Emily Bryson ELT

The importance of COLA: Creating Opportunities for Language Acquisition.

So I’ve read that blog posts should have snappy titles.  I hope that this one was snappy enough.  I even created a new acronym there!  Gotta love acronyms!COLA

Having taught ESOL for more than ten years, one thing that is very clear to me is how quickly students that are engaged in their community acquire the language whilst more isolated students can struggle with their communication.  I’ve had students that use their English at work, a volunteer placement or a local football club speaking to me in broad and confident local dialect (Glaswegian in my case). It goes without saying that when it comes to my teaching, I’m very much a proponent of getting them out there into the big bad world to use their language.

I’d like to share some tips and ideas that have helped me get my learners out of their ESOL bubbles and into the wild over the years:


Peer Education – The Scottish Refugee Council‘s Sharing Lives Sharing Languages project that I managed last year, was born specifically to get ESOL learners out there.  It basically trains local community members (whether they are native or non-native speakers) to be peer educators and support ESOL learners to get to know people and use their English outside of class.  The pilot project was delivered by organisations in four local authorities, including Dundee International Women’s Centre, Aberdeenshire Workers’ Educational Association, Midlothian Council, and Renfrew YMCA.  Outcomes included the establishment of an international women’s group that meet regularly to cook, chat, meet other community groups and visit local places of interest as well as learners joining local community gardening projects and walking groups.

You can find more information at the link above and I do plan to blog in more detail about this in the future. I’ll also be speaking about this at IATEFL Brighton 2018 (2.20pm Thursday 12th April).  It would be great to see you there!

Promote opportunities  I like to promote any opportunity that get students out there.  This could be volunteering, training or employment.   I like to promote volunteer opportunities with charities in the local area or encourage students to visit their local volunteer centre.  I also like to promote all things that support students to find employment or boost their skills.  Any interesting jobs, courses or support agencies I come across, I promote through a reading lesson with the leaflet, or helping them to write personal statements and covering letters. Whenever I get the chance I’ll get networking to arrange guest speakers.  One of the most recent speakers was Mozafar from a great little volunteer led organisation called Code Your Future, the (free) coding school for refugees.

Social opportunities – There are lots of great community centres and free events out there.  Most students have hobbies, whether it is embroidery, football or African drums. I like to bring in leaflets of events and social clubs in the local area and use them for reading activities or conversation starters. I also recommend helping students search through meetup.com for local groups that interest them.  Sewing bees have a reputation for being places to have a good natter… so why not get students to go along for a natter and to show off their handiwork?

Class trips – Everyone loves a class trip!  Trips can show students what the local area has to offer and give them the confidence to go there themselves.  Moreover, it’s great team-building for the students and they can practise their English and learn about local organisations, services and places of interest.

While I really enjoy trips to local museums, art galleries and areas of natural beauty, my preference recently has been for places that students don’t have the opportunity to visit outside class time or that increase their opportunities for community involvement.

For example, I love visiting the local fire station because fire prevention is important, knowing when (and when not) to call the emergency services is important and sitting in a fire engine is fun!  I also love visiting places of worship, such as a Sikh Gurdwara or a local Synagogue; because intercultural communication and understanding is essential in a multicultural, multilingual ESOL class.

Language Learning in the Wild  This is a European funded project that has lots of inspiring ideas to get students using their language naturally in the community.  The Icelandic Village, for example, encourages learners to record conversations while they are interacting with sales assistants, librarians and waiting staff (with their permission, of course).  They can then use this to reflect on the interaction and practise their language in the classroom.

Get the A-Z of ESOL Yes, it is a shameless plug.  But when I wrote the 26 photocopiable lessons, the tenets above were very much at its core and there are loads of lessons that promote all of the above.  For example:

  • K is for Knowing the local community and is based on the context of adverts for social clubs.  It leads on to supportive discussions allowing students to reflect on which local groups they might like to join.
  • S is for Services and is a great lesson to prepare students for emergencies (or for a trip to a local fire station).  Students learn essential vocabulary for emergencies then critically evaluate which emergency service to call (or not to call) in a variety of scenarios before role playing a 999 call.
  • V is for Volunteering gets students talking about volunteering and supports them to complete a volunteer application form.

I hope these hints and tips get your students out there.  Do you have any other ideas? Please share them in the comments.

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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'.

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