21 MAY 2018
Top 10 tips for bringing content into the English classroom
Showing students that their learning isn’t done in isolation can be hugely rewarding – for students as well as teachers.
Here are some simple and effective ideas for introducing elements from other subjects into your English lessons.
1) See the big picture
Look at the overall curriculum and identify possibilities. A geography unit on coastal erosion may fit well with an English unit on descriptive writing. If Music are doing a unit on rhythm, wouldn’t that be the perfect time to start talking iambs?
2) Key dates
Think about which major events could be recognised across departments. We tend to use Remembrance Day. Students read ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ then, with history hats on, research what real-life events influenced Wilfred Owen. Through a scientific lens, they then research the effects of a gas attack and write an empathic response, as a victim.
3) Get arty
After reading a poem, ask students to draw their interpretation. This may be an especially useful tool for ESL students, who may establish a perfectly valid but different meaning based on their mother tongue and cultural contexts.
4) Be creative
Visit your community to use a range of cross-curricular skills. A trip to our local market is always ripe with options: use maths to work out the price of a dozen apples and 10 eggs. Then, use at least four senses to describe the scene. You could easily incorporate Business Studies here too.
In a media unit, introduce elements of design and technology by considering why certain fonts and layouts are used in tabloid or broadsheet papers/websites. Does it affect how a reader creates meaning? Add a touch of IT by showing how to design a front page using Publisher.
6) Take English on tour
On World Poetry Day, visit other lessons and recite poems about science (Rossetti’s ‘Who Has Seen the Wind?’ is ideal for discussing the unknown) or maths (read a sonnet then ask students to write a mathematical formula explaining its structure).
7) Team teach
Working with other subject teachers is one of the most rewarding ways of linking learning. It also reminds students that their learning is not done in isolation. It can be challenging to get everyone on board though, so plan carefully and have clear objectives.
8) Embrace other languages
Research suggests that ESL students should be encouraged to use their first language when planning and even discussing ideas. During personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) or form time slots, go a step further and ask students to explain customs, festivals or beliefs in their mother tongue, then English. Be aware of any cultural sensitivities before trying this.
9) Collaborate and listen
Most of the above requires horizontal planning and a willingness to work together. None of this should impact upon, or drive, the overall curriculum and learning outcomes. You’re simply taking what students would learn elsewhere and seeing if it fits in with your own curriculum.
10) Don’t force it
Some ideas are obvious and straightforward. Others may seem like forcing round pegs into stubbornly square holes. Introducing other subjects into English should be a relatively natural, logical and, ultimately, rewarding process.
Mark Beales is an award-winning journalist from England who turned to teaching after moving to Thailand in 2004. He is currently IB Diploma Coordinator at Garden International School on Thailand’s Eastern seaboard. Mark is also a travel writer with Lonely Planet.
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