Current Issues: A Motivation-Based Course Plan for EFL Students.

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by Howard Yuan-Hsiang Lo | 17 Aug 2015
Resource Description: I was requested by my supervisor at the community college here in Taiwan to come up with an English class that was intriguing and appealing the adult learning community, and at the same time, motivating for English learning. I sat down with few of the EFL students, two native English-speaking teachers, and the program administrator, and we came up with this course plan that made English classes different from a traditional course, and was well received by the student community. The course had been implemented at this community college for a little over a year now. The returning student rate of this class is at 85% so far (a traditional English class at this community college is roughly at 50%). The course was mentioned by the local radio station and regarded as “innovative and informational” by the local community. The administrator and I were very pleased that such class helped EFL students call this learning experience “very satisfying”.
Audience: Adult, University
Audience Language Proficiency: Intermediate, Advanced
Duration: 1 Hour to 2 Hours
Language Skill: Reading, Writing, Vocabulary, Speaking
Content Area: Social studies, technology, English for specific purposes.
Objective(s):

The designed objectives are meant to follow the goals of this course.

  1. Motivate EFL students to learn English.
  2. Help EFL students to improve their English proficiency.
  3. Encourage reading and speaking in English.

The objectives of a current issue class are usually set to practice the following tasks.

  1. Delivery your thoughts of the given topic with a 1 minute presentation.
  2. Write down the implication of such event on a piece paper with 50 words and share it with your peer.
  3. Explain why you agree or disagree with your peer’s point of view.

These requests are to be modified for different topics and different group of students. However, the sole purpose does not change. It is going to force students to communicate in English with the topics that they are familiar with.

Outcome(s):

The expected outcomes are measured by a longitudinal pre-test post-test method. The pre-test consists of reading materials and writing materials, and a 1-minute oral communication with the teacher. During the course, the students are measured again with similar format of test multiple times. The teacher has to ensure that the students understand the topic and the meaning of these tests. Finally, the teacher ought to seek the sign of improvement in students’ speaking and writing in English. 

Procedure:

How to do it:

For a class that lasts two hours, a current issue class contains the following elements:

Introduction of Topic(s): 15 minutes.

Aside from the very first class, the students should already feel familiar with their peers and the teacher. The teacher introduces the selected topics that are to be talked about. Generally speaking, one topic takes about 30-40 minutes for the class; therefore, depending on the length of class period, the teacher ought to set up the agenda and let the students know what to expect in the very beginning. Also, the teacher should be introducing the topics by explaining what is happening around the world, and why these topics were selected.

Quick Game: 5 minutes. (Optional)

Games help students to get focused. If the class is conducted at night (usually 7pm), a game with high energy is recommended so that the students can benefit from it.

Topic I, II, and III: 30-40 minutes each.

Making sure that the teacher has the related information regarding the topic. From my own experience, the students will ask further questions if they find the topic interesting.

  1. Reading. The teacher can lead the class to read or have students group to read the article together. Paragraph by paragraph explanation by the teacher is recommended for students with lower proficiency level. Teacher should also prepare supplementary reading materials related to the topics for the students.
  2. Speaking. The teacher will speak and ask questions. It is important for the teacher to explain the difference between denotation and connotation of a newly introduced word to the class. Additionally, the teacher should encourage students look for implications of an issue while reading so that they can learn how to process their expression before giving an oral presentation.

Leave about the 15 minutes (more if the class is large) for presentation and writing comprehension before the end of the class.

Target Population:

This is a course designed to suit for multiple English proficiency levels. The content of this course can be easily modified to meet the demands from both teachers and students. The age of students does not matter, however, adults who have working experience appeared to enjoy more despite their English proficiency level. This course is also very suitable for students who want to improve their reading and speaking ability. It is important to note that many of the students at the community college do not aim to take English proficiency tests nor to work/study oversea in English speaking country. The majority regarded learning English as “self-improvement” and “hobby”.

Course Goal:

There are three goals of this course plan:
1). Motivate EFL students to learn English.
2). Help EFL students to improve their English proficiency.
3). Encourage reading and speaking in English.

The students will become more comfortable of reading and speaking in English after taking this course. The concept is to take what EFL students read and hear in their daily life and convert the information into English topics and discussions in the class. For most adult learners, it is easier to learn when they can relate the information to what they already know. By using a variety of current issues around the world as the topics, EFL students not only gain English proficiency, but also receive a different perspective from the local news which they can relate from day to day life. Using appropriate grammatical structures is necessary for communication in the class. Although reading and speaking are vastly different, EFL students tend to “quote” the phrases from the articles in their discussion to show support of their opinions. Such action benefits thinking and memorizing.

The Pros and Cons of this course.

Pros:

  1. Lots communication in English. Current issues are current; therefore, EFL students are likely to be exposed to them from local news and possibly their own language. Expect a lot of discussion among students, especially with topics that are a bit of controversial. It is essential for teachers to have a good sense of EFL students’ culture so that some controversial topics can be avoided purposefully to lessen the potential tension in class.
  2. Informational. Many EFL students are not exposed to English in their daily life. Hence, they are less capable of finding the topics of their interests in English. This course provides students sources of information and facts from English speaking perspective. Many adult students find the course informational because it forces them to look from a different angle.
  3. Hard to get bored. The fast-paced curriculum opens up the heart for discussion for both the teacher and the students. It also helps the bonding process from students to teachers because of the nature of communication.

Cons:

  1. Extremely time-consuming and challenging for teacher preparation. The teacher has to be updated of current issues at all times for the entire semester. Students also tend to ask questions related to the issues, therefore, the teacher has to have all-around knowledge of the selected topic.
  2. Can be difficult to moderate the class at times. Some topics are highly controversial but very encouraging for communication. The teacher needs to know when to switch topic and how to end a heated conversation among students. It takes some practices.
  3. Unconventional. The course is designed in a non-traditional way so that the students or the administrators may not accept the way it is taught. It takes some communication between the teacher and the students/administrators to implement a course like this.
Differentiation:

How to follow up:

Technology has made information more accessible to everyone. One thing that our class does for follow-up is that we form a Line Learning community (or any instant messenger learning community), and the teacher exchanges conversation with the students so that they students can raise concerns/questions directly to the teacher. It promotes students to communicate in English outside of classroom.

TESOL Interest Section: Adult Education, Computer-Assisted Language Learning, English as a Foreign Language