Emily Bryson ELT

March 2019

Emily Bryson A-Z of ESOL. Book of photocopiable activities for English language teachers

10 principles of ESOL teaching

I’m delighted to now be included on the prestigious site for teachers teaching teachers, EFL Talks, alongside the likes of Dorothy Zemach, Pete Sharma, Julie Pratten, Andrew Walkley, Sue Leather, Russell Stannard and Anne Margaret-Smith!  You can access my talk  about the 10 principles of ESOL teaching here.  To complement the talk, I figured I should blog about it too.

While you read, why not see if you can spot the differences between my blog and my EFLTalk?

A principle is a basic theory or belief that influences how we do things.  Over my years as an ESOL lecturer, I’ve developed my own principles which influence how I teach.  Everyone is different and these are my own personal principles suited to my own teaching context.  I’d like to share them with you so that you can reflect on your own principles related to your own teaching context.

1. Be learner centred

ESOL learners must be at the heart of every lesson.  The social practices approach puts learners at the centre of all learning.  If a learner has a broken shower, for example, the teacher may deliver a lesson on how to arrange for a building repair.

EFL Talks screenshot
This is the Scottish adult ESOL curriculum wheel.  It places learners at the centre of all learning. 

2.  Keep it appropriate

With learners are at the heart of all learning, it is crucial that lessons are appropriate to their needs.  Traditional EFL coursebooks are not tailored to the needs of ESOL learners so teachers must adapt them or find materials that are appropriate.  Although I do use a coursebook with my classes for the essential grammar input, I like to adapt it for my learners.  For example, common nationalities in coursebooks are German, Japanese and Brazilian.  I don’t have any of these nationalities in my classes, so I tend to focus on the nationalities in the class – in my context, Eritrean, Syrian, Iranian and Chinese.

In general, I’ll skip over any lessons in the coursebook that I think don’t relate to my students.  More often than not, these are the ones with famous people (mostly white English speaking celebrities unfamiliar to my students).  I’ve found that students are much more interested in people who they are familiar with or who inspire them in their lives.  With that in mind, I’ve made classroom materials for my classes about people that my students have told me that they love.  To name but a few: Adnan Karim (Kurdish singer), Tayeb Salih (Sudanese writer), Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani activist) and Tsegai Tewelde, (British Olympic marathon runner).  Tsegai is originally from Eritrea and I had the pleasure of teaching him briefly many moons ago before he decided professional running was more exciting than my lessons!

3. Keep it real

The social practices approach focuses on equipping learners with the functional skills they need for their daily lives.  They may need to know how to read a school report or what to do in an emergency situation.  I’ve had students that told me they phoned an ambulance because they had a bad headache, or that the fire services visited them when they used a disposable barbeque on the balcony of their high rise flat.  It goes without saying that I thought it important to create a lesson on the emergency services for my book, the A-Z of ESOL.  The lesson helps students assess  which service they should call,  which number to dial and whether they even need to call.

4. Include literacy

Many ESOL students have ‘jagged profiles’.  They may be confident with speaking and listening but have minimal literacy skills.  Even at higher levels, I find myself reminding students to write in sentences, use paragaphs and not to forget their capital letters.  At lower levels, I spend a lot of time on reading, writing, phonics and spelling.

5. Include ICT

We are living in a digital world yet many of my students lack confidence with computers.  In some cases, they struggle to use ‘shift’ to add a capital letter or use a mouse.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve reset the Virtual Learning Environment passwords for my beginner students, but we’ll get there.  We always do. Never give up, no matter how frustrating it may be is my mantra!  If I’m in a classroom without computers, I’ll ask students to use their smartphones.  This gives them the confidence to access the VLE from home.  I also encourage them to find IT classes in the local community (often in the local library).

6. Encourage employability

To me, employability is the 5th skill.  Finding a job in an English speaking country is challenging not only because of the language barrier, but also because it can be a whole new process.  In some countries, if you want to find a job you may just ask your family and friends, or go to a local roundabout where recruiters will ask around for the skills they are looking for. The idea of selling yourself on paper, identifying skills and qualities and dressing appropriately for an interview can be very alien concepts.

I had one student who went to an interview wearing their winter coat and trainers while another learner said ‘no’ when asked if she was ‘trustworthy’ simply because she didn’t understand the word.  Now I teach important personality adjectives to my beginners using images and antonyms.  ‘Punctual’ is a pretty simple to teach to a class full of latecomers on ‘ESOL time’.  I also teach more practical jobs vocabulary; forklift driver, warehouse operative and cleaner are more useful to ESOL learners than ‘pilot’ and ‘journalist’!

7. Study skills

I often find that the students that progress quickly are the ones that have completed high school or further education in their own country.  They have the study skills to know that they are responsible for their own learning, they do their homework and they study at home.

I teach my learners how to copy notes from the whiteboard (the same as they are laid out on the board), which worksheets to keep for further reference and which ones they can use once for practice and chuck in the bin later. I encourage them to use vocabulary notebooks and encourage them to take graded readers out of the library.  I also teach them the look, say, cover, write, check method to practise their spelling at home and give them homework every lesson.

student notebook
I like to take photos of my students’ notebooks. I now have a collection that I can use in class to show students examples of how to (and how not to) take notes.

8. Intercultural communication

ESOL classes are multicultural. I can have ten or more nationalities in a room at one time so it’s essential that they understand and respect each other.  I often find that students who speak the same language or are from the same country sit together.  At the start of each lesson, I take a minute to try to split up any cliques and encourage students to sit with someone different every day.  I also get them chatting about their cultures and beliefs and take them on class trips to places of worship of religions that they may not be familiar to them.

9. Embrace taboos

Whilst coursebooks shy away from taboo subjects such as politics, religion, sex, sexual orientation, abuse and discrimination, I think it’s extremely important to include these in the ESOL classroom.  Learners need to know about the politics of the area they live in, the religious beliefs of their classmates, LGBT rights and what to do if they experience abuse or discrimination.  You may want to arrange a guest speaker to discuss these topics.  For more ideas, you can read my blog on including LGBT issues in the ESOL classroom.

10.  Create Opportunities for Language Acquisition

I’ve also blogged about this before, but ESOL students are very lucky that their local area can be their classroom.  The students that progress the most quickly are the ones that are out and about volunteering, working or attending a local club or community group. I like to use the K for Knowing local people and places lesson from my book, the A-Z of ESOL, when encouraging my learners to get involved.  Students read some examples of activities in a local area before discussing what they might like to do and what opportunities are available in their local area.

In conclusion…

These are my ten principles of ESOL teaching.  They influence how I teach and they inspired the lessons in my A-Z of ESOL. What are your principles?  I’d love to hear from you, or chat to you in person.

Join one of my online courses! Find more information by clicking the laptop.

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.
English UK conference 2019 in Edinburgh Emily Bryson ELT - image of doorway to venue

Reflections from the English UK Scotland conference

I was delighted to be asked to speak at the star studded English UK Scotland conference at Mackenzie School of English in Edinburgh on Saturday 23rd February.   It was a fabulous day and I was heartened to feel a sense of community with fellow ELT professionals up here in Scotland.

Image courtesy of Jon Hird

First up was Mark Hancock, the master of pronunciation. He spoke about the 4Ms of pronunciation (Muscle, Mind, Meaning and Memory) and furnished us with an imaginative array of activities to get students to understand how to physically produce sounds, figure out the differences between sounds, understand the meaning of the words and phrases, then, ultimately, remember them. His book, Pronunciation Games, has long been a favourite of mine and the first thing I did on getting back to college after the conference was ask my line manager for a copy of his ELTon award winning PronPack for our staff room.

I got lucky with my slot as I was directly after Mark’s, leaving the rest of the day to relax and absorb everyone’s great ideas. I was Literally Speaking about speaking, a skill that is much sought after by students, employers, volunteer coordinators, potential friends and (eye roll) the Home Office!  You can read more of my thoughts on this in my previous blog post about speaking.

Next up was Emma Cresswell from International House, Aberdeen.  She gave a thoroughly engaging workshop on the vibrant and intricate history of the English language and gave us all some insights into why spelling and pronunciation of words often makes no sense whatsoever (just think of all the different ways to pronounce ‘ough’ to name but one).  Her talk ended with loads of ideas to practise spelling in the classroom and she even gave us some homework: The history of the English language in ten minutes.

Carole Anne Robinson is a Senior Trainer at Nile.  She took us on a journey exploring the usefulness of skimming, scanning and comprehension questions for reading texts then introduced us to a an inspiring selection of alternatives.  One of my favourites was Johanna Stirling‘s, ‘Reading with a pen’ idea in which learners read a text and mark the key points, then read again and mark any information that is new to them before reading one final time to rate how much they agree with it.  That’s my next reading lesson prepped!

Corinne Wales put me in the mood for digging my teeth into some research in the near future.  She has found that many DipTESOL students are hindered in their research by busy teaching commitments and that working together with schools the student and organisation can complete research which is mutually beneficial.  It made me wonder if there is scope for short, certifiable research to be carried out by post-Dip teachers who’d like to dip their toes (pun intended) back into research.  Does such a thing exist?

After a quick coffee and a leftover lunch buffet break, it was back to the main room for Adrian Doff.  He explored informal assessment in the classroom as well as the principles of learning oriented assessment and their application to the classroom.  As the closing keynote ELT focused session, his talk was engaging, informative and got us all thinking how to use ‘can-do statements’ to evaluate learners’ progress.

line up English UK Scotland

After six thought provoking sessions, I could hear my own brain whirring uncontrollably, but then Colin McGuire bounced onto the floor!  He took us through a 3 minute mindfulness session, which was exactly what my overstimulated brain needed.  He continued with a quickfire bounce and pounce activity asking us to reflect on things we are grateful for before launching into one of the most infectiously energetic poetry readings I’ve ever seen.  His poetry is poignant, funny and most definitely worth a read (or better, going to see).

Verbs and Tenses_Jon Hird small
As a little bonus to an already fantastic day, Jon Hird gave me a copy of this wonderful little pocket book.  It’ll be my desktop pal from now on!

Thanks so much to the English UK Scotland team and to all the speakers for making this such a pure dead brilliant (as we say in Scotland) day.  It was a tough call choosing which sessions to go to and I’m sad to have missed so many of the other pros.  Fingers crossed I get to see them some time in the future.

Roll on the next English UK Scotland conference.

Check out my online courses! Find out more by clicking the laptop!

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.