Following on from her first post, which explored the importance of conducting a needs analysis and building a supportive learning environment, Li-Shih Huang, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, shares her next two top tips for teaching conversation skills to EAL learners.
In my previous post, I shared the first two tips, which serve as the foundation for teaching academic conversation skills to graduate EAL students. Many instructors wonder how to promote the transferability of skills that students use in class to outside-the-classroom, real-life contexts. In this post, I will move on to my list’s next two tips, which help promote the transfer of learning and skill development.
Tip 3: Link tasks to real-world activities
One key way to make learning meaningful and relevant in the classroom is to link pedagogical tasks to what learners will be doing outside the classroom. For graduate EAL students, participation in academic dialogues typically involves or will involve the following settings:
- interpersonal one-on-one communications;
- small group interactions;
- seminars or class discussions;
- departmental presentations;
- teaching in the classroom; and
- conference presentations and beyond (e.g., job talks, teaching demonstrations, and interviews).
Linking tasks that learners need to perform in those typical settings to class activities not only motivates learning because of the tasks’ perceived relevance and practicality; it also promotes the transfer of the language and strategies learned in the classroom to post-class, real-life contexts. For example, a task that involves meeting with a student during office hours to discuss a grade provides an opportunity for learners to experiment with ways to deal with this common scenario. Another example is involving learners when clarifying a key concept, something that graduate EAL students often must do in their roles as teaching assistants, as participants in departmental meetings, or as speakers at conferences. Such a task first of all provides the speaker an opportunity to practice providing explanations through the use of techniques such as the following:
- stating a definition in formal and lay person’s terms;
- using practical examples that listeners can relate to;
- linking a concept to the speaker’s personal experience;
- using an analogy with some concept that the listeners already know;
- providing comparison and contrast;
- referencing a word’s origin; and
- offering visual illustrations of a term.