If you teach English in an English-speaking country, how often have you asked your students to tell you who they practice their English with, only to discover that many of your students have virtually no English-speaking friends, and typically largely speak only their L1 outside of class? If this answer sounds dismally familiar, I want to tell you about an important resource that has helped a number of my students expand their personal network to include more English speakers.
Meetup.com is a website that allows your students to find and connect in person with others who share their interests. Whether your students love to go hiking, write poetry, do yoga, go dancing, play soccer, make homemade Christmas decorations, or photograph sunsets, they can use the Meetup.com website to find a local group with members who get together regularly to pursue their joint passion.
Interested students can search the site for Meetup groups near their home or, if they are more adventuresome, they can choose to venture a little further afield. I teach at a community college located in the suburbs outside of New York City. Some students prefer to find a group close to where they live. Others have found that if they are willing to drive or take the train into Manhattan or Brooklyn, they can find an even larger variety of meet-up opportunities.
Meetup.com has been a boon for my shyest students. One, a Peruvian chemical engineer who rarely spoke in class, was passionate about poetry. He wrote poetry in English and frequently brought it in to show me. I suggested that he see if he could find a poetry “meetup” so that he could connect with others interested in poetry. Sure enough, he searched on the Meetup website and found a poetry “meetup” that met regularly at a Starbucks in Manhattan. Off he went, armed with his laptop. As he later explained to his classmates, he and his fellow poets spent the first hour writing poetry in each other’s company, then devoted the remaining hour to reading their poems to each other.
Similarly, a student from Colombia lamented that she had no English-speaking friends and very few opportunities to speak English outside of class. I asked her what she liked to do in her free time, and she said she loved salsa. A week later, she came back to class, beaming. She had found a salsa dance group in Manhattan through Meetup. Texting back and forth to the organizer of the group had provided a lot of practice writing in English. At the dance session, she met people from around the globe who shared a passion for salsa and a common language—English.
I now make a point, right at the beginning of the semester, of demonstrating to my students how to search the Meetup website. Although I don’t require my students to attend a meetup group, I do expect them—for homework—to at least explore the Meetup website and to see if they can find a group that appeals to them. And I have been pleased to see that more and more students are making the move from checking out the website to getting out there and meeting English speakers who share their passions.
How do you help your students get speaking practice outside of class? If you have used Meetup.com, please tell us about it in the comments section, below!