Thursday, November 10, 2005

Using non-ESL Websites in ESL Classes

Language teachers and anyone who has tried to learn a second language know well what an obstacle vocabulary barriers can be. The richness of lanuage used in so called "authentic" texts make them both intimidating to lanuage learners and an irreplacable resource. With the same few thousand words recycled throughout ESL texts, and native speakers reaching adulthood with about 10,000 words, language teachers must look beyond language textbooks to best prepare their studetns for authentic communication outside the classroom. This principle has well explored by others in the TESOL field besides myself, most of whom have more experience in practice and theory. My own little foray into using authentic texts in the classroom has sometimes been more frustrating than fruitful. It takes a lot of work on the teacher's part to make such a text accessible for students. Not all of my experiments have been disastrous, though.

One non-ESL resource that I use regularly is the Friday Five livejournal weblog. This weekly-updated weblog is a community effort, written by several native-speakers of English (or NNS writing at a NS level), so there is a rich variety of vocabulary expressions used in authentic contexts. The weblog follows a set pattern; every Friday, five questions on a set topic are posted. It is moderated by five individuals whose real names I have yet to ascertain. Readers can write their answers and post them to their own weblog, and many do. It is a great place to find stimulating questions for a variety of writing activities, and can easily be used in integrated skills or discreet skills classes.

I myself have used the Friday Five in a variety of ways. The first time, I browsed through the site's archives and selected several questions I thought would be most interesting to my students. Because I did not want to devote time to explaining a lot of vocabulary on this particular day, I adapted the language of the questions to make them less colloquial. After students read the questions, I asked them to discuss their opinions in small groups. Note taking was optional; the focus of the activity was interactive listening and speaking. After this discussion, I had the students choose the question most interesting to them and that was the topic of their first opinion essay.

More recently I have stopped adapting the vocabulary of the questions, and I simply allow enough time for the students to work through idioms, cultural references, and unknown words or expressions. The class I currently teach meets Monday through Thursday, so it has been perfect timing to assign on Thursday that the students read and answer the questions posted on Friday. I do not require long answers to the questions, and in fact for some of the questions a long answer would be inappropriate. I like this opportunity for students to briefly express themselves, because so often I see short writing tasks that are juvenile. Because of the community nature of the Friday Five, students are able to see many other people using English to accomplish the same task, and they usually do so concisely.



Post a Comment

<< Home