Superheroes & Edible Incentives: Volunteer Teaching with Waukegan to College

by Jennifer Panaguiton
Waukegan Schuler Scholars taught W2C students to make ice cream using principles of math and chemistry.
This summer, I was given the opportunity to work with a team of my fellow Schuler Scholars to help a group of students in the Waukegan to College (W2C) program to improve their skills in English. Although my team started out with a concrete list of lesson plans, we realized that because of our students’ differing grade levels (5th through 8th grade) we would be unable to follow our lesson plans—which called for mastery in most basic elements of English grammar and language, some of which our students had not yet achieved—to the letter. Luckily, a great deal of improvisation, fun interactive games, and incentives of the edible variety allowed us to adjust our lesson plans to accommodate everyone.

Going back to the basics became the theme of our first few weeks of programming. Before moving forward, we taught nitty-gritty lessons involving the eight parts of speech—it took a lot of Jolly Ranchers to get through all the pop quizzes we gave! It was a bit repetitive, but after all, repetition breeds familiarity. We also approached reading comprehension by starting with the basics and interspersing them with writing composition assignments. One of my teammates invented a game involving literary terms, in which the students had to pick an example of a literary term off the wall and identify which term it represented: simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, or personification. If they were correct, then they had to explain why the example fit the literary term they chose.

We asked the students to come up with examples and explain how they represented certain literary terms. In one activity, we made everyone create a superhero and describe him or her using examples of the concepts they learned. The superheroes ranged from an older sister with many admirable qualities to a flying man in spandex that trailed rainbows wherever he went.

Like the superheroes they created, the students themselves came with a wide variety of interests and personalities. There was our star student, an upcoming sixth grader and basketball enthusiast with a passion for music and deftness with a pen. There were two best friends, the happy duo with a penchant for distracting the class but who worked just as hard as everyone else, who rode their bikes together to and from school. There were the twins with cheeky smiles and matching ribbons in their hair, whose love for soccer was only matched by their love for Japanese graphic novels. There were the math boys, who much preferred the absoluteness of math problems to the intricacies of English grammar, but acknowledged their fate with us with a measure of easygoing acceptance.

Some students were able to attend the entirety of programming, while some could only make it to a few sessions, so we got to know some students more than others. Because of varying attendance some students also did more work than others. But there was one thing they all had to do regardless of attendance rate—write letters to their future selves. On the first day of class, their first writing composition required them to write a letter detailing what their first impression of the program was and what they expected to learn from it. On the last day of class, my team decided to do a one-on-one talk with each student. We gave them back their folders and went over all the work they did in the course of ten days. They had the option of reading their letters out loud to us. Those who did were able to correct the grammatical errors in their letters from day one and see how they’ve improved their writing. Although I know we couldn’t make everyone into a Pulitzer-winning writer in ten days, seeing even the slightest bit of improvement in their writing made all the time spent planning, teaching, and poring over scrawled essays feel worthwhile.

Jennifer Panaguiton is a 2013 Waukegan High School graduate and currently attends Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.


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