In our first installment, we shared a short summary of the speaking and listening standards, along with a few ways that we attempt to meet them in our classrooms. As we stated, discussions—both in small groups and in ones engaging the entire class—are a key way to provide opportunities for English-language learners to develop their speaking and active listening skills. Here are a few more specific classroom discussion strategies we regularly use:
Educator Jennifer Gonzalez described the idea of simple chat stations, which are very adaptable for ELLs. Here’s how we apply her idea.
First, we give students a list of six questions, typically related to or about a text. Students are given 10 to 15 minutes to write their responses. The questions are also taped individually around the room—or in other words, in “chat stations.” Station one lists the first question, station two lists the second question, and so on.
Then, students are told that they are going to be divided into groups of three to six (depending on the size of the class and the number of questions). They are also given a list of some sentence-question starters. They are assigned a starting “station,” and have a certain number of minutes to share and discuss their answers to the posted question at that station using the assigned sentence-starters (and others of their choice). The group then comes to a consensus answer supported by evidence. Teachers can provide each group with a simple form to use to write down their group response.
In addition, each group has to draw (and sign their number, which is the station at which they began) a very simple image on the sheet that contains the question at each station. This picture must represent their group response to the question. In other words, when they leave each station, the group will take their answer sheet with them but leave a picture behind.
After a certain amount of time, the teacher tells the groups to switch to the next “station” and repeat the process until each group has visited each station.
At that point, we’ve tried different next steps, including:
- Having each group prepare a very short report of their answers, ensuring that each member has a role, and having them present to another group.
- Calling on a specific person from each group to share one answer with the entire class.
- Having groups quickly rotate again to each “station” and decide on a group vote for the best picture drawn for each question, with the caveat that they can’t vote for their own drawing.
Sometimes prior to reading a text, we type out between six and 10 sentences from the text. Then, we give one sentence to each student, with two to five students receiving the same one. We explain that their job is to individually read it and make a prediction for what they believe happens in the full text and why. Students with the same sentence get into a small group and discuss their predictions using the sentence-question starters and come to a consensus about what they believe is the best prediction and why.
Students then make a simple poster that they present to the class in the Round-Robin activity described earlier or each group can briefly present to the whole class. After hearing each group’s sentence and their predictions based on them, students—either individually or as a group—can make a list of what they think are the best overall predictions which they can revisit after reading the text.
This is a great classroom discussion activity that we actually learned about after our book went to press. Basically, students go into small groups (for example, a group of three) and one person is designated as the “wingman.” That person’s job is to listen to the discussion between the classmates in the group and use a sheet to evaluate the quality of that discussion (whether students are using certain sentence-starters or if they are talking excessively) and then write down their own thoughts and summarize what occurred. Then, that student can provide a report to the class.
There are lots of variations, of course. You can see a video of it in action here, and if you register at the Teaching Channel (it’s free and easy), you can gain access to some nice materials, including a sample wingman worksheet.
We’ve compiled a large list of additional classroom discussion strategies here.
What listening and speaking strategies do you find most useful with your English-language learners? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.