For many Welcome Group newcomers, one of their main priorities is to practice English. To give our volunteers some guidance, we interviewed Rachel, a Welcome Group volunteer who has been professionally tutoring students aged 5-65 since 2017.
Tutoring English as a Welcome Group Volunteer
After leaving Moncton, New Brunswick, to study biomedical engineering in Ottawa, Rachel joined Cause Tutoring, a group that paired her with mentees looking for English practice.
Today, she brings her valuable tutoring experience to Together Project in Toronto.
“For the past few years, I’ve been looking for ways to help newcomers in Canada and tutoring is a big part of that,” she said. “I love to meet new people and make friends, so I joined Together Project to continue to help others become adjusted to Canadian life.”
Rachel was in a Welcome Group with a newcomer mother who was waiting to begin free English classes through LINC. In the interim, Rachel had connected with her through weekly 30-45 minute video calls.
“We get along very well— it helps to be friends,” Rachel said. “If her daughter is nearby, I try to include her, too. The other day, we played Simon Says. It’s a great way for both of them to learn body parts!”
Prioritizing Learning Goals
When Rachel begins her tutoring sessions, she always makes it a point to ask about their priorities.
“Ask them what they want to learn,” she said. “I’ve had students who are only interested in conversation, and others who are interested in listening practice, and others who want to learn about phrasal verbs. Teaching English is different for everyone.”
After the newcomer’s goals are established, Rachel likes to find games to help them learn while having fun.
“I play 2 Truths and A Lie— it’s a fun way to get to know each other more and to practice English. And at the end of the lesson, I like to play another game, like making up a story, when one person says a sentence and you go back and forth until we have made a whole story. I find I learn really well with games, so I hope other people do, too.”
For students interested in practicing present or past tense verbs, Rachel likes to share videos.
“I’ll show a Disney short where there’s not a lot of talking, but I’ll get them to describe what they saw. They can practice verb tenses depending on what happened.”
Rachel puts a lot of emphasis on developing conversational skills.
“Small talk is important to be able to master,” Rachel said. “Sometimes it comes easily for people, but if they’re shy, I have a list of common topics to help us along. I put a high emphasis on general conversation: what you did this week, who you saw, if you did something fun on the weekend.”
This came in handy when the newcomer was at a playground and another mother asked if their children could play.
“When she felt like she didn’t have the right words to answer the other woman’s questions, this became a real-life scenario for us to role-play together so that she’d be ready for next time,” Rachel said.
As someone who studied as a biomedical engineer, Rachel insists that someone from any academic background can teach English.
“You just need the interest to care about the other person’s goals, and the patience to follow through— just dedicating a small amount of time is important,” she said. “It’s important to set goals and celebrate other people’s successes.”
“Remember that most often, the other person just wants to practice with someone who’s fluent in English. You don’t need to prepare something complex, or do hard research to know what to teach. Just be open, caring, and patient– be the other end of the conversation.”
To help our Welcome Groups practice English, Rachel has created a handy guide for us. Check it out below!
You can make a list of conversation topics to have handy for your sessions – some of them act as quick ice breakers to be used at the beginning of a lesson, and some are more in-depth and can be discussed for an entire session. Many of these can be oral, or you can ask the student to answer the question in writing to practice their written English. You can also find subjects to debate: the learner can prepare their argument with notes, present them to you, and you can offer a counter-argument that they can respond to in turn.
There are a lot of different language learning games that you can find online, and you can tailor most of them to the level of English you’re practicing in your match.
Speaking and Writing Exercises
Show a Disney animated short with minimal speaking. Get the students to take notes as they watch. Then, get them to say/write in either past or present tense what happened in the video.
With these conversation topics, games, vocabulary-building exercises, and videos, students can get practical, enjoyable, and interactive ways to improve their English language skills. For more language-building resources, please see our Together Project Language Support Guide.