This week on In Focus, hear from Caroline McKinnon, an ESL teacher based in New York, who is using Learn English with TED Talks with her students. Caroline shares her experience with using the supplemental resource, including her top three tips.
Caroline has traveled the world teaching and teacher training. Her work focuses on helping students who have no traditional access to education. Caroline founded a nonprofit Feltnyc.org to provide quality education to immigrants and refugees free of charge. She is currently integrating teacher training practices into her nonprofit work, as well as pushing for policies to protect education. She has over twenty years of Education & Management experience.
A Teacher’s Take
I love working with underserved communities in the United States, but finding relevant materials is often a struggle. I spend hours scouring the net trying to find materials, especially listenings, that will be right for my students. Often if I find something appropriate in language, it’s irrelevant to the interests of my students, or vice versa.
Last year, I went to a teaching conference and attended a workshop on Learn English with TED Talks. The presenter was fabulous. She showed us the app and we talked about ways to use it in our classrooms. I was skeptical. So many apps say that they are for language learners, but they are really for language practice. This one seemed too good to be true, offering a range of activities and themes, at multiple levels. Still, I downloaded it anyway.
I spent the next week listening to the talks during my commute. The timings were perfect, and the subjects were fascinating. However, I was not convinced yet that this app would be as interesting to my students.
The Class Reaction
The first TED Talk we listened to was ‘Before I die…’ by Candy Chang. I had one simple aim during that lesson. I wanted the students to listen for listening sake. I believe that sometimes we are so focused on the task that we do not allow students to enjoy their learning.
As a group, we watched this short talk. As we sat there, I could feel the air change. I looked around and my students were lost in the story, with their eyes closed and their facial expressions showing their emotional response to the talk. A couple of women finished the talk in tears. The connection that I’d felt to the talk had been felt by them too.
I had prepared a few exercises for the students, but I didn’t need to set any tasks. They wanted to talk. They asked vocabulary questions. They discussed the parts of each talk that had impacted them. The reasons were never the same, but they were connected in an authentic shared experience.
At the suggestion of one student, we made our own wall, copying the idea used in the talk. I wrote the phrase ‘Before I die, I want to…’ on the board and let them come up and write their thoughts. Their openness and vulnerability had found a safe space through this activity. One by one they began asking each other questions about what had been written. Each new item of vocabulary was written on the board, explained and applied within the conversations.
When the lesson came to an end, it was like we were collectively woken up. This app gave my students access to explore their own experiences. It didn’t overwhelm or patronize.
I decided to try the same lesson with another class of refugees. These students have a completely different need for language. Unlike many language learners, they need immediately accessible language. They need to apply for housing, register with a doctor, provide for their family. They do not have time to learn slowly. I wanted to see if what had happened with my first class would happen again. The reaction followed a similar pattern; in fact, in some ways, the students’ emotions were rawer and that allowed for more engagement.
Needless to say, we continued using the app. The range of stories is fabulous and my students genuinely love it. They feel that it empowers them to access education in a more conducive manner.
They also seem to have grown in confidence, through the understanding that they are using and reacting to authentic materials, which is empowering.
Here are my top three ways of using Learn English with TED Talks:
- As a group listening. Watching a TED Talk as a group is more visceral. The students react in real-time and the results are powerful and unscripted.
- As homework. I will assign a talk to students, with the accompanying tasks on the app. We will then review it in class. This is an effective way of introducing a topic and the associated vocabulary.
- As a springboard. Often there are questions and issues that arise from the TED Talk. I use these questions for the basis of a ‘web quest lesson.’ I love web quests because you never know where the students will go. The idea is you use the TED Talk as a jumping-off point, and the students then go to research more information about the topic. It is like a scavenger hunt of learning. Then, they come together to discuss their findings. It allows the students autonomy on deciding where they take this newly gained knowledge.
Chang, Candy. Before I Die Wall Angeled. Candychang.com. Web.
Author: Caroline McKinnon
Caroline has traveled the world teaching and teacher training. Her work focuses on helping students who have no traditional access to education. Caroline founded a nonprofit FeLTNYC.org to provide quality education to immigrants and refugees free of charge. She is currently integrating teacher training practices into her nonprofit work, as well as pushing for policies to protect education. She has over twenty years of Education & Management experience.