Charles “Charlie” Warner is an English Education Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosovo. He left for Kosovo in early June and is part of the first group of Volunteers there. We’ll be following Charlie throughout his service from trainee to Volunteer to RPCV. He’s already shared his packing tips, first impressions of Kosovo and thoughts on training with us. For his fourth post, he shares a fun story of teaching adjectives to his Kosovar students.
Charlie (third from right) with other Peace Corps Volunteers and some students.
As a native English speaker, there are more than a few subtleties in the English language that rarely cross my mind. That is to say, they rarely cross my mind until I have to explain them to a classroom full of Kosovar students. Like many native English speakers, I either do not consciously consider certain subtleties or I just do not regularly employ certain potentially problematic vocabulary. But I can assure you such subtleties can arise in the classroom in a hurry and potentially lead to a tongue-tied teacher and a number of blank looks from students. Which brings us to the blog post “Frank vs. frank.”
Before I get ahead of myself with describing how I and my co-teacher Anna Lena found ourselves attempting to explain the difference between a person named ‘Frank’ and a person who is ‘frank,’ allow me to elaborate a little on what brought us before a classroom of eager young students in the first place…
A two week long teaching practicum is part of our Pre-Service Training (PST; see my last blog post for more details about PST) and although this practicum is mandated by Peace Corps for Trainees to complete, it is up to the Trainees to organize, plan, and execute the practicum. While referring to this learning objective amongst ourselves as “the practicum,” we were in actuality creating an ESL Summer Camp for students in our respective villages. During the practicum/camp, we develop lesson plans, plan learning activities, and teach while being evaluated by Peace Corps staff. At the end of each daily teaching session, we discuss the staff member’s evaluation, mistakes we made, and changes for the coming classes all with the goal of improving our skills with classroom management, lesson plan development, and working with co-teachers.
One of our main orders of business prior to and during the camp was developing lesson plans and activities for the two weeks of camp. In this task, at least initially, we were flying a little blind. For we had to develop lesson plans without knowing the level of English comprehension or even the ages of our potential students! So needless to say, as the first day of the camp approached, we were somewhat apprehensive if not totally in the dark about how effective our lessons might be; an apprehension that, it turns out, was completely unfounded. Their level of comprehension of English and their command with speaking the language was truly incredible. So instead of teaching above their skill levels or losing their interest by doing activities intended for students with less command of the language, we were able to challenge them and teach them new dynamics of English, creative writing, and American culture.
Speaking of the classroom, I think it is time to circle back around to where I left off… with Anna Lena and I standing at the front of the classroom, shooting brief looks at one another, and trying to clearly explain the difference between ‘Frank’ and ‘frank.’ Now, as luck/fate would have it, one of the other co-teachers is named Frank and was present during our let’s-explore-new-adjectives lesson. Adjectives: an easy concept the basics of which were already understood by most of the students. Then we had to go and muddy the waters:
Me: “Yes, he is Mr. Frank but I can also be frank… a person being honest is frank. And frank is the adjective. See [writing on the chalkboard] how Mr. Frank’s name has a capital ‘F’ and the adjective ‘frank’ has a lower case ‘f’?”
Students: Blank stares.
Anna Lena: “When someone says they are being frank, it means they want to be honest.” (It was at this point that I decided to come up with a not-so-well-thought-out verbal example…)
Me: “For example, if I were to say ‘Miss Anna Lena, I have to be frank. I do not like the skirt you are wearing”, that is how you could use the adjective ‘frank’.”
Anna Lena: Brief glare at me (for whatever reason) then smiles.
Students (and other co-teachers): Laughter after seeing the look on Anna Lena’s face and processing what I had said. But also a few students’ eyes lit with comprehension!
And so we made a few more attempts to clarify Frank vs. frank and other issues with adjectives before embarking upon the main exercise of reading various pieces of literature that described different aspects of American culture. The students, with the help of the co-teachers, read the material, picked out the adjectives used by the authors, and then presented the adjectives they found as well as the overall theme of their particular article to the class. A fun lesson that strengthened adjective comprehension and, for my group of students, knowledge of why and how Halloween is celebrated in the United States!
Minus a few other small bumps in the road, we, trainees and students alike, worked through the summer camp with high spirits and a lot of fun. Our lessons ranged from giving directions to creative writing to geography. And at the end, the number of students had increased, we Trainees learned more about classroom management and lesson development, and the students came away with a broader understanding of the English language and American culture.
Proud graduates and teachers of Peace Corps’ first ESL Summer Camp. (Charlie and Anna Lena top left)