Teach English in Qingong Zhen - Huai'an Shi

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There are many ways and reasons why children make friends. Sometimes it is the child of their parents' friend, or they are classmates in school, or they are involved in an extracurricular activity together. But what about in an English as a Second Language class? If you have a multilingual class, students might be reluctant to make friends with someone who doesn't share their background or native language. In a monolingual class, older students might be wary of making friends with new people, or disrupting existing cliques. Whatever the reason for the struggle, making friends in an ESL class is one of the most important components to building language learning skills. First, nobody wants to feel alone. Feeling isolated in a class can cause self confidence problems and potentially lead to students being less engaged. When students feel they have a peer to go to who will understand them, they can build confidence in themselves and eventually their language skills. When letting students pick their own pairs or groups, students having a friend in class will ensure they don't feel like they have no one to be in a group with. Having friends can also provide them with a resource to ask for help outside of the classroom, such as with problem homework, missed work, or test preparation. If a student is new to a class or even to a country, making friends can ensure they will always have someone to reach out to in a time of need. Having friends in class can also increase student talk time. If you are using a free conversation activity and the student does not have a friend, they might not have anyone to converse with, and then they aren't utilizing the language. In a multilingual class, that increases as the only language they can communicate in is English, and with friends in class this provides a bridge to better language skills instead of a barrier. It can also increase student talk time out of class, if they choose to study English outside of school with their friends. No matter where the talk time is taking place, as long as it is in English it will reinforce your teaching and increase their language skills and retention. So how can we as teachers encourage students to make friends to support their development? First, we can provide understanding and open classrooms. When students know that they are entering a safe space where they are understood and respected they are much more likely to reach out to the other people in the class and create those necessary connections. Second, we can provide opportunities to create friendships. Pairing students up with new people or groups for classwork can introduce students to people they might never have approached otherwise and create a chance for them to develop connections. Again, in multilingual classes this can create not just a chance for connection, but also a chance to practice English. Third, we can make sure that our first lesson is full of introduction activities, especially if it is a group that is completely new to each other and they know no one. Introduction activities provide opportunities for students to pair up individually and make connections and friendships, as well as whole group activities that can allow someone to approach someone else later based on a fact they shared or something they said that was interesting. Finally, we can continually use whole-group activities in lessons so that students do not get used to working just with who they want or their pre-existing group of friends. Even if no lasting friendships are made, it allows students to connect with different people for a brief period of time so they can be provided another view of the world, that may develop into a lasting friendship later. So no matter the reasons that students make friends, or how we encourage them to do so, there are clear benefits to forming connections and friendships in an ESL classroom. It can create confidence, increase language utilization, and overall make students feel good about themselves. And whether we choose to do so by switching up partners, using introduction games in the first lesson, or encouraging whole group communication, we as teachers are clear facilitators of this important chance at lasting student relationships.