How to make my students read or listen to foreign language materials
May 19, 2016 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I teach teenagers ESL. I've been building a small library including graphic novels and books (The Stonekeeper, American born Chinese, Anya's ghost, Frankenstein makes a sandwich, In real life, The cartoon guides, Adrian Mole, Klutz book of inventions etc. - even drawing manuals) but also DVDS (Simpsons, Futurama, Father ted, Flight of the Conchords, Amandla, Secret of Kells...) and Cds (Elizabeth mitchell, They might be giants, Jack Johnson, The rutles...).

The problem is... I'm at a loss to know how to make them use those resources. Sure I can lend these items, but I'd like my pupils to really learn something with all that stuff (I lent Ms Marvel #1 to a kid who kept it for weeks in his schoolbag, gave it back with stained and torn pages, saying : "I haven't even read it !"). Though, I'm sure you can really learn through contact with artistic productions, cultural artifacts.

What can I ask the kids to do with the books, the cds, the vids ?
What are other materials I should consider, how to use them ?

Thanks !
posted by nicolin to Education (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there room in your curriculum to utilize these resources during class time for guided/group activities that can "break the ice" and maybe engender an extracurricular interest in the materials?
posted by Schielisque at 10:39 AM on May 19, 2016

Deadlines and assignments. Give each resource a different project associated with it. Quiz, paper, etc., and the proper amount of time needed to do it justice. Most humans work better with a purpose and a deadline. Otherwise something else that does have a deadline ends up getting prioritized. If this is part of a class, these materials and their assignments can each have an extra credit value as well.
posted by hydra77 at 10:42 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

No offense, but very few of those materials seem like they would be appealing to the average teen. I mean, I'm totally into your aesthetic, but my 15-year-old daughter is not going to dig on The Rutles. My daughter is not exactly an average teen either, but here are some things she is into that your kids might be into:

John Green
Huger Games series
Divergent series

Marvel superhero movies
Hunger Games movies
New Girl
Friends (???)
- Dan & Phil
- Miranda Sings
- Tyler Oakley
- PewDiePie

Justin Bieber
5 Seconds of Summer
One Direction
Sleeping With Sirens
Panic! At The Disco
posted by Rock Steady at 10:44 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Require them to.

When I took French in college (so... FSL?), we were required to log a certain number of hours in the "language lab", which among other things included the option to watch foreign-language DVDs.

With the books/comics, I think you should set up a small lending library with rules about how long students have to read each item, what will happen if the copy is returned damaged, etc. (I also probably wouldn't lend single issue comics if you care about the condition at all, because yeah duh these kids are going to rip them to shreds.)

You can require each student to "check out" X number of titles per term, and require a short, simple report to come back with the returned item so that you know it got read. As a bonus, this will also stretch their written language skills.

Make each of these (or a choice between the two of them?) 10% of their grade or something.
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on May 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am not a teacher of ESL or anything else, but from working with college students I'd say that you need to be more interactive.

Anything that gets them performing will help them get their thoughts off of the minutiae of the language and into how it is used. I know that when I was in your garden-variety middle school Spanish class, I liked the dialogues the most.

How about encouraging them to make a parody of something really well known, like The Simpsons (or, you know, whatever the kids these days are into)? Pick something where they can get into characters and use multiple different parts of speech: slang, formal discussion, casual discussion, speaking to an audience, whatever.

Or you could give them other artistic opportunities, like making their own comic books (even as simple as reading a few existing stories and then filling in a preset grid with word bubbles to make their own story).

Bottom line: You have to meet them where they are. So what matters to them? Have them share something of their own culture that they love, and then find something analogous in English-speaking culture that they can discuss, perform, whatever.
posted by St. Hubbins at 10:52 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Make sure your materials are not too advanced. Most of those books are ones I wouldn't use with my students due to colloquialisms and other things they don't know, but I don't know your students' levels.

For using reading materials and listening materials, google extensive reading and extensive listening (plus "teens" or "beginners" or whatever if there's too much).
posted by wintersweet at 11:08 AM on May 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

You can't realistically expect students to do extra work that they're not being evaluated on. And that's that this is: work. If they wanted to read English comics for fun they would already be doing it. You have to make it actual homework/work instead of just expecting them to do it in their free time.

If you choose to do individual projects, I suggest having a pool of "suggested" materials, but allowing students to choose their own material as long as it fits the right parameters. Teens are old enough that they have their own taste AND young enough that this is still really important to their social identity.

Teenage me would cringe, for example, at having to translate any of the music mentioned in a comment above--but other teenagers would love it. So some of them might be more motivated if you let them pick something that THEY care about.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:12 AM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

The Hunger Games books are really gripping -- and yet the language within them is not at all difficult. I'd propose a reading group to read book 1, and when they're done, have a screening party to watch the movie, with popcorn and soda.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:31 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow ! Sure, I have to meet them where they are, and you can bet that I've spent a fair amount of time to check what's on the librarians and young readers lists. I've got a number of Marvel stories, a Marvel drawing guide, the rules of its RPG, but I've got to give them different options too. I admit though, that I'm a reluctant listener of a number of things mentioned in the thread. Anyway, provided that I allow them to get in touch with this sort of content . . . what's next ?

Wintersweet : Thanks, extensive reading / listening is definitely worth exploring.

I've got every hunger games book in my online bookstore cart right now.

The "make it a routine", the hands-on approach and the more formal one are also interesting.
posted by nicolin at 1:22 PM on May 19, 2016

Is Asterix still big in France? The British English translations are really, really good and it might be fun to read the French and compare/contrast it to the English.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:53 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking you need to make it an assignment, ideally with some component that encourages them to actually take in what they are being exposed to (not just turning the pages). I might give them an assignment to read/listen/consume three and then write a very short summary along with a recommendation - who do they think would like this and why. (You could even drop the summary to make the assignment easier). I would provide a template for this so they all come back in the same format. Then after it is due, collect them and distribute them the class and have them pick another three, based on their classmates recommendations. This would also give you feedback about which materials were reaching which students so you could adjust the collection accordingly.
posted by metahawk at 2:34 PM on May 19, 2016

Sounds like you are almost setting up your own little self-access learning center in your classroom. Great.

Wintersweet is right about extensive reading and listening. It works, but learners need to be instructed about what it is and how to do it. [YouTube] Check some of the back issues of publications from this group and the links there.

Try literature circles if small groups of students can read the same book.

As others have commented, students will be rational about this; they do what gets assessed for a grade. But, also introducing aspects of choice a la Kutsuwamushi, which you are doing, can be motivating. One problem is that students actually need support in making choices. They also need support and instruction in what to actually do to learn from using those media. Goal setting and making learning plans are things students can learn to do, but it needs to be taught. Most people don't come by those skills naturally. Here are a few slides about one model (SURE approach and encouraging learner autonomy).

Checking out IATEFL or your local TESOL affiliate if you haven't already can be really helpful.
posted by Gotanda at 3:08 PM on May 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Found it! Here is the link I was looking for re goal setting, learning plans, etc.
posted by Gotanda at 3:20 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a 35 year old american English-as-only-language speaker; i'm a librarian and teach people. The things you have listed are all funny and I agree laughing can be an excellent way to learn! But they are linguistically dense (I LOVE TMBG, but their lyrics rely on wordplay and are often deliberately obtuse), culturally dense (knowing slang; knowing that "wearing a pocket protector/mentioning that she plays D&D/spending hours in the computer lab on page 1= she is a serious nerd and no men will like her so that is why she is alone at a party on page 10"), and represent pretty much the entire span of English-speaking countries and timeframes, so nothing is mutually translatable ("bugger all" means "to cost nothing" on Flight of the Conchords; "bugger" can mean several different things in British media, depending on context, and none of them involve paying for things at a shop). It sucks to have jokes go over your head. I'm remembering watching TV in Korea without speaking a word of the language, and just making a list of things to ask my sister-in-law: why is it that a person would have to change into a blue tshirt for losing a game show, and why is that hilarious? Is it something about blue or something about losing? When on Korean Idol, if a singer is on stage and has the lights turn off in the middle of their performance-- in the US this would be a technical glitch or a sign you lost, so why is it that everyone clapped and confetti fell down, she got a bouquet of flowers, and escorted to the best seat in the audience? Did she win? Or was that a consolation prize?

I say pick things that require less work on the part of the reader, or that have their own enclosed world that doesn't rely on other things. Futurama, one of my favorite shows, is definitely the former: it's only funny if you know American culture from 1960-2000 and can recognize the foods, music, politics, cultural mores, stereotypes of minorities, sexual mores, attitudes to alcohol, etc. being parodied and updated; compared to Hunger Games, where the author lays out what clothes, housing, the Games, The Capitol, etc. means because it's very loosely based on ~2010 American norms. Or works that are more universal: Asterix's British translations are great; they rely on classical allusions which are often echoed in other works, and Apollo and his story is easy to Google. Teen- and tween-focused books might be good. Try looking for ones for Reluctant Readers (I don't buy fiction; this is a term used by fiction-buying librarians and might be helpful for searching for lists). These often have tantalizing but teen-appropriate romantic bits or sports themes, both of which are often more culturally-translatable: striking out in baseball is the same everywhere, the first kiss is special everywhere. You might also mark the culture and time frame on items, to help people pick things that they might like or might relate to each other.
posted by holyrood at 3:31 PM on May 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

Former ESL student here. I don't know how helpful this will be to you, but I remember two assignments given to me in 10th grade vividly. The first was to do a presentation about a song of my choice that was at least 3 minutes long, and offer my interpretation of the lyrics (which may be harder to do now that sites like Genius exist). I talked about Nirvana's version of The Man Who Sold the World, but many of my classmates chose current music for their assignment. This was really hard as I was shy and insecure about my language skills, but so was everyone else in the ESL class!
The second assignment was a weekly journal entry in which we were supposed to write about a movie, a book, a show episode or a new song we had heard and what we liked about it, and list at least three new words we learned from it and what they meant.
posted by cobain_angel at 11:47 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start by making time for studenta to read these materials in class. My teenage students enjoy the things you listed, I think they are well chosen. I give them a ton of in class reading time. Make time for "pair-shares" where they talk to a neighbor about their book.

Then when they have had a bit of practice with that, make time for students to share about a book they have read. Have them take turns. Not a written book report, just an oral language report for about a minute where they describe the plot and what they liked to didn't like about it. Hearing others and seeing others get excited will get them interested in new books and create a culture of reading among the group.
posted by mai at 4:09 PM on May 20, 2016

I'm not a formal teacher and have never been an ESL student, but I would think that asking them what books/comics/movies/music they are interested in, and then using those for exercise, would be the most useful.

A friend of mine taught ESL to beginning university students at a state college in the U.S. Her class was a mix of foreign students, and American students, who were not able to meet the English requirements. She said that the majority of her class each year were angry and insulted that they had to be there. She had some real success in letting the individual students choose the topics they wrote about, the books/music/movies they used, though she didn't always like their tastes (she was not a fan of the hip-hop). Translating slang into standard English, and standard English back into slang, seemed to benefit the entire class. Maybe this is helpful because everyone's internal dialogue isn't in standard English, but that is the format they need to be fluent in to communicate in a workplace?

I think that any materials you loan out should be considered expendable. Hopefully they will last a few semesters, but anything that goes into a high school student's backpack is going to be subjected to extensive wear and tear, even from the most well-intentioned and respectful student. That backpack also has food and gym shoes and has to get shoved into tiny metal lockers a few times a day. I like Sara C's idea of creating your own "library" for the class. Knowing that other students are waiting to read the book they have checked out will encourage them to finish reading it and get it returned, without seeming so much like the threat of a bad grade and yet another deadline for an assignment. Having a peer say "hurry up and finish that book, I want it next" is in an entirely different sphere than a teacher knocking a "letter grade" off of an assignment. Depending on their economic situation, you could also try having each student buy one book to donate to the library. When students hear a friend talking excitedly about a book, they're more likely to want to read it themselves.

Regarding "books teens like to read," two particularly come to mind.

The first is "Look Me In the Eye," by John Elder Robison. "...Robison’s story is one of alienation, desperate loneliness, and an intense desire to connect with others in spite of poor social skills." This book turned out to be so popular among teen readers that the author revised the book to edit out a handful of curse words which were causing issues in more conservative school districts. On the author's webpage is a .pdf document with classroom resources (don't know if these would be relevant to ESL.)

The other is "Rule of the Bone," by Russel Banks. I have friends who loved reading this book who are librarians, and who were "students who hate reading." My copy made the rounds in an apartment I used to live in, including (please forgive the stereotypes) an "older lady who liked baking and gardening," and a "Hell's Angel motorcyclist." Not sure what kind of censorship issues you have at your school, but there are some marijuana references, standard teen profanity, and references to human sexuality. I eventually donated my copy to my ESL teacher friend, where she said it was a big hit.
posted by ethical_caligula at 12:15 PM on May 21, 2016

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