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“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
―Heraclitus (544-483 BCE), Greek philosopher
How do you close your last English class in a satisfying, summer ESL program?
Class bookends, both beginnings and endings, deserve special attention. This truism becomes more important in short term summer English programs where ESL students have traveled thousands of miles to study English abroad.
As so often, I tend to learn by stumbling. Yet, over the years, I’ve developed a rather effective last few class lessons around a simple theme: Make Change Your Friend. This pitch seems to work quite well with international high school and college students studying in Intensive English Programs (IEP). The atmosphere tends to be causal, friendly, and still academic.
Be Kind, Rewind
Looking back during the last morning session seems natural. The lesson begins with students reviewing the changes in own lives over the last decade through small, personal conversations. I often focus on the present perfect tense as they write 5 questions for their conversation partner and classmates. Most of these English students are in college or slightly older working professionals. Many have had very pleasant experiences studying and living in Southern California. The mood remains laidback as students realize how quickly the month has flown by. We have shared many laughs together.
Zooming out a bit more, we then shift the conversation to the various social and economic changes in our native countries over the last 10 years. The students usually provide a wide range of examples, both positive and negative. Sometimes we also indicate how we would like our countries and cultures to continue to change moving forward.
Inevitably, we also discuss technological changes. Of course, technology continues to improve; computers are faster, video editing easier, and cell phones better with each passing year. Through these discussions, we often find that the evidence for progress – whether material or cultural – is overwhelming.
We live in fantastic times – unlike any previous generation. At this point in the conversation, I take the opportunity to appreciate the progress humans have made in recent years. For example, I note the many advancements in medical technology. People can live longer with new hearts installed, even limbs restored. From implants to cosmetic surgery, medical devices are changing our experience as humans.
However, as societies evolve, the definition of progress remains flexible. Thus, I review themes from previous class readings and discussions on themes ranging from healthy relationships and elections to changes in human reproduction and evolving definitions of marriage. How do we measure progress in these areas?
Observing and appreciating change provides perspective on many issues and helps us connect to the world around us. By taking time to explore these socially relevant topics in class, we help our English students form and express opinions so they can add their voices to many ongoing, global conversations.
Finally, I urge the future and current college students to embrace change. It is inevitable; you can’t stop it. Therefore, why not find a wave that you want to ride, and catch it? As former President Bill Clinton advised worried Americans during his 1992 campaign, “Make change your friend.”
Then, students write down three ways they can make change their friend. It’s a positive conclusion to a short English program – and a small step forward. Students say goodbye to their classmates and bravely face the future. Their English teachers feel satisfied – and bittersweet. The journey of life continues.
Do you embrace change in your English classroom? How do you conclude your summer ESL classes?
Editor’s note: While I have not taught in Intensive English Program for over a dozen years, I have very positive memories of teaching in both UCLA Extension American Language Center (link) and Long Beach American Language Institute. This post was originally written after an exceptionally satisfying last class. And the advice remains sound. BTW, despite the sometimes scary headlines and diplomatic tensions, Southern California continues to offer international students many outstanding opportunities to study. Summers can be wonderful here.