Health Lessons for ESL Students

Health lessons for ESL students can be a double benefit to any classroom. Aside from the direct benefits of educating students how to care for themselves, there are opportunities for many vocabulary words and phrases to be introduced.

Basic Hygiene

It's important for any ESL teacher to be non-judgmental of the culture that their students come from. This applies to personal hygiene as much as any other issue. Since standards of personal appearance and care differ widely from culture to culture, it's important that a teacher be respectful and informative.

For example, in France it is not customary for women to shave under their arms in the way it is in the United States. Here are two possible ways for a teacher to present this during health lessons:

  • Scenario A: "In the United States, women usually shave the unsightly hair under the arms in order to be beautiful. Hairy armpits on women are just gross."

  • Scenario B: "In order to fit in with the culture of the United States, women may choose to shave under their arms, which may be different than the expectations of French culture."

The second scenario contains no judgmental or value-laden words such as "unsightly" or "gross" or even "beautiful." It simply presents the facts of differing cultural mores as they are, and includes the right of the student to choose whether or not to observe the cultural standards.

While it is important that an ESL student be prepared to interact with the culture they are studying, they should be able to do so in a guilt-free way. It is the teacher's responsibility to provide that kind of environment.

Physical Health

One of the most dangerous assumptions that an ESL teacher can make is that their students already have the ability to self-diagnose and seek treatment for various illnesses and injuries. While it is not a teacher's responsibility to function as a medical professional, it does lie within their purview to teach basic anatomical terms, both external and internal.

Basic descriptive terms for physical sensations and degree of intensity are essential, such as:

  • "Hurts, aches, nausea, cramps, headache, fatigue" etc.

  • "Sharp, dull, constant, intermittent" etc.

  • "Breathing, eating, swallowing, stretching" etc.

In addition, it is important that students be taught how to ask for help. This includes not only emergency numbers such as 911 in the United States, but also medical terminology and professions of various kinds. For example:

  • General Practitioner

  • Obstetrician

  • Gastroenterologist

  • Cardiologist

  • Chiropractor

  • Psychologist

It is especially important that students be prepared to deal with new illnesses that they may not have encountered in their native culture. If the purpose of the ESL class is to prepare for travel, talking about dietary health concerns and allergies can be very important.

Learning to read menus and ingredients can help people avoid things like allergies to things like shellfish. One other very common dietary concern is the prevalence of lactose intolerance in Asians who are visiting the dairy-heavy food culture of the United States.

Health Games for ESL Students

Using role playing and problem solving can be a useful way to integrate these terms in practical ways into an ESL curriculum. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Have students do physical "check-ins" with each other, describing their current physical state to each other and then reporting on each other to the entire class.

  • Have students re-enact a physical injury they suffered (or even just heard about) in the past, and have them describe the appropriate care and treatment for that illness.

  • Try to have students "play doctor" and guess at the possible causes of various symptoms. This kind of role play can be especially useful in helping them prepare for things like allergic reactions or illnesses particular to the English-speaking cultures.

Health lessons for ESL students are a vital part of any well rounded ESL curriculum and can be a fun addition to any classroom.

Health Lessons for ESL StudentsHealth Lessons for ESL Students

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