Building Alliances


After a refreshing two-week break my students returned, and were happy to be back, somewhat ready to learn. Two weeks, although not too long, is long enough that it may disengage students’ learning or at the very least cause them difficulty to retract back into the mode of learning. Activities, of which there are many, show how teachers can get their students cognitively reengaged. The activity I implemented was quite simple but effective. I gave each student a post-it-note and asked them to write one word describing their two-week holiday – it could be any word, a noun, adjective, verb etc and they were not to show it anyone else. Students then stuck the word anywhere in the room. Students then picked another student’s note and paired. Each student discussed what their word meant, elaborating on its context and meaning. There were some interesting words – fire, cat and some mundane ones, not bad (two words but I let the student off) and fun. The activity was not just to reengage students but to rebuild rapport between students. When students enter a new classroom, they immediately try to find someone who matches their ‘profile’, this could be a student with the same first language (L1), age or nationality. Over the years I have seen students hesitant to explore unalike encounters, it could be worry, presuppositions of different people or cultures that may hinder bonding, or just apprehension. Although sad to say, race can also play an issue, though this aspect is harder to spot. Sometimes views of different nationalities are fomented, and my role is to make sure that boundaries are not crossed when students race, religion, sex or appearance is negatively portrayed ( I have dealt with at least two students’ negative remarks about one ethnic group). I always endeavor to promote diversity and inclusivity through the activities I implement and learning strategies.

The ESOL classroom is usually a cultural melting pot, much like The United Nations, without the high end security, and sophistication. Culture in ESOL classrooms and relationships and its effect on learning has not been explored as deeply as other aspects within second language acquisition. What ‘lies under the surface’ of learning is very much bound by the relationships students form. After all the alliances we hold very much shape our views and attitudes. As the saying goes you can choose you friends but you can’t choose family. This choice – rather than benefit – could hinder students’ learning, especially outside the classroom where practice of English is very limited, as interaction with native speakers is constrained by the alliances students form. Within the classroom I can at least control the flow of information – how and with whom.

Haliday, gives a great quote on teachers’ attempt in getting students to work together,

“whenever a teacher attempts to organise a grouping within the class for the transactional purpose of learning, he or she Immediately Interferes with a powerful existing milieu” [HALIDAY 1994 p65].

And it is this powerful existing milieu that myself and teachers not just in ESOL but any educational classroom setting are confronted with. As educators we must stick to our morals and duties to include all and promote diversity, respect and cohesion. I will continue to do so, whether students are able to acquire its importance once they have left the classroom is much within their control and liberty.



Halliday, M. A. K. (1993). The Act of meaning. In 3. Alatis (ed. ), Language, communication and social meaning  Washington, D. C.: Georgetown University Press.


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