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Speaking with an E.S.L. Class

When working with English as a Second Language (E.S.L.) students, there are different techniques that research shows will help these students understand the English language. Of these techniques, three that docents might find useful when touring ESL students are: Total Physical Response (TPR), Roles and Drama, and Fun and Games.

In TPR, the instructor asks students to be silent and listen carefully to a command or modeled behavior, such as “smiling.” Then, the students are to carry out or repeat the command/ behavior. Flash cards are sometimes used as a visual stimulus reinforcing the spoken word.

Extrapolating from this technique, docents might employ pictures on flash cards and model behaviors to aid the ESL students in expressing themselves. Prior to touring the cards and behaviors could be presented to the class. Then, while on tour, students could view pictures and identify the smiling, sad, or tired people using the expressions on their faces or with cards. Or, the students could be asked to use the cards or behaviors to describe how the pictures make them feel. To aid in the acquisition of English, docents could repeat the word out loud each time students use a card or behavior for descriptive purposes.

Roles and Drama is a group activity where a few students act out a scene in a picture, or take the stance of a sculpture while the others observe. The docent may need to guide students or help model the poses. Props or costumes could be used should you want to get more elaborate or descriptive. This activity can be lots of fun and the students’ actual participation brings images to life for them. The scene could be repeated quickly with new students from the class. Repetition is good for ESL students, and this total body and emotional involvement helps make meaning and intention clear.

Fun and Games can also be effective and enjoyable. Seek and search could be played using different textures, such as sandpaper, silk, fur, and cotton-balls. Different textures would be passed around the group, then students would be asked to look for things in the picture that might have similar textures. In a similar manner, a variety of sounds could be made and then students could look for items that might make those sounds. Treasure hunts can be played by holding up a detail from a picture, artifact, or natural history object and asking the class to find that work, artifact, or object. Such games add to the enjoyment of a museum visit and teach students at the same time.

Another technique employed in Fun and Games uses the five senses to communicate. What might they see, or imagine they could hear, taste, smell, or touch in a work of art.

The techniques used in TPR, Roles and Drama, and Fun and Games are just three of several ways to help ESL students gain understanding in the museum. Learning a second language can be exhausting mental work. These activities can help a docent adjust the pace of learning and lighten up the atmosphere.

Louanna Emery is a second grade ESL teacher at Herbert Marcus School in the Dallas (TX) Independent School District. She earned her B.A. at William Jewell College and her M.Ed, from Texas Woman’s University.

Emery, Louanna. “Speaking with an E.S.L. Class,” The Docent Educator2.4 (Summer 1993): 7.

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