Classes have begun! The anxiously awaited first week is finally here and the AmeriCorps members are excited to start teaching. Most classes begin this week, but I taught my first class at Sherwood last Tuesday. Preparing a lesson before meeting my students was a challenge, but I quickly realized it was not so much about what I said, but how I said it. I set the tone of the class with energy and enthusiasm and the students matched it. The most important objective to accomplish in the first week is creating a comfortable environment for the students. The AmeriCorps members have been working hard to find activities to achieve this task; here are a few of our favorites:
Bring a ball with all sorts of simple questions written on it. Questions such as “What is your favorite color?” and “Where are you from?” work well. Have the students stand in a circle and toss the ball around. When a student receives the ball they should say their name and then read and answer the question that their thumb lands on. This works well in a mixed level classroom because if one student has difficulty reading or understanding a question, his or her classmates can help.
Reviewing the alphabet is always a good first week activity. As you review each letter have the students point out something in the room that begins with that letter. If there are not many items in your classroom you can modify the game. My students enjoyed working together to brainstorm words that began with the letter we were reviewing. For an added challenge create two teams and have them compete to see who can come up with the most words within a specified time limit.
The AmeriCorps members were fortunate to have the opportunity to observe an experienced teacher, Elizabeth, teach a FLP class at Crestwood Elementary. We walked away with many valuable ideas for our own classes so I thought I would share one. Elizabeth brought magnetic letters and each student took a turn going up to the board and spelling their name with the letters. The student then said each letter and the class repeated it. This was an excellent way to learn each others names, practice pronunciation, and put students at ease about speaking in front of the class.
I hope you find these activities helpful as you prepare for your first class of the fall semester! Best of luck.
- Courtney Pergal, Americorps Instructor
Last Saturday, September 19, LCNV sponsored a fall teacher training workshop for new teachers and volunteers. Twenty-five participants attended the training, including our four new talented and charming AmeriCorps members! The training was required for new teachers and recommended for new class aides, and included participants from both the Learning Centers and Family Learning programs.
Adrienne Ward, an AmeriCorps alum from last year, generously volunteered to lead the entire training. Adrienne remarked, “I was so excited to see so many enthusiastic, motivated teachers at the fall teacher training! It was a privilege to come back and volunteer at LCNV after being an AmeriCorps member for a year.”
Although it must have been a sacrifice to give up a beautiful Saturday, the participants showed a wonderful enthusiasm for the training and seemed excited (although perhaps still a bit nervous) about getting in the classroom. Courtney Pergal, one of our new AmeriCorps members, said, “Adrienne did an amazing job! This training made me feel much more comfortable about what I’ll be doing the next few weeks”. Erin Andrews, another new AmeriCorps member, commented, “It was really helpful to have a former AmeriCorps member provide the training. There were a lot of practical ideas for class in Adrienne’s presentation”.
Many thanks to Adrienne and for all the participants for making it a successful day! We hope everyone enjoyed the experience and we look forward to seeing you all in the classroom!
- Amy Moy, ESOL Learning Centers Specialist
My memories of the first day of a school year parallel our first day of registration with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. The teachers arrived with binders, pencils, highlighters, and plenty of paperwork to fill out. The new students arrived, wearing nervous smiles and looking a little apprehensive. For the returning students, however, this procedure was old hat – they hugged their mentors from previous classes and looked at ease in the bustling room. The students were excited to be starting classes and the teachers were equally excited to meet the students.
Just one week before the first registration, Matt, Courtney, Erin and I – the new AmeriCorps members – started work at LCNV. We had spent the afternoon of registration day preparing materials (and ourselves) for what felt like our first day of school. Before running out the door for Sherwood Regional Library, we gathered our supplies, checked our list twice over, and took a deep breath. Courtney volunteered to brave the traffic of Leesburg Pike, so we all piled in her car. Though her GPS unit first estimated 30 minutes to arrival time, we soon found that when driving in northern Virginia, the time must be doubled. Nevertheless, we arrived at Sherwood with time to help Carisa set up.
As the students finished their paperwork, we began testing. I will never forget my first student. She was a little nervous, but very happy to be speaking English. Her answers were fascinating and surprisingly detailed. I thought, “Wow! Are all the students going to be this advanced?” By the end of the test, I felt as though we were close friends – I wanted to help her in any way possibly and learn more about her life and aspirations. As the night carried on, I soon found that I felt this affection for each student I met. Just like the students at registration, I am nervous, yet very excited, about my first day too.
- Minta Trivette, Americorps Instructor
The prospect of getting in front of a classroom can be daunting, especially with students that you have yet to share a common language with. During our first week of student registrations, however, I learned that language barriers can be conquered. There are other ways to express ourselves. This fact became increasingly apparent when talking to new students.
At the LCNV teacher training this weekend, which was orchestrated and led by our former Americorps teacher, Adrienne Ward, all of us trainees, while pulsing with excitement, confessed some anxiety. But the same can be said about being a newcomer to a society or learning a new culture. Whether you’re starting a job, meeting new people, or beginning to navigate another language, there is one quality that, teachers and students alike, have in common: we are always more nervous than we want to be. Yet, we can always be braver than we expect. This week, I found that having this common ground can dispel anxiety and inspire confidence. For a student, this confidence may afford that crucial opportunity to converse with a potential employer instead of staying at home during the day. It also allows us to build valuable relationships.
We’re all in the same boat and we have much to gain from each other. During the months ahead, I look forward to the opportunity to learn from our students.
-Matt Arnold, Americorps Instructor
All are invited to the Literacy Council’s second annual Back to School Night for Volunteer Recruitment, taking place this Wednesday, September 23rd at the James Lee Community Center (2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA 22042). We will be open from 6 to 9 pm – stop by at any point throughout the evening! Learn more about various ways to help out at the Literacy Council from current volunteers, who will be happy to talk with you about the ins and outs of volunteering.
New to LCNV? This event is a great introduction to all volunteer opportunities at the Council. From working directly with students to helping organize special events to performing vital office functions, there’s something for everyone. Current volunteers: find new ways to contribute, or better yet, bring a friend to share the mission you care so deeply about in a fun, friendly way. Former LCNV volunteers: whatever your reason for going on hiatus, we miss you and would love to see you again.
Door prizes and refreshments will be provided. We hope to see you there!
On Saturday, Sept 12, the LCNV Board of Directors met for our annual retreat at the headquarters of the USA Today in McLean. Some might wonder what on earth we’d talk about for a whole day, but you’d be surprised! We had great discussions about the organization’s strengths, spent a lot of time planning and strategizing for the upcoming year, and got to know each other a little better.
One thing that came through very clearly was that the Board is very proud of the long tradition and mission of the LCNV. The dedication of our volunteers, the passion of the staff, the commitment of the students to learn…all make for a very vibrant environment! And it’s a good thing we have so much going for us, because the big goals and mission that we have agreed to take on present big challenges.
Two of the main areas the Board discussed during the strategy and planning part of the day included how to put LCNV on an even more balanced and diversified financial footing (no small job in this economic climate), and how to enhance service delivery to a greater proportion of students who need literacy services in Northern Virginia. On the first front, we identified several opportunities to solidify what we’ve accomplished with government and foundation funding, and expand our corporate and individual support. For enhanced service delivery, there are some very innovative partnerships with other organizations that hold great potential for success. These partnerships would not be possible without creative leadership and a solid reputation that LCNV developed over the years as a reliable, knowledgeable service provider and respected member of the community.
So on behalf of the Board, we look forward to working with all of LCNV’s volunteers, partners, stakeholders, funders, and students to make this year one of the best for all involved.
- Mark Troppe, Secretary of the 2009-2010 LCNV Board of Directors
As many of you are probably aware, this is the first week of registration for the 2009-2010 ESOL Learning Centers and Family Learning Programs here at our wonderful Literacy Council. Registration certainly seemed to be a daunting task for us newcomers. However, with help from our veteran Literary Council staff and volunteers, we successfully completed our first three registration sessions without any hiccups. The experience also inspired an excitement of things to come as we all draw closer to the first day of classes. I know that many returning teachers and volunteers are eager to get back in the saddle, and our new members are counting down the days with nervous anticipation. Not long now!
Thank you to all of our volunteers who helped with this year’s registration. There’s still time to sign up if you would like to help with some of the remaining registrations! Check out this Google Calendar for the dates, times, and locations, then e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up!
- Erin Andrews, Americorps Instructor
September is one of the busiest months at the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. It is especially busy for our new AmeriCorps members. The first weeks are packed with training as was the case this past Saturday which prepared the AmeriCorps members for a major aspect of this week’s classroom registrations. Before getting started with her AmeriCorps service to LCNV, Minta Trivette was most looking forward to her initial interactions with students through conversations and testing. Now that she, Matt, Courtney, and Erin participated in a BEST Plus training on September 12, 2009, Minta and the other training participants are prepared to administer the tests.
The training, hosted by LCNV this past Saturday, was given by the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center’s ESOL Specialist Nancy Faux. The BEST Plus is an assessment tool developed by the Center for Applied Linguistics for ESOL learners. Seventeen people (including LCNV’s four new AmeriCorps members) were trained and are now certified to deliver the test. The LCNV Classroom Programs uses the BEST Plus for placement and evaluation of students. Courtney Pergal said, “The training made me more excited about administering the test to students.” Erin Andrews liked the format of the training, “It was especially helpful to see the examples of how to score the test after watching a video of a test in progress.” What Matt Arnold enjoyed most about the training was meeting other teachers and volunteers that will be teaching and/or administering tests to students in the field. LCNV relies on volunteer testers to administer the BEST Plus at the beginning and the end of semesters. We look forward to involving the newly trained volunteers in our upcoming registrations. They join a much-appreciated group of volunteers that through their commitment as testers make our classes possible.
For new and returning BEST Plus testers check this blog posting on September 10 about BEST Plus testing tips. If you are interested in volunteering as a BEST Plus tester, please e-mail email@example.com!
- Carisa Pineda, Family Learning Program Specialist
While grammar isn’t our students’ favorite subject (or ours for that matter), it is still important to introduce our learners to it. I’ve struggled immensely with teaching basic grammar skills to our level 1 students. It’s difficult to find a balance between teaching “life skills” English while teaching them useful grammar structures.
What I found worked extremely well were “grammar chants.” Using simple present tense, I had my students begin class with grammar chants.
“I have, you have, we have, they have, he has, she has, it has.” Be sure to stress the differences between have and has. Demonstrate examples with things relevant to the class such as “she has a book” or “he has a pencil.”
The “popcorn” reading/repeating method works well. Prompt students to say one phrase:
Student 1: I have
Student 2: You have
Student 3: We have
Also, it’s helpful to use verbs that are used frequently in everyday life. Some examples: to work, to eat, to go, to have, to live, to be.
- Asmait Tewelde, AmeriCorps instructor alumnus 2008-2009
If this is the first ESOL class you’ve ever taught, I’m sure you’re nervous. Even if it’s the 30th class you’ve taught, there is always going to be an element of nervous excitement before embarking on a new semester with a group of students.
But enough about you, now imagine how your students feel! Starting a language class in a foreign country can be intimidating and scary. We’ve assembled a few tried-and-true first day activities that can appease both you and your students’ anxiety. Most of these activities emphasize getting up and moving around as well as mingling and general getting-to-know-you:
Toss The Ball
During this activity, you and your students take turns passing a ball to one another. After someone catches the ball, you practice asking each other, “What is your name?” and “Where are you from?”. The person holding the ball answers. In this way, everyone gets a chance to practice basic introductions and responses. After someone catches the ball, they can sit down so as to avoid repetition.
A variation on “Toss the Ball” has students, after catching the ball, going to a map and not only saying their name and country but pointing to their country on the map as well. This is great for putting the diversity of your students in perspective!
Find Someone Who…
In this activity, students are given a list of common descriptors: this could be countries you know your students are from, number of children, married or not married, only child, number of brothers and sisters, has a car, etc. The level of categories should reflect the level of your students’ abilities, of course. If it is a low beginning level, pictures might be helpful! The students then go around the room and get as many of their classmates’ names as they can. You can then have them present some of their findings in front of the class!
This is a variation on the Find Someone Who activity. Instead of just having a list, turn your classmate finding activity into a game of Bingo! This gives a sense of competition to the activity which might get students’ a bit more invested in the process.
In this activity, you can put students into pairs or groups and have them write a list of the English they already know. For a very low level couse, this could be the ABC’s or you could have them write an English word for every letter of the ABC”s. For an upper level course, you could have them write all of the fruits or vegetables they know. You can vary the topics and difficulty as much as you’d like.
This is just scratching the surface, of course. Have any great ideas of your own? Send them our way so we can share!
- Asmait Tewelde, AmeriCorps instructor alumnus 2008-2009