Preparing EFL students for an EFL Model United Nations

Last June, my school completed its 26th Model United Nations project with our 3rd year (Senior) students. Though our curriculum shows our students beginning the preparation process in January (third term of second year), the preparation spreads farther, at least 2 years, from when the students first entered the high school. The first 21 months can be seen as a pre-MUN curriculum, with the next 6 months as the MUN curriculum.

In their first year, we presented a series of goals, which included:

  • to research a simple topic and report it to the class,
  • to paraphrase and retell a story using only a storyboard (no memorisation),
  • to both skim and scan for information in a text.

To reach these goals, students were introduced to a number of very short stories from an English conversation textbook. Within the year, we presented a curriculum that eventually lead to students to a pre-reading / reading / post-reading format in a 2-week cycle.

Pre-reading: Research the topic(s) that will be introduced in the text. This could either be the name of a character, location, or an event that had taken place in history. Students were required to find three distinct pieces of information from three different (internet) sources and introduce them to other students in class. This in essence allowed students to know what they will read about before they begin reading.

Reading: Read the text 15 times. First time and 15th time are too be read with a stopwatch. This done over a few days. First time is read in class, after which students explain to each other what they think they read (skimming). In the next class, students are given a few questions to answer, but only within a limited time frame. Students are instructed to identify keywords in the questions to then search for in the text so as to locate the answer (scanning).

Post-reading: Students are given a storyboard of pictures that relate to the text they have read. For EFL practices, students are first instructed to rewrite the story in first/second/third-person. Following, students begin retelling the story in their own words (paraphrasing) to classmates using only the storyboard as a guide.

Students also have a workbook with grammar/vocabulary practice that relates to the text, that is done by the students on their own terms. Time allocated in class for any form students wish the teacher to focus on (teaching moment); however, the majority of the class was allocated to the understanding and retelling of the text.

Along with this practice, students were also introduced to paragraph and essay writing formats.

In their second year, we presented a series of new goals:

  • to respond critically and logically to questions pertaining to a text,
  • to understand differences between fact and opinion writings,
  • to debate and refute resolutions.

To reach these goals, students were introduced to a number of unit topics:

  • Literature,
  • Debate,
  • Print media,
  • SimNation,
  • Girls & Education.

Literature: Students were given the book, Drippy: The Runaway Raindrop. The book itself presented a number of opportunities for students to engage in both logical (i.e. In war of the ants, how far back can we go to identify who started the war) and critical (is it right for a judge to judge a man by his beard?) discussions, as well as refine research skills introduced a year earlier (i.e. Drippy is going to the Vatican in Rome, let’s research and learn as much as we can about this place.). There were also a series of questions for each chapter the students would answer that also assisted in keeping up with skimming and scanning skills.

As an extra bonus, students were given the task of writing a new chapter in the book, introducing the concept of creative writing, which proved crucial in the students MUN preparation.

Debate: Piggy backing off the paragraph/essay formats introduced in the students first year, research practices, as well as the logical/critical components from the literature unit, students were presented with a resolution in which they had to both agree and disagree (and proved supporting details for both sides), be able to refute another team’s arguments, as well as summarise and defend their team’s position, whichever that may have been at the time of the debate. A refined version of the National English Debate Association’s guide for debate was used for this unit.

Print Media: Students were presented with a number of different writing tasks that related to a different form of media, including news, opinion/editorial, and features (i.e. Dear Abby). Students were also introduced to captioning, and reviewed the idea of paraphrasing; taking an article from a newspaper and refining it to a single sentence that identified who, what, where, when, and why or how.

SimNation: Students were tasked with creating their own country. Through the course of the unit, students were presented with tasks that related to their country:

  • Identification of said country, including name, topography, population, culture background, and economy,
  • Infrastructure based on population and tax revenue. Students needed to build basic services (schools, hospitals, airports, etc.) based on a tax equation presented to them, with the idea that no country would be able to supply all services to 100% of the population,
  • 10-year projection (increase in population does what to your country?),
  • Solving a world crisis as a member of the UN (this is where we start implanting the idea of the General Assembly).

In this process, students are introduced to moderated caucusing used in the General Assembly. Students are reintroduced to the reading/research/discussion/debate skills introduced in previous units as a means of finding a solution to the presented world crisis.

Girls and Education: This is the students’ first look into factual world affairs, discussing not only the stereotypes of women around the world, but also identifying solutions to the troubles they face, mostly with their right to an education. Students are also introduced to the General Assembly speech format of 1) identifying the problem, 2) discussing the cause of the problem, 3) presenting a solution, and 4) discussing the effects of the solution.

The above curriculum spans over 22 months. In the third term of their second year, students were finally introduced to the Model United Nations agenda, which in 2016 was Protecting the Rights of Refugees, relating to the world Refugee Crisis. It is assumed here that prior to the studying of the agenda topics, students already can do the following:

  • research and paraphrase information, as well as introduce and discuss it with classmates,
  • use researched information to affirm or refute a resolution,
  • has an understanding of the make-up of a country,
  • understands a speech format that is to be used to convey a country’s stance on a resolution.

For the next six months, students participated in a number of activities related to the agenda topics, focusing on analysing readings, participating in moderated caucusing on specific issues, and writing out speeches to support their assigned country’s position.

Every weekend, students were required to find and read one article related to the agenda topics, and write a single sentence that identified who, what, where, when, and why or how.

From time to time, students were also asked to write journal entries (creative writing), simulating what it would feel like being a refugee in a particular situation (i.e. You are a Somali who has just fled your home. You want to go to Europe, but have to make the trek across the Sahara desert to reach Libya, where a smuggler’s boat awaits. write about your journey, your struggles, and the people you meet along the way…).

This 2-year, 3-month curriculum gave my EFL students the tools and skills needed to participate in a Model United Nations. As time went by, there was a noticeable flip in who was controlling the content of the class, with students taking more of a lead role in the discussions as the MUN drew closer.

I believe that this MUN project introduces a prime example of successful active learning, as well as challenge-based (project-based) learning. We were also able to flip the classroom, so to speak, with students bringing in the teaching material and providing the discussions, with us teachers acting nothing more than as a coach. I can also throw in the term student-centered learning as indicated with the theories listed above.

What I hope to accomplish here is to identify the notion that nothing comes easy, and nothing comes fast. For a project like an MUN, especially when done in a foreign language, there needs to be both long-term and short-term goals set for the students to be successful. Any of the theories listed above also cannot be successful without these goals to guide both teacher and students.

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