Walking into the Salt Lake Community Library was a surreal experience. Not only was it my first session ever as a quoted "Tutor", but the young man I was to tutor struggled with the English Language, being a Non-Native speaker from Thailand. Stressed over the task, we sat down at a lowly, somewhat hidden table in the southeast corner of the building. I had read up to that point 5 chapters on advise given to ESL tutors from the text ESL Writers, and regardless of all my adequate preparations, still felt inadequate to the task.
Upon sitting down, I asked him, "So...what homework do you have that I can help you with?" Fall break was about to begin for him the following week, so his teachers didn't provide him much work to do over the weekend. He responded, "None!" almost over happily. I shrunk back into my chair while a single word sprinted to my mind: "Damn!" Now I knew I had to put my unorthodox plan to use in order to eat up the hour required limit for this tutoring session. I started thinking really hard on how to begin, however, in the midst of that brief silence and stinging pause he did say in a broken mix of English and Thai, "Well...though I don't have any homework, I am working on a reading response." My eyes lit up as two new words shined in my mind: "Thank God!" From his backpack he pulled out several worksheets, followed by the book he was reading, an biography about TuPac Shakur. My eyes beamed to sunlight status. I asked, "Your reading response is on TuPac Shakur!?!" Responding rather tentatively to my reaction, he said, "Yes...is that bad?" With the biggest smile on my face, I over anxiously said, "No! No! Of course not! He's just my favorite rap artist." The next thing I knew, a lesson plan popped in my mind.
For the next hour and 15 minutes (longer then what is recommended): we read his notes, read some of the chapters of the book together, read some of the lyrics from his popular song "Changes" after watching the music video for it, then concluded by talking about how TuPac's influence on racial indifference differed in some ways from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By the end, we were having so much fun getting to know TuPac (and one another in the process) that we didn't know what time it was.
I sat back in my chair again, this time calmer than ever and asked, "So...what did you learn today?" he looked up and me and sat, "How to dream."
Bridging the language gap can be hard, especially as you try to use methodologies that are unconventional for yourself to teach: using pictures, videos, or having them write lyrics/sentences out can help. I believe above such methodologies though (all of which were used in my session), I think the best and most effective way to teach an ESL student is showing energy and excitement to be there with him. Once I "shined" things changed. In the words of TuPac, "We gotta start seeing changes."