Differentiated Instruction: Recognising Diversity in EFL Classes
Today’s classroom is rich and colorful in terms of learners’ diverse abilities and needs. The authors share some background, benefits,and challenges of differentiation for English learners, and then they discuss a mixed-methods study about differentiated instruction in the Uzbek context.
Today’s mixed-ability classroom is rich and colorful in terms of learners’ diverse backgrounds and needs. According to Tomlinson (1999), differentiated instruction (DI) is a process through which teachers improve learning via matching students’ characteristics to instruction and assessment. Content, process, product, and learning environment are the areas through which differentiation can be incorporated.
Why It Is Necessary
Afrab (2015) indicates that some teachers prefer rote learning while others prefer in-depth comprehension. Similarly, some teachers favour lecture-based teaching while others choose demonstration and hands-on activities. Students also have wildly varying preferences: Some students want to learn alone, others with peers; some prefer fast-moving learning, others want demonstration and reflection (Afrab, 2015, p. 95).
Successfully managing these diverse classrooms means that DI strategies become very important. In this day and age, DI implementation is all but compulsory, because all teachers have students in their classrooms from different backgrounds with varying learning capabilities and preferences. Their students differ from one another in learning potential, interests, and intellect (Afrab, 2015).
How It Benefits Students
A number of studies have reported findings on the benefits of DI in language classrooms, such as
- addressing a variety of learning styles,
- facilitating individual growth in large classes,
- increasing student engagement and motivation,
- boosting overall course satisfaction, and
- even improving academic success (Dixon, Yssel, McConnel, & Hardin, 2014; Karadag & Yasar, 2010; Dosch & Zidon, 2014; Turner, Solis, & Kincade, 2017).
However, teaching in differentiated classrooms is not necessarily easy (Tomlinson, 1999)—it requires teachers to design lesson materials focused on different personality characteristics, learning needs and styles, intelligences, readiness levels, and student interests.
Teaching such diverse student groups requires creating a diversified lesson plan with numerous tasks and activities fulfilling the needs of all learners. Addressing all these needs highlights classroom instruction focused on and modified by students’ interests, needs, and readiness by providing a comfort zone for learning; this is important because using the same method of teaching for all students leads to a decline in students’ learning abilities (Tomlinson, 1999).
Studies show that even though DI is a good strategy to implement in English classes, addressing different levels of student readiness, process skills, and product determination can be challenging for teachers (Dixon et al., 2014).
Differentiated Instruction in Practice: The Uzbek Context
Considering the mixed ability of learners, there is a big need to implement DI strategies in school classes in Uzbekistan. Few studies have systematically evaluated the use of DI strategy in EFL classes in Uzbekistan schools, and it was very important for us, as researchers, to understand for the Uzbek context:
- How do teachers actually differentiate instruction?
- What barriers do teachers believe prevent implementation?
Our study was intended to better understand English teachers’ beliefs and perceptions toward DI in EFL classes, and we focused on the following research questions:
- Do teachers use DI in their classes?
- How and why do they differentiate instruction, or why not, if they do not?
- What are teachers’ perceptions about DI?
The study was mixed, consisting of lesson observations, semistructured interviews, and questionnaires.
Participants included 10 teachers per school in 10 schools (100 teachers), consisting of 14 male and 86 female participants. Participants were asked to complete the 38-item survey about DI elements to find out whether they use them in teaching. Participant information follows:
- Average age: 33.7 years, ranging between 22 and 61 years
- Teaching experience: Ranging from 5 months to 40 years
- Teaching level: 16 teachers had English lessons with primary classes, 22 teachers with secondary classes, 10 with high school classes, and 52 with all
Statistical data analysis showed that being familiar with DI strategies is closely related with experience, teaching grade, and age.
We were very interested whether language teachers use DI elements in their classes—and why. We observed 10 English teachers twice; each observation lasted 45 minutes. During the observations, we noted that the following DI elements were used:
- providing materials to students in their L1
- encouraging learners to work together or individually
- providing a list of keywords
Used Infrequently (Once or Twice)
- use texts with highlighted key parts
- use video materials to supplement and support explanations and lectures
- provide materials for encouraging further study of topics of students’ interest
- give students time to think and reflect before answering
- provide homework based on students’ readiness
- use interest-based working groups and discussion groups
- balance competitive, collegial, and independent work arrangements
The interviews lasted an average of 15 minutes and contained 21 questions, starting with questions about years of work experience and which educational institution they graduated from to create a warm atmosphere. We then moved on to questions about participants’ familiarity of DI elements, understanding of DI strategies concerning the elements of content (what is to be learned) and process (how students acquire information). Moreover, some questions were devoted to whether they had experienced DI in their classes.
The most interesting finding from the interview process was that some teachers had misconceptions about the definition of learning style; in fact, they confused learning style with language skills, believing that learning style is when students learn from reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
A question about using the first language (L1; Uzbek or Russian) in class gave us the results shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Using the First Language in the Classroom
Do you ever use L1[Uzbek/Russian] in the class?
Number of teachers
Rarely, try to give definition
Sometimes I use, sometimes I don’t. It depends on the situation
For the question, “For what purposes do you use L1?”, five teachers answered that they use L1 to translate words, and more than 20 teachers answered that they used it for explanations so that learners could better understand a topic discussed. It was observed that most teachers used the L1 during their lessons for about 20–29 minutes.
According to the results of the research conducted by Turner et al. (2017) and Dixon et al. (2014), the main reason that teachers face challenges in implementing DI is poor preparation for properly using DI.
Our research results investigating DI in EFL classes in Uzbekistan show that
- teachers are not aware of DI;
- teachers are textbook oriented;
- teachers assume that they are conducting lessons using a communicative approach, but this approach is absent;
- teachers are still using the grammar-translation method;
- teachers use the L1 a lot and, as a result, learners do not have access to English;
- teachers provide little opportunity for students to interact; and
- grammar and vocabulary are taught at the word level or sentence level rather than in context.
We can observe that
- teachers seldom experienced DI in their teacher preparation programs;
- teachers had few, if any, opportunities to see multitasking classrooms in their training; and
- teachers need more practice in differentiation through workshops that allow them to understand DI concepts and have a clear picture.
By understanding the needs of students, teachers are able to modify their teaching practices and use different instructional methods to deal with diversity, allowing all students to reach the same target, even if they take different routes.
The research concerning English teachers’ beliefs and opinions about DI in language classes was developed and conducted under the project “Scholarly Research and Publication for ELT in Uzbekistan,” organized by the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent and Uzbekistan Scientific Practical Innovation Center. We are very grateful to Dr. Gena R. Bennett, English language specialist, for all her help and support in doing research. We gratefully thank Mr. Timothy Collins, RELO in Central Asia, and Mr. Joseph Bookbinder for financial support in presenting at the 2019 TESOL International Convention & Language Expo.
Afrab, J. (2015, December). Teachers’ beliefs about differentiated instructions in mixed ability classroom: A case of time limitation. Journal of Education and Educational Development, 2(2), 94–114
Dixon, F. A., Yssel, N., McConnel, J. M., & Hardin, T. (2014). Differentiated instruction, professional development, and teacher efficacy. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 37(2), 111–127.
Dosch, M., & Zidon, M. (2014). “The course fit us”: Differentiated instruction in the college classroom. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 26(3), 343–357.
Karadag, R., & Yasar, S. (2010). Effects of differentiated instruction on students’ attitudes towards Turkish courses: An action research. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 9, 1394–1399.
Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Turner, W. D., Solis, O. J., & Kincade, D. H. (2017). Differentiating instruction for large classes in higher education. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 29(3), 490–500.
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Nilufar Jamoliddinova is senior English language teacher and teacher-trainer at Namangan State University, Uzbekistan. Nilufar presented at the 2019 TESOL International Convention & Language Expo, Atlanta, Georgia.
Yana Kuchkarova is a teacher-trainer at Namangan State University and English language instructor in the ACCESS STEM microscholarship program. Yana presented at the 2019 TESOL International Convention & Language Expo, Atlanta, Georgia.
From the Executive Director: Inspiring Action at the Virtual TESOL Town Hall
by Christopher Powers, TESOL Executive Director
TESOL Executive Director Christopher Powers shares about the recent virtual TESOL Town Hall meeting that brought together many association leaders. Together, these leaders reviewed the association's strategic direction, discussed strategies to better engage members and opportunities for everyone to work toward common goals, and—perhaps most important—brainstormed and shared ideas.
When people ask me what TESOL’s strength is, I always say it is our volunteers, including our leaders. With our election just past, I hope you all know about our newly filled president, board of directors, and Nominating Committee roles. But do you know that we have more than 250 volunteer leadership positions in TESOL? Our 19 interest sections (ISs) and 13 Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) have chairs or cochairs, newsletter editors, and community managers, among other positions; our affiliates have their own presidents, officers, and boards of directors; and our professional councils have between six and 16 members. Beyond these ongoing governance and member-serving groups, we also offer shorter term opportunities to serve on task forces, review session proposals, and volunteer at the Convention. These are all incredibly valuable roles, and we would not be the association we are today—the trusted global authority for knowledge and expertise in English language teaching—without this amazing and essential talent.
Last month, we held a virtual town hall to bring together all of our leaders. We reviewed our strategic direction, talked about how we could better engage members at the Convention and throughout the year, and discussed ways in which all of our groups could better work with our board. Our shared goals are our strategic outcomes of greater global presence and connectivity, broader sharing of our knowledge and expertise, and a stronger collective voice to advocate for English language teachers and learners.
Rather than hold separate meetings with our affiliate, IS, PLN, and professional council leaders, we sought for the second consecutive year to bring all of our leaders together in one collective community to discuss the issues that affect us all—and that we can address for all of our benefit. After we reviewed the strategic plan, TESOL President Deborah Healey mentioned our latest leadership groups. Many of you know about our Diverse Voices Task Force, but Deborah and Past President Luciana de Oliveira, the board liaison to the task force, gave us an update on the task force’s progress. Deborah also unveiled our latest professional council, just approved at our last board meeting: the Membership Professional Council. The call for new members of this council will go out prior to the Convention. Most interestingly, the Membership Professional Council will be charged with piloting a new membership mentoring program, which was first suggested by Awards Council member and First-Timer Orientation leader Nikki Ashcraft at this meeting last year.
This year, we heard more great ideas. Chadia Mansour, former chair of the English as a Foreign Language IS and recently elected Nominating Committee member, detailed a new open educational resource (OER) project that she and others have been working on. She described the project as being conceived when members of the English as a Foreign Language IS, meeting in person at the TESOL Convention in Atlanta, talked about how they could help address some of the priorities outlined in the Action Agenda for the Future of the TESOL Profession. She then followed up with Lisa Horvath and Charity Davenport of the Materials Writers IS and Sharon Tjaden-Glass of the Intercultural Communication IS to see how these groups could help collaborate. Seeking even broader engagement, she also reached out over the myTESOL IS community to find other collaborators. Heidi Faust, TESOL’s professional learning director, talked through what was possible and agreed to help support the OER project in our TESOL Resource Center (TRC). I loved the idea, because it demonstrated both in person and online engagement and collaboration among different member groups and between leaders and staff. And while conceived to support Action Agenda goals, the plan also clearly advances our strategic outcomes. This is truly an example of TESOLers working together to support our common interests. Stay tuned for more on this project.
There were also some other great engagement ideas. Last year, we spoke a lot about newsletters and webinars—and those are still great ways for our members to connect. But this year, we also heard Aylin Baris Atilgan Relyea, incoming chair of the Second Language Writing IS, and Elizabeth Schade, of the Adult Education IS, talk about book clubs that their ISs have been organizing. Fernando de Léon of Panama TESOL talked about offering annual affiliate awards. Others described using Padlet, Google Groups, WhatsApp groups, Twitter chats (I’m game! Please include me @TESOL_Powers), and other social media platforms as innovative ways to connect and engage during and outside the convention.
For several years, we have had board liaisons for each of our professional councils. With the establishment of our new community of practice structure, we wanted a more robust board relationship with our ISs. So it was great to have so many of our board members present at the town hall to talk about what they could do to better support our ISs. Board members are not intended to advocate for any particular IS to the exclusion of all others, but they are here to help IS leaders see how we can all work together toward our common goals. They can clarify our strategic direction, share concerns or opportunities the ISs may raise with the board as a whole, serve as a sounding board, and help point ISs toward resources or staff members for further information and support.
The town hall offered a real opportunity for dialogue, to share information, to seek and provide feedback, and to inspire new ideas for action. By the time we meet again in person in Denver, I expect our Membership Professional Council will be in place and our mentoring program will be initiated. I expect to see the OER project further along, with a way to share OERs and new resources available for members with limited resources. And I hope to hear about the next great idea that can help bring us together to support English language teachers. Great ideas can come at any time and from anywhere.
So if you have thoughts or ideas you would like to explore, please feel free to write to me or to share ideas within your myTESOL community or even in the myTESOL Lounge. And don’t forget to volunteer the next time you see a call for TESOL leaders. This is our association. We need all of us to work together to succeed!
5 Ways to Get Your Adult ELs Speaking in the Real World
by Penny Aber-Kahn
There's no better way to learn how to communicate in a language than actually doing it. Try these ways to egnage your students in the real world.
I learned Spanish from a textbook: I memorized vocabulary and conjugated the heck out of verbs. I was a near genius when it came to filling in the worksheets my teacher gave us.
And then my family moved to Central America, and I spent nearly 6 months afraid to open my mouth and another 3 trying desperately to be understood.
It turns out that all that book learning didn’t translate into an accent that people could understand, nor did all that memorized vocabulary help me to string more than a few words together in a meaningful way. It was only after I gained confidence and began to interact with native speakers that I really began to use this new language correctly in a meaningful way.
I carried this lesson with me when I began my career as an English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) instructor working with adults. I understood that the reason my students loved their worksheets and their textbooks was because they were a safe way to practice the language. I also recognized the abject fear in their eyes when they had to go out into the English-speaking world at the end of the day. I wondered how I might ease some of this stress by helping them gain the confidence they needed to navigate this new language and culture.
I knew from my own experience that the best language classroom was outside my classroom window. How could I engage my students using what I saw out there in the real world? With this in mind, I began a quest to identify ways to use the resources in my community as an integral part of my classroom teachings. Though I will admit that there were a few real “bombs,” there were others that have become a part of my curriculum. Here are the things I have tried that really worked in both my day and evening ESOL classes:
1. Scavenger Hunts
A scavenger hunt can be done anywhere—in the building where your class is held, in the neighborhood, in the school library, or anyplace else that forces your students up and out of their chairs!
Yes, this requires a bit of prep work, but once it’s done you only have to refine things based on what worked and what didn’t. Always review the written instructions together and go over any questions students may have. Place students in mixed-ability groups of two to four and send each group off in different directions (but always going to the same places). The hunt requires them to ask questions of people at certain stops, take a selfie at others, and find the answer to a question about what they saw at other locations (see the Appendix for a scavenger hunt example). The entire exercise typically takes 30 minutes, and another 10–15 to discuss what they learned.
Alternative:Another simple, no-prep option can be to take students to a local museum; most have already put together scavenger hunts for K–12 field trip groups—all you need to do is ask for a copy (see an example from the Charleston Museum).
2. Volunteer in the Community
Every city/town has at least one organization that would welcome your student’s help. Sorting food at the food bank helped my students learn meaningful food vocabulary. They also had to follow specific directions in English and be able to read and understand signs over bins that told them what was supposed to go into them. We also toured the local homeless shelter and learned about what they did.
These field trips led to the creation of an entire learning unit on nonprofit organizations that we return to at least once a year. This unit requires advanced students to research and write papers and give PowerPoint presentations about a specific organization. Intermediate and beginner students prepare poster presentations to discuss with their classes.
3. Interview a Local Business
After I reached out to a few local businesses, I realized that people were more than willing to talk to my students about their jobs and their businesses. So, after clearing a day and time with them, students are placed in pairs and assigned a business to visit. Before setting out, everyone brainstorms questions that they would like to ask and practice what they will say. The culmination of this exercise is a paper summarizing what they learned. (Lower level students write out the questions and then write the answers they were given.) All of the groups present their interviews to the class using pictures they took during their visit. This assignment ticks every ESOL skills box and builds confidence in students’ ability to understand and communicate in English.
Alternative: Send students out to ask people about their jobs at your school; this a wonderful way for them to feel connected to the school community and to gain an appreciation for what others do to support them in the learning.
4. Go Out to Lunch or Dinner as a Group
This is a tried and true method for the final day or evening of most adult ESL classes, but I find that doing it in the beginning of the term encourages the students to bond, and it also helps them get over the initial “I can’t speak English” jitters they all have.
5. Attend a Local Sporting Event
American sports, especially baseball and football, are not something most of my students know anything about. The opportunity to go to a minor league ball game or experience a college basketball or football game is an inexpensive, unique, and exciting experience. Before going, work on specific sports vocabulary and talk about the rules of the game and how it is played. (A PowerPoint works well for this.)
After the game, spend time discussing how the sport is similar or different from one that is popular in their country. You can have students give talks or write papers about their favorite sport or player. Advanced students can also write compare and contrast essays on different sports. If your group is big enough, you can divide into teams and play a short game, too!
I always tell my students that there’s a big difference between “knowing” a language and “using” a language. These types of real-world experiences are the bridges that connect our classes to the outside world and make it easier for them to find their way on their own, once they get across.
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Penny Aber-Kahn is the academic coordinator of the English Language Institute at the College of Charleston, South Carolina. She has taught extensively in both U.S. college/university ESOL programs, as well as in community-based programs. She has developed curriculum for numerous colleges and state agencies and has led professional workshops on topics ranging from teaching writing to second language learners to incorporating games into the ESOL classroom.
Quick Arts-Based Activities to Enliven Your Classroom
by Riah Werner
These three engaging classroom activities utilize the arts to meet language learning objectives and benefit students' creativity and personal expression.
Many English teachers are interested in using the arts in their classes, but they don’t know where to begin. The visual, performing, and literary arts each have benefits for language learners. They can help students develop their creativity and personal expression, create a positive classroom atmosphere, and increase students’ engagement in class activities. However, most teachers haven’t received training in integrating artistic activities into language teaching.
This article provides solutions to some of the challenges that teachers might face when first incorporating arts-based activities into their classes. It also provides three quick classroom activities that use the arts to meet language learning objectives.
Strategies for Integrating the Arts Into Your Classes
When I ask teachers why they don’t use the arts in their classes, they typically list several basic concerns: Many don’t have access to art supplies. Those who haven’t had any artistic training often aren’t sure where to start. They’re concerned that administrators, parents, or the students themselves will see art as a distraction from serious learning. They worry that using the arts will take time away from the material they need to cover in the curriculum. However, there are many proven benefits to using the arts in the classroom, and if you’re interested in trying, a few simple strategies can help you overcome your concerns, learn the benefits for yourself, and start using the arts to deepen your students’ learning.
1. Start With the Basics
Using the arts in class doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, simple activities often make the best starting point. You don’t need art supplies or musical instruments to get your students exploring language through creativity. Many activities (including those described later in this article) can be done with nothing more than the students themselves, paper and pencils, and a little space in the classroom. Students don’t need to create masterpieces, either. An overview of best practices in arts education found that students’ experience with the arts is more important than the quality of their artwork (Seidel, Tishman, Winner, Hetland, & Palmer, 2009).
2. Explain the Benefits of the Arts
Some administrators may be confused when they see you using a new technique in your classes. In these cases, it’s best to explain to your supervisor why you’ve chosen to use arts-based activities in your class and how these activities support language learning. You can share key research with them, such as the finding that using pictures first helps students communicate complex, detailed thoughts in their writing, with richer art leading to richer text (Olshansky, 2018) or the fact that the arts can improve students’ motivation and self-esteem and increase cooperative learning (Guerrero, 2017). When administrators see that arts activities help students develop the skills they are concerned with, they’ll usually get on board. Students also benefit from knowing the reasons behind what they’re doing, so it can be good to explain how the arts activities support the language learning objectives of your class.
3. Link Your Activities to the Curriculum
Connecting arts activities to linguistic aims is central to convincing stakeholders that the arts are a valuable use of class time, even if arts activities are not explicitly included in the curriculum. Choi (2017) found that units centered on works of art can be designed to successfully fulfill curricular mandates and teach academic language while developing students’ creativity and critical thinking skills. So, make sure that you link each activity to a specific learning objective when planning your lesson. Using quick activities as a supplement to more traditional modes of instruction can also help lessen resistance, so consider using an art activity as a warm-up or to practice a language point you’ve already taught your students.
4. Use a Variety of Art Forms
Different art forms have different benefits for language learning:
Drama: Drama helps students develop intercultural competence and learn to communicate in contextually appropriate ways (Belliveau & Kim, 2013)
Creative Writing: Creative writing in a second language increases metacognition and deepens learners’ understandings of connotation and and style (Eda Hancı‐Azizoğlu, 2018).
Drawing: Drawing helps students calm their emotions, increase concentration, and cope with difficulties (Rajuan & Gidoni, 2014).
Music: Learning vocabulary through music improves recall (Werner, 2018).
Even artistic mediums that are less commonly used with English learners can have language benefits:
Dance: Integrating dance and vocalization helps students speak more fluently (Bell, 1999).
Graffiti: Discussing local graffiti helps students engage meaningfully with issues that are relevant to their communities (Robitaille, 2019).
Puppetry: Using puppets reduces students’ anxiety about speaking English, which increases their confidence (Prabhakaran & Yamat, 2017).
Approaching the arts from a multidisciplinary perspective creates space for students to practice a wide range of skills as part of their developing communicative repertoire, bringing together their multilingual and multimodal competences.
Three Example Activities
Each of these arts-based activities takes fewer than 10 minutes, uses simple materials, and can be used for a range of language topics.
1. Partner Drawing
In this simple arts-based information-gap activity, students use drawing as a scaffold to practice their speaking and listening skills. Drawing first gives students an anchor for their thoughts, because they can refer back to their picture as they put their thoughts into words (Olshansky, 2018).
Ask your students to draw a picture.
In pairs, have one student describe their picture to their partner, without showing it to them. The second student listens and draws what their partner describes.
Have students compare and discuss their pictures, then change roles.
As an extension to the activity, the students can write about their pictures.
2. Physical Drama
In this activity, students use creative movement to deepen their understanding of vocabulary. Any type of vocabulary can be used during this activity, because the process of embodying vocabulary improves students’ ability to remember both concrete and abstract words (Macedonia & Knösche, 2011).
Ask students to use their bodies to represent the meaning of a vocabulary word. This representation can be either a physical shape or a simple movement.
In groups, have students form a tableau (a still image created with their bodies) to represent the word.
Ask the groups to add a repetitive movement to their tableaux.
Have each group add a sound to accompany their movement.
If you have access to a camera, you could also take pictures or short videos of each group, so students can see their work from the audience’s perspective.
3. Personalized Songs
This activity draws on the power of music to help students remember specific language points. It works well with songs that have multiple verses that follow the same structure, such as “This is the Way I Wash My Face” or “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” which can easily be expanded to include more actions or different emotions (for detailed examples, see Werner, 2018). If the song has gestures, the students can create additional gestures to accompany their new verses as well.
Play or sing a song with multiple verses for your students.
In pairs or groups, ask students to think of new words to create additional verses for the song.
Have students perform their new verses for the rest of the class.
I’ve been using the arts in my language classes for the last decade with students of all ages and language levels. I’ve seen firsthand how students light up when they’re allowed to tap into their creativity in the classroom. Making space for artistic expression in the classroom opens up new channels of communication, as students’ artistic creations scaffold their language development and their excitement to participate encourages them to expand their communicative repertoires. I hope these activities will enliven your classroom as well.
Bell, D. (1999). Rise, Sally, rise: Communicating through dance. TESOL Journal, 8(1), 27–31. doi:10.1002/j.1949-3533.1999.tb00153.x
Belliveau, G., & Kim, W. (2013). Drama in L2 learning: A research synthesis. Scenario, 7(2), 7–27. Retrieved from http://research.ucc.ie/scenario/2013/02/BelliveauKim/02/en
Choi, T. H. (2017). English activation through art: Tensions and rewards. TESOL Journal, 8(3), 518–539. doi:10.1002/tesj.285
Eda Hancı‐Azizoğlu, B. (2018). Creative writing as a second language: What is creativity for second language writers? TESOL Journal, 9(4), 1–13. doi:10.1002/tesj.424
Guerrero, D. W. (2017). Fostering a positive EFL class environment through the use of the arts. MexTESOL Journal, 41(3), 1–14. Retrieved from http://mextesol.net/journal/index.php?page=journal&id_article=2516
Macedonia, M., & Knösche, T. R. (2011). Body in mind: How gestures empower foreign language learning. Mind, Brain and Education, 5(4), 196–211. doi:10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01129.x
Olshansky, B. (2018). The universal language of pictures: A critical tool for advancing student writing. TESOL Journal, 9(4), 1–16. doi:10.1002/tesj.402
Prabhakaran, D., & Yamat, H. (2017). Speaking anxiety: Discover the power of puppets. Journal of Education and Social Sciences, 6(2), 79–87. Retrieved from https://www.jesoc.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/KC6_50.pdf
Rajuan, M., & Gidoni, Y. (2014). Drawing as a tool to promote emotional health in the EFL classroom. TESOL Journal, 5(4), 750–766. doi:10.1002/tesj.168
Robataille, G. (2019). English language teaching: Giving voice to social and cultural issues using graffiti. TESOLers for Social Responsibility. Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolsris/issues/2019-07-18/3.html
Seidel, S., Tishman, S., Winner, E., Hetland, L., & Palmer, P. (2009). A study of excellence in arts education. Principal Leadership, 10(3), 46–51.
Werner, R. (2018). Music, movement and memory: Pedagogical songs as mnemonic aids. TESOL Journal, 9(4), 1–11. doi:10.1002/tesj.387
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Riah Werner is a PhD student in language and literacies education at the University of Toronto, cochair of TESOL’s Social Responsibility Interest Section, and the founder of TESOL’s Arts and Creativity Professional Learning Network. She has taught English and trained teachers in Africa, Asia, and South America. Her research interests include drama and the arts, social justice in English language teaching, and locally contextualized pedagogy.
ELT Resource Roundup: December Celebrations
by Tomiko Breland
December is full of holiday celebrations of all kinds and in all parts of the world. Use this month as an opportunity to bring your students culturally enriching content.
No matter where in the world you teach, the upcoming season is abundant with holidays that offer excellent opportunities to expose your English learners to our multicultural world through history, cultural practices, and intercultural exchange. Here are a few resources from around the web that we’ve compiled for you.
Before you begin planning holiday activities or lessons, it’s important to take care with your content and show respect for your students and for the cultures you may be discussing. Ensure your plans to bring culturally enriching content into your classroom are respectful to all students and, in the case of religious content, appropriately academic. Start here:
Culturally Responsive Instruction for Holiday and Religious Celebrations (Colorín Colorado)
Finding Common Ground: A First Amendment Guide to Religion and Public Schools (First Amendment Center)
Teaching the Holidays: The December Dilemma (Education Week)
Videos and Multimedia
These videos feature or are focused around holidays or holiday themes. Use these as a springboard for discussion or other activities.
The Christmas Gift Experiment
The lesson plan included with this 2-minute video, from the British Council, is for teenagers and adults and focuses on vocabulary, creativity, fluency, and writing skills.
English Lesson | December Holidays Around The World
Three YouTube English language teachers from different parts of the world discuss their various December holiday traditions; they also go over useful vocabulary and phrasal verbs in English.
Christmas Around the World
This slideshow from The New York Times archives shows 10 images of how people celebrate Christmas around the world.
Arthur's Perfect Christmas (Full Movie)
Use this episode with your younger students to introduce several winter season holidays (Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah) and related vocabulary.
These articles and webpages offer interesting and informative perspectives into some big (or, in some cases, new) holiday traditions.
“How we turned our family’s holiday gift exchange into a chance to really connect”
This article from Ideas.TED.com shares the story of how one family reimagined their annual gift exchange.
“Christmas becoming less religious in the U.S.”
This short article from Breaking News English can be viewed in three different difficulty levels, and it comes with multiple activities, including a text jumble and match, spelling practice, and a gap fill activity.
“The Gift of the Magi”
This classic tale of sacrifice and giving by O. Henry is set during Christmas, but its lessons can resonate throughout the year.
Lessons and Activities
These lessons and activities can be used in your classroom this holiday season.
3 New Year’s Activities
This TESOL Blog post shares three writing activities focused on the New Year that can be adapted to different ages and proficiency levels.
Holidays Around the World Lesson Plans
Education World shares nine lessons about December celebrations from multiple cultures around the world.
Ideas for Language Learners: Celebrate the Holidays
This collection of activities from The New York Times includes learning about your students’ unique holiday traditions, creating a small holiday gift with students, teaching about a number of international holiday traditions, and writing about New Year resolutions.
Lesson Plan: Intercultural Holiday Party Planning
This activity from TESOL Connections is an exercise in cultural awareness; it allows student groups to choose their own holiday to celebrate.
Teaching Culture: Festivals of Light Around the World
This TESOL Blog post shares the traditions and practices surrounding light festivals from several distinct cultures, which occur from October through December, and the author includes classroom activities for each.
- EL Civics offers lessons on various holidays, including these upcoming ones*:
Christmas Traditions From Around the World
This infographic explains 12 different Christmas traditions that you can show and share with your ELs.
2019 Diversity Holidays
No need to limit your holiday lesson plans to the month of December! Have students choose and research any holiday from this extensive list of observances celebrated by cultures around the world.
May the season bring you and your students joyful learning experiences! If you have any of your own December or holiday activities to share, please do so in the comments.
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Tomiko Breland is TESOL project editor. She received her BA in English from Stanford University, her MA in writing from the Johns Hopkins University, and her certificate in TESOL from Anaheim University. In her free time, she writes and edits fiction.