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May 07, 2021, 08:30 PM

Creating Joy Through Conversation and Learning: Virtual ESOL Conversation Groups

A talk by Shenzhan Liao and Jo-Ann Wong
Queens Public Library

Prior to COVID-19, the Hunters Point branch at Queens Public Library hosted an in-person ESOL Conversation Group. However, the pandemic required us to readjust and restructure the program for a virtual setting. Our first virtual session for our ESOL Conversation Group was held in May 2020, and has been held on a weekly basis since then [only skipping holiday weekends]. These sessions have provided a virtual space for English language learners to practice speaking English, but also a place to socially connect with others in the community during these difficult times. For many of our participants who are isolated or are experiencing extreme hardship due to the pandemic, these sessions also function as outlets for them to emotionally connect, discuss their feelings, and engage with others in a positive manner. In addition, as we meet on a weekly basis, our sessions are also a place where our participants can discuss current news and share helpful resources. One of the benefits of our virtual space is that this program series reaches a far wider demographic than when we were in-person, with participants coming from all over the city, and sometimes even internationally. Starting with only one staff member and one volunteer hosting this series, we have since grown to include 4 staff members and 3 volunteers to help continue to grow this program series and make it sustainable for the long-term. As such, this talk will cover the differences and similarities between virtual and in-person ESOL conversation groups, how to start and run a virtual ESOL conversation group, how to conduct virtual outreach, and how to make this type of virtual programming sustainable for the long-term. As our staff and volunteers are crucial to making this program series a success, we will also discuss how to get other staff and volunteers interested and involved in helping to run this type of program series. In addition, we’ll cover how to utilize technology to our advantage, during a ESOL Conversation Group session.

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