Tuesday TESOL Tip #3: Let the kids talk! Kids can't learn to speak English without opening their mouths.
Back in 2012, when I taught English Language Learner exclusively in Morocco, I began a series called "Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tips". The series was long before a variety of website changes, so I have decided to revise it. I will be sharing one tip each Tuesday, starting with the original tips and expanding on them with the additional knowledge I've added in the last 9 years. Today's TESOL Teaching Tip is to speak SLOWLY!
ELL Teaching Tip #3: Let Them Talk
This week’s teaching tip is a hard one for me, because my classroom is SOOOO loud sometimes! There are times that I really can’t hear myself think, and I wish so badly that my students would just be quiet! However, when I get to that point, I try to step back and ask myself – are my students speaking in English? If they are, than even if they aren’t talking about what we should be learning, they are practicing their spoken English vocabulary, and for a class of English Language Leaners, that’s important. (Often in Morocco there were days that the noise is in Arabic or French – and then we would talk about how we are in class to learn English, so we must use our English to practice it. But we'll save that discussion for a separate post.)
Now, this isn’t to say you need to let your English Langue Learners talk all day about whatever they want, but do appreciate that when they are having those sidebar conversations, they are at least using their English. Back before Google Classroom when I used Edmodo, I had to create a whole "chat room" because the kids would talk back and forth so often when they were supposed to be doing their homework. I had another teacher suggest that I make a rule only allowing academics on Edmodo. However, my point to her was that none of those children spoke English at home, but they were using English to communicate on this website. As an ESL teacher, my primary goal is to have my students communicate in English. So why would I stop that communication?
Strategies for Encouraging Planned Discussions
In addition to that natural conversation that fills your classroom (and can give you a serious headache), it is important to give your English Language Learners plenty of planned lesson time to use their English. There are many ways to do this, including:
Collaborative Learning Teams: Putting students into groups with a specific goal almost always facilitates conversation. These teams can have a goal as simple as solving a puzzle - my math tiling puzzles are great for this - or as complex as creating a complete project. While students work to complete the goal, they will talk about how to get there.
Language Peer Pairs: Depending on the makeup of your classroom, you should always try to pair language learning students with native speakers. Now I've worked in many classrooms where that is not possible. In those settings, I would pair stronger language students with struggling language students. However you pair your students, I have students keep that same partner for a long time, at least a month. Every time we have a partner project, they work with that language partner. This builds their vocabulary and their confidence because they get comfortable with this partner instead of having to relearn peer dynamics each time they have an assignment to work on.
Partner Projects: As I discussed in my 10 Ways to Make Projects Work in Any Classroom blog post, I am not a fan of group projects for many reasons. However, for language learning students, projects done in large groups can be a real disaster. Students get lost or won't speak up within a larger group. So instead of group projects, I do partner projects. Give students a long range research project or book report project that they can work on with a partner and you will see the language start coming out.
Read and Rephrase: Sometimes when you read in another language, you don't get every word. Students get very frustrated with this and give up on wanting to read. So I do a lot of work with read and rephrase. Read a passage and tell me the gist of what you understood (kind of like summarizing, but without such a focus on main idea and details). This is a great strategy to use with language partners. Each student reads separately, then shares the general gist of what they read with their partner. Finally they discuss where they both got the same idea and where they didn't and see who got it right.
Tell a Friend What I Said: This strategy is great for listening comprehension as well as talking. After I give directions, I will have students retell the directions to a friend. This helps make sure they know what to do, and also gives them that talking chance to try out new vocabulary.
Tell Me What She Told You: Just like telling a friend what I said, sometimes when students are sharing an answer in pairs I ask them to tell me what their friend told them, instead of their own answer. This focuses on listening comprehension, but also builds up vocabulary and rephrasing skills.
Below, I will talk about my favorite way to encourage spoken vocabulary, but please know that this isn’t the only way for students to use their spoken English vocabulary. Any place in your lesson that you can encourage your English Language Learners to talk is important! Also, remember to talk slowly and give them ample response time while you are including talking into your lesson, but please include time to talk wherever possible. (See Tip #2 about rate of speed and pause time, and Tip # 21 about teaching your non-EL’s about English Language Learning.)
Real Life Teaching Example:
My favorite strategy for encouraging spoken English in a general classroom is to tell the students to “Turn to a friend, and then another”. When I do anything that requires my kids to come up with an answer to an oral question, I try to use the turn to a friend strategy. (This is not my strategy – I learned it in a workshop somewhere, don’t quite remember where – probably SIOP). With this strategy, I ask the question, give a 2 minute thinking time and then let them turn to a friend near them and tell their friend the answer. After their friend has told them the answer, they switch roles and listen to their friends answer. Then, I repeat the process with at least one (generally two) more partners. Once they have shared with their partners, I will choose 2 or 3 students to share the answer with the whole class. After a class is well trained in this strategy, I have even asked students to tell me what one of their partners told them, instead of their own answer.
This strategy gives your students the opportunity to talk about their answer with another student before they are called on. Since it is easier to talk to just one partner than the entire class, this allows students to build up the confidence to answer in front of the entire class, a skill that can be hard for many English Language Learners. And additional partners build up additional confidence. Additionally, this strategy builds in wait time, so that your English Language Learners have more time to process the words they want to use. Plus, they have heard other people’s responses, so they may pick up new vocabulary or concepts from their peers.
"Turn to a friend, and then another" works best when using with open-ended questions. One place I use this strategy the most is in coordination with my Reading Journals (works with Primary and Intermediate). Before a read aloud, I will ask a thinking question. After a read aloud, I will have kids write down the answer to the question in their Reading Journal. Then, I will have kids use the "Turn to a friend, and then another" strategy before we all share our ideas about the answer to the thinking question.
How do you encourage English Language Learners to talk in your classroom?
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