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Learning English at the Museum

People go to museums in London for a number of reasons: to learn about different aspects of British history, see awe-inspiring artifacts, and check out special, time-limited exhibits. Few realise that ESOL students can also go to museums to improve their English-language skills.

The British Museum and the Geffrye offer tours and workshops aimed at English-language students, using supplementary materials designed for varying levels of ability.

Tours at the British Museum

Below is a list of ESOL-specific tours and workshops available at the British Museum.

General introductory tour

English-language students learn the history and purpose of the British Museum and listen to a general overview of its collection. This orientation session is followed by a tour that includes the Great Court, Enlightenment Gallery, Egyptian and the Assyrian Sculpture Galleries.

After the tour, ESOL learners take part in gallery-designed activities that allow them to improve their language and grammar abilities by learning about certain historical periods or cultures. Examples include Africa, Asia, and the Islamic word.

Citizenship – Making of the UK

This guided tour introduces learners to the history of the British Isles. The impact of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Norman French on the development of the English language, culture, and technology are all examined.

The origins of writing

This interesting hands-on workshop explores the history of ancient Mesopotamia. ESOL students will learn why this civilisation decided to start recording information, causing the art of writing to develop in the Middle East. Activities include:

  • Viewing artefacts from the the Library of Nineveh, the world’s first library
  • Practising the ancient art of cuneiform, which is the world’s earliest known writing system

Development of writing and scripts

This particular tour looks at how different writing systems have developed in various cultures and time periods. ESOL students learn why and where different scripts developed, what writing materials were used, and what has motivated people to write through history. After the tour, there is a set of writing activities appropriate for the learners’ Entry level.

Word in Islamic art

This hands-on workshop explores the integral role of the word in Islamic art and architecture. ESOL students will learn how and why words have been used in Islamic artistic expression. After studying the objects, learners will be given the chance to create their own tiles.

Nebamun: life and afterlife

This workshop examines the tomb paintings of Nebamun and covers the items that Ancient Egyptians valued in life and the afterlife. Students will learn the vocabulary to describe their everyday life and beliefs.

What makes us human? 40,000 years of human artistic endeavour

This hands-on workshop uses older artefacts to explore the human desire to communicate and make art. By looking at the prehistoric collections, students are encouraged to ponder the question ‘what makes us human?’

Tours at the Geffrye

The Geffrye is one of London’s friendliest museums, with tours available to let ESOL students view the themes of the private home as it has changed over the past 400 years. The exhibits link particularly well with the topics that students may have already studied: homes, daily life, British culture, and even technology.

Self-guided visits

The Geffrye offers three resource packs for English-language students at Entry 1, Entry 2 and Entry 3. Each pack includes background notes on the exhibits as well as activities. Students can download the packs via the museum website or request a free pack to be sent to them.

Museum Educator-Led Sessions

Room comparison and object handling session

This lively session encourages students to use and strengthen their vocabulary as it pertains to homes and domestic objects. It includes:

  • Comparisons between older and newer rooms to see how lighting, heating, ornamentation, and leisure activities has changed over time.
  • An opportunity for students to work in groups to explore the museum’s domestic object collection

Historic Almshouse Tour

Students can visit an 18th century almshouses which has been fully restored, offering a rare peek into the lives of the poor and elderly in 18th and 19th century London. The tour provides an opportunity to see how Shoreditch has changed over the past three centuries.

Garden Tour

In this tour students will visit the museum’s herb garden, make rosemary biscuits, and talk about how herbs are used in homes. The session includes:

  • Tours of the herb garden and period gardens.
  • Baking and eating rosemary biscuits
  • Comparing the uses of herbs and plants in England with the use of the same plants in the students’ countries of origin.
    Visiting London’s museums is a great way to have fun and learn English- all at the same time!

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