Here's What it's Like Volunteering to Teach Kids English in Florence

Nov 10, 2019 9:12:00 AM / by Sarah Graham

In this blog, Sarah shares her experience volunteering with primary school students in a classroom on the outskirts of Florence, where she helps the kids learn English and finds creative ways to overcome the language barrier.

Ciao! This week I want to take you through my commute to and experience with volunteering in teaching English at an Italian school. Every Thursday morning, I walk to Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which is about a 10-minute walk from where I live. I take bus #36 from here in front of Museo Novecento, with my bus pass that CAPA provides each month. I’m then on this bus for about 40 minutes, and get off at Cascine del Riccio. I want to mention that I signed up for volunteering later than most, so I have a longer commute than most students do to their volunteering. From the bus stop, I have only about a 5-minute walk to my school, Damiano Chiesa. 

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2019_Florence_Sarah Graham_Bus36JPGI take the 9:41AM bus every Thursday morning.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2019_Florence_Sarah Graham_Timelapse1MOV

Here’s a timelapse from my ride!

Damiano Chiesa is a public primary school in the outskirts of Florence, farther away from the city center. The average class size is about 18 kids per class. Both of the classes I work with have roughly 20 kids in them. I work with two different classes, Elisa’s and Elisabetta’s. I switch off working with each class week by week. The kids learn English 3 hours a day, which was mind-blowing to me. I didn’t start learning another language in school until I was 12.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2019_Florence_Sarah Graham_SurroundingArea1JPG

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2019_Florence_Sarah Graham_SurroundingArea2JPGSurrounding area of the school.

I don’t speak Italian, so it’s a little difficult to communicate with the kids. It’s been really interesting dealing with the language barrier. It’s challenging to find ways to clearly communicate with the children, and also with the teachers sometimes. I’ve come to learn that gestures are often my most helpful tool in getting my point across. I’d like to think I’m still making connections with the kids even though communicating with them directly is a process. Regardless, I think it’s really interesting that we still do find ways to communicate, and I feel as though we understand each other. Approaching the language barrier allows us to learn from each other, me from local Italians, and them from me.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2019_Florence_Sarah Graham_ClassJPGHere is one of the classes I volunteer with!

I think one of the best ways that I can help the kids with their English is to help them with their pronunciation. Although I don’t speak Italian, and often can’t communicate directly with the kids, I think the teachers really appreciate having me around for this reason. Having the children hear my pronunciation, coming from someone whose first language is English, I think is really beneficial for them. 

We’ve done several different activities together to help the children learn English. I’ve read them children’s books in English, and they will try to see if they can comprehend the story while I read it slowly. We’ll break the story down page by page, sentence by sentence, even word by word sometimes. A couple times I’ve lead the students in making arts and crafts. I’ll say the steps to making the craft in English, and they will see if they can understand what to do next only from hearing the command in English. A lot of gestures come into play here. I also have sung simple English songs with the kids, and helped them learn vocabulary by drawing pictures on the board.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2019_Florence_Sarah Graham_EmotionsPicJPGA lot of the kids seem to be visual learners.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2019_Florence_Sarah Graham_VocabJPGFall/autumn vocabulary.

So far, my volunteer experience has been great, and I’m really happy that I decided to do this. I think it’s an awesome way for me to be immersed in Italian life. I get to interact with many locals, most of which being children, that I otherwise would never get to speak to. It’s also really interesting for me to see the difference between American and Italian schools. I’ve been fascinated by how different the student-teacher dynamic is. It’s a little more informal. For example, the children address their teachers by their first name, something I never did in school. The teachers are very nurturing but also tough when they need to be. Lastly, I’d like to think I’m picking up some Italian while in the classroom. Maybe. 

After about 2-3 hours, I walk 5 minutes down the road and hop back on the bus for my 40-minute ride back home.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall2019_Florence_Sarah Graham_Timelapse2MOV

Time to head home!

Thanks, Sarah!

Sarah Graham


Sarah Graham is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2019, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. An English major at University of Massachusetts Amherst, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

Sarah's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

Topics: Florence, Italy, Why Study Abroad