I usually teach students on a one-to-one basis but every Saturday morning I find myself volunteering in a classroom with 60 to 80 people ranging in ages from 15 to 74 and coming from all walks of life. One common ground is that it’s an English language class to study the Bible and sing worship songs both traditional hymns and more contemporary ones. Talk about diversity. Some students know no English at all whilst others are quite fluent. Most are in between. So … how can I make this class work?
1. Usually I try to get higher level students to help lower levels, be it by providing translation, or modeling pronunciation, etc. Also we try to divide the class in smaller groups and to have at least a high level student working in a group of 4 or 5.
2. I’ve mentioned above the common denominator and they really try to use their bible knowledge and weekly study to build on new learning steps.
3. Using visual resources – pictures, realia, a short video, etc,which provide another common ground while higher level students will be able to help others to expand their vocabulary, for example.
4. Every week the students know they’re walking into a “free zone” where they will not be judged or criticized for their language skills or beliefs, thus creating a welcoming environment where they will gradually be willing to take risks and even “play the fool”.
Let me share with you the story of Diego. That tall and lanky young man one day walked into our class, settled in a corner and refused to say a word. The following week we managed to get him to mumble his name. But nothing else. He was shyness personified. We allowed him to come to class and quietly and shyly stick around. We started a little weekly challenge that whoever memorized that week’s key bible verse would get a little reward. Sometimes a cookie, other times a magazine, other times a CD, other times just a handshake, etc. Then one day, after a few months of unresponsiveness, to our astonishment, Diego stood up and said the memory text for the week. From then on he never stopped, and now he even prays in public or shares a little missionary story.
Yes, we’re all different but we can help one another grow at their own pace.