These two teacher resources by Elizabeth Claire, previously published by Prentice Hall, have been used in ESL teacher training courses for two decades. Now called “a book ahead of its time,” ESL Teacher’s Activities Kit is based onthe natural way students acquire language.
Back in 1986, Evelyn Fazio of Prentice Hall Professional Books was an editor with an idea, and a title for a resource book, but no author and no content. She searched educational magazines for a likely author and noticed an article on training ESL Buddies by Elizabeth Claire in Instructor Magazine. She contacted Claire with a proposition: “If you were to write a book called ‘ESL Teacher’s Activities Kit,’ what would you put into it?”
Claire, at that time a veteran of 20 years of teaching English as a Second Languagesaid, “I’d put in everything I had to learn the hard way, by trial and error, so other new ESL teachers wouldn’t have to go through that.
“Sounds good,” said Fazio. “Let’s see a table of contents and a sample chapter.
Claire sent those in and was hired. She explained to Fazio, “Twenty years ago, I had been a Spanish teacher at Manhattan Junior High School 43 on the west side of Harlem. At the beginning of my second year there, my principal brought me to what was then called the “Non-English class.” He said, ‘You speak Spanish. Teach these kids English.’”
“There was no curriculum,” said Claire, “and there were no textbooks. Students ranged in English ability from zero to high beginner. Some had finished seventh grade in their home countries; some had never been to school all. This energetic group of thirty five students were to spend their day with me for English, reading, social studies, and science. My one semester’s experience as a Spanish teacher did not prepare me to teach English, nor to meet the wide-ranging needs of such a diverse group.”
Claire said she soon fell in love with her students’ eagerness to learn. She had to abandon the language teaching methods she had been trained in at the City College of New York. The students’ needs kept her up nights planning lessons. By trial and error, she devised ways to engage her group of diverse students with content they all needed. “It had to be the stuff of life,” said Claire, “and not the step-by-step approach of grammar-based textbooks.”
For example, she devised a social studies curriculum going from the concrete to the abstract. Students learned to read a map by first mapping their classroom and learning classroom vocabulary. Then they went through the school to learn the names and locations of the library, gym, and various offices and filled in maps of the school. Then they toured the neighborhood and read street maps while they learned about street safety, neighborhood stores, and services...Claire followed that with trips to a supermarket, then beyond the neighborhood to learn about public transportation, and the city’s facilities, such as Central Park and the zoo and the Empire State Building. Claire previewed each of the real life experiences in Spanish, then in English, built vocabulary and practiced the future tense. After the trip, students dictated sentences for Claire to write on the board. These became the reading lessons, and the writing lessons...in the past tense. A similar practical approach was used for the hands-on science lessons. In English class, lots of music, songs, and games enhanced other vocabulary builders, and made the learning of grammar more fun.
After winning a fellowship to get her masters degree at New York University, in what was then a brand new discipline: TESOL, (teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Claire was better equipped in theory, and able to teach English without depending on Spanish translations. Still, there were no textbooks available that matched the age and ability levels of her next classes: high school Haitian and Hispanic students at Haaren High School, and two years later, adult Greek, Persian, and Italian students in Englewood, NJ, followed by Japanese and Korean elementary ESL students in Fort Lee, New Jersey...so it was create create create, try this, try that, sometimes flop, and sometimes succeed. The improved versions of the best of over 20 years of activities were structured, organized and put into the ESL Teacher’s Activities Kit. Each of the 160 activities provides the age and language level it is suited for, and the objectives, procedures, and materials needed. Sample presentations are given with many of the activities so a brand new teacher can feel a master at their side.
The book was an instant success, and Evelyn Fazio asked for a follow up: The ESL Teacher’s Holiday Activities Kit. This reproducible book provides readings and activities for 40 U.S. holidays to help newcomers understand and celebrate. Since 1988, tens of millions of ESL students have learned English through Claire's activities and games.