4 Endlessly Interesting ESL Topics to Liven Up Your Classroom

Harvard professor Howard Gardner came up with the theory of multiple intelligences.

This theory states that individuals learn differently, and what works for one student might not be as effective for another.

Unfortunately, many of the ESL curricula out there are designed for the student who excels in a traditional, teacher-centered classroom. As an effective teacher, it’s your job to reach the other students who learn differently.

Are you looking to make your English classes more effective and enjoyable? Looking to reach students who seem to fall behind in your typical class sessions?

If so, now is the perfect time to consider changing the way you approach teaching English to your students. It’s time to consider blending English lessons with other topics that come more naturally to them.

Sure, for some people learning a new language comes naturally. They can intuitively pick up on grammar patterns and subtle nuances without devoting a lot of time to studying the mechanics of the language. After they leave your classroom, though, they might have more trouble learning about art, math, science, business or history.

For other students, language learning may be difficult, taking time, effort and a lot of patience and practice. Those students might leave your classroom and easily excel in other subjects and areas of life.

Sure, these students will have to work hard to apply their outside skills and knowledge in the ESL classroom, but by adding some interesting topics to your lessons, you have the ability make room for other skills and talents—which in turn will make learning English easier for them.

How to Teach ESL Organically with Interesting Topics

Dictionaries and textbooks can be helpful tools to assist ESL students in the learning process, but they shouldn’t be your only tools for teaching English.

When people learn their native languages, they don’t spend hours memorizing grammar rules and verb conjugations—at least not at first. They start learning it organically; they play with the language and babble about their budding interests. They take every opportunity to explore the meaning of various words. They make silly combinations, and they don’t care about any mistakes they make in the process.

If any of your students are becoming bored or frustrated when trying to learn English, you probably need to change your teaching approach and veer more towards organic teaching and learning.

And even if everyone is happy and thriving in class, introducing more interesting ESL topics always gives students another boost forward in their new language—and it always makes them more eager to walk through your classroom door.

To make this happen, you’ll want to create an immersive learning environment.

This can be achieved by putting other topics at the forefront of lessons and having students absorb English along the way—a big change from drilling grammar patterns and working on rote memorization of vocabulary lists.

The first step is to think about the things that genuinely interest you and your students, and then find a way to incorporate them into your lessons. Customized material makes a big difference. Do they love talking about technology? Business news? World politics? Their cell phones and social media? Take that topic and run with it.

If you have a student who seems bored and disengaged, chances are you haven’t found his or her interest yet. Find a way to include that student’s hobbies and interests into a lesson. Once you do that, you’ll see him or her become much more active in the learning process.

Before you know it, you’ll have students learning and talking about art, math, science and other interesting topics in English, without them ever realizing that you’re trying to teach English.

4 Endlessly Interesting ESL Topics to Liven Up Your Classroom

To get you started, here are four interesting ESL topics that have a lot of appeal for a lot of students.

1. Music

There’s a wealth of information out there that shows how music can be used as an essential learning tool in the ESL classroom.

English music is an excellent way to improve listening skills, but when you dig deeper into the material, you’ll find that music can help your students get much more out of their lessons than just improved listening skills.

Here are some ways that songs can help you become a better ESL teacher:

  • You can teach students how to use various idioms in context. How did that singer use that idiom? What were they trying to convey?
  • Music helps students improve their vocabulary without unnecessary drilling and memorization techniques.
  • You can use modern hits to teach them how to naturally use slang and buzzwords without sounding dated or contrived.

Remember, you don’t have to use recorded songs when you incorporate music into your ESL lessons. Find out if any of your students are musicians. If so, have them explore their musical talents and hobbies through English resources. Wikipedia has a wealth of information covering everything from the history of music to the various types of musical instruments.

Have your students journal or write English blogs about music. Let them learn about different genres of music, or have them participate in conversations about how certain songs influence and move them. They can even write or talk about things like what it’s like to play the guitar or which instrument they want to learn how to play.

For an extra fun session, have students write their own songs and bring them to life with their own music!

2. History

Are you a history buff? If you are, incorporate some that into your English lessons. There are guaranteed to be a few history fans in your class who will appreciate the gesture.

There’s a wealth of English resources available for free on the internet that can help you teach English and history at the same time.

Epic History TV is an excellent site for learning about the history of Western civilization over the past 200 years. The videos come with English subtitles and a downloadable script, so your class can follow along as they learn about Russia’s revolution, Napoleon’s conquest, World War I and many other exciting topics.

Another interesting topic is the history of language and culture. The English language has been influenced by a number of cultures, and you can spend hours teaching about how various languages contributed to the development of English over the years, or how English evolved over time. Alternatively, consider teaching some of your students’ own history and culture using English resources.

Whatever your historical interests are, you shouldn’t have any problems finding resources in English on the internet. Sites like YouTube and Quora are full of history-related material that is interesting and informative.

3. Everything Math-related

When you think of ESL subjects, math rarely comes to mind. However, many ESL teachers are starting to see the importance of including math in the ESL classroom. Students who plan on living and working in an English-speaking country will need to know words like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division at some point in their lives.

Chances are, you have students in your class who enjoy learning about math or math-related subjects like finance and computer science. Capture their attention by incorporating these subjects into your English lessons.

You can find many free math courses online for material that you can use to teach math and English at the same time.

4. Cooking

If your students like to cook meals and bake delicious treats, why not let them learn English while they do so? After all, who doesn’t love food?

Part of learning a new language is exploring a new culture, and a big part of culture is food. Let them learn how to make American BBQ or have them read about some of the most popular curry recipes in the United Kingdom. Students who learn English through cooking get rewarded with delicious food at the end of every lesson.

Here are some popular YouTube channels dedicated to cooking:

  • Maangchi — Maangchi hosts an excellent channel that teaches you how to make some of Korea’s most popular dishes.
  • Wantanmien — If you’re interested in learning how to make Cantonese cuisine, Wantanmien’s channel is perfect for you. While every video is recorded in Cantonese, you can follow along through the English subtitles provided in every video.
  • LauraVitalesKitchen — It’s no secret that most people love eating Italian food. Laura Vitale teaches you how to make some of the most iconic Italian dishes and desserts that are present in Italian and Italian-American cuisines.
  • Epic Meal Time  Epic Meal Time isn’t so much a cooking channel as it is a demonstration of how to go overboard with food. Their meals aren’t practical, and they typically range anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 calories a dish. However, the creators are hilarious and extravagant, which has led to Epic Meal Time being one of the most popular channels on YouTube. Note: Not recommended for children.

Everything Can Be Turned into an English Lesson

The philosophy behind content-based instruction is that anything can be turned into an ESL learning experience.

Instead of reading from an ESL teacher’s guide, have your students learn English while engaging in other activities. The benefit of this learning style is that it reaches all types of learners, not just those who enjoy studying through textbooks and computer programs—and not just those who naturally excel with languages.

The downside of content-based instruction is that it can be difficult to implement at first, especially if you have students whose English levels aren’t high enough to follow along. Because of this, it usually works best with intermediate and advanced learners, but anyone is welcome to try. You can even use some content-based teaching in small doses here and there.

Here are some tips to improve your content-based English lessons:

  • Know their limits — Don’t go overboard. Know that students aren’t expected to understand everything 100%.
  • Highlight specific words and phrases — Don’t let students sit with a dictionary and try to translate every individual word. Choose a few words or phrases that are important to the content and have them learn that.
  • Understand the gist first — When students read, watch or listen to something for the first time, make them focus on the overall meaning of the content. Don’t have them dwell on the specifics.
  • Repeat — Once students understand the gist of your material, let them review it again for specific details. Feel free to cover your topic as many times as you want. Every study session can be a new chance to learn a new phrase or grammatical structure.

Remember, learning English doesn’t have to be boring. You have a wealth of free English material that’s available on the internet. All you need to do is find topics that are interesting and adapt them to fit your students’ unique needs. That way, your lessons will always be enjoyable and effective.

Always try and make your lessons diverse. If you have a classroom full of students, make an effort to teach to everyone’s learning style at some point during the week.

By including everyone’s interests in your lessons, you’ll be able to create a learning environment that promotes excellence and success for everyone.

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