Creative Teaching Solutions, Iraq Style!

One of the major challenges for my students learning English as a second language was vocabulary!

When I started teaching 2nd grade Humanities my students couldn’t understand and respond to the simple commands “get a pencil” or “turn to page 5”. Every word seemed like a new word for them to learn. I was lucky to get by with a few dozen one syllable words!

So imagine my consternation when, a month into teaching them, our geography book had the phrase “aerial photography” as a vocabulary word! It felt so hysterically unrealistic for these ESL students…there seemed NO WAY they are going to know or understand those words! I didn’t even have the vocabulary to try to explain these words.

So that’s when a teacher’s creativity and sheer force of will kick in. Phase 1 is a lot like the game Taboo; try to use similar words to make the connection. I started with one syllable synonyms and LOTS of repetition. “Air, air, sky, sky, in the sky, in the air.” Pointing to the word “aerial” on the board I kept repeating the words.

Then I transitioned into Phase 2 which is a lot like the game Charades. Pointing to the ceiling I’d repeat “Air, sky, sky, air” and make hand motions like I’m flying and looking down to the ground. Well, at least I have their attention, even if I don’t have their understanding! Then I repeat the process for the 2nd word. I point to “photography” on the board and say “picture, photo, take picture, take photo” as I pantomime the process of taking a picture. Each word must have been repeated 50 times!

When the first 2 phases didn’t seem to bring the “ah-ha” light bulbs, we went to Phase 3. I got my camera out of my backpack which I always keep for memorable photo ops, climbed onto my teacher’s desk, and proceeded to show them a “photo” from the “air”. All was going well I thought. Maybe this combination of real life experience would help the grasp these ridiculous words.

Unfortunately I didn’t realize how close I was to the moving ceiling fan! I started taking a picture of the class as I held the camera high and…whump…my camera and hand got caught in the fan! The camera flew across the room, the kids freaked out, my hand was in so much pain. Fortunately, the camera survived the fall, my hand was only bruised, and the lesson became so memorable that they never forgot the words “aerial photography”! We still don’t know if they understood the meaning or just thought aerial photography was something about camera flying across the room.

Have you ever felt like jumping into the adventure of teaching overseas? There’s nothing like it! Learn more HERE!

Katie lived and taught at the Medes Schools for 2 years. Now she lives in California where the weather is the same but there are trees.