Teach English With Wine – An ESL Class About Tasting
As an EFL Teacher, you can use your passion to personalise your classes.
I, for example, am a professional sommelier and I use food while I teach English.
By doing that, my classes are more engaging for both me and my students.
I don’t suffer for the competition of other ESL Teachers, because students come to me expressly for my teaching methods.
Wine is an engaging topic to get your students studying in style.
Learning a new language is tough enough already, and if the topics aren’t particularly appealing, it’s even more challenging.
As a teacher, finding something you love is the best way to engage with your students and get their interest.
I am not a full-time English teacher.
For me TEFL is a way of making extra money while sharing the things I love with people around the world, and that’s pretty cool!
One of my greatest passions is wine. As a professional sommelier, I use my knowledge to keep my students focused as they learn about something as beautiful as our favourite fermented grape juice.
Here’s how I put together an English lesson based on my passions and experience.
Tailor the class on your students
Considering the topic, it’s fair to presume that you are aiming this class to adult students.
This is not always the case, because you could be teaching to high school students who are learning how to work in a restaurant and have a thorough knowledge of wine even if they might not technically have the age to drink it.
I find this idea quite funny and I joke about it with my students, when we are in that specific situation.
Joking about something that could come up as a problem is a good way to manage your class and keep the interest of your students high.
When you work with adult students, you have a different kind of problems.
The main one is that it is harder to keep their attention for a long period of time.
A very common situation is that you are teaching to managers and entrepreneurs, people that in their professional life are used to give orders and they are feeling uncomfortable in this position as students, being told what to do.
This is the kind of situation where a workshop comes especially handy because they shift their attention from learning in a classroom to sharing an experience.
You don’t need a lot of material, one bottle of wine is enough, and although I prefer to conduct these degustation classes with a small group of students, they work well also on 121 classes.
Just keep an eye on the refill to avoid good time out of control.
Wine History and Culture
Wine has been around for thousands of years, and although you can adapt this lesson to your younger students using fruit juice, it’s not the same.
It’s as old as time, and every wine region, grape and bottle has a story, sometimes going back for centuries.
Wine is one of the very few topics that can involve everyone, no matter where your students are from, because every culture has its own.
I like to start my lessons by giving a bit of history, a sort of presentation of the wine.
By doing this, students understand that this is a class, and not just a party where we are having fun (even if fun is allowed).
It is a moment of sharing, not one about drinking, so when you pour the wine, put just enough wine to taste and appreciate it.
This is what I would say for example, to introduce Chianti.
Chianti is one of the most acclaimed Tuscan wines.
It dates back to at least the 13th century.
The wine style as we know it, though, is a bit more recent.
Baron Ricasoli, a respected 19th-century nobleman, created the first known Chianti recipe in 1892, championing the famous Sangiovese grape.
The wine style soon became popular around the region, and it’s still Italy’s best-known red wine.
As you see, there are many aspects we can consider with this piece of history.
Some teachers would like to focus on the grammatical aspects, for example the difference between telling a story using the present, or using the past tense.
Personally, I prefer to talk about culture.
I deliberately use words my students are unfamiliar with, but they can understand if they make an effort.
This way, the lesson starts to be a more active process with interactions between us, where they will feel comfortable in talking about their ideas without worrying about their English.
Describing Wine to Increase Your Students’ Vocabulary
Wine is a complex drink. You can find dozens of unique aromas in a single glass.
What a tasty way of learning new words!
After we have the first taste, I start asking questions to my students. This moment is for them, to tell the others their opinion.
I start from general questions and then I increase the level of difficulty:
- What do you think about this wine?
- Do you like it?
- What does it taste like?
- Is it a sweet or a sour wine?
Notice that, while answering my questions, the students focus their attention on the wine instead of the grammar, or the fact that they might or might not understand what I say.
I use words like SOUR, that they most likely don’t know, yet it is paired to SWEET, and they might understand that it means its opposite by contextualizing the question.
They usually reply correctly without any additional help from me.
After this phase, I describe the wine in a professional way, and I emphasize the words that I believe are more difficult for them.
Then I will ask them questions about those words, without the need to translate them:
The ruby-red wine opens with enticing aromas of blueberries, cacao powder and flowers.
The palate is bold and lush, with a gritty texture and a mouthwatering acidity.
The finish is long and reminds you of blackberry jam.
Enjoy with grilled steak.
- How would you describe the colour of this wine?
- How would you describe the sensation in your mouth?
- Can you feel the blackberry?
- What other elements can you taste in it?
- What food would you eat to accompany this wine?
How to Appreciate Wine
Anyone can chuck down a glass of wine, but appreciating it is another matter.
The secret is learning to describe it.
Describing wine, or food, is a brilliant exercise that makes students focus on their senses while finding adequate descriptive words.
The terms Salty, Acidic, Fruity, Meaty, Bold, Tart, Juicy, Muscular, Towering, Alcoholic, Cold, Warm, Sweet, Bitter or Steamy, just to name a few, are wonderful descriptors to increase your student’s vocabulary.
After talking about wine (a challenging topic) shifting to describing food should be easier for them now, so take advantage of the moment and talk about tangible examples.
- How would you describe a roast chicken with potatoes? (Crispy, juicy, warm, comforting, hearty…).
- How would you describe a slice of pepperoni pizza? (Cheesy, greasy, tasty, spicy…).
When asked to describe a food, most of the students stay on a superficial level and say something like Delicious, that doesn’t mean much.
There are infinite ways to conduct this kind of lesson, one of them could be playing Taboo, forbidding the use of the words they have used the most so far.
You can also do written exercises, for example when your students have to know about wine, but can’t drink it, or you don’t have a bottle at hand, or you are forbidden to drink wine in the school premeses, for company policy reasons.
In those cases, you can opt for written exercises.
This is a powerful class, a very enjoyable experience for both teacher and students.
Personally, I prefer to keep this kind of class oral and stimulate my students to talk about what they feel and be passionate about their ideas.
Putting your students at work with a written exercise is a bit like wasting a good bottle of wine.
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