Walking into the 2nd ESO classroom (2nd level of the “educación secundaria obligatoria,” or obligatory secondary education, for the uninitiated) on my first day of school, my initial reaction was surprise. All of the kids seemed so much younger (and tinier) than I thought they were going to be! Years of watching American TV shows with high schoolers played by 20-year-olds had completely skewed my expectations of what 13-year-olds would be like. I thought I would rapidly need to reassess the ESL activities for students I had planned.
Despite my initial reaction, however, many of the students quickly proved that their English was more than good enough to hold a conversation. They had curiosity (and a desire to skip class to work with me) in spades. Now I was faced with the question: How would I hold their attention and teach them all the wacky and fun pieces of American culture they wouldn’t find on a Netflix show? My answer was actually inspired by another Meddeas assistant.
A popular meme in the United States is the concept of “Florida Man”. These are men from Florida who are constantly getting into mishaps that make newspaper stories so much more entertaining. For a speaking exercise, I had students look through several headlines that feature “Florida Man” and then come up with stories based on those headlines. Most students had a blast —and questions about what exactly is going on in Florida— trying to be creative with it. They laughed at the headlines, but they definitely learned something uniquely American and practiced their English. It was also fun for me to listen to their tales and ask questions about them.
Enhancing Language Conversation: Implementing Engaging ESL Activities for Students
There’s been a bit of a learning curve since I started teaching in Madrid. Before joining Meddeas, I had only ever worked with adult learners —people who had actively chosen to continue their education and were committed to learning. Working with 12-16-year-olds is an entirely different experience, as anyone might guess. While their energy can be boundless, their attention spans are shorter, and the things they like most about school are gym class and seeing their friends. But in some way secondary students are like adult learners: as long as you can find a subject they’re interested in, they’ll put in more effort. And enough of the students I’m working with want to learn more about the weird parts of the United States to make activities like “Florida Man” an entertaining exercise.
Engaging in ESL activities for students like these is key to fostering a dynamic learning environment. It’s only been a little over a month since I got started, so I’m not sure yet what else I’ll learn about my students (aside from how much they love fútbol) —nor what I’ll be teaching them next about the US! Cryptids from Appalachia? What are the best ways to navigate New York City? Regional accents, attitudes, and dialects? There’s a lot we can cover. But I do know that whatever I choose to do, I shouldn’t underestimate the kids’ creativity nor be surprised by what they find most interesting.