Learning the language of assistance

Continuing Studies

- Lindsay Gagel

Gerry Luton knows the value of hands-on learning—especially when absorbing something as difficult to grasp as a new language. For the past 27 years Luton has been teaching English to international students through UVic’s English Language Centre (ELC)—and his students find success extends far beyond cue cards, language tapes and textbooks.

Luton’s students gained an appetite for wider involvement in 2002, after an ESL student was attacked while jogging in Stanley Park, Vancouver. Many of the students identified with the victim, and were deeply affected by the tragedy. “I told them,” Luton recalls, “you can either feel bad about it, or you can do something about it.” So they did something about it.

The students decided to raise money and write condolence letters to the victim’s family. It was an effective motivator for learning to communicate well in English. “When you have all these students from diverse backgrounds united for a common goal,” explains Luton, “it’s very powerful.” So he decided to incorporate this kind of dynamic learning in his regular curriculum. The ELC’s “Charity Project” began there.

The project’s structure isn’t hard to grasp: Luton provides the students with a list of reputable charities that he knows have user-friendly websites and accessible materials (Save the Children and War Child are two examples). Students are placed in groups and assigned a charity to research and describe to their classmates. Through a process of negotiation, they eventually choose one charity to support from among 6–8 different options. Students then put together creative presentations which are presented to the other ESL classes (comprising about 300 students of varied English levels) in the English Language Centre. Finally, donations are raised through a two-day bake sale in the Student Union, Clearihue and Continuing Studies Buildings.

The bake sale is the money-maker, but the students are doing a lot more than baking and raising funds. They liaise with the charities, facilitate discussions, design posters, create videos and presentations, deliver public service announcements on CFUV, compose letters to accompany cheques, and write reflective essays. “This experience definitely made us develop a lot,” wrote Kento Kitada, one of Luton’s students, in a thank-you letter to the teachers and students whose classes they visited. “Thank you for listening to our presentation carefully and participating in our presentation positively.”

The two classes during Kitada’s term chose to raise funds for Children of Hope Uganda. Over $1,800 was raised—a record high! Afterwards, Luton received a photo of the Ugandans building a new Assembly Hall / Early Childhood Development classroom in Barlonyo—a project his students' contribution will help fund.

Luton’s students come from all over the world to learn English at UVic. His most recent classes included students from Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Taiwan, China and Brazil. Not only are friendships formed that can last a lifetime, but many of the students are inspired to be global citizens, taking their experiences organizing for charity back to their home countries.

Since its formal inception in 2004, Luton’s classes have raised over $33,500 for charitable organizations. Ideally, Luton would like to see his students presenting in classrooms all over campus, not just within the ELC. If you’re interested in collaborating, contact Gerry Luton at gluton@uvic.ca.


In this story

Keywords: student life, philanthropy, English Language Centre

People: Gerry Luton

Related stories