ESL Week Contest Turns Groans into Creative Fun!

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ESL Week makes me think about a particular student. Her first day is still crystal clear in my memory. Nervous, shy and just plain scared, she chose to say, “No English” mostly with gestures. I must have been blind as I did not see the butterfly about to emerge from that cocoon in a few months’ time. About six months later, one day, I made an announcement in class about the ESL week contest. Collectively, the class groaned, “No!”

In my experience, a yes becomes so much better when it begins as a no.   🙂

We then started playing with the contest idea.  A scaffolded version of the ESL week guidelines became a reading comprehension task. We brainstormed ideas through a speaking lesson on the topic. She came up with a few different movie (video) concepts. The voice inside my head nervously said, “How are you going to help her? Do you know ANYTHING about editing?” But I did not interrupt her vision. We moved on to writing the story board for her idea. In the days that followed, she bought a camera, learned how to use it, explored video making and got her friends on board. She taught herself and me a thing or two about video editing. To accomplish the task, she moved between her first language and English.

On the days that she wanted to give up because of the English, I repeated my lines, “Your English is good. It just isn’t perfect.” To make a long story short, her video received a lot of attention in the video category that year. The result was only a bonus. But lessons were learnt and memories were made during the process. I realized that I was not as flexible as I had led myself to believe until I had gone through this chapter of my professional life. In my style of teaching until then, I had always looked for things that worked and only brought to class those things in which  I was absolutely confident. Since then, however, exploring the unknown has been way more exciting than sharing the known.

Learners effectively facilitate my learning. A lot of creative talent in my class gets tapped into every year through playing with the ESL week activities. As language learners, it certainly is not going to be an easy decision for students to put their language out there for others to judge. But that’s the tipping point where the teacher helps shift focus to the creation of the writing (or video), rather than the result of the contest.

The ESL week contest gives me that opportunity to step outside the box, let my hair down and have a party with the English language. It goes without saying that a teacher’s enthusiasm is infectious and the learners get intrinsically motivated. The twinkle in the eye of a learner who has just created something in English is often that magical encounter with confidence that may have not come their way in a long time, turning even the shy students into shining stars.

We (teachers and administrators) spend most of our waking hours in a land of real life stories. When we spend some time to share those moments of inspiration, learning, growing, tears, travails and joy, we become part of a universal link, the one that connects ESL educators all across the world.

This year, the ESL contest comes with a fresh new look that makes way for much to be said in a few words. For me, this is the time of year we spend in reflecting, collecting and creating bouquets of illumination, exaltation and sometimes even those teachable moments that define our roles as teachers. Let’s get working!

Do you accept the challenge to infuse creativity among your students during ESL Week?


Suma Balagopal is an occasional blog contributor to the TESL Ontario Blog and was the recipient of the TESL Ontario’s Sparks of Excellence award in 2014. She teaches from a practical standpoint, and addresses the perspective of the student with an aim to opening up the learner’s mind to new possibilities. Suma finds the methodology of practical and collaborative teaching extremely effective, particularly when dealing with learners in the process of cultural on-boarding.


6 thoughts on “ESL Week Contest Turns Groans into Creative Fun!”

  1. What a great story, Suma. The video was so touching, and I particularly liked the out takes. Laughter, indeed, and very human. Thanks for showing us how you released the butterfly.

  2. That was quite an eye opener. Awesome combination of teacher and student! It’s true activities come to class only if teachers let it in.

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