Relevance of what we teach

I find myself in a dilemma. I firmly believe that teaching what is relevant to our students is important. Sometimes the relevance might be abstract and “far away”, like when we learn to problem-solve. But I have always tried to make everything as relevant to the group and individual I teach, as possible.

In an inquiry-based approach, students will lead inquiry if you let them, and they by taking control, it will be relevant to them. Basing the teaching/content/theme on a concept that has “global relevance”, it becomes meaningful to them, and to the overall aim of, well, probably international education. But then, all education is somehow international.

Let me get back to the point. My own class is not the problem here. With them, I still stay very close to my believes and my approach matches my educational philosophy. What I really struggle with is teaching English (EAL) in grades 8 and 10. I teach them for 90 (and some for 180) min a week.
I want to focus on grade 10. Their level of English is beginners, absolute beginners. In special schools, teaching English has only just become important and my school has not followed any curriculum, order or guidelines. While these would have to be individualized anyway, a general “overview” would be great.
Every week I am faced with a group that:

  • is partly working hard on being accepted in society (as a special school student) and on finding a job for less than a year from now
  • is partly not interested in anything, and only comes to school because it is a legal requirement
  • is partly planning on going on unemployment benefits as soon as they leave school (and most likely will stay there)
  • probably won’t require the use of English at one part in their life
  • has no interest in the typical beginners materials, which is either made for adults, or for children
  • has no basis of English to work with
  • are at the height of puberty (15/16)

I find this an incredibly hard list to work with. I have no idea where to start (though I started weeks ago, but reflecting on that, I feel I haven’t made a start). Where do I begin, where do I want to go with them? What can I do to make English slightly relevant to my students? Where do I start to find the relevance for them?