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How did I teach English to a group of small kids? Amanda Simonelli's teaching experience with BLV's Online English Learning Program

Hello! I am Amanda Simonelli. I live near Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. I have many interests, some of which are a love of languages, music, learning new skills, dancing, reading and writing. I work independently as an artist and Entrepreneur with a lot of my work being online.

One of the driving forces in my life and work is to contribute to other people’s needs and lives. I am motivated to support others in enhancing their well being and to nurture their potential in being independent individuals. Volunteering is important to me for many reasons one of which is that volunteering in itself fosters community. This is what drew me to find virtual volunteering as a way to connect and contribute to an organization that I lived far away from. 

When I discovered the opportunity to be a Facilitator with Better Life Vietnam (BLV), it immediately resonated with me. I thoroughly enjoy working with children to explore learning and discovery. Prior to joining BLV, I had experience in teaching young children subjects such as sewing and movie making. Yet, this would be my first time teaching a language. Joyously I applied and could not wait to get into the classroom as I simply was thrilled to support the children in whatever way they needed. I am first and foremost there for the kids!

Joining Team Carmina with Teacher Carmina and fellow Facilitator Daniel, we met each week to discuss the week before, the student’s progress and what would be in the lesson for the upcoming week. Carmina created each lesson’s accompanying presentation on Google Slides then shared it with Daniel and I. Daniel and I would make edits to the lesson to fit our classes and adjust visuals for our teaching styles. Carmina gave the first class of the week teaching the new content. I gave the first review in the middle of the week. Daniel administered the final review of that week’s lesson on the weekends. 

For each lesson I added my own visual graphics and kids songs from YouTube that helped create fun ways to use or introduce new vocabulary. Depending on the topic, sometimes I would be able to gather props to have on camera as a way to extend conversation from the topics of a particular lesson to a real life conversational experience. Having fun learning and applying skills to a real world experience is an important aspect of education to me. 

Other skills I used were TPR (Total Physical Response) which involved hand signals or how I carried myself on camera to encourage student engagement and understanding while also demonstrating my enthusiasm for being in class. For example sitting close to the camera with strong posture, cupping my ear when I asked a student to respond or repeat, or pointing to my mouth when I was saying something important for a student to focus on.

I always support effort with enthusiasm and telling the students they did a good job. I almost always listen fully to how a student responds and absorbs the content before correcting them. After rewarding effort, I then isolate the area that needs correcting and help the student achieve effort up to three times, if needed, before moving on. These are methods that work for me and set the tone for participation and engagement in my classroom. In my experience, it has helped enhance the students desire to share their interests, comfortably make mistakes, and then make extra effort to correct themselves.

I am so proud of the students in the Team Carmina classes as they have made significant improvements in the twelve weeks we were together. I do believe that my original goal to help students achieve clearer spoken English and joy in English conversation was fulfilled. They have surpassed my expectations as by the end of our lessons together, the students are joking around with me and asking me questions about subjects I like as well to sing and dance.

I cannot express enough how wonderful the classes with every student have been. I genuinely care for each student's success and they have empowered my life by their individuality and enthusiasm in return. The mission of BLV and the sister organizations is important and I enjoy witnessing them thrive! I have cherished my time with each student, learning about them and getting to know their world. As an added bonus to making connections with the students in class through having fun by learning and propelling students success, it was incredibly rewarding to make new colleagues and friendship with people from other parts of the globe. I have enjoyed my chats with Thinh (the founder of Better Life Vietnam) and Candy (the Program Coordinator) throughout this volunteer experience. It is great to have them as new friends. I remain friends with the members of Team Carmina as well as Ruy who was often the Marketing volunteer in my classes.

My next dream is to one day do classes again with BLV, hopefully in Vietnam! I'm honored and proud to be a BLVer! Thank you so much for this opportunity!