PEOPLE WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES
PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES
PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
LEARNERS IN PRISON
PEOPLE LIVING IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES
YOUNG PEOPLE OVERCOMING DISADVANTAGE
PEOPLE SEEKING EMPLOYMENT
English at the CCI, Arles, France
SETTING UP THE GROUPS
All of the groups were made up of long term unemployed people, retired people or mothers in difficulty. Their ages varied between 18 – 80.
There were between 6 and 12 participants in each group. The objective of these classes was to give an opportunity to people out of work, either because of their age or their inability to find the right job, to meet socially and have fun discovering another language via different and innovative methods. Such people may never have had the opportunity of doing so because of financial difficulties.
The groups were put together using those people who responded to a press campaign in the district of Arles. Weekly advertisements were placed in the regional and town newspapers encouraging the people targeted to participate, free of charge, in our weekly language activities. Leaflets were also distributed to houses, supermarkets, local organisations, shops, residential homes and charities.
Many of the people who attended the classes were also notified of the activity via our European open day events which were organised on three different occasions and during which all of the language teachers gave mini demonstrations of some of the typical games and fun activities used during the classes. During these events, I as an English Teacher, encouraged visitors to have an informal chat in English over a traditional cup of English tea.
The interesting thing about the people who joined our classes further to the European open day events was that they often had no interest whatsoever in the British culture or way of life, they simply wanted to learn English to improve their chances of finding a job. The English classes helped to broaden the participants’ horizons because not only did we try various language games and activities to help improve language skills, but we also talked a lot about British customs and the British way of life, for example, eating habits, recipes, working and family life, Hallowe’en, Guy Fawkes, British jokes, the royal family, etc. Most of the participants were so surprised at the fun they had learning about Britain that they even decided to plan a trip to England, something which they never would have dared to do before.
DURATION OF THE ACTIVITIES :
One half day, twice a week over a period of 1½ months, or once a week over a period of 3 months, which makes a total of 30 hours.
PLANNING THE CURRICULUM
It took me many hours of thought and reading before deciding how to prepare my ALLEGRO English lessons. I understood that they were meant to be informal and fun, but I was unsure as to how to overcome the problem of teaching 3 to 4 different levels at the same time. I had been so used to teaching people grouped together according to their level and this new innovative experience presented me with a concrete problem: How to meet the needs of higher-level learners without leaving complete beginners in total despair?
I finally had the idea of setting up a “workshop” situation whereby the class was divided into small groups according to the different levels. The groups then had a variety of fun and interactive language activities to choose from, each based on the same theme, eg travelling, at the hotel, cooking, festivities, etc. but adapted to each of the three to four levels within the group. The idea was to make the lessons as varied as possible and to avoid, at all costs, a mundane situation forcing the learners to sit passively around a table for two and half hours in front of the teacher.
The teaching activities used were as follows:
• Crosswords and vocabulary games
• Putting funny stories or jokes in the right order
• Reading and trying out recipes
• Completing interviews
• Situation sketches and role plays at the restaurant, hotel, in a taxi, etc…
• Bingo for the time, vocabulary, sentence structure, food, numbers, times, etc…
• Personality and general knowledge quizzes
• Music quizzes
• Song gap fills
• Informal chats on the British culture, current events, hobbies, the television and the cinema, etc…
• Milling activities and information gap activities
• Competitions and miming activities
• The participants even invented their own activities and quizzes for some of the lessons
I tried to encourage communication as much as possible by putting emphasis on situation sketches and role-play. Encouraging the participants to work in groups and pass from one activity to the next meant that the participants were constantly changing place and thus making the most of the classroom space. This helped the participants to stay active as well as reactive.
I never used the same lesson plan from one session to the next, because I found it extremely important to change and update as far as possible so as not to fall into anything too mundane and structured. I also tried to alternate between useful themes and fun themes.
Once I had found a way to overcome the problem of working with mixed level classes, I soon realised that I was also confronted with the problem of trying to interest people from completely different social backgrounds and of very different ages. The long term unemployed learners were a challenge because some of them suffered from depression and severe psychological problems, others simply lacked in motivation. The one thing everybody did have in common though was that they wanted to make new friends, have ‘a bit of a laugh’.
I eventually decided to vary the themes as much as possible so as to keep everyone interested.
TEACHER MEETINGS FOR IDEA BRAINSTORMING
Having given considerable thought as to how to tackle my own lessons, it was an even bigger challenge for me to prepare the other teachers and have them change their traditional methods. We met once and even twice a week on an informal basis to talk over ideas and methods, something that proved to be a valuable experience for everyone in terms of mutual support. But having worked for longer periods of time with more traditional school classes, the Spanish and Italian Teachers found it difficult to find new, innovative methods.
METHODS/the different stages in the lesson :
1. Group language activities carried out by the whole group : We dedicated much of the first part of the lesson to informal chats and milling activities whereby the participants had to work together to find out information on the other members of the group. Every week I tried to find different ways of adapting the game “Find someone who …”. Another good game that everybody enjoyed was “What’s my line ?” and “Where am I ?” The idea of the group activities was to make a dynamic and more interactive start to the session. Even the shyer and more introverted members of the group took a liking to this type of activity because it forced them to come out of their shell. Those suffering from depression even went so far as to say they found it therapeutic!!!! The beginning of the lesson was also a very convenient time for us to talk over English recipes and taste the results of a recipe studied the time before. We very often looked at a few jokes as well which helped put people at ease and create a “lighter” mood.
2. Group brainstorming on the vocabulary for the particular theme chosen for the day: The second part of the lesson was put in place to help introduce the day’s theme whilst still keeping all the participants grouped together. It enabled the advanced learners to revise what they already knew and their beginner colleagues to learn new vocabulary from people other than the Teacher.
3. Individual language activities: Once the group had spent sufficient time grouped together to talk over the day’s theme, I then introduced the “workshop” part of the lesson whereby each person was able to concentrate on a particular activity such as listening to a cassette, finding words in a crossword, filling in blanks in a letter or reading authentic English documents, etc… This enabled the learner to wind down after the group participation, think over what they had just learnt as a group and practise it at their own individual pace. I saw the change from large group work to individual and pair work as a good way of varying the lesson. I also noted that many learners felt more at ease on a one to one basis. The important thing to note about these “workshop” activities was that I tried to make them enjoyable. I avoided traditional activities and grammar explanations as far as possible. It took a lot of work and a great deal of time for me to get this part of the lesson working properly. The main problem was having to run from group to group, making sure everything was going according to plan. As time went by I soon learnt some helpful tips to overcome the problem of not “feeling in control”. One good example was when Jenny Norris advised me to find ways for the learners to be able to correct themselves after an individual reading or listening activity.
At this point of the lesson the participants could also work towards a personal goal without boring the rest of the group. For example, one participant greatly appreciated this because it gave him the opportunity to learn some real ‘estate’ vocabulary.
4. End of project presentation: At the end of most lessons, the participants were given time to think up and practise small plays, jokes, poems or recipes ready for the end of session presentations. It did not take long for me to realise that it is in fact very difficult to try and encourage people to make presentations and plays if they do not like performing in front of other people. The most memorable presentation so far was prepared by the third group. They thought up and acted out television programmes in English. We all had great fun preparing the sketches and the participants learnt some useful English expressions for the weather and the news.
MATERIALS AND DECORATION :
I opted for total immersion in a typically English atmosphere and I achieved this by decorating the room with British posters, flags, calendars, leaflets and anything typically British that I could find such as teapots, pint glasses and beer mats. In addition, I tried to talk about the British way of life as much as possible and give British specialities such as Marmite and baked beans for the participants to taste. I even managed to get hold of some amateur videos showing British life from Spring to Autumn and this was greatly appreciated because the participants were actually able to see British life with their own eyes. The most successful was a video showing how Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated.
TEACHING AIDS :
Music cds, videos about different parts of the United Kingdom, authentic British texts, documents and texts. I avoided textbook material; instead, I tried to find and adapt authentic material from England such as hotel brochures, fun quizzes, questionnaires from women’s magazines, crosswords, written and recorded interviews with pop stars, recipes from cookbooks, adverts from newspapers, articles and games from free internet sites.
What went well:
• The presentations at the end of each session were proof that all participants succeeded in improving their language and communication skills. What I particularly found encouraging though was the fact that everybody liked the idea of learning a language using games and songs. It was surprising to see just how much English they could learn whilst still have fun at the same time.
• The participants enjoyed exchanging personal ideas and stories because it enabled them all to become great friends despite the differences in age and social background. It really was touching to see how everybody was eager to exchange phone numbers at the end of the sessions. Some of the participants were even keen for me to organise a trip to England with them; I would have jumped at the chance had I been given the means to do so.
• During the Open days to celebrate the “European Languages Day” in September, I was pleased to see that nearly all the participants from the first three sessions came in to talk about their “Allegro” experience. Most people said it was a pleasure to recommend such a course to others.
• The workshop part of the lesson helped me to keep everybody interested at the same time. The different levels became less of a problem and the varied interests turned out to be something positive.
• As a teacher, I feel that I have greatly benefited from this experience of teaching very mixed groups. I have learnt to be more innovative and organised. I have definitely gained in terms of confidence.
• The participants’ enthusiasm for learning about the British culture was rewarding for me a British citizen. I am glad to have made them forget all the conditioned ideas they gathered over their school years about British food, British people and their way of life.
• Everybody joined in well with the games, and the quizzes proved to be very popular.
What did not go quite as well :
• The irregular participation of some of the members. This was a problem with regards the preparation of the end of project presentation.
• The uneven number of beginners in relation to the number of advanced learners. This made it very difficult for me to put the workshop part of the lesson in place.
• There was a certain degree of friction in the third group due to ‘bossier’ participants.
• Having lessons twice a week became too much to manage in the end.
• I found it hard to organize the end of project presentation because the stressful members of the group had difficulty in getting over the block of speaking in front of a large group of people.