Most students on italki have had traditional English language instruction. They have studied English in schools, universities, or local language academies. These institutions tend to use the traditional approach of learning grammar structures and vocabulary through teacher-to-student instruction, repetition, and memorization. The lessons may have a theme, but they look and feel like lessons. The goal is to teach language and not necessarily anything else.
A lot of freelance teachers have backgrounds in subjects other than languages or teaching. They come into teaching with experience from a variety of fields such social sciences, science, art, business, or law. It’s a good idea for teachers from varying backgrounds to structure their lessons around novel topics that they are familiar with because many students are searching for teachers with a unique perspective who can broaden their horizons beyond the English language.
This presents freelancing ESL teachers with a grand opportunity to create a novel and engaging context in which students can learn more than their target language. Teachers can create lessons around culture, geopolitics, science, or business and law. Grammar, vocabulary, or other skills can be cleverly incorporated into the lesson plan. This can be done overtly, so the lesson is obviously an ESL exercise. Or, it can be done in such a way that the language objectives are camouflaged behind interesting discussions and new information.
Focusing on human culture is sure to engage your student’s interests. Activities could revolve around watching videos about different cultural traditions around the globe. Anthropology, sociology, and history can be the sources of vocabulary, while grammar structures found throughout the articles and videos can be studied in context.
Food is probably the number one topic for exploring cultural diversity throughout the world. The student and teacher can share information about their local foods and not just talk about the food, but how they use food in social settings to strengthen bonds with their families and their communities and celebrate holidays. The whole time, the teacher can be providing feedback on the student’s speaking.
Many students might find lessons about philosophy, history, music, literature, or film engaging. The lives and works of particular authors can be explored while using the historical context to review past verb tenses. The students can engage each other in robust group discussions about the qualities of certain films. And they can study the vocabulary of musical instruments found throughout the world and learn adjectives that describe certain sounds and aspects of music.
Current world events found in the news can also provide excellent opportunities to engage the students. Lessons can be taken directly from news articles and broadcasts to practice reading and listening. News topics can be used as jumping off points for highly effective speaking activities such as debating and role plays. However, be mindful not to choose topics that may be especially sensitive or controversial for your students.
Technology and science are also very popular topics with students. Subjects relating to emerging technologies like the metaverse and AI could be used to teach students new vocabulary. There is an abundance of articles and videos on the internet about space exploration and these could form the basis for excellent listening, vocabulary, and discussion activities. Along the way, the students, and also the teacher, will gain new knowledge about space and physics that will expand their personal horizons.
One of the most in-demand specialized lesson types right now is business English. Many students are looking to improve their skills because they work in jobs, or want to work in jobs, where advanced English-speaking skills are a clear advantage. At the same time, they are also looking to hone all their other business skills. Therefore, business English teachers can create lessons not just covering ESL skills but other valuable business abilities such as hosting business meetings, negotiations, presentations, and job interviews. Role-playing and discussion exercises are perfect ways for students to practice speaking in a business context. Interactive lessons on writing emails, business letters, CV or resumes in English will also benefit the student greatly.
Business lessons can also be built around other current issues in business such as the rise of NFTs, remote working or the effects of war and pandemics on global business. And don’t forget to create lessons with role plays involving small talk and chit-chat. Business students want to fit in with their foreign and native English-speaking counterparts culturally, not just linguistically.
For a lot of students, these lessons are the first opportunity they may have had to interact and speak to a native English speaker. Many of them haven’t had the chance to travel abroad. They may see these lessons as a cultural experience just as much as a language learning effort. So, give them that experience, and they will love it.
- Teacher James