For adult refugees, progress in ESL classes is often excruciatingly slow because it is so difficult for them to retain information from one day to the next. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that their education has often been "interrupted" by war or other civil unrest, resulting in low education levels and study skills; they simply do not know how to study on their own and are completely dependent on teacher instruction. Another reason for their slow progress is that the war or civil unrest in their native countries has left most of them traumatized to some extent, and trauma has a negative impact on short-term memory.
What this means for ESL instruction is that the need for review is constant and ongoing and needs to be woven into every aspect of classroom planning and instruction.
Here are some simple rules to effectively teach adult refugees and immigrants:
Rule #1: Keep the information load down. As a Cambodian student once told me, "You teach just a little, but I learn a lot."
To keep the information load down:
Rule #2: When you introduce new vocabulary, use old, familiar grammatical structures.
Rule #3: When you introduce a new grammatical structure, use old, familiar vocabulary.
Rule #4: Review, review, review. Every day should contain a review of the previous day, and the previous week, and the previous month. Vocabulary and grammatical structures should be constantly recycled, and should spiral to reinforce learning and keep information fresh in your students' minds.
Rule #5: Application is important to set new information into memory, so allow students to get plenty of oral and written practice, and minimize teacher talk.