While teaching English in Morocco I sometimes got bogged down by teaching an American curriculum in a country that had completely different customs, beliefs, and traditions. It was sometimes difficult for me to connect the lines for my students in the curriculum just because they didn’t grow up with the same background knowledge that American students do.
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Have you ever tried to explain Thanksgiving to a student who doesn’t know or understand pilgrims, the Mayflower, or the concept of immigration? In teaching a lesson about Thanksgiving, I had to give my students the whole background of what the holiday was about and I even took a few extra days to make sure that the concepts had sunk in before teaching the real lesson. For me it was an eye opening experience. Sometimes as an ESL teacher we forget that our students cannot relate to Western teaching material. I elongated that lesson and reached outside of the box to create material that made things tangible for my students. I drew huge pictures of a world atlas on my white board and showed students where we were in comparison to where England was and then where America was. I showed them that I was not from Morocco and that I had traveled far distances to come teach them English. I used this lesson not only to teach them about Thanksgiving and fall traditions but also to teach them where they were from and expand their worldview at a very young age. (Read: Classroom activities for teaching culture).
Think Outside the Box
I reflect on that lesson and think of all of the other things that I could have done differently, if only someone had told me to think outside of the box when looking at a curriculum designed for a specific student body. You must expand on the curriculum that you receive and make it relate to your student population. Whether it is giving them tangible examples that they can see, touch, and hear or explaining it multiple times in different ways. When testing my students, I wanted them to be able to teach others what they had learned, so sometimes I had them act it out, draw me a picture, or even tell me the story. That is how I judged if I was forming the curriculum around my student population effectively.