Many ESL teachers find themselves teaching their students more than grammar, vocab, and pronunciation in the classroom. Teaching your students how to do basic life skills in a new environment and how to talk about those skills is also an important part of second language acquisition. The first lesson plan I ever taught was on doing laundry, and, while I’ve tweaked the lesson over the years, it’s one that I’ve often gone back to with my beginner-level students.
Life skills lesson plans are absolutely necessary for students who have recently moved to and are working on settling in a new culture, they’re also very helpful for students who are learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL).
There are many different kinds of activities and strategies that can go into a good life skills lesson plan, but there are three tools that you can use to really boost your lesson plan to make it more engaging, practical, and applicable: realia, time to familiarize, and practical skill practice. Keep reading below to learn more about how you can take your life skills lesson plan and use it to empower your students to use English outside of the classroom!
The first way to help your students excel is to bring the real world into the classroom. Realia is an amazing tool to help your students familiarize themselves with language that they’re sure to encounter in their day-to-day lives.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, realia simply refers to items from everyday life that are used for teaching. For example, in the free lesson plan on laundry in our Free Resource Library, you’re encouraged to bring in laundry detergent, dryer sheets, laundry baskets, etc in order to give your students an opportunity to interact with products in their second language.
Our newest addition to our Free Resource Library (at the time of writing) is a lesson plan on grocery shopping, which uses sales flyers and circulars to help your students familiarize themselves with sales lingo, coupons, and products on sale.
Not only is realia a great way to help your students interact with and become familiar with these items in English, but it’s also a great way to build your students’ confidence. Have you ever gone shopping for something that you weren’t familiar with? Maybe you went car shopping and didn’t know what questions to ask, or you were buying a computer and didn’t know the correct terms, so you didn’t know what the best deal was? The same feeling can be true (and often much stronger) for your students when shopping for an item in a second language.
Using realia in the classroom gives your students opportunities to see items that they may be familiar with in their native language, but have never had the opportunity to learn about in a second language. This is a great opportunity for them to ask questions like, “what does hypoallergenic mean?” or “what do American employers look for on a resume?”
Make Time to Familiarize
The second tool that you can use to really boost your life skills lesson plan and help your students not just survive, but excel is to plan for plenty of familiarization time. Similar to how ESL teachers need to give their students plenty of opportunity to prepare for a discussion activity or even respond to a question, it’s equally important that students are given time to become more comfortable with the language and tasks ahead of them.
I mentioned previously that realia gives students an opportunity to ask questions, and this opportunity is detrimental to your students becoming more comfortable and confident when using the language in the real world. Picking out a shampoo can be really confusing if your students don’t recognize the lingo on the bottles.
While there are many different ways for your students to become familiar with language, I’ve chosen three to focus on.
Students need to:
See the language being used
Practice the language in small, controlled bursts
Ask questions about how to properly use said language
While we already discussed giving your students time and opportunity to ask questions, it’s important to note that you may need to either anticipate their questions or prompt them. Giving your students time to think about questions is a great strategy, but your students won’t always think of questions that they may need the answers to.
The second thing that your students need to do to become familiar with language is to see the language being used. Even before your students begin to practice their new vocabulary, they need to be able to see how and when it’s used. This strategy can help their vocabulary acquisition, pronunciation, grammar, and so much more.
Finally, students need time to practice the language in small, controlled bursts. While they will eventually gain the confidence and skill to do lengthy role plays, write essays, and create dynamic projects around the life skill at hand, students need to be able to take baby steps too.
Mimic Real-World Skills
After your students have interacted with and become familiar with the new language they’ve learned, it’s time for them to begin using that language specifically for the life skill at hand. At this stage I find it extremely beneficial to mimic the real world scenarios and conversations that my students will find themselves in.
When talking about grocery shopping, I’ve used activities that required my students to walk to different areas of our classroom “grocery store” to find specific items on their lists. When discussing food prep verbs, I’ve asked students to write a recipe for peanut butter and jelly. And when studying job interviews, I’ve had students conduct mini-interviews with their peers.
At this stage it’s important that your students are not only able to use what they’ve learned, but they’re able to use what they’ve learned for (as close to) the purpose for which they’ve learned it.
These tasks and projects can be individually completed or done in a group. They can take place in the classroom or you could take a field trip. You may also find it useful to have students complete a task or worksheet as homework in the community. For example, ask your students to go people-watching at the mall and record observations about relationships, or go to a book store and ask a sales associate for help with something.
Think outside of the box in order to give your students the confidence and opportunity to use English outside of the classroom.
Since life skills is such an important part of adult ESL classrooms, they deserve our attention! These 3 tips can help make your life skills lesson plan more engaging, more applicable, and more practice for your students. By bringing in information and resources from the real world that your students are already going to be facing, you can boost their confidence and spark their curiosity for learning.
These simple tricks are a great way for your students to slowly build their skill in navigating an English-speaking world, and they’ll make your classroom even more interactive and fun! Give it a go and let me know how it goes!
I Want to Hear From You!
What are your favorite life skills lessons to teach?
How do you make sure your lesson plans are applicable and engaging?