The need for adult ESL, or English as a second language, classes in the United States is massive. According to the Human Resources Department at the University of Texas at Austin, more than one million adults nationwide were enrolled in an ESL class in 2007. As ESL teachers can easily become overwhelmed by the pre-beginner level of instruction, it’s helpful for them to remember that learning a foreign language is most productive when the following areas are included in lesson planning: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
To a pre-beginner’s ears, a simple sentence can sound like an unknown, ten-syllable word, so start with the basics. Write the alphabet on the board, and teach the sound each letters makes. Have the students say the names and sounds of the letters after you as you point to each letter and then with you to challenge their memory. Depending on your students’ first languages, the letters may be completely new. Review the alphabet for as many lessons as it takes for students to recognize letters visually and orally at random.
An English dictionary for any language represented in your class should be present at every lesson. Teach students basic greetings by writing the following dialogue on the board: “Hello. How are you? I’m fine, thank you. And you? I’m fine, thank you.” Use the dictionary to write the translation into the students’ first language on the board next to each corresponding phrase. If students have only recently been introduced to the alphabet, take your time in sounding out each word. Have the class repeat each phrase after you as you listen for correct pronunciation. Then encourage the class to practice in pairs.
Make sure the student understands the alphabet thoroughly before attempting to read. Then write a few one-syllable words on the board for the class to copy into their notebooks. Help students sound out words by emphasizing each letter’s sound while pointing to the corresponding letter before you say the entire word. Use this opportunity as a vocabulary lesson as well by allowing students to write down the meanings in their first languages. Review these words, and add a few new ones to the word list each lesson.
Give simple writing assignments during class time as well as for homework. When the alphabet is still being mastered, an example worksheet could include one syllable words for the students to trace the shapes of the letters; lines beneath the word should also be included for students to practice writing letters on their own. Avoid giving instructions when students are busy with a writing assignment. According to the 2005 TESL Journal, this will overwhelm beginner students as they are not able to focus on listening and writing simultaneously in a new language.
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