Basic English for older students - Resources.
November 7, 2008 4:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm teaching English to a small group of ladies in their late 50's/early 60's who have very little knowledge of the language. Help needed with resources and ideas.

I'm teaching English to a small group of ladies in their late 50's/early 60's who have very little knowledge of the language. They want to learn English for traveling purposes but also because they feel are missing out not knowing the world's lingua franca. All of them are retired teachers of assorted disciplines. They are obviously not preparing for an examination, so I'm going to focus on conversational skills more than anything, although I'm going to have to do some grammar work with them.

However, I'm finding it hard to find resources for whatever we will do in class. Anything that doesn't include pokemons or hello kitty or whatever, that is. Age-appropriate material is proving hard to find.

Also, I'm low on ideas for conversation topics in order to get things running for that age bracket. I have plans for a "what's your name; how old are you; tell me about your family" lesson, another for role-playing restaurant situations, another with subway/underground plans for getting places in cities, but after that I'm... dry for ideas.

So here are my questions:

1. Do you know of good online resources for basic level English as a Foreign Language for older students?

2. I'm going to need a book to follow, particularly for grammar, spelling, use of English exercises. Do you have any recommendations for this particular situation?

3. Any ideas for conversation situations that will suit these ladies? This one gives you extra bonus points.
posted by neblina_matinal to Education (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What country are they from? Find news clippings about their home country in major US newspapers. They're usually pitched at about a 10th grade reading level, so though you may need some work with the vocabulary, the grammar should be fairly simple. International news coverage in this country being what it is, anything that makes it into a US paper should be known to them already. That might help with comprehension and interest.
posted by valkyryn at 4:28 AM on November 7, 2008

I was an ESL teacher for a couple of years. My focus was conversational English. I had a lot of success with the Side by Side books. They are easy to understand even if you don't know English, the exercise are solid, and it's broken into nice digestible chunks.
posted by Grundlebug at 5:03 AM on November 7, 2008

Many women are interested in fashion. How about pictures of models (something like a J Crew catalogue, as Vogue is probably a bit high fashion) in different kinds of outfits so that the students can compare the clothes and say what they like or dislike about the clothes, hair, models, etc..

Learning to bitch-fest in another language can never be a bad thing.
posted by essexjan at 6:09 AM on November 7, 2008

The idea cookbook at Dave's ESL Cafe has lots and lots of ideas for class activities.
posted by hydrophonic at 6:31 AM on November 7, 2008

Can you get hold of magazines in English targeted at that age group? Ones about cooking, the home, fashion (in the UK, I'm thinking of things like Good Housekeeping and Women's Own), that should give you plenty of conversation topics.
posted by Helga-woo at 7:08 AM on November 7, 2008

Anything that gets your students moving, active, and involved is a good thing. A goal of every exercise should be to provide an opportunity for real communication. So instead of showing a picture from a fashion magazine and having students repeat what you say about the clothes, have them identify who you're talking about from a dozen images you've put up on the board. An exercise might look like this:
1. Pre-teach any new vocabulary they'll need for the exercise. Go over pronunciation. Whenever possible, have the students mime the new verb, or point to, touch, or hold up the new nouns.
2. Put up one photo from a fashion magazine on the board. Describe what the model is wearing. Have the students practice this.
3. Add a few more photos and mix up the descriptions. A little more practice.
4. Add a dozen photos. Describe one at random. The students' job is to identify which photo you're talking about. (This is a good opportunity to reinforce letters or numbers.)
5. Get a volunteer to describe a few photos for the class to guess.
6. Once they're good at that, break them up into pairs or teams and they do it on their own.
7. While they do the activity, you circulate to provide support. Keep a mental note of mistakes and stumbling blocks, but don't interrupt to correct anybody.
8. As a wrap up, answer questions that came up and correct common mistakes to the whole class.

Another common game is bingo--great for grammar or vocabulary reinforcement. For example, the cards could have the past tenses of irregular verbs and you call out the infinitive. The same thing works for irregular plurals.

Some tips:
- While games are great, some adults feel like they're being treated like children. This depends a lot on the culture, of course. If you can show your enthusiasm while keeping the goals clear, it'll help. Think of smart game shows.
- Conduct the whole class in English. Have established times where you will use the native language (administrative needs, or greetings and small talk before class), but during the lessons, it's all business.
- Try to keep your teacher talking time (TTT) to a minimum.
- Don't as a student, "Do you understand?" because the answer will always be yes. Ask content questions. "What color is your sweater?" "Is Julio Lupe's husband?"
posted by hydrophonic at 7:20 AM on November 7, 2008

Seconding Dave's ESL Cafe, but disagreeing with Side by Side. It's a really low level book, and many students find it very repetative.

Knowing what country you're in (or they're from), plus the size of the class would be good. Topics for conversation are boundless. One way to think of new topics is just pay attention to what your friends are talking about. Aside from that, for travel English, giving and taking directions, reservations, ordering in restaurants, making small talk, question making, all of these are quite useful.

Make sure, with older students, that your lesson is easy enough for them to feel like they have accomplished something every day that they attend your class. If they feel lost, or like they aren't doing anything new, they tend to stop coming.

As you do more and more work with question making, move into small talk. Explain small talk as something that English speakers do to avoid being uncomfortable due to silence. The key to it is a continued back and forth of relevant questions, informative answers, and useful comments. Having students rotate through different partners with an unknown time limit (you set the scene, then let them know that, for instance, their train stop is coming up) gives them time to practice opening, sustaining, and closing a conversation.

As for books, the 50-50 series has some decent group activities for a large group. Interchange isn't bad (but it's not great).
posted by Ghidorah at 7:22 AM on November 7, 2008

Response by poster: My students are (as am I) Portuguese, and there are 3 of them. It's a really small group, so a lot can be done (and said) in one, one and a half hours. I really need to have structured activities ready in advance, because what happens if the conversation flows - which it does - is they get frustrated because they don't grasp the language well enough to convey what they want to say after a while. So the magazines idea is good, the bingo sounds great as well - I'll be careful not to make them feel like little kids. Please keep more of these coming!
posted by neblina_matinal at 9:31 AM on November 7, 2008

I've taught quite a few students in that age group and they've always been a lot of fun to work with.

I second the recommendation for the Side by Side books. The reviews on Amazon will give you additional opinions on the series. Side by Side would provide you with a solid foundation that you could augment with your own activities designed to leverage the interests of your particular group of students. hydrophonic has provided you with a great breakdown of what one of these activities could look like. In deciding upon a theme for an activity, you'll be most successful if you really get to know your students rather than making assumptions about their interests based on their age and gender.

My older adult learners have usually had an upcoming event, like a medical conference or a visit to the grandchildren, to provide lots of motivation for learning. If this isn't the case with your students, I'd suggest exploring how they imagine they'll use English on a day to day basis and then helping them develop the skills to be able to do so. What do they feel like they're missing out on by not knowing the 'lingua franca'? Try to get them doing whatever this is (in as modified a form as required by their current level) as soon as possible. To give an easy (for me!) example, do they want to be able to read English language news? You could start working with articles from the BBC or VOA Special English sites.

I hope this helps.
posted by toodles at 9:44 AM on November 7, 2008

One problem with directly following a basic level text book is that older students often find it boring.

I would really like to second the idea cookbook for Daves ESL cafe mentioned above. It is an excellent resource and easy to use.
Also, the BBC link from toodles has some really great activities which can be great for adults because they seem a lot more relevant to everyday life and ways they will use English. You can find listening activities, download worksheets, and even entire lesson plans on their site.

One other site which can have fairly basic level and lots of useful stuff is
there are many videos and other activities on a large range of topics.

Even if your students are huge on using technology, incorporating listening and video seems to give a better connection to real life language use than traditional textbooks.
posted by nzydarkxj at 8:50 PM on November 7, 2008

I have used the American Headway series of books in teaching adult students of English, from basic to advanced level, for 5 years in a row now. They are simply excellent, if you are confident enough to weave your own presentation of the grammar and structure into the structure of the books. They are so cleverly put together, without being blatant about it, that as a teacher you find that the questions that students ask are almost without fail subtly woven into the practice items on the next page. I've taught each of the series (there are 5 books in total) several times now, and I find them an endlessly useful resource.

I structure my classes to balance between freer practice and more structured practice, with the mix depending on the average skill level of the students. One book can last me an entire year of 4 hours per week classtime if I take it slowly.

In more than a decade of teaching English as a second or other language, mostly to university-age and older students, and in the last 5 years to adults exclusively, I've not found a better series of books (for the experienced teacher, as you need to be able to put together your own approach to the grammar, which is presented implicitly rather than explicitly) for adult learners.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:23 PM on November 9, 2008

« Older What foods tell you they are cooked?   |   Windows Mail message sorting Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.