Living in Iowa, it is impossible to escape the hype and media coverage of the Iowa Caucuses. Even though I try to leave political discussions out of the classroom, the caucuses are an important process. This process is new and complicated to our ESL students. As I work with students, both K-12 and adults, one common request I hear is to learn information and skills that will help them feel connected to the community.
One important piece of information I have learned while developing my skills is to teach in authentic situations and not in isolation such as teaching vocabulary within the unit and activities instead of making vocabulary a separate, isolated addition. To help my students feel connected to the Iowa Caucuses and with the local news and buzz surrounding the community, we had our own mock caucus. For this caucus, we decided to see which local pizza restaurant has the best taco pizza.
The students had samples to taste from several pizza places. After this, we began our caucus. From participating in the First Annual Iowa Pizza Caucus, students learned all of the steps to a caucus from the initial vote, figuring viability of candidates, and the second vote.
The important thing to remember is that even though this is an nontraditional activity in the classroom, the social and academic language learned and developed by the students was a success. They used descriptive adjectives to describe the flavors and appearances of the pizza; they formed argumentative statements when persuading those aligned with non-viable pizza candidates; they provided support for their opinions. These are all requirements of language arts standards in the Common Core Curriculum. Along with this, students were able to learn about and experience the words and processes that are involved within the Iowa Caucuses. This helps them to feel connected with the community.
I am not sure how many, if any, of my students actually did participate in the official caucuses, but I am confident in knowing that they understand this complicated and special process that is unique to the state of Iowa.
Zachary Smith earned BAs from Drake University in Public Relations and Secondary English Education with additional certification in ESL, religion and journalism. He is currently pursuing his M.Ed in TESOL from Concordia University. He is an adult ESL instructor for Kirkwood Community College. He previously taught ESL at Ottumwa High School (Ottumwa, Iowa), Ivy Collegiate Academy (Taichung, Taiwan – Republic of China), and Chengde Medical University (Chengde, P.R. China).