English Beyond the Classroom: Community-Based Tasks for ESL Students

This curriculum provides activities and materials for integrating ESL education and community-based tasks. 

Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), Literacy Education for Adults and Families (LEAF) Program at Asian Human Services
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Target Audience

The purpose of this curriculum is to help lead the adult immigrant learner with limited English skills out of the classroom and into the community. Language learners need real language experiences. The explanation, role play, repetition, and testing that take place in the classroom can prepare a student very well for these experiences, but nothing can substitute for the real-life communication in a foreign language, which language is only a part of. Other factors include comfort level, fear of failure, etc. Ultimately, these barriers can only be overcome through experience, and not through simulations, however valuable that practice is.

There are two factors, then, that are necessary for an immigrant to be able to get along in an English-speaking environment, namely language and self-assurance in using it, and we tend to think that the latter is not the English Beyond the Classroom instructor’s responsibility. Real language experiences, repeated frequently, can foster self-assurance in ESL students. Most students who are willing to approach different kinds of native-English speakers in different situations will gradually find it easier to make themselves understood and to understand others.

Through real language experiences, immigrants can make strides toward self-sufficiency in communication. How, then, can adult education programs provide these experiences? The materials in this curriculum strive not to increase the workload of teacher or student, but to offer a learning alternative that will increase students’ ability to function in the world they live in.

What the experts say

Although it is widely acknowledged that bringing authentic materials into the classroom benefits students in English acquisition, teachers are less likely to design activities that involve students outside the 3-6 hours weekly that they are in class. Submerged in first language with only a few hours of English, it is not surprising that students make very slow progress in learning the new language that surrounds them. The activities in this book reinforce the “noticing” and use of English in the many hours students are not in class, supported by explanation and practice in the classroom both before and after the real world activity.

It would have been preferrable if the research/evidence base was more explicit.  Also, because the resource focuses on activities to do outside of class, the pre-teaching to build background, assessment of what students already know, and practice of important structures, phrases, and vocabulary is not there. So, this book can be used as a wonderful supplement to the class text, but it couldn't supplant it.  In light of this, the resource should not just be given to the teacher, but some discussion and professional development around using it in this supplementary way should be explored in programs using the resource.

As the title, English Beyond the Classroom, suggests, the focus of this curricular resource is on supporting students to complete real world tasks outside the classroom where they need to actually use the English they are learning; therefore, this resource would be a useful addition to any adult ESL classroom. The context for the materials is the city of Chicago, so several of the tasks are specific to that place; however, the authors indicate they want teachers to adapt the activities to suit their own setting.

The authors have included several surveys, suitable for different levels of students, which teachers can draw upon to identify students' interests and needs. They can then prepare students for tasks in line with their particular interests and needs. One of the surveys uses black and white drawings for use with beginners, but the drawings are very small and unclear; therefore, this particular survey would not be useful with the lowest level students. Teachers will want to design their own survey for beginners.

The material is organized into nine units with four or five tasks in each and are appropriate for high beginning to advanced learners. The authors include suggestions for adapting the materials for various levels, and the tasks are often designed for students to work in pairs. The units inclulde: Finding your Way Around, Public Services, Retail Services, Housing, Health, Education, Employment, Leisure, and Community Involvement. Each unit also includes at least one internet-based task.

There are student worksheets provided for each task, which can be copied and pasted into a word processing document and revised as needed. Some of the tasks featured include: asking for directions on public transportaton; scavenger Hunts at the library, in the neighborhood, grocery store, and department store; calling information lines, local businesses, and a movie theater; comparison shopping; attending an Open House; interviewing a professional about his or her job; and solving a neighborhood probelm (e.g. a broken sidewalk, dangerous intersection, potholes).

Having permission to revise the materials is one of the most valuable aspects of this product since this gives teachers the opportunity to make the tasks immediately relevant to their local context. As a final note, some of the materials seem a bit dated, so teachers will want to update and revise as they see fit. 

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