What I've Learned: Teaching with NUCALLS

I have taught Hebrew to beginning students with NUCALLS for two semesters now. NUCALLS, for readers who don’t know, is a student-to-student language and cultural exchange at Northeastern University. Students involved teach and attend classes on a volunteer basis. The club allows the community to leverage the incredible mix of cultures, stories, and languages our international campus already has. From my teaching experience over the past six months, there have been some things that came easy and some things that I only got right the second time around. I have drawn the following suggestions for future NUCALLS language instructors.

1. Listen to your students

Since everything through NUCALLS in on a voluntary basis, building the positive classroom environment should be a shared effort between instructor and students. On the first day of class, spend time asking student what they are looking for. What brought them to your class? Students come to NUCALLS for many reasons; some are reviewing a language they once learned, others need some language skills in order to be successful on international co-ops, some are going on a dialogue, and some are studying to be able to communicate with family. The myriad of reasons they come to NUCALLS will shape the content they are looking for. For example, many of my Hebrew students were looking for conversational and travel phrases for when they visited Israel. This is a trend with the languages that also have an entirely new alphabet such as Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, etc.

Start of the semester right by making a list with them about the topics they want to cover. This will also make them feel more invested in the course and encourage attendance down the line.

2. Prepare for classes

I’ve found the hardest part of teaching has been preparing. Building a curriculum from scratch forced me to think critically about what to introduce and when. After the brainstorming, putting together a lesson plan with activities that are fun and educational was challenging in the best way. I greatly enjoyed being able to dictate my course for the class. Luckily for future teachers, there is a growing library of NUCALLS instructor-created resources for future instructors to build on!

I will say this. Students can tell if you’re not prepared for class. Always have a backup plan. Maybe it is practicing vocabulary words and pronunciation, or maybe it’s watching a clip from the news in that language. Coming unprepared to class discredits your efforts and brings student motivation down.

The title slides to all my classes

3. Be creative and memorable

If your classes are boring, don’t expect people to come. I learned to put myself in my student’s shoes and think about what I would like to see in a Hebrew class. I found that besides making the class content interesting, an easy way to ensure a memorable class was to include a 5 minute segment of cultural enrichment. This usually tied into the content of the class but was something they couldn’t learn in a textbook. Usually videos or songs, these cultural sessions gave my students context for what they were learning and a small window into Israeli culture. I highly recommend dedicating the last 5 minutes to a fun video, song, or activity, leaving students with a positive impression at the end of class.

Other ideas that can easily be integrated into the class content to increase interest are providing examples in the form of personal anecdotes, photos, jokes, or thinking of content that would most immediately impact the students. An example of this could be the speed dating exercise I did with my Hebrew students, giving them the langauge resources to “speed date” in Hebrew using Tinder profiles as an example. This activity was quirky, funny, memorable, and it definitely broke the ice.

Other ideas that are creative when Powerpoints lose their punch:

  • Showing clips of children’s shows in beginner level classes

  • Field trip to order at a restaurant for advanced classes

  • Writing dialogues and presenting them

  • Using Quizlet live to review vocab in a fun way

4. Give them all the resources

Starting with emails, the materials sent out to students should be a supplement to their in-class learning. Send them slides, videos, songs, vocabulary lists, or worksheets. Try writing the email in the language for advancing students. I’ve found that some of my dedicated students use what I send them after class to practice.

Other instructors have introduced an awesome method of sending out a playlist with songs in the language and an accompanying list of poetry for students who are interested in expanding their learning. Not all the teaching has to come directly from the instructor. Empowering the students by giving them a list of resources is just as valuable as class time.

5. Create a personal connection

Finally, I’ve found that the most meaningful part of all of this is not the language persay, but rather the personal connections between students. You are their greatest resource. Be their friend and work to make your shared classroom comfortable, open, and accepting. Being personal, genuine and friendly is the top reason people with join you in class week after week.

For me, the most important aspect was being able not only to teach some conversational Hebrew, but also sharing my experience and culture with people who came to hear what I had to share.

Across the board, teaching with NUCALLS has been very fulfilling and an incredible opportunity for me to build skills such as public speaking, interpersonal communication, leadership, and obviously teaching. I would recommend it to anyone who is willing to volunteer their knowledge in any language!

Noa Shneorson

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