The challenges of teaching English

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Sidsel and Howard have been volunteering at the Community Centre in La Boca – an after school club that focuses on teaching English to children (and also adults on varying afternoons). The volunteers are working with children as young as 5 years old, up to around 14 years old which means addressing their varying levels of English proficiency whilst sharing time between the youngsters equally can be very difficult – especially when there are up to 15 children in the room and sometimes only one volunteer to assist the coordinator.

The Community Centre has recently acquired some text books to help them with the lessons which have proven to be a great help in focusing the children when sometimes the word games and group discussions around the white board can become rather boisterous! It was a very concentrated start as the children all carefully coloured in an outline of a crocodile before starting some of the writing and spelling practice of writing “my name is”. For some of the children these exercises were very easy, and having two volunteers working together on this particular day allowed a little more time to search for a wider variety of exercises for the following day, work that was both entertaining for the children whilst also being educational and taxing.

Activities with simple verbs have proven to be a great way to start off with the children at varying levels – they particularly enjoy the 'I like to...' game where they get a chance to practice talking about hobbies and things they like to do. This then sometimes progresses into a simplified game of 'charades', where the children pick a verb in English and have to act it out. (although it is wise to place these activities towards the end of the lessons as the children quickly become excited and will not be keen to return to quiet study!) A little competition has also proved to be a good way of working with the children in an interactive way – sometimes boys against girls to see who can list the most words, in topics such as food, days of the week and family.

Catering for children with such varying ages, concentrations and education is a real challenge for the volunteers on this project. But for the few, short moments when the class is focused and enjoying learning another language, it makes the time trying to control the shouting, running and arguing all worthwhile!

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