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Leading Thursday English Afternoons (T.E.A.)

The following material is from the training handouts given to OCTs assigned to T.E.A., developed by Norah Fahim, Helen Lie, Susan Schuyler, and Mary Stroud.

Stanford’s population of multilingual learners (MLLs) includes international and domestic students from a wide range of linguistic backgrounds. MLLs can be international visa students, refugees, and permanent residents as well as naturalized and native-born citizens of the United States and Canada. Many of these students have grown up speaking languages other than English at home, in their communities, and in schools; others began to acquire English at a very young age and have used it alongside their native languages. To many, English may be a third, fourth or fifth language. These students possess unique strengths, and the Hume Center is well positioned to support them as they gain greater facility with spoken and written English.

What is T.E.A.?

T.E.A. is a space for MLLs to be a part of a conversation group. Conversation groups give MLLs important linguistic practice in a welcoming, low-stakes setting, reinforcing the students' language use elsewhere and providing another outlet for linguistic practice. It is also unique in that students may encounter language uses and/or idioms they might not come across in their respective academic settings.

What does a T.E.A. Tutor do?

T.E.A. tutors need not feel like they must be linguistic “experts.” The T.E.A. experience should be engaging and fun. If you enjoy getting to know people and learning about their backgrounds, even sharing your own background and experiences, you will be successful as a T.E.A. tutor. More than anything, your role is to foster a welcoming environment and be the host. The idea is to get people talking with one another, about anything!

What are the Benefits of Becoming a T.E.A. Tutor?

There are many benefits of being a T.E.A. tutor. Consider these:

  • You will get to know amazing people and learn about the cultures and needs of MLLs.  
  • You will develop your skills in intercultural interaction and cross-cultural communication, which are increasingly valued in the U.S. and global economy.
  • You can put on your C.V. that you “Facilitated conversation groups for international undergraduate, graduate students and visiting scholars.”
  • You will contribute to the dynamic learning community at Stanford and the Hume Center.
  • You get to help MLL’s overcome possible language anxiety and develop fluency, which will help them succeed at Stanford and beyond.

What are the T.E.A. Tutor Responsibilities?

  • Arrive 5 minutes early to set up room.  Katie or Front Desk Staff will put out snacks, and the sign-in sheet.
  • Welcome students as they arrive. People may trickle in throughout the session.  Throughout the quarter, attendance can vary from 2-7 people.
  • Facilitate, host! (Below are some tips and suggested conversation starters)
  • Close and wrap up by 5:30 p.m.  Make sure everyone signed in. Thank everyone for coming.  

Tips for Leading a Conversation Group:

Come prepared with a topic (and maybe back-up topics!). Choosing a central topic for the discussion will help you avoid relying on asking a series of unconnected questions ("Do you have pets?" "What are your hobbies?") that lead to simple conversation-ending answers. In addition, if the topic is interesting enough, students will be more likely to speak with less inhibition.

Choose topics that students have a personal stake in. If a topic is personally meaningful, it will help draw all the students in rather than just a vocal few. It will also help students focus on what they want to say not how they are saying it.

Use conversation as a cultural opportunity. English language practice is more than opportunity to develop linguistic fluency; it is also an opportunity for students to connect with other international students going through the same cultural transition. Many students will want to talk about their American cultural experiences (particularly those things that seem strange), share information about their own cultures, and use you as a source of knowledge about American culture.

Consider the difference between proficiency and accuracy. It is more important that language learners communicate their ideas than that they speak with perfect accuracy. Encourage students to express their ideas and not get hung up by making sure every article and preposition is perfect.

Emphasize the positive.

Many MLL students can feel deep anxiety about their language abilities. They often focus too much on the concept of language errors. It is therefore particularly important to emphasize the progress they have made and their language strengths. It can also help to remind the student how amazing their academic accomplishments are. One of the great strengths of the writing center is its atmosphere of support.

Consider the importance of listening. You can encourage quieter students to participate by drawing them in with a question or encouraging eye contact and a smile, but it is not important that every student speak equally. Listening also develops language ability. In fact, all four language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) develop together. It is important that students know that the conversation group is a welcoming, low-stakes place to practice English and do not feel the pressure to participate a certain number of times per session.

Note progress. Language learning is a never-ending process. Encourage students by noting moments of progress throughout the academic year.

Have fun! T.E.A. is a great opportunity to meet interesting people and enjoy conversation. If you have fun, the students will feel more relaxed and conversation will flow more freely.

Some Possible T.E.A. Conversation Starters:

  1. Names: What does your name mean? Who named you? Is there a family story to your name?
  2. Current Events: Bring a Stanford Daily or other newspaper (alternatively, take a quick look online) and see if any topics are relevant to them.
  3. General Check In: How was your week? What’s going on?  What’s new, good?  As you go around the circle, people can ask questions.
  4. Idioms: Share American idioms and their meaning. Ask about idioms in other languages.
  5. Favorites: Share your favorite word, phrase, movie, dance move, food, etc.
  6. Games: Play a game like Catch Phrase or Piktionary. (This would require two teams, so must be done with at least 4 people).
  7. Stories: Everyone in the circle shares an awkward/funny/inspiring/triumphant moment from life. What was the situation? how did you feel, what did you do, what ended up happening?  The moral of the story is….
  8. Body Language: What are the cultural rules around certain gestures? Tutors can prepare different examples of gestures and their meaning in American life. What gestures are considered angry, offensive? What gestures convey warmth, openness? What gestures convey excitement? When is it appropriate to show this? To what extent?
  9. Listen and Respond: Listen to a podcast or short radio show together and then talk about opinions and reactions.
  10. Social Rules: How do we say no?  What are the ways people excuse themselves?
  11. Role Play: You run into a friend at Starbucks, who has just won the lottery (this can also be simplified into just a conversation about what would you do if you won the lottery?)  Players are welcome to initiate any new topics in the interaction. Tutors can model the role play first and then let participants play; or a tutor can role play with a student each time.