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December 1999 - Issue No. #37 (p.11)
Many EFL teachers would like to focus on global issues in their classrooms but hesitate because they can't find suitable ready-made materials. There are few EFL coursebooks for this, and most are directed at college students. I'd encourage such teachers to prepare their own materials, share the workload with colleagues and make sure their materials are flexible and adaptable for different levels. Here are ten principals for designing global issue teaching materials.
1. Respect Copyright
Never use copies taken from a published book without permission — it is illegal, unethical and a bad example to students. You're more or less free to use copied excerpts from newspapers and magazines.
2. Make materials and tasks accessible
Remember that what is authentic for native speakers is not authentic when used in a foreign language class lacking access to the original context. This can lead to frustration. Rewrite reading and listening passages to suit students' proficiency levels. TV documentaries can be shown with the volume turned down with narration, in easier English, provided by the teacher. This allows the use of videos in the students' native language.
3. Maintain variety
Students easily get bored if the same text and task types are constantly repeated. Vary the medium (printed, oral, video, photo, cartoon, data . . .), style (expository, personal, humorous), format (essay, interview, documentary . . .), task (read for main ideas, listen for details, summarize, complete outlines, analyze, discuss . . .) and interaction (whole class, groupwork, pairwork, solo).
4. Ensure purposeful involvement
Just reading a text for meaning is not enough; there must be a further objective e.g. to extract information and use it to solve a problem or engage in discussion. Otherwise, students are likely to retain neither the information nor the language
5. Encourage learner participation
There must be chances in class for each learner to contribute information, experiences, opinions, ideas and questions. Otherwise, learners tend to become passive.
6. Ensure a positive perspective
Global issues can be depressing. They don't have to be. Focus on solutions as well as problems. Introduce heroes/heroines, NGO's, campaigns, boycotts, court victories, hunger banquets, sponsored walks and other ideas.
7. Promote communication
Language is learned not only for communication but also through communication. Make sure students engage in meaningful communication: exchanging information, comparing notes, summarizing what they read or hear, reporting on their research, discussing their ideas and impressions. They should also communicate with you.
8. Promote critical thinking
Some teachers mistakenly conclude that their students don't know how to think. They can, but it's much harder in a foreign language. Give them time. They also need opportunities to evaluate what they've read or heard, by asking: Is this fact or opinion? To what extent is it true or of value? For whom is it good (or bad) and why?
9. Don't mix content and language
Focus on content and explain the language only when necessary. Don't practice grammar or vocabulary until content work has finished. Students will use language in context, but also need language reinforcement. Grammar and vocabulary practice should be provided after content work, and also for homework.
10. Allow the learners to enjoy themselves
Not all learners are as devoted to global issues as we teachers are. Formal activities (reading, listening and discussion) should be interspersed with more enjoyable activities (jigsaw reading and listening, board games, quizzes and contests, role plays and simulations)
Most EFL coursebooks tend to focus on superficial aspects of western consumer culture: pop music, fashion, food, celebrities. We have a responsibility as educators to provide our students with more substantial, meaningful content. We may have to make our own materials and activities. This is time-consuming, but rewarding. A little extra effort on our part may result in a major change in our students' lives.
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