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April 2007 - Issue No. #64 (p. 16 - 18)

Saving the World While Learning ESL

by Gerry Luton

University of Victoria, Canada


This article describes an ESL charity fundraising activity that gets students involved in a complex, multi-stage class project which has the concrete goal of helping those less fortunate while requiring students to use English in an authentic context involving all the language skills – reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.

My class generally works on this project, off and on, over a period of 6~7 weeks. The project is a lot of work for students and is quite challenging in several respects. It entails lots of homework. Students do research on charities online so the language is often quite sophisticated.

There may be doubts about the feasibility of the project because most students, if not all, won’t have had any experience with this kind of thing. Students will be intimidated at the prospect of having to present to friends and students in other classes. For this reason, at various times throughout the project, I remind students that we do not always have the opportunity to help others in our daily lives and that we are sincerely doing a good thing. Despite the challenges, every session I have done this project, students go through feelings of apprehension, doubt and fear but ALWAYS finish with an overwhelming sense of excitement, pride and satisfaction!

Preparing the project

The teacher needs to make a list of charities and create worksheets to be completed for student research. I try to have a variety of charities, and choose organizations with a variety of goals, including helping the poor, working for human rights, for the environment, the handicapped, animals, developing countries, children, women, and victims of catastrophes, so that students can choose according to their own interests, opinions and priorities. (All charities are free of religious affiliation in order to respect the beliefs of the students).

STEP 1 Research on different charities

Each student is assigned a different charity to research on the web and is given a worksheet to complete: Click here to download worksheet (pdf file). If there are 16 students in your class, then at this point students are researching 16 different charities.

STEP 2 Discussion/negotiation (small groups)

Students meet the next day in groups of four (A, B, C, D) to explain their charity, discuss the different charities, then choose the most worthwhile. There are now 4 groups with 4 charities. For homework, students research their new charity and complete the worksheet.

STEP 3 Discussion/negotiation (big groups)

Students from groups A & B meet in pairs as do students from groups C & D. Each student presents information on their group’s charity to a partner. Groups A & B combine to discuss, negotiate and choose together the most worthwhile charity. Groups C & D do the same. There are now two remaining charities. For homework, students in each group research the new charity and complete the worksheet for it.

STEP 4 Final choice of one class charity

Students in the two remaining groups pair up and explain their charity to their partner. All students then vote for the charity they think is the most worthwhile for the whole class to support. This can be done by secret ballot, by raising of hands or by a “Survivor” type ballot. The decision is made by majority vote.

There is now one charity remaining, the charity which the class will fundraise for. Students in each group research the charity chosen by the class and complete the worksheet. For homework, students are assigned to find out the meaning of pertinent vocabulary for the class charity and make example sentences.

STEP 5 Preparing presentations and posters

The next task is to publicize the class charity to other classes in the school. To do this, students look at the features of a successful presentation – brief, clear, attention-getting, yet personal in its impact – how you can make a difference to someone’s life. They then work together to prepare 15-minute presentations on the charity for other classes. Students write out the complete presentation with all relevant information – the goals of the charity, who it helps, how it helps, examples of campaigns and specifics of one particular campaign. After completing a first draft, the students hand these to the teacher, who adds comments, checks the grammar and makes suggestions. At this point, I show sample sentences from former student presentations which have been effective:

We can’t go to Kashmir to take care of the victims of this earthquake, but we can still help.

While I was giving my presentation, 5 people died because they didn’t have the medicine they need.

Students become experts on the charity by studying the website information repeatedly as they prepare their presentations. They transfer this in point form onto index cards for the presentations and then get individual tasks:

  • 2 students do a poster publicizing the event
  • 2 students prepare a small handout
  • 2 students are treasurers who will count the money and take it to the bank
  • 2 students are reporters who write a report on the process and the result of the project
  • 1 student prepares a letter to accompany the cheque when it is sent to the charity

Students practise their presentations in groups and give each other feedback (eg: eye contact, speaking not reading, organization, attention getting). They also brainstorm questions they may be asked so they have the data to reply.

If the charity is related to a recent disaster (tsunami, earthquake, flood), students are encouraged to read the news on a regular basis to have up-to-date information. Around this time, the teacher should contact the other teachers in the school ESL program to set up a schedule for class visits. I have my students do their presentations over the space of 3 or 4 days.

STEP 6 Visiting classes & giving presentations

When preparing a schedule of classes to visit, try to make sure each group of students visits one class of a lower level and one of an equal or higher level. Try to have a few hours or a day between each group’s first visit and other visits, so that they have time to improve their presentation. I also have 2 students visit a staff meeting to invite their participation.

For the presentations, groups of 3~5 students visit other classes and talk about the chosen charity. Ideally, each student speaks to 3~4 students in that class. After presentations, they leave posters in each classroom and give everyone a handout. They can solicit goods for the charity bake sale from students and teachers and, if desired, prepare a listening quiz to leave with the teacher to see what was understood.

A few days prior to the sale, students should put up posters at various locations on campus. Students, teachers and staff who have time and are willing can make the baked goods. Other students can make posters for the tables.

STEP 7 The Charity Bake Sale Day

The students run the charity bake sale at various locations and take on different roles:

  • Some students staff tables, selling cookies and talking to people about the charity. These table workers practise gambits to use with people who are curious but hesitant to buy a cookie, i.e. Are you familiar with Doctors Without Borders? Would you like to buy a cookie to support UNICEF?
  • Others distribute hand-outs outside the building and direct people to the tables
  • Student reporters roam, take photos and make sure cookies are evenly distributed among the different sale locations

After an hour, students rotate among the locations and tasks to get different experiences.

STEP 8 After the charity bake sale

The student treasurers and the teacher count the money collected, roll coins and sign off on the total. The student treasurers then take the money to the bank and get a certified cheque. The student liaison writes a letter to the charity which all the students sign. The letter and cheque are then sent to the chosen charity.

STEP 9 Conclusion

At the end of the project, students form pairs in class and discuss the charity project experience – Was it worthwhile? What did they learn? etc. The student reporters produce a report on the project and the other students write essays with their comments, concerns, and suggestions for improving the process.

STEP 10 Particular Grammar Points

This project lends itself well to practicing the present perfect (accomplishments of the chosen charity) and conditionals (results of helping or not helping recipients of the charity’s efforts).

Excerpts from Student Essays on the Charity Project

I’ve never done in my life activity like that, but when I did my presentation and encouraged people to donate, I felt I’m doing something great, something humanistic. The way we started was good because after a while I started to feel it’s like my baby. I want to see where it will go.
- Ayman, Saudi Arabia

The 15-minute presentations and the bake sale helped me overcome my shyness of speaking English to unknown people. You mentioned the purpose of this project was to develop our language skills. My personal aim was to do a good job so that we raise awareness and are able to collect lots of money to support the “Canadian Landmine Foundation.” In my opinion it turned out very well.
- Cindy, Germany

I thought about many things through this project. I researched landmine victims and countries again and again. I realized what is going on in the world and felt sorry for them, because I’ve never cared about them in my life. To donate money is one thing, but the other is to think about people who need my help. The only thing I want to change is to make more cookies, because we didn’t have enough.
- Mariko, Japan

This project not only improved my English skills, but also broadened my mind. I can prove how this improved my English in several ways. First, I had to visit this charity homepage many times to figure out enormous information, which helped my reading ability. Second, during reading I could see lots of new words. Studying them made me easier to use them properly. Last, speaking in front of other students improved my confidence and fluency. Therefore, I could learn English efficiently.
- Hwa Sung, Korea

This article is based on a poster presentation given at the TESOL 2006 conference in Tampa, Florida.
Gerry Luton
English Language Centre,
University of Victoria, Box 3030 STN CSC,
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V8W 3N6



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