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Our first ESL Olympics

Apology and rationale:  I am about to describe a lesson about skills in isolation.  This is not something we usually do.  But sometimes you feel the need to quickly catch up a particular group of students.  Sometimes a librarian’s gotta do what a librarian’s gotta do.

Our new ESL teacher (my friend Christine Settino) and I noticed that our new ESL students from Ukraine, South Korea, Tibet, and China did not grow up in strong school library environments.  Basic library stuff, both on- and offline, confused them.

So, we brainstormed a bit with my practicum student, Kathie Jackson, and we came up with our first ever ESL Olympics.

I’ll let Kathie tell the rest of the story.

TL Maiden Voyage
Thursday I taught my first ever lesson, ESL Library Olympics, created with a combination of ideas from Joyce and Christine, our ESL teacher. Our creation contains a lot of moving parts: 16 potential
events, ranging from finding and using library supplies; obtaining a lunch pass; locating fiction books; arranging nonfiction in Dewey order;  finding, exploring, to exploring our library’s online databases.

We opened the lesson with the Olympic theme music playing as the students arrived in the library.  We scored each event, timed some of them to add fun and a spirit of competition, and gave away goodies and trinkets throughout for politeness and teamwork.

Did I mention that not only was this the first lesson I had ever taught in my life, but also that I was being officially observed for a grade in my masters program? The good news is it was a truly collaborative effort with the ESL teacher and Joyce facilitating and supporting me every step of the way.

This lesson was also custom-made for a small group – 6 kids in this ESL class – because we went in knowing these students have a wide range of English language skills and we weren’t sure of their level of awareness of all our library has to offer.

Aha! Moments

I was pleasantly surprised that there was no teenage eye-rolling! This group embraced the spirit of fun and truly enjoyed competing to master library skills. We teachers discussed and planned in advance for flexibility, knowing that we may not have time for all 16 events. But some of the areas where we wound up expanding an activity for extra exploration were unexpected.  They had lots of questions about using a pass to come to the library during lunch. Several of them were finding out for the first time that the library is open late on Wednesdays and offers tutoring.

We sent them to these LibGuides Joyce has created:

  • Issues Guide – for exploring all sides of social issues and controversies
  • Copyright-Friendly Guide– featuring dozens of sources for images, music, video and guidelines for proper use of these materials
  • Grammar and Writing– a section of our Research Guide
  • ESL Guide– materials gathered for this group of English language learners

These kids were fascinated by the online library resources – the numerous paid databases and LibGuides that contain a ton of resources – and we were thrilled to hear their probing questions, and to see their excitement and discovery.

The Take-Aways

My biggest revelation was how as a librarian I’m going to be in a unique position to reach out to English language learners – who are often shy, lack confidence, and feel lost – to make sure they know the library is a fun and welcoming place where they can get help with their work and other assimilation issues they may be having.

The ultimate affirmation that this was a successful lesson? The following day Igor from Ukraine passed us in the hallway and proudly flashed his Olympic gold medal from our competition!

Great job, Kathie! This was an activity these kids won’t soon forget.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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