Talking Politics in ESL

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My lesson on U.S. political parties is simple and brief — much like my drawings of the donkey and elephant!

In my latest YT video I attempted to talk about politics without really talking politics. Hopefully, I succeeded. I gave a brief overview of the two major political parties. ELLs who have watched the lesson report that they picked up some vocabulary and gained a better understanding of U.S. political parties. But in addition to acquiring new information, they also developed curiosity. Some are asking about my political affiliation. I’ve chosen to remain neutral in public. Is that necessary?

I believe it’s fine to voice political opinions, but because the goal of my lesson was to facilitate comprehension and discussion for a mass audience, I felt my personal beliefs were mostly irrelevant. I also wanted to emphasize the need for sensitivity. Some U.S. voters will openly declare their political affiliation, but if they don’t, I think ELLs should be warned that asking a direct question could be considered prying. One’s political affiliation is a bit like age, religion, and even marital status. In the U.S., not everyone wishes to be open with this information.

So how does a discussion on politics take place in an ESL classroom? There are times when viewpoints should be encouraged, for example, during a debate. But taking a strong position as teachers could inhibit students from speaking their mind if they realized their opinion went against ours. Even with my private students, with whom I have many discussions, I try to express myself in a way that still leaves the door wide open for any other opinion.

A discussion on politics begins with common knowledge and vocabulary. If you wish to prepare students for listening, reading, and talking about political news, fortify them with some of the basics. You can use my YT lesson on political parties or any webpage that clearly outlines the basic differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties. A note-taking task will reinforce key ideas. Here’s one possible model: u-s-political-parties_handout.

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