Anyone teaching English to refugees or taking culturally diverse classes will tell you to be thoughtful.
Refugees may be feeling vulnerable, shy, and fragile. A simple question such as “Where are you from?” may result in floods of tears. There may also be tensions between students with cultural differences and backgrounds. There may be enemies from two sides of a war present. Using non-competitive games can help relax the atmosphere and create a friendly classroom.
Unit 1 from any workbook typically includes “Talking about yourself” but this can be dangerous territory. Stick to structured questions and answers rather than general chat. Allow students to communicate within safe boundaries. The game Good Evening Beach Ball is a great example. When students catch the ball, they answer the question or read the phrase to which their thumbs are pointing. Then they throw the ball to someone else. There is no pressure, and throwing a ball brings back the innocent fun of childhood play. You can see students playing this game in this post’s picture.
Why not teach students about the new host country? This knowledge will help them integrate. Everything is of interest, from geography (cities, states, rivers, etc.) to key historical figures and famous musicians, fashion designers, architects, artists, culinary specialties, and so on. Talking about neutral facts will help avoid conflict. Religion, politics, and probably relationships are off the agenda! Have students research and invent questions for the next class. Collect all the questions and make your own Trivial Pursuit game, just for your specific classroom. Play in teams, not as individuals, as this avoids one poor student being last!
Higher level students
You might consider teaching through a novel for higher-level students, but perhaps choose something light-hearted. In addition, reading poetry is an uplifting way to study language, and I recommend the Puffin books of children’s poetry – for the adults! Children’s poetry is easier to understand (less cryptic) and often light-hearted and amusing.
Great resources for teaching English to refugees
For plenty of ideas do get my book of activities for teens and adults. (And here in paperback or from your local bookstore.) I also have plenty of resources for teaching children. Feel free to drop me a line and ask for some free samples.
For a more detailed look at teaching English to refugees, please see this details post on how games help difficult classroom situations.