English as a Second Language

By Michael Culbertson, R.J. Reynolds High School

At R.J. Reynolds High School, I served with the ESL - or English as a Second Language - students. A majority of them were either born outside of the United States and sought refuge here, or were born in the country and had parents seek refuge. Some were more advanced English speakers, while some would become very frustrated in class because they found the language difficult, especially since they had to step out of their comfort zone.

The first week I served, my partner and I observed how they were in class. We noted what kind of assignments they did, how they interacted, and how advanced their skills were. There were four levels of this course: 1-4, 4 being the most advanced. We primarily worked with the level 2's and 4's, and sometimes saw the 1's.

After a week, we brainstormed exercises that could help them with their reading and listening comprehension, but in a way that's engaging, memorable, and most importantly - fun! When we had introduced ourselves, we explained that we were attending UNCSA for filmmaking, and they told us either their favorite TV shows or movies. This got me thinking about my desired career - one in screenwriting. A lot of them were unaware of what a script was, and perhaps this could be a great learning opportunity to show them. The following week, I printed off 2 pages of a screenplay from the 2005 film "Little Miss Sunshine", as it was a film I was currently studying and knew none of them would be familiar with.

The screenplay focuses on the scene when the family is in the diner and the little girl wants to order ice cream for breakfast. Each class has about 12 students, and the scene had 6 speaking characters, so this was perfect. I had them read the script to themselves, and then answer questions that could be found be either context clues or dialogue (e.g. Does this character like another character based on what they say to them?). I also had them list out the characters that they could identify. They did so with flying colors. Afterwards, I split them up into groups of 6, and would have each group perform the scene in front of everyone without context as to who the characters are and their relationships with one another. This was definitely a highlight this month, as each group had nothing but smiles and laughs trying to get ready for their performances. Afterwards, I showed them the actual 3 minute scene from the movie so they could put faces to the script. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the students even asked if this could be a weekly thing I do with them, but with more popular properties.

I would consider this first month a huge success. We're already developing connections with the students, and they're finding film to be a great medium to get a larger grasp on the English language. This should be an exciting and engaging year at Reynolds High School!

September 28, 2017