Cross-subject Teaching in ESL Classrooms

How do you broaden your students’ knowledge of the world around them in the ESL classroom?

In South Korea, it seems as though many of the students have no clue about what’s going on in the world around them. I can understand young learners not knowing because of their age and comprehension level, it would be developmentally inappropriate to teach them something beyond what they can understand, but I have found that many of my elementary and even some of my middle school students are ignorant of the outside world. Not reading the newspaper or watching the news on TV is one thing, but many of these kids have no concept of basic world geography or history. It’s almost like those subjects are neglected in the students’ daily education. I know that this isn’t true for all students in South Korea, but it does seem like a big problem within their education system as a whole. Is this type of problem true for where you teach, if you’re an ESL teacher?

Geography- a fun subject to add-in to lessons.

(The above picture is not my map)

In my classroom, I have a medium-sized poster with all of the countries and their flags tacked up, and that poster is next to  large world map. My map has all of the countries’ names in both English and Korean language. If I’m teaching a lesson from a reading book, which talks about something from another country, I have my students find the place on my map. By incorporating teaching aids like maps, pictures, and videos, I try to expand upon the lesson being taught to give the students a greater context to relate the lesson to. I adjust the extra activities to suit the comprehension level of each class, but I still wish for my students to gain a greater understanding of the world around them. To learn a language is one thing, but to use it in the world outside of you is another. I think that by helping students develop the skills to think on a global level, they can better apply what they’ve learned in class to the real world.

If you’re a teacher, what do you do to broaden your students’ knowledge?


Filed under Education, ESL

6 responses to “Cross-subject Teaching in ESL Classrooms

  1. My first two stints teaching ESL were in Korea. Then, I had some students in Thailand and now some in Mexico. As much as I was often as aware as you about the kids’ lack of geographical awareness in Korea (e.g., “Is Paris a city or a country?”) I have now seen other equally surprising things in Mexico. So it’s NOT just Korea. And mind you, I have *adults* or at least university-age students in Mexico who sometimes don’t know things that I thought they would (e.g,, what countries are Eva Peron and Augusto Pinochet from/representative of?) I do a bit of current events/news talk in classes to broaden awareness while keeping it light, such as about the Olympics, etc.


    • I figured that it wasn’t just Korea. It’s good to do things with news and current events to help broaden a student’s perspective. For the Nok-ji-won class that I shared with Heather, she and I focused on current events and news as well (which worked great until the students we had, Becky and Charles, quit). For young learners, trying a basic geography game might help. I have a large world map posted up in my classroom the all the country and major city names in both Korean and English, along with another poster with all the country names and flags. That seems to help a little bit, but it’s still not enough.


  2. I worked in two cities in South Korea (one urban, one rural). Korean students are POLITE. That means they don’t want to stand out as knowing more than others around them.


    • Right, I’ve been teaching in Korea for four years so far and figured that out after my first year. I try to encourage those students who are a little more developed in their language capabilities to help out the other students.


  3. Remember, this country’s students are #2 in the world, second to Finland (I believe). I admire their discipline and work ethic.


    • I’m not sure if I buy that statistic when it comes to English-speakers or other things outside of math or science. European students tend to be better educated overall when it comes to global issues, world history, language and the like. Koreans focus a lot on math and science but spend less time on world history, art and music and other subjects. I’m no expert myself, but from what I’ve seen and heard from my students.. the schools seem to do a poor job of teaching anything that’s not related to South Korea. As for English, Korea spends a lot of money on ESL education but there are so few English speakers here (nationally) compared to other Asian countries like China, Taiwan, or Singapore.


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