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How to Start an English Club

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Why start an English Club?

Use what you learn
An English Club is a place for language learners to use English in a casual setting. Practising your skills in the classroom is important, but it is not like real life. In the classroom, you often focus on one skill and one item (for example: grammar - future tense). After learning the rules your teacher gives you time to practise using the item. You have your papers in front of you and the rules are fresh in your mind. Will you remember how to use your skills next week, or next year? In an English Club, you get a chance to practise many different skills in a setting that is more like real life. Though your English teacher understands your English, your English Club friends will require you to speak more clearly and listen more carefully.

Make English-speaking friends
Starting an English Club is a great way to make new lasting friendships. It is important to have good ESL friends because your confidence will increase if you do. You will feel more comfortable using English around people you trust and have fun with. Don't limit your friends to the people in your class.

How can I start an English Club?

Post a sign-up sheet
You can start by putting up a sign up form in your school lobby or on a local library bulletin board. Write your email address at the top so that people can email you with any ideas they might have. Make sure they write down their phone numbers or email addresses so that you can contact them about the time and place of the club meetings.

Seek help
Don't try to do everything yourself. Each member should contribute to the club. You may even want to find a fluent English speaker who will volunteer to come to your meetings. New teachers or a high school student may be willing to help you for free because the experience will help them find a job. You can put an ad in a local paper or at the library or supermarket. (WANTED: Volunteer to help with English Club. Must be fluent in English. No teaching experience or preparation necessary. Call Eva at 333-3333 for more information.)

Hold an introductory meeting
After you have enough people sign up (6-10 people is a good number) you will need to hold an introductory meeting. At the first meeting, members can learn each other's names and you can talk about what kind of club people are interested in. One way to organize the club is by putting one member in charge of being the leader each week. You can organize the weeks in terms of themes (music/food/travel...), or skills (reading/writing/listening...).

Create rules and routines
At your meeting you can discuss what types of rules and routines the club should have. For example, English Clubs usually have an "English only" rule. Will people be allowed to drink and eat during the meeting? What about bringing a friend? It is a good idea to conduct each club meeting in a similar way. When people know what to expect, they are more likely to attend.

Who will join my English Club?
You can invite anyone to join your English Club, including friends, family members, fellow students, co-workers, and people from other schools. English Clubs tend to be more fun when they are multigenerational and multicultural. If your best friend is joining, why not ask her grandmother to join too? English Club members also work well when members have varying English language abilities. One member may be able to teach you something new, and another may benefit from a skill that you can share. Teaching someone else a grammar point or explaining how to use a new word is one of the best ways to review your skills.

Where should we hold our English Club?

At an English School
The easiest place to hold an English Club is in a spare classroom at an English school. After classroom hours, most schools remain open for an hour or two so that teachers can prepare for their classes. This is also a convenient location because some or all of the members will already be in the school and will have no excuses for missing a club meeting. You will also have access to materials and television equipment.

In members' homes
You may want to take your club out of the classroom in order to make it feel less academic and more social. If you decide to operate your club from a personal home, try to find more than one person who is willing to host the meetings. You will need to choose homes that are in a central location. Within the home, choose a room with a lot of space and few distractions. Don't forget to turn off the telephone. You may want to serve coffee or tea.

At a cafe or restaurant
This type of setting will likely involve a fee. The manager may allow you to reserve a small room in the back if you choose a time of day when there are few customers. You will likely be expected to purchase beverages and tip a server (depending on what country you are in). Operating your club out of a cafe may make it difficult to incorporate movies, music, and other listening practice. A cafe is a good option for a small conversation club (less than 6 people).

Outdoors
One of the best places to hold an English Club is outside. This may only be possible during certain warm months depending on what country you are in. Choose a location where shelter can be found in case of rain. Though the beach might sound like a great place to practise your English, remember that you will probably be using papers and books which will be difficult in the breeze. A park with picnic tables and shady trees might be better.

Consider atmosphere
Wherever you hold your club, remember that it is a club, not a class. To change the atmosphere in a classroom you might want to open windows or have background music or candles (if the school permits). A pot of coffee or a bowl of popcorn can also make the meeting feel more like a club than a class. Why not encourage members to take off their shoes when they walk in the door, or sit on the floor instead of chairs. Remember, the purpose of the club is to use English in a life-like situation. Do what feels natural and comfortable.

When and how often should we meet for our English Club?

About once a week
Some clubs fail because they expect too much of the members. It is hard to find time to commit to something outside of school, work, and family. Meeting once a week for about two hours is a good start. Some English Clubs also meet for an additional excursion once a month. As you make friends you will probably begin to get together in pairs or smaller groups outside of the club meetings.

The best time of day
Choose a meeting time that is convenient for the group. Usually late afternoons, evenings, or weekend days are chosen so that the meetings don't conflict with work or school. The time that you choose will also depend on when the room/space is available. During your introductory meeting find out when the most convenient time is for the majority of the members. If you make your meetings too early or too late you may find that people come to the first few meetings and then drop out.

Stop and begin again
Start a new club session approximately every three months. This will keep the club alive! Another good time to take a break is during holiday times, such as New Year's or Spring Break. Some members will return and others will move on to other things. Invite new people to join to fill the empty spots. Change activities/themes that didn't work the first time. Keep adding new ideas, but try to maintain a club identity.

What can we do in our English Club?

Establish a warm-up routine
You will notice that teachers often start class with a game or conversation exercise. They do this to wake you up! They also want to help you focus on a classroom activity that will follow. In a club that tends to have more of an academic focus the warm up could be three new vocabulary words. The leader could teach a noun, a verb, and an adjective each session. The group practises making sentences with the new words. In a club that is more social in nature, find an activity that makes people laugh. This will bring positive energy into the room. Here are ten fun warm-up activities that are guaranteed to turn your brains to English quickly!

Themes or Skills
You can organize your club in many ways. Some clubs will be full of members that only want to practise one skill, such as conversation. Conversation club meetings are often very casual and require little planning. Everyone can write down a topic that they want to debate, or you can talk about popular culture and current events. Someone can bring in a newspaper article and everyone can read it together and discuss it. Reading clubs are another type of English Club. Each person reads the same book (outside of group time) and the club discusses aspects such as what they liked about it, who their favourite characters were, etc.

The majority of English Clubs, however, are designed for people who want to improve their English in all skill areas. If this is the type of club you want to create it is useful to divide the meetings in terms of themes or skills. Each member of the club can choose from a list of dates. You can suggest topic ideas, or ask members to come up with their own. Always give members the option of bringing in their own idea (leave a blank space for OTHER on the theme/skill schedule). See sample meeting schedule for ideas for your own club. The leader for each meeting is in charge of everything including the warm-up, the focus, and the dividing of members into groups or pairs. This gives everyone in the group an opportunity to show their leadership and creative skills. If someone is extremely shy and unwilling to be a leader, you can still allow them to join the club. Perhaps they will agree to be a leader a few months later in the next session when they have more confidence in English.

Have backup ideas on hand
What if your leader for the day doesn't show up? In a classroom, you usually get a substitute teacher when your instructor is sick or unavailable. This should be the same in a club. If members know they are going to miss a meeting that they are supposed to lead, they should call another member and give them instructions about what was planned. However, it is likely that a day will come when no leader shows up at all. It is a good idea to have a back up plan in case of this problem.

The easiest thing to do is keep a list of discussion questions in the location of the meetings. Put them in an envelope or in the classroom, or give one to each member to keep in their notebook. You can cut them up and put them in a hat and take turns picking questions. Another idea is to get out a dictionary and learn ten new words. The group can practise using them and then write a group play that involves all ten words. A deck of playing cards is also a good thing to keep in case of extra time. You can play a game of cards in English. Teaching each other rules in English is a great way to practise speaking and listening. You will also have to ask lots of questions when you learn a new game.

Use a suggestion box
If it's possible, keep a suggestion box in the room where you hold your club meetings. At the end of each meeting the leader should encourage members to write a comment or suggestion for the group. Examples: I want to practice pronunciation more. Let's keep track of our new vocabulary. Does anyone want to practice idioms with me? It's too cold in this room! Why don't we all bring a snack to share next week?

Go on excursions as a group
Outside of your weekly meetings, it is a good idea to have one excursion a month. This helps create stronger bonds within the group. It is always fun to have something to look forward to as well. Go out to a movie. Play a sport. Do community service together. Give blood. Go sightseeing. Have a picnic. Go dancing. Have a potluck dinner. Whatever you decide to do, everyone should speak English at all times.

Useful links:

  • Get members to give a presentation on a subject that they know about.
  • Get some cards and games such as Scrabble or Word Up for fun.
  • Put on a play or get members to do improvisations.
  • Have a range of ideas for ESL activities to keep your meetings varied.

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