by Sally Sapega
The four key skills of English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction are reading, writing, speaking and listening. When DCLC shifted to online classes this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ESL teachers worked hard to make sure students were building all four skills through the Zoom class sessions, assigned homework, and online resources.
But, not surprisingly, some of the benefits of in-person teaching were lost in the online translation. For one, DCLC’s adult ESL students weren’t engaging in the typical interaction that comes from being in a classroom setting—interaction that helps them build their speaking and listening abilities. According to DCLC ESL Instructor Marisa Russo, “We were looking for ways to supplement the ESL classes, give the students more practice.” The result was weekly online Conversation Club sessions, facilitated by Russo.
Under the guidance of Jenn Kacimi, DCLC’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction, the virtual Conversation Club sessions were added in October.
Rather than have lessons, Russo comes up with topics that generate lively discussions. One tried-and-true topic is food.
“We talk about typical meals or foods in their home country,” Russo explains. She also tries more creative conversation-starters such as which foods the students eat when they’re sick. Answers range from lemon and garlic to dates.
During one session she asked the adult students to share something in their kitchen that they couldn’t live without—an ingredient or a utensil, for example. “One student who is normally very quiet came back from her kitchen with a smile on her face excited to talk,” Russo says. The indispensable items? An onion and a habanero pepper! Proof that simple steps can be the gateway to significant progress.
ESL students enrolled in DCLC's online classes are eligible to participate in the Conversation Club sessions. Students taking part hail from a wide variety of countries, including Yemen, China, Ukraine, Russia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bangladesh, and Haiti.
Adding a virtual Conversation Club for ESL students is just one way DCLC has been innovating and adapting to the new realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to Russo, the Conversation Club has allowed students to build skills, make friends, and stay encouraged during this difficult time.
Read an unabridged version of this article here.