Classroom Activity: Hiring the New ESL Instructor

Adult ESL students often have strong opinions about their current and former ESL teachers.  Why not channel that into a challenging speaking, listening, reading, and writing activity? Here’s what we did in my advanced speaking and listening class earlier this month:

I began by asking the students to consider what qualities make for a great ESL teacher. What did they like best about some of their former teachers? What did they like least? Which activities made the greatest impression on them? I jotted down their comments on the board so that they could refer back to them later in the activity.

I then gave each student short bios for four imaginary ESL instructors applying for a position at the English Language Institute of a hypothetical community college. The bios were adapted from a set created by Karen Abell and posted on Dave’s ESL Cafe’s Idea Cookbook website:

Lisa just completed her PhD in linguistics.  She eventually wants to be a linguistics professor, but, for now, she wants to stay in the New York area while her boyfriend finishes his dissertation in biochemistry.  She thinks she would be a good ESL teacher because her boyfriend is from China and she’s taught him a good deal of English in the 3 years they have been together.  She has spent 2 years teaching English composition to college freshman and sophomores.

Natalya worked as an industrial engineer in Russia before emigrating to the United States 15 years ago.  She has just finished a distance-learning 120-hour intensive ESL teaching certificate course that included 30 hours of teaching experience under the supervision of an experienced ESL teacher.  She started studying English on her own in Russia when she was 13 years old.  She has achieved “near-native” fluency and has only a very slight Russian accent.

After finishing college with a degree in journalism, Tom spent the summer teaching English to Mexican farm workers in California.  He wants to continue teaching ESL because (a) he loves it and (b) it would help him improve his Spanish-speaking skills because many of the adult ESL students at the community college are from Latin America.  He emphasized on his résumé that he has a lot of interesting and practical lesson ideas.  He wants to teach ESL during the day and plans to go to school at night to work on his MBA.

Jay has both a BA and an MFA in drama & theater.  He has trained other actors to speak in a variety of accents and thinks that this would help him become a good ESL teacher.  He also has 3 years of experience as a corporate trainer at Hitachi helping Japanese executives hone their English public speaking skills.  He has mentioned that he wants to use a lot of role-plays in class.

Group Work

I then put the students in groups of four and told them to imagine that they had been invited to form a committee to hire a new ESL teacher for the following semester.  They had to read the bios, and then choose only two of the four candidates for an in-person interview.  In other words, they had to argue among themselves and reach a consensus about which two candidates to eliminate and which two to move into the final round of the hiring process.  It was fascinating to see how the different groups of students selected different pairs of candidates to interview.

Preparing Interviews
Once each group had narrowed down the field to two candidates, I asked the groups to prepare at least five questions that they would ask at an interview of their two finalists. I reminded them that they needed to prepare questions that would elicit the candidates’ views on the issues the students themselves had identified at the outset as key to being a good teacher and that were tailored to the specific candidates.  We also discussed the concept of “hypothetical questions” and brainstormed a few of them together.

Role Playing
Once the groups had prepared their questions, I asked them to write them on the board for all the groups to consider.  In our class, I always ask students to go to the board in pairs—one to speak, and one to act as a recording secretary to write down what the speaker has said.  We took a quick look at the grammar and spelling of the questions.  I then divided the students into pairs facing each other across the classroom tables, so that Student A became the interviewer and Student B became the ESL instructor candidate being interviewed.  After a few minutes, I had them reverse roles.  Then we did it all over again with a different candidate, until we had rotated our way through all the different finalists chosen by the different groups.

Class Presentations

To cap off the activity, I invited volunteers to role play the interviews in front of the whole class.  The students came up with great questions.  They asked Jay, who was keen to introduce role plays into the classroom, how he would deal with shy students who refused to participate in his role plays.  They also questioned his commitment to teaching, asking him what he would do if a big-name producer called to offer him a major part in a Broadway play.  They asked Lisa what made her think she could make the leap from teaching her boyfriend English to teaching a classroom full of international students.  They were skeptical when she bragged about how many research papers she thought she could derive from her community college teaching experience and wanted to know what she would bring to the job, not what she would get out of it.


As a wrap up, we discussed the implications of the activity for the students’ own lives and talked about what they learned about the interview process from being on both sides of the table.  In all, this activity kept students deeply engaged for well over 90 minutes.

How might you add to or change this activity to suit your own student population, or to improve upon it?

About Alexandra Lowe

Alexandra Lowe
Alexandra is an ESL instructor at SUNY Westchester Community College, where she has taught Speaking & Listening in the Intensive English Program, English for Academic Purposes, Business English, Accent on Fluency and a wide range of ESL levels. She has also served as a consultant to the Community College Consortium on Immigrant Education, which is based at Westchester Community College. Her primary interests are bringing authentic materials into the ESL classroom, connecting ESL students to the supportive resources available at many community colleges, and promoting self-directed learning strategies that ESL students can use outside of the classroom to accelerate their learning and enhance their speaking skills.
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