOL for Employability: support organisations every practitioner should know about

I recently delivered a webinar for National Geographic Learning on Embedding Employability and Life Skills into the ESOL Curriculum. Along with all the engaging ways the Voices coursebook series embeds employability (watch this space for another post), I shared some of the wonderful projects from across Europe that support ESOL learners’ employability and life skills. Here they are:

Bridges Programmes

This organisation is near to my heart as I have worked so closely with them over the years. The ESOL for Vocational Purposes courses which I developed for City of Glasgow College have mostly been in collaboration with Bridges. This well-oiled machine supports anyone living in Glasgow whose first language is not English by delivering training and arranging volunteer or work placements. This image is of my learners on a construction site visit. https://www.bridgesprogrammes.org.uk/

Heart and Parcel

Two friends in Manchester set up this organisation because they believed food brings people together. ESOL learners can sign up to their free online English classes and learn to cook at the same time. They also run cookalong classes to teach people how to cook dishes from around the world. https://heartandparcel.org/

Bread and Roses

I found out about this organisation while hillwalking in the Cairngorms with a friend. Their friend was up from London and told me about the amazing subscription floristry project she ran. Bread and Roses run floristy training programmes for women from refugee backgrounds to help them improve their language and work skills. Genius. https://www.wearebreadandroses.com/

ELATT

East London Advanced Technology Training (ELATT) run pretty much every vocational skills course you can name. They want to make learning new skills accessible to all and offer full, part-time and evening courses. https://www.elatt.org.uk/

City of Glasgow College ESOL Job Club

One of the Modern Apprentice students at Arnold Clark.

I can’t write a post without mentioning my fabulous co-worker Pam Turnbull and the incredible things she has done for the learners at my college. Pam tirelessly networks with the local community to create work, volunteer and apprenticeship opportunities for ESOL students at City of Glasgow College. She also supports them with job searches and applications. She’s a true shero. The image is one of our CoGC students on a Modern Apprenticeship with Arnold Clark.

Laget Quo Vadis

I had the good fortune of visiting this organisation on an Erasmus+ funded trip to Oslo a few years ago and their innovative work has stuck with me. This organisation provides Norwegian classes and trains learners in textiles, ceramics and cooking. Graduates leave with strong transferrable skills and the confidence to succeed. http://www.laget.oslo.no/about

KMEWO

The Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation is a London based organisation who provide training, advocacy and support for women from Kurdish, Middle Eastern and North African communities in the UK. They offer training in digital skills, employability, ESOL, parenting and exercise classes. https://www.kmewo.com/

Code your Future

CyF are a coding school for people from refugee backgrounds and disadvantaged people. They are a non-profit organisation that trains marginalised groups to be web developers and find employment in the tech industry. CyF training is delivered by volunteers and graduates have progressed to prestigious organisations such as BBC, Financial Times and Ticketmaster. https://codeyourfuture.io/

 

These are just a few of the inspiring organisations and projects that I’ve heard of over the years. Do you know any others? Please share anything I could in the comments or via my twitter.

Enjoying the simple drawings on my blog and social media posts? Why not join one of my online courses? Find out more by clicking the link or sign up to my mailing list.

My top recommendations: books and films about refugees

A couple of days ago, I watched an inspiring TED Talk by Ann Morgan, who read one book from every country in the world. She did it because she wanted to expand her understanding of the world. It made me think of all the books and films I’ve read over the years for very similar reasons.

Since I started teaching refugees and people seeking refuge (less humanisingly known as asylum seekers) back in 2007, I’ve always looked for books and films that teach me about their countries, culture, stories and history. I’m not the kind of person who can read fact-heavy history books to relax so I need mine in easy-reading or entertaining format.

So here are some that anyone with an interest in other cultures or refugee matters might be interested in:

Film: His House

His House is about a refugee and his wife who move to the UK and have to navigate the UK system for seeking refuge. It is a psychological thriller in which the couple are haunted by past traumas. This film really struck a chord with me as so many of my learners have mental health problems such as PTSD, depression and insomnia. When teaching daily routine, many have intimated anxiety towards bedtime, as that’s when the bad dreams come.

Pick your own ‘adventure’: Have your Passport Ready

Have your passport ready is an online video story commissioned by Knaive theatre. It follows two Syrian brothers who travel to the UK for safety. Viewers watch short video clips and make choices on how to navigate the UK asylum system, or leave their decisions to dice rolls. I got deported within two moves, see if you can make it to getting leave to remain!

Graphic novel: Meet the Somalis

Meet the Somalis is a collection of 14 illustrated stories sharing the lives of first, second and third generation Somali families in different European cities. The stories are each unique and include themes such as fleeing warzones, refugee camps, family life, making friends, work and settling in a new city. You should know by now that I’m a visuals geek and these illustrations are stunning.

Book: The Jungle by Pooja Puri

Set in the infamous ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, this story follows Mico, an ‘unaccompanied minor’ and the people he meets in the camp. It makes you consider the impact of the refugee crises on the local area as well as the displaced people themselves.

Book: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

I’ll be honest with you. I stayed in bed ALL DAY one day reading this book. I literally could not put it down. My husband came in to check on me because he thought I was ill! The story follows Nuri, a Syrian refugee, and his wife on their journey from their life in Syria tending bees to resettling in the UK. The journey tracks from warzone, to people smuggling, to refugee camp, to homeless hostel accommodation in the UK. The characters are so vivid and it really touched me as so many of my students have shared similar stories with me.

Books: Anything written by Asne Seierstad

Asne Seierstand is a Norwegian writer who has written many books about her experiences of living in war zones. It’s been a while since I read these, so my memory is a bit hazy, but they each opened my eyes to life in those countries at that particular point in time. Her books include: Book seller of Kabul (Afghanistan), With their backs to the world (Serbia) and 101 days (Iraq).

Book: In order to live by YeonMi Park

Human rights activist, YeonMi Park, shares her experience of growing up in North Korea, being sold into a slave marriage then arriving and resettling in South Korea. A remarkable story and an informative read. If you don’t have time to read her book, I recommend her TED Talk.

Book: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

No list of books about refugees would be complete without Malala, the youngest ever Nobel Peace prize laureate. In her book, Malala recounts the story of being shot by the Taliban for attending school to becoming a reknowned activist for female education.

Children’s book (age 7-11): The boy at the back of the class by Onjali Q. Rauf

I bought this for my nephew’s birthday, but was so intrigued that I had to read it myself (my reading age has dropped somewhat in 2020). It’s a story of a boy called Ahmet who is a Syrian refugee. Ahmet is the new boy in class and this book tells the story of settling into a new life and making friends in an unfamiliar country.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (illustrations by Giovanni Rigano)

I was searching online for the graphic novel, Sapiens, when Amazon recommended this to me. It was a moment when I was thankful that computers stalk my buying behaviour. It shares the story of one boy’s journey from Africa, across the mediterranean to the refuge of the UK. The illustrations are fantastic and the storyline is realistic.

Have you read any good books or seen any good films about refugees? Please share them as I’d love more ideas… or perhaps for one day to say I’ve read a book from every country in the world!  

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Teaching ESOL Literacy Online

Although my materials writing hat is well versed in zoom calls and delivering webinars, my ESOL lecturer hat still took some getting used to teaching online when COVID hit. Teaching online is great, when your learners are self-directed, tech savvy and have all the devices and connections required to attend classes.

Teaching online is somewhat more challenging when your students have little or no educational history, limited IT skills, devices whose best feature is a game called ‘snake’ or who need to save the meagre 3G they can afford to stay in touch with their loved ones overseas. That’s before considering their housing provider may think it’s a good idea to take their weekly allowance from them and house them in a hotel during lockdown. Learning ESOL during a pandemic may not be top priority.

But, us ESOL Literacy Lecturers don’t let impossible situations stop us. We plough on through and do what we can with what we have. And what we had was Whatsapp. Not ideal in terms of giving out personal numbers, but this was crisis and I trusted my students and was well aware that anything involving having to correctly type login details would result in multiple students being locked out of their learning.

Teaching phonics ‘oa’ with Whatsapp.

Whatsapp is actually quite an undervalued teaching platform. You can share and find links, videos and photos easily, provide audio support to all texts, correct students work using the draw function and use the emojis to illustrate vocabulary. You can also upload documents, have audio recorded conversations and even video call to up to eight people. Plus, when your aim is to get students to read and write in English, Whatsapp encourages them to type messages to each other and respond.

The very first lesson was simply handwriting a few sentences, illustrating them with simple graphics and recording a video of me reading the text whilst pointing to each word. Students then had to record themselves reading the text, answer some comprehension questions, then personalise it. Over the weeks these lessons got more sophisticated and included things like YouTube videosPadletsQuizletsEdPuzzles and quizzes on Google Forms, yet what I always got the best response from was a simple handwritten text with audio support.  

Then I figured it was time to move on to the big scary world of email. When we started teaching online, probably around 50% of the class didn’t have an email address. So I created a walk-through video of how to set up an email address and shared it with the group. I started to get a trickle of emails but I wanted 100% of students to be emailing by the end of term, so I asked a friend to send the link to set up a gmail account in Arabic and forwarded that to the students. Genius. Every student now had an email address. But I knew I had to keep them using it. I didn’t want them to email me once and forget how to do it, or forget their passwords. So every single email that I got, I replied with a simple question, then students had to email me back. I had a lovely conversation about yellow flowers with one student and about Glasgow parks with another.

One of the main challenges of teaching ESOL Literacy is that it’s extremely hard to find suitable materials to teach reading, writing and phonics to adults. Most are aimed at children and have delightfully childish pictures of apples, books and cats to accompany the alphabet. This made teaching online more challenging. While my peers had the luxury of coursebook e-packs, I had to create most things myself. Here are some sites which I am eternally grateful for:

Bow Valley College – Graded Readers for ESL Literacy learners

LanguageGuide.org – Very basic supported vocabulary learning

British Council ESOL Nexus

English My Way

Lisa Karlsen ESOL Literacy resource pack – worth every penny

TeachHandwriting.co.uk

Liverpool College ESOL Online

ESOLCourses.com

I AM YOU Humanitarian Aid – Facebook page with lots of ESOL Literacy videos

ESOLUK.co.uk

Excellence Gateway ESOL

Teach ABC English

English Hub for Refugees

Education and Training Foundation – New to ESOL Literacy pack – tips and activities.

Diglin – phonics and skills activities

Citizen Literacy app – City of Glasgow College app to teach phonics to adults. Still in Beta, but you can trial. Watch this space!

LESLLA – Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults website and webinar video.

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) ESOL Literacy resources

Excellence Gateway Hub – UK resources

NATECLA Scotland – resource list for ESOL Literacies

If you know any more, please share them with me. I’d love to add them to this post.

Overall, my main tip of teaching any students with basic ICT skills is never give up. The more students use tech, the more confident they’ll be, even if your learners can barely type their passwords into the computer.  

In many ways, I think COVID has had some positive impacts on ESOL. I’m sure it catapulted some learners with low levels of study skills into being more self-directed learners. Students who previously needed (or had) their hand held have been effectively forced into taking ownership of their learning and getting to grips with tricky ICT.  Plus, we now have a whole load of lovely interactive materials which future learners will be able to use in their own time.

If you’d like more information on how to teach ESOL Literacy, check out my courses on Language Fuel ELT Training Library. Each course takes less than twenty minutes and is full of practical hints and tips:

Teaching Adult ESOL Literacy: What is it and what’s involved?

Practical activities for teaching basic literacy to adult ESOL Learners.

 

 

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