What is English for Life?
English for Life is both a five-level curriculum for adult and teen learners of English as a foreign language (EFL), and a system for implementing a complete EFL program. The following pages will explain both the curriculum and the system. First, however, it is important to understand some of the foundational features of English for Life.
It is written for teachers, not students.
A fundamental belief that is enacted through English for Life is that the best teacher of language is a person, not a book. The idea for this approach was born through dissatisfaction in the “going through the book” mentality that many language learners and teachers – and even full language programs – seem to have.
This material was created for the purpose of 1) organizing an English program, and
2) providing curricula that teachers can use and modify as needed. Some student materials are included to illustrate parts of the curriculum, and to give teachers ideas for further material development. But, these worksheets are intended only to provide support for teacher- and student-generated classroom activities. It is hoped that teachers will use this curriculum in the manner in which it was intended: as a guide for contextualized classroom interaction which results in language learning and personal growth.
It is provided electronically to promote contextualization.
With many English learning materials, to change the material is to break copyright laws. Not so with English for Life! This system is available by email, so that teachers can change and adapt it for their own contexts. Currently, these materials are prepared for the Indonesian context. What language is learned and how it is learned, in your context, should be determined by student realities and needs. Teachers should use what is given here as a starting point, and further adapt it to meet their students’ needs.
It includes a Christian perspective.
This material is an attempt to achieve excellence in language teaching, while encouraging the use of Christian content where appropriate. It has been used in situations where learners are not Christians but are open to developing friendships with Christian teachers and learning about Christian beliefs. It has also been used with Christian students, as a springboard for discipleship and leadership development. With this material, teachers can pick and choose the elements and materials that will be appropriate for a particular group of students, and for individual students. Some examples of Christian elements are:
Provision of Bible verses (see Appendix A) which can be learned at each level (available on CD).
Inclusion of Christians in job descriptions (for example, a banker who is a Christian).
Inclusion of both “Christian” and “secular” curriculum options. For example, in level five, teachers can choose to use a “personality test” or “spiritual gifts inventory.”
Learning to say a prayer of blessing when learning about mealtimes.
The following pages provide detailed information about the English for Life system and curriculum. Curriculum guides for each level are available separately.
The English for Life System: A Program Format
A successful English program takes into consideration much more than what happens in individual classes. This section provides an understanding of the organization of this system and its various components.
The English for Life system includes five levels, ranging from beginning to high intermediate. Within an 18-20 week semester, six hours of class time weekly should enable most students to progress through one level each semester. Because the material is teacher-driven rather than text-book driven, students who need more than one semester at a given level can be encouraged to take this extra time. Teachers can assure learners that all students progress at different rates, and they will be better off mastering one level before proceeding to the next. Because English for Life is a curriculum rather than a textbook, students who “repeat” do not need to go through identical material twice. Much of the material used in class is student-generated. Thus, “level three” one semester will not be the same as “level three” another semester.
English for Life promotes the view that language competency and teaching competency are the qualities that a language teacher needs. Whether a teacher is a native speaker or a nonnative speaker of English should not matter if the teacher has sufficient knowledge of the English language, and sufficient teaching skill.
However, this material was developed primarily for use in English as a foreign language settings – that is, in countries where English is not an official language. In such settings, it may often be the case that a combination of nonnative and native English speaking teachers would be able to provide the most effective English program. For example, nonnative English speaking teachers who have the same first language as the students are often the most effective teachers for beginning English learners. And if the school wants to provide a module on “American Cooking,” for instance, a local native English speaker may be the best person to provide such a course. Research has shown that native and nonnative speaking teachers working together in an English program can greatly help one another in language and culture learning of both English and the local language, and in developing appropriate, contextualized teaching skills. In addition, students benefit greatly by having both native and nonnative speaker models, and by seeing the positive relationships between people of different cultures on staff.
Regardless of who the teachers are, English for Life assumes that teachers will have, or will want to develop, teaching skill, as should be the case no matter what materials or program is used. The next section on “Curriculum” provides guidelines for classroom activities. It provides a general understanding of how to engage students in the tasks through which they will use English, and progress in their acquisition of English. It is crucial that teachers take these guidelines to heart, and put in practice in their classrooms techniques which will promote student engagement in speaking, listening, reading and writing, and thus promote effective language learning.
The English for Life system stresses class content that is:
Communicative: focused on developing reading, writing, speaking and listening skills
Contextualized: relevant to students’ real needs in using the English language; authentic materials are encouraged when they are relevant and appropriate for the language level.
Edifying: helping students and teachers learn and grow as individuals, and in relationship with one another
To accomplish these goals, the English for Life system suggests offering a variety of types of classes and opportunities that students can choose from to accumulate six hours weekly. (See appendices for descriptions of the classes and other opportunities.)
Suggested hours per week
The English for Life curriculum (the majority of the class time should be spent covering this curriculum)
Supplementary Grammar (we suggest Basic Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy)
Bible verses (if appropriate)
High interest topics such as “American Cooking” or “Listening to Music”
These provide an opportunity to use English in non-classroom setting
1 per module
(Students may be involved in several modules)
A class in which students of all levels learn together through singing, games, and other fun activities. Multi-level teaching techniques are used, and students are encouraged to help and support one another.
An opportunity for students to engage in individualized study, with teachers and materials available to help them.
(Or “conversation café” for groups)
An opportunity for students to informally engage in conversation with a competent English speaker (who may not be a teacher)
An opportunity for students to have a “pen pal” overseas who will write to them in English (a good opportunity for volunteers in churches or elsewhere)
No specific time
Church services or other events in English
These opportunities can significantly increase students’ motivation in language learning, and their exposure to English.
A program with little homework but emphasizing consistent classroom attendance usually promotes the most effective language learning. Most students will acquire competency in using a new language more through interaction with the teacher and other learners than through doing homework by themselves. We use a system of attendance checking called the “Effort Checklist” (see Appendix C) which helps the student to keep track of his or her attendance and completion of homework.
The English for Life curriculum is framed in a task-based syllabus. The content to be covered is given to the students in terms of “tasks” that they are learning how to accomplish using the English language. This list of tasks at each level is called the “Ability Checklist” (see Appendix B). As students go through the course, they check off tasks as they are able to do them. The tasks in this curriculum are thematic in orientation. More information on the task-based syllabus is provided in the “Curriculum” section.
As has already been said, the English for Life system came about because of a desire to get away from a “textbook orientation” in English classes. Textbooks can sometimes detract from real language learning, in that when students are looking at a book they are not actively engaged in real communication.
However, printed materials are an important (though overrated) part of language learning. Students will need readings, occasional grammar assignments, their checklists, and individualized learning aids such as vocabulary lists. In addition to these kinds of materials on paper, the teacher will often use printed materials to utilize techniques such as surveys and charts for interactive classroom activities.
We have found it useful to teach students how to collect and organize such materials in loose-leaf binders. Their binder becomes their own individualized “textbook” – a record of their learning that they can be proud of. An alternative would be to promote the development of a portfolio demonstrating the learning that has taken place over the course of a semester. This system enables both teachers and students to add their own materials on any given theme, whereas with a traditional textbook, the materials are fixed.
Unfortunately, tests often drive language learning systems, creating stress and causing teachers to “teach to the test” rather than teaching what students need and want to learn. In addition, tests often create the illusion that “a good grade means I can speak English.” We all have known students who have done very well on grammar tests, but who nevertheless are not very effective in real communication.
Though teachers can easily create tests based on the English for Life curriculum if they wish to do so, we suggest mid-semester and end-of-semester evaluations which include self-assessment on the part of the student, and that do not involved testing. Our system of evaluation looks like this:
Teacher and student meet for a 15-minute individual evaluation time once mid-semester, and once at the end of the semester.
Prior to the meeting, both teacher and student fill out a form (see Appendix E) providing information on the effort and ability checklists, and student progress in reading, writing, speaking and listening. This is a good time to look through the binder, to remember what has been learned, or see what is lacking.
When teacher and student meet together they discuss any areas where change is needed. The student shares where they feel they are doing well or need to change, and can also suggest any changes on the teacher’s part that they feel would help them. The teacher can outline observed student strengths and weaknesses, and suggest areas for change. Any changes agreed on are listed on the evaluation form.
In addition to this type of evaluation, teachers may want to give tests or quizzes. However, we have not found this type of assessment to add a great deal to real language learning, for most students. It puts the teacher in the position of judging student ability, rather than teaching students how to take responsibility for their own learning. More on assessment follows in the “Teaching Guidelines” section.
Though a complete English for Life curriculum follows in the next section, it may be helpful at this point to outline the basic themes covered in this system:
Summary of Content
Basic Vocabulary and Phrases
greetings, food, home, family, numbers and money, community
After completing all five levels of English for Life, a student should be able to:
Talk easily and fluently about family, self, city and country, and express personal opinions. The student may have errors, but will be able to communicate effectively
Understand personal information shared by others, and ask pertinent questions.
Ask for clarification when necessary; demonstrate when he or she does not understand, and continue communication until comprehension is achieved.
Give and understand social information, such as directions, time, spelling of words, descriptions, costs, quality, etc.
Read and gain a general understanding about worldwide information, such as news articles, information on internet, or letters received from friends.
Accomplish basic writing tasks, such as writing friendly letters or writing recipes, though writing will likely have some grammatical errors.
The English for Life Curriculum
Each of the five levels includes eight topical units, with grammar study to be done simultaneously. It is suggested that each unit cover two week’s instruction, or eight hours of classroom time. The curriculum guide for each level (available as separate documents) provides activities and resources for each topical unit.
Level One is slightly different than the other levels. It has 10 units, which are to be covered more quickly, probably completing one unit in 1 ½ weeks. The Level One curriculum does not have a general theme, but rather focuses on helping students acquire many basic words and phrases in a short period of time.
A multiple-choice test is used to place new students in this curriculum. It includes ten questions on vocabulary and language use at each of five levels. If a student correctly answers eight of the ten questions at a given level, he is seen as having achieved that level, and is placed in the next level up. The placement test (available on request) is quick, simple, easy to administer, and not fool-proof. Teachers and students are ultimately the best judges of what is known and unknown. Therefore, a trial period of two weeks is always provided. During this time, if student and teacher both agree, the student can move up or down in level.
An important feature of this curriculum is that content is recycled and revisited at different levels, in different ways. For example, on the topic of “food”:
Level One: students learn names of foods
Level Two: students revisit names of foods, talk about food preferences and diet, and learn to read simple recipes.
Level Three: students talk about food again as they learn to order a meal at a restaurant.
Level Four: students compare diets and nutrition in various countries
Students who have opportunities to review, remember, and build on previous learning in such ways are usually more successful in long-term language acquisition.
A grammar component is included because some experts believe that focused grammar instruction aids in the development of accuracy, and because many students feel that it is essential to study grammar when learning a foreign language. Our grammar component uses Basic Grammar in Use (levels 2-4) and Grammar in Use Intermediate (level 5) by Raymond Murphy. Another grammar text could be substituted for this one, or teachers may choose to provide individual worksheets on the suggested grammar components.
Little effort has been made to correlate the grammar with likely structures emerging from the topics. Rather, we take the view that students will continuously be acquiring structural knowledge as they engage in reading, writing, speaking and listening on the given topics, and that the sequential grammar instruction will serve to fill in gaps and answer questions. It is suggested that grammar instruction be limited to ¼ of the total core class time.
Level One does not include a specific grammar component. As the Level One teacher teaches primarily through the English language, students will be hearing and using English sentences, and this will help them begin to acquire English structure. Teachers will be addressing emergent student needs in understanding structure, but will not be going through a grammatical syllabus. By not focusing on structure at the first level, students learn to focus on the skill areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening in class, and are not derailed by a premature focus on grammar.
Suggested scripture to be learned during each unit is also provided. The New International Version has been used. The verses do not relate to the topics, but rather were selected as being appropriate in language and content for each level, and as familiar passages which are valuable to know for their spiritual and literary value. Following is an overview of the passages chosen:
Level One:Verses affirming that God helps us and we can help one another. As students begin their language study, it is important for them to see that God wants to help them in this endeavor, and that they also can and should help one another.
Level Two:The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. Students learn two famous scripture passages which they may have opportunity to recite in English with other believers.
Level Three:John 3:16, the love passage in I Cor. 13, the fruit of the Spirit, and Ps. 121. Students learn more well-known passages – scripture which can help them see God’s love and His desire to care for us and show us the best way to live.
Level Four:Ps. 100 and the Beatitudes. Students continue to learn well-known passages, and to understand more of God’s plan for our lives.
Level Five:The Ten Commandments, Ps. 1, Eph. 6:11-13: The Armor of God. As students study “Personal Development” at this level, the scripture points not only to God’s guidelines for living, but also His help in the “armor of God”.
Of course this element of the curriculum is optional, and should be used when appropriate for the context. When teaching mixed classes of Christians and those of other faiths, it may be wise to provide the scripture memory component as an option rather than a requirement. There are two reasons why students of other faiths or of no faith may be legitimately encouraged to learn these well-known passages. First, biblical references in English literature are common, and knowing some scripture can thus be helpful when reading or hearing English. Even movies sometimes have biblical references. Second, memorization aids language learning for some students. Though memorization in general is often discouraged in modern language teaching, some students report that committing poetry and other literature to memory assists their learning.
Teachers and program developers should take into consideration all these factors, and especially student needs and interests, as they decide whether or not to include this component of the English for Life system.
It is hoped that students and teachers engaged in the English for Life system will find that their time in class is spent not only learning English, but engaging in meaningful, interesting, and relevant activities. To promote this concept, a semester-long class project for each level (beyond level one) is suggested. The project activities are inherent in the units, making it possible for students to finish the level having created something that is useful. The projects suggested at each level are:
Level Two, Home and Family Theme:
A booklet for foreigners about Indonesian families and their homes.
Level Three, Community Theme:
A booklet for foreigners providing tips for living in Indonesia.
Level Four, World Theme:
A video presentation of areas of the world that students have chosen for study.
Level Five, Personal Development Theme:
Individual portfolios of personal growth and expectations.
Many other projects are possible. Local contexts and student interests should determine what can be accomplished of lasting value in a semester.