Drama-focused program unites future ESL teachers with international high school students

SJMHS drama program students

The innovative after-school program allows teachers to implement creative ways of teaching English through a drama-based context.

This 2018 Fall semester, the linguistics department set into motion a brand new program that partners Fresno State’s future Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) teachers with English as a Second Language (ESL) international students at San Joaquin Memorial High School (SJM).

The participating SJM students are studying abroad from various countries including China, South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam. The students are not only improving their language skills but are also enjoying socializing and contributing to a team in a fun and engaging way.

The program was created to directly address the specific language needs of the SJMHS students which would also provide Fresno State’s TESOL students the opportunity to experience teaching ESL hands-on.  

“In particular, we hope to help these students develop confidence in using English, to gain social interaction skills. We even have some domestic students volunteering in the program to help with that and to help them improve their listening and speaking skills in English,” said Dr. Jaydene Elvin, TESOL Coordinator and Professor of Linguistics at Fresno State.

“This program’s impact has been tremendous at SJM. Our students receive direct expert instruction from Fresno State, while also being introduced to the University early in their high school careers through this innovative program,” said Sung Chu, Director of International Recruitment & Strategic Partnerships at SJM.

The program has been equally beneficial for Fresno State graduate students as well, as it serves as additional exposure to teaching language.

“The kind of learning students are getting in this class is beyond anything I could teach them in a theoretical class. They are gaining real-world experience, and they are facing challenges that you can only get when you are out in the real world working with the ESL students. So I hope that my graduate students are able to connect the theories and strategies that are taught in the classes with real-world experience,” said Elvin.

Teaching inside SJMHS classroom
Many of the graduate students have taken the initiative to invent and implement their language exercises to help nurture the growing skills of the SJM students in the program.

“One of my students spent two lessons teaching them how to debate, and there was another activity called “alibi” – that’s where a (fake) crime was committed, and some students were suspects, and the rest were investigators,” said Elvin. “The suspects had to come up with convincing alibis, and the investigators had to ask questions to work out ‘who did it’. So that’s a great activity as students had to improvise their answers  and make it convincing, while the other students are learning how to form questions in English.”

A vital feature of the program is that it provides reflective space for the TESOL students, where they can come up with ideas and solutions to their experience in the SJM classroom. TESOL students also engage on the program’s blog, where they can upload lesson plans, collaborate on new ideas, and offer support to one another.

With the current semester coming to a close, Elvin reflected on the benefits that she’s seen her TESOL students enjoy during their time at SJM.

“I think it has been really nice to see how much my graduate students have grown and developed as a result of this experience,” said Elvin. “They have faced a number challenges as they had to get to know the students and discover what activities worked best with them, but I have definitely seen an improvement in their abilities as teachers.”  

The program will continue in Spring 2019. TESOL students will again be able to take advantage of this unique opportunity that has proven to be inspirational for both graduate, and high school students alike.


One thought on “Drama-focused program unites future ESL teachers with international high school students

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