Motivation: Friday Field Trips, The Newsela Challenge and The Grammar Challenge

Given that motivation is cited as one of the keys (along with aptitude) to language learning, I’ve been thinking a lot about student motivation and buy-in in connection with developing and teaching legal English curriculum to LLM students. I’ve also been thinking about grammar and how to help students improve. So when we decided to add an additional ALDA class on Fridays this semester (and that I would be teaching it), I decided to try and tackle both of these topics in one semester-long effort.

Friday Field Trips

Each semester I’ve made it a point to devote three or so classes to field trips: One to federal court, one to state court, and one to a law firm. In the past, we’ve also done trips to the United Nations and the Court of International Trade. The students, needless to say, love these trips. But they also are a fantastic way to build background knowledge for the students. And of course field trips provoke a basis, desire and motivation for learning more.

So this semester I’ve set a schedule of one field trip every two weeks. The first will be to the Supreme Court in Queens County to visit a judge whose clerk is a St. John’s Law School alumnus. Additionally, we plan to visit both federal and state courts (to watch trials, motions, jury selection, etc.) as well as a police station, a couple different types of law firms (large and small), Queens Legal Services, and the United Nations. The biggest development, however, has been that as LLM students not in my ALDA classes have learned about them, they too have expressed interest in joining along for the Friday Field Trips. And from my perspective, the more the merrier and the better overall experience it will be. Continue reading

LLM Summer Reading Club

I find myself thinking a lot about ways to interweave extensive reading into the law school experience of our LLM students. So much time is spent engaged in intensive reading. Yet research makes clear that reading for enjoyment in English contributes significantly to improving much-needed reading speed, vocabulary, and background knowledge. At the same time, many of our students return to their home countries over the summer before returning for the fall semester and may not focus on improving their legal and language knowledge. Additionally, many LLM students may not have developed a habit of reading for enjoyment in English.

In response, this summer I decided to pilot our first ever LLM Summer Reading Club. I picked a book–24 Hours With 24 Lawyers: Profiles of Traditional and Non-Traditional Careers, edited by Jasper Kim–and invited any and all St. John’s LLM students to join the club if interested. (I also listed several other law-themed books that would make good reads for anyone looking for something to read on their own.)

The plan is that we will pick a couple chapters to read each week and then meet online to discuss the reading. (It looks like WeChat may be our platform of choice, though I just learned that video/voice calls have a 9-person limit which won’t work for us.) No assignments or homework. Just a relaxed, social way to engage in law-related reading and keep students feeling motivated and connected over the summer.

If anyone else has done something along these lines–or if you decide to do it this summer–please feel free to share your experience as well as any advice and perspectives.

ALDA visits the law firm of Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer

Today Professor Anne Himes and I took our ALDA students on a field trip to visit the global law firm of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer (1,000 lawyers worldwide) where we were hosted by St. John’s Law alum Jim Herschlein who is Co-Chair of the firm’s Litigation Department. Our students learned about big firm law practice including complex litigation issues and client development as well as hearing Jim’s advice on keeping nerves in check when appearing in court. We also received a tour of the firm including its own  moot courtroom which it uses to train associates on trial and deposition practice.

Many thanks to Jim for opening his door and sharing his valuable time and perspectives!

ALDA student group photo in Jim Herschlein’s office at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer

 

Teaching American Culture: Pumpkin carving for LLM students!

pumpkincarving08img_9733To help our LLM students get into the Halloween spirit–and to expose them to American Halloween traditions (i.e., increase their background knowledge)–Professor Katherine Piper organized a pumpkin carving for our LLM students on the Friday before Halloween. The students all were familiar with the classic pumpkin images. But actually getting their hands dirty (literally) and making their own jack-o-lanterns seemed to help them feel closer to the American Halloween experience. Plus, it was a whole lot of fun! See the pics below.

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United Nations class trip: Preparation activities

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LLM students listening to the UN tour guide.

Urban law schools present rich opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Our ALDA and TLP LLM students recently had a wonderful class trip to the United Nations Headquarters, located just across the East River in Manhattan. In addition to the standard tour of the building, meeting rooms and General Assembly, we arranged a private briefing by a United Nations legal officer on the topic of the Court of International Justice.

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In the briefing room.

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Future UN delegates in the General Assembly.

Professor Piper and I knew that once we were at the U.N. we would have little control over the flow of the program. So we prepared in our respective classes the day before the trip by first having our students talk about what they do know about the United Nations as a way to aggregate shared knowledge and build background knowledge for the tour and briefing. Professor Piper had her writing class research the different U.N. bodies, and the briefing topic. Following their research, students predicted things they would see and learn during their tour, and composed a list of questions they wanted answered on the trip. ALDA students also developed questions they had about the U.N. that they might like to ask. I then turned the list into a checklist which I handed to ALDA students on the day of the tour. The students’ task was to check off any questions or topics that were answered or addressed during the course of the tour.
This type of prediction/question activity can function as Continue reading

Using Legal Humor: Lawyer Joke Telling & Negotiation Activity

Using legal humor in class can be an extremely potent tool. It can also be a minefield as humor often does not travel well across cultures. When not well employed in a classroom, it can devolve into a painful over-explanation of a joke to blank and unsympathetic faces. (I speak from experience.)

But when done right, it can provide a high level of student engagement as well as unique opportunities for vocabulary improvement, language teaching, reading and speaking fluency, paraphrasing, and building of background knowledge and cultural awareness.

One activity that we like to use as Continue reading

Using Legal Humor: “Lawyer Joke of the Day” Activity

A Good Lawyer Great LawyerThe Opportunity: There is a great treasure trove of lawyer jokes and legal humor out there.

The Challenge: How do you incorporate it into a class in a way that feels appropriate, helpful, and non-trivial?

The “Lawyer Joke of the Day” Activity is a simple activity that can stand alone or serve as a platform for more involved activities. The goal is to help students improve their comprehension in law school by building background knowledge and cultural awareness. Additionally, it is a form of extensive reading (more on extensive reading here and here) which helps build reading speed and vocabulary. And perhaps most importantly, it’s an engaging and entertaining form of learning for international students.

How the “Lawyer Joke of the Day” works: Continue reading