Monday, December 26, 2011

Storefront Teaching

Last Thursday afternoon was an example of why free-range teaching can be so much fun!

My Tuesday/Thursday afternoon class begins when the library opens at 1:00 PM.  We gather at the front door and file in when the library opens ... usually.  If a library guard is not present at opening time, then the library delays opening while a substitute is found. This is the situation we found ourselves in a few days ago.

The branch manager (who is always as supportive as she can be) apologetically told us that the library was not going to open until 3:00 PM.  That was a disappointment, as I had brought home-baked cookies and other festive items for a little holiday celebration.  We stood outside the library and I handed out cookies and asked students to sign in on our attendance roster before they left.  One student said, "Hey, I live nearby.  Want to come to my place?"  Another student, who is an Orthodox monk, said, "We could meet at my church. It's only a few minutes' drive from here."  (Student speech is paraphrased as what they might have said if they were fluent speakers!)  The group decided on the church, so we piled into three cars and headed off. We parked in front of the small storefront and climbed the stairs to the church.

What a great setting for an unplugged ESL lesson!  There was a lovely space where the liturgy is celebrated and there were several small rooms in the back.  One room had a long table with seating for about nine people.  Since there were seven of us, it was just the right size.  It was already set with fruit and cookies, which we were invited to eat!

Like any good teacher-about-town, I had several small boards and dry-erase markers in my bag and everyone had their notebooks, so we were good to go. (The contents of my bag vary from lesson to lesson, but the boards and markers are keepers.  They're handy at all times, but especially in situations like this!)

Conversation began immediately on the obvious topic.  We asked our host, Father Saba, about the church.  I pitched vocabulary as needed, writing it on the boards for reference as the discussion proceeded.  It turns out that the students in this group (about half of the enrolled class) are all Christian, so questions were more along the lines of "What days/times are your services?", "Do you have Bibles in English?" and so forth.

One student noted that there was a pleasant scent in the air.  The word was "incense", which our Spanish speaker recognized right away.  The other students (who speak Russian, Georgian and Arabic) still weren't sure, so I made a swinging gesture with my hands.  Father Saba smiled, got up and left the room.  He returned with the best realia ever!

Consulting my notebook, I see that we mostly uncovered vocabulary.  We did hit one grammar item: the difference in how the word "too" is used with nouns and adjectives ("too much noise" vs. "too noisy").  Since they were familiar with count vs. non-count, we also looked at "too many [plural noun]".
Do you see the boards and markers on the table?
I'm so thankful to Father Saba for making his meeting area available to our class.  As we left, students all agreed that it was an excellent and enjoyable lesson!

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