Talking Football with Complete Beginners

I’m working with a small group of Polish beginners. We don’t have much shared language but we’re managing each week to communicate through mime, drawings, ELTpics, dictionaries and, increasingly, fortunately, English!

I knew they had recently had a tour around the sports and leisure facilities at the community campus and that they had been really interested in what was available. (I knew because I’d been with them!) So, yesterday, I had planned to work on language relevant to the sports and fitness activities available. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to do – I wanted to see what drew their attention, if anything – but had thought that they might like to understand what activities were available, that it would be useful for them to be able to ask about and understand prices and to learn some vocabulary around swimming – lanes, public, adult, lockers, changing room, lifeguard, towel. So armed with some leaflets from the recreation centre, a laptop from the library – because that might be a better way to show what Zumba was than any mime I could do! – and my ideas, I was ready to see what happened.

The first learner came along. We greeted each other. I asked how he was. He was ok, very very ok. The was a brief silence and he filled it. He asked me if I had watched the football. I hadn’t but I knew about it, just! We started to discuss it and I recorded the lexis needed on my slips of paper. When the other learners arrived I asked if they had watched the football. They had and so we continued. I found out that one of the matches went into extra time and then a penalty shoot-out. I asked if it was exciting. Slips of paper and footballThey didn’t know that word. I mimed but also found it in the Polish-English dictionary. Yes, they all agreed. It was very exciting. Using drawings and mime, they asked how to say goal, goalkeeper and kick. They looked up save and using a variety of sources and strategies we built up a set of football vocabulary – football pitch, referee, whistle, score, half-time, corner, team, red card, yellow card etc.

Two learners had been to Glasgow at the weekend and had seen the Celtic and Rangers stadiums. This took us to a discussion about the weekend. We touched on food too. I’m not sure how this linked to what we were talking about other than one learner remarked that there was no English for bigos in the dictionary. They told me how it was made and what other foods they liked. This part of the conversation served to recycle language from previous sessions – food, like/don’t like, simple sentences.

To review, we came back to the football vocabulary and recapped our discussion and I learned a bit more. I found out that the final is going to be on 19 May, so I’ve told them that after the 19th, we’ll use all the language we found today to talk about it. They asked me if I would watch. I said I would. I will! Who should I support? They said Chelsea.

I enjoyed our session and I think they did too. They took lots of notes, asked questions and introduced new topics. They were interested in the topic and it was relevant to their lives. They’ll have opportunity to use it again soon and, hopefully, it means they’ll increasingly be able to have conversations with English-speaking colleagues and neighbours.

Perhaps, next week we’ll do what I had planned for yesterday…

My Tuesday Evening ESOL Group

As I find my way around my new blog, and come to terms with the idea of blogging, I just thought I’d post here my recent contribution to the ELT Dogme yahoo group. I’ve been following the group since I discovered it, and Dogme, at the beginning of 2009. There are lots of interesting discussions there and the posts which have been most helpful have been accounts of work with learners. I thought I should make a contribution. So, this is what I wrote about my group of 13 March 2012…

“It’s a long time since I’ve contributed to this group but I felt it was high time that I shared some of my experiences as I’ve really enjoyed the stories from other members. What follows is a very simple account of a session with one of my ESOL groups. There’s nothing clever or fancy about it, but I do believe that, for this group anyway, it was useful and effective. These particular learners are very positive about their language learning in the group, and that has given me the confidence to finally post something. So…

It had been a busy day, I had arrived home at 5pm and left again 15 minutes later. As I arrived at the library door, two of the learners were waiting for me. Inside, rather than sitting around our usual table, one of them suggested we sit in the armchairs arranged in a circle in the other corner. We sat and started to talk about our day. My contributions prompted questions from the learners that were just beyond their current language abilities, but by using gestures, other words and examples, they communicated their meaning, I supplied the words, wrote them on slips of paper, answered their questions and we continued.

As the other learners arrived, our conversation turned to jobs. I asked the learners about the jobs they had done in their life. We heard that one learner had just got an additional job. We found out that two of the learners had run their own businesses in their country, that two of them had skills to do jobs needed by another learner, and that two were interested in doing some part-time study. The learners are at different levels. When one learner talked, I focused on his use of the past simple, correcting or eliciting self correction. (He understands the concept but doesn’t use it much yet!) With another more proficient learner, I introduced the present perfect continuous. We reviewed the use of ‘used to’. Learners worked hard at expressing themselves, searching for the best way they could say something, and working with other learners to find the word or phrase they were looking for.

As words and phrases were needed and as grammar points came up, I wrote them on slips of paper and put them on the table in the middle of our circle. We reviewed them towards the end of the session. Patterns emerged. In addition to one learner telling us that she had been working since she was 18, we heard that another had been living in his village for 2 years. One of us used to work as a shop assistant, while another used to live in a neighbouring town. Much of the vocabulary related to employment or business.

Individual learners wanted to take home ‘their’ words, but I’ve offered to type them up so that they could all have them. I’m doing that now and will send it out to them. I’ve hyperlinked the grammar points to relevant pages of the British Council’s Grammar Reference web pages and the words to the Macmillan online dictionary, with suggestions on things they could write to use to practise and recycle the language.”

You can read the replies here and, if you haven’t already done so, explore some of the other messages on the ELT Dogme group. It’s a good read!

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