Let’s Bridge STEAM and ESL!

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I teach a special class for intermediate students. Now, these classes I teach are a little special. We don’t read regular ESL textbooks, we read a newspaper geared for students. This paper comes out monthly and it features a variety of articles. They cover foreign and domestic current events, fun activities, and a center topic (such as the Olympics, or dog shows, or pop stars).

In an earlier edition, we read an article about the Eiffel Tower, and how the city of Paris planed to renovate it. That gave me the idea to have the students build a tower of their own! So I had my class, and another similar class taught by another teacher at my academy, do the same activity.

I had both classes do this simultaneously in two separate rooms. I split the classes up into teams. There were three teams in each class. I had another teacher monitor and help the second class since I couldn’t be in two classrooms at once.  Before the activity, I prepared a worksheet with a couple of pre-activity questions for the students to fill out. Each team was tasked to build a tower using just marshmallows and chopsticks after a brief explanation. The chopsticks acted as their rods and the marshmallows acted as their joints to hold the structure together.

I showed a couple of examples from the Internet to help the students brainstorm.

Here are photos.

How does this bridge STEAM and ESL?

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. The focus of this activity was to help students think in new ways, as well as use their English communication skills. They had to explain how to join the marshmallows and chopsticks and discuss what shapes were strongest for the base.

I helped out, too, giving pointers and showing a few tricks. Without realizing it, these students are

  • building problem solving skills (math skills),
  • understanding how rods and joints work (science and technology),
  • developing creativity skills (arts).

Also they practiced communicating in English. I gave each team two bags of marshmallows and ten pairs of chopsticks. They had to discuss with their team how to build the shapes and conserve resources. The following week, the students had to fill out the post-activity portion of the worksheet I prepared. It was an evaluation and gave them the chance to reflect on what they learnt and how they could improve their design.

Everybody had a lot of fun and they learnt new skills. They were able to make connections between classroom theory and real-life applications. Sometimes students don’t see how they can connect the language they use in the classroom with the real world. This activity, and others like it give them the opportunity to apply their skills outside the classroom. They can explain how something works, or how another thing is built when travelling with family or friends. They can give opinions and share ideas, developing their own voice and identity.

This is an activity I’d recommend to anyone who’s looking for something fun to do as well as develop other skills. Multidisciplinary experiential education is an excellent way to practice “whole brain” education.

About

I am an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience. I teach kindergarten and elementary students in South Korea. I have taught middle school and adult ELLs in the past, too. My goal as a teacher is to help my students develop and achieve fluency in English, but also in other areas of their lives. I try to educate the whole child.