By Amanda Bryson
I went with a non-profit group called the Via Serica Foundation. Our team consisted of nine Americans, including a native Mandarin speaker. I was the lead presenter and the only current professional teacher. Half of the other team members were experienced volunteer ESOL teachers. The others had no teaching experience, but came along as small group facilitators and language models.
Every day began with a one hour theory lecture followed by three hours of model language and cultural lessons focused on a particular topic. These model lessons focused on listening and speaking skills as these were the teachers' greatest linguistic needs. The lessons included skits, explanations, songs, lectures, demonstrations, poems, role-plays, games, movies, authentic language tasks, realia from America and a variety of other materials, activities and techniques. See the daily list of topics below.
After a lunch/siesta, we came back for a more advanced language lesson and then split into small groups by age taught (primary, junior middle and senior middle/university). The small group time included facilitated discussions about the morning lecture, the day's lessons and other related topics. During this time the teachers also worked on their small group presentations for the last day. Each subgroup of teachers was required to present a communicative English lesson targeted to their age group. Total time for each day was ten hours minus a two hour break in the afternoon. By the fourth day, though, we insisted on taking three hours off in the afternoon because the days were over 100 degrees F with no A/C. It really improved everyone's mood (and attention) to have extra time for a siesta.
We had an average of 55 teachers attending each day. For most of them, the seminar was a requirement. We had a broad range of proficiency so we often translated the morning lecture into Chinese. Some of the students were struggling to understand the basic English lessons while others were asking us to stop the morning translation because it was unnecessary for them. We compromised as best we could. By the end, most teachers reported a dramatic improvement in their oral and aural English proficiency.
When we arrived, we discovered that some teachers had taken the train for hundreds of kilometers from other towns and villages. We agreed to teach ten days straight with no weekend break so these teachers could travel home sooner.
Daily Topics (with a few activity examples in parenthesis)
Day 1, Monday
Lecture: Introduction, Overview, "What is Teaching?"
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Greetings/Getting to Know You (team members present skits using a variety of greetings) Grammar Focus: Forming Questions
Day 2, Tuesday
Lecture: SLA Theory and Research
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Where People Live (students use real brochures to plan a trip to Washington, DC) Grammar Focus: Adjectives
Day 3, Wednesday
Lecture: The Communicative Approach
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Travel and Transportation (with the movie "Sabrina") Grammar Focus: Prepositions
Day 4, Thursday
Lecture: Creating Immersion in the EFL Classroom Instructional/Cultural Topic: What People Do (Occupations) (with the "Who am I?" guessing game--an occupation taped to their back, they must ask yes/no questions to discover their occupation) Grammar Focus: Contractions
Day 5, Friday
Lecture: Student Motivation
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Marriage and Family (with a mock wedding) Grammar Focus: Articles
Day 6, Saturday
Lecture: Learning Strategies
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Leisure (with a real game of baseball in the schoolyard) Grammar Focus: Verbs
Day 7, Sunday
Cultural Topic: Religion in America
Panel Discussion Q&A (teachers asked anonymous questions on note cards about our lives in America) Afternoon Picnic with Teachers
Day 8, Monday
Lecture: Learning Styles
Instructional/Cultural Topic: Food and Dining (with a race to see who could correctly arrange a Western place setting) Grammar Focus: Imperatives
Day 9, Tuesday
Lecture: Teaching English (Five Language Skills) Instructional/Cultural Topic: Celebrations and Holidays (with a creative Thanksgiving dinner family role play--each teacher assigned to be a family member with a certain issue or personality quirk--very fun for everyone!) Grammar Focus: Future Tenses
Day 10, Wednesday
Days 11 & 12, Thursday and Friday
Retreat in the mountains with host school staff
If and when I do this type of program again, I will probably not agree to ten days. It is too long for the presenters and the teachers. Or perhaps I will insist on at least one day completely off. We tried to turn Sunday into a half-day-plus-picnic, but it still wasn't restful. I think six days of instruction with a seventh for graduation/celebration/party would be ideal. That would be long enough to experience the benefits of English immersion without running into exhaustion. Part of the problem was that we were expected to attend evening social functions with local officials and senior staff as well.
Also, I was a little skeptical about the contribution of the team members who had never taught English, but was pleasantly surprised by how much these folks were able to help in explaining cultural concepts, idioms and linguistic quirks. The teachers simply adored their small group facilitators and the non-teaching native speakers had enough energy to engage in real conversations (while I was a limp rag in the corner). I was very glad.
I now have plenty of time on my hands as I am still recovering from multiple digestive tract infections I brought back as souvenirs.