(This is Part Four in a five-part series. You can see Part One here; Part Two here; and Part Three here.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
How do you promote speaking with English-language learners?
Part One‘s contributors were Valentina Gonzalez, Sarah Said, Mary Ann Zehr, Dr. Jeff Zwiers, and Maneka Deanna Brooks. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Valentina, Sarah, and Mary Ann on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
In Part Two, Joyce Nutta, Carine Strebel, Jenny Vo, Dr. Catherine Beck, Dr. Heidi Pace, and Pamela Broussard shared their responses.
Part Three‘s answers came from Sandra C. Figueroa, Cecilia Pattee, Barbara Gottschalk, Michael D. Toth, Becky Corr, and Susan Michalski.
Today’s commentaries are written by Luis Javier Pentón Herrera, Jennifer Orr, Dr. Lindsey Moses, Nancy Callan, Kelly Wickham Hurst, Areli Schermerhorn, and Mary Amanda (Mandy) Stewart.
Response From Luis Javier Pentón Herrera
Luis Javier Pentón Herrera, Ph.D., is currently a high school English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher, and he is also an adjunct professor in TESOL, Spanish, writing, and education at different colleges and universities. He is serving on the Maryland Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (MDTESOL) board of directors as its 1st vice president. His research focuses on bilingual education, Spanish, ESL/ESOL, literacy studies, and Hispanic pedagogues:
Getting English-language learners to speak in English inside and outside of the classroom continues to be one of the most challenging topics for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) professionals. Only a couple of years ago, Wayne E. Wright wrote a very compelling article in the “Educational Leadership” journal titled “Let them talk!”. In that article, Wright asserted that K-12 schools spend little time on helping ESOL students develop speaking proficiency skills; which hinders their literacy development and academic achievement. Today, two years after that article was published, I continue to see that reading and writing continue to be the academic focus within the ESOL classrooms, mainly because of the precedence given to standardized tests and how important it is for ESOL students to do well in them.
As a high school newcomer ESOL teacher, I have become increasingly aware of the importance oral literacy has for my students in our school (to be able to participate), in our school (to be able to communicate with their non-ESOL peers and non-ESOL teachers), and in their community (to be able to participate in conversations through their daily activities and at work). However, I have also become increasingly aware that developing oral-literacy skills goes beyond “the teacher asks a question and the student answers"; in the real world, this just does not work. I want my students to develop oral-literacy skills in spontaneous conversations and addressing topics that go beyond what we learn in class. Below I share three examples of some of the real-life activities I have incorporated into my teaching practice with the vision of engaging my students in real-life conversations with English-speaking individuals in the safety of our classroom. Depending on your institution, these activities may need approval from the administration and/or county; make sure to check with your supervisors in advance.
- Borrow students from other classrooms.
It has become my practice to send a schoolwide email at least once every quarter asking my colleagues for wonderful English-speaking students. I ask other teachers at my school to let me borrow five to 10 students from their classes to work with my ESOL students. If possible, I ask that they send monolingual English-speaking students; that way I know they will only be communicating in English with my ESOL students. Once they are in my classroom, I divide the class into four to five groups (depending on the class size), and each group has a topic they have to talk about. I have also included projects where my ESOL students have to conduct interviews to create “Facebook profiles” or “Blog pages” about the students interviewed (I make sure no identifiable personal information is posted online). With this activity, the sky is the limit.
- Invite professionals (or even other teachers) to your classroom.
If at all possible, invite accomplished professionals who were once also ESOL students/immigrants who arrived to the United States with developing-English skills. I have learned that ESOL students appreciate inspiration and role models that helps them stay motivated through the initial cultural shock and silence period. Inviting professionals to talk to the class about their experiences as prior ESOL students when they arrived to the United States and the wonderful things they are doing now as English-speaking professionals captures the students’ attention. Also talk to your students about your own experiences as an ESOL teacher and ask them to share their future professional plans with the class.
- Go outside the classroom. If possible, take your ESOL students on field trips to where they can communicate in English with people in the community. Many times, schools have yearly trips to amusement parks for honor-roll students; this is also a wonderful opportunity for you and your ESOL students. Also, schools often have games and events (both at night and during the weekends) that your ESOL students can be part of. Share these events with your students and let them know that you will be there with them. Be with them during these after-school activities, during which you can share your school spirit and give them an opportunity to be part of school events where they can interact with other students and teachers who speak English.
The most difficult part of breaking through the silence of ESOL students is overcoming their fear of speaking in public. Once students have many opportunities to interact with English speakers, both inside and outside of the classroom, they will become more comfortable to orally participate in class. As an ESOL educator, remember that in addition to the activities shared above, you have the flexibility of making every classwork or assessment an opportunity to promote speaking. Something as simple and small as having speaking warm-up activities every day in your class can make a huge difference throughout the course of the school year.
Response From Jennifer Orr
Jennifer Orr has been an elementary school classroom teacher for 20 years in Title I schools in northern Virginia:
Like all students, and all people, English-language learners are unique individuals. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for encouraging ELLs to speak in the classroom. However, there are some important things to remember and strategies to put into place.
First of all, students arriving in a new country with a new language will often go through a silent period. “The silent period is a time that most language learners go through as they proceed to learn a language. Language learners in the silent period are unwilling or unable to communicate orally, even though they make sense of what is going on around them in a new language (Krashen, 1985).” This can be a brief period for students, or it can last for months. Respecting their comfort with speaking in the classroom is very important. ELL students need opportunities to speak but should not be forced to do so (something that is probably best practice for all students, honestly).
One way to support ELLs to participate in class discussions is to offer them ways to prepare. Rather than jump immediately into a conversation, give students a chance to write or draw their thoughts about the topic or question at hand. This will give them time to think through the content as well as the language they need to convey their thinking. Responding quickly to a question is more challenging if students face a cognitive load around both the content and the language. Writing or drawing will help them feel more prepared and confident about speaking up.
Talking with a partner can also help. One-on-one conversations are less intimidating than group or whole-class conversations. ELLs can be partnered with a student who has experience with the language in order to support their content vocabulary and language development while working on the content, or they can be offered the opportunity to begin the conversation with a partner in their native language (if such a partner is available) to focus on the content.
ELLs are facing two challenges in the classroom: the content and the English language. The expectation is that they will learn both, of course. If the content can be offered to them with visuals or other less language-heavy options, this will help balance some of the challenges they face. As the teacher, it is important to think about content and language and how to support students’ growth in both. Classroom discussions and other speaking opportunities are wonderful ways for ELLs to build content and language skills.
Krashen, S. D. (1985). The input hypothesis: Issues and implications. Addison-Wesley Longman Ltd.
Response From Dr. Lindsey Moses
Lindsey Moses is an associate professor of literacy education at Arizona State University. Lindsey researches, publishes, and provides professional development related to literacy instruction in diverse settings. She is the author/co-author of three Heinemann books: Comprehension and English Language Learners, Supporting English Learners in the Reading Workshop, and What Are the REST of my Kids Doing? Fostering Independence in the K-2 Reading Workshop:
Opportunities for meaningful speaking are an essential component of classrooms that are supportive for ELLs. They become better speakers by having many and varied opportunities to speak. In order to promote speaking with ELLs, we have to be thoughtful about students’ language proficiency and how we can scaffold opportunities for speaking participation. Planning, scaffolds, and time are my three essential components for supporting speaking with ELLs.
Student talk should be a planned part of every lesson. Our planning involves the following considerations:
- What do I want my students to be learning and discussing?
- Where throughout the lesson can I build in time for talk?
- What language supports might students need to speak about their thinking?
- How will the talk be structured (group talk, partner talk, turn taking, natural conversation flow, etc.)?
- How much wait time needs to be planned?
Based on the broad planning, we build in scaffolds. For beginning speakers, we include language frames and visuals as part of an anchor chart to help reinforce options they might use for sharing their thinking. The picture below is an example from Meridith Ogden’s classroom. She provided language scaffolds for comprehending/understanding how to make inferences, but also language frames to help support discussion about inferences. We don’t require the use of language frames, but they provide additional language support when entering into a conversation. Eventually, we want students moving away from the language frames as they become more confident in sharing.
Photo by Meridith Ogden
An additional scaffold is adjusting the structure of the supported talk. Table group talk can be a great way to have open-ended discussions, but it can also be challenging for quiet or more reluctant speakers. We build in language scaffolds like the ones seen in the discussion-group anchor chart. These are helpful, but they don’t always solve the problem of balanced participation. We talk with all of our students about building norms of inclusion. For example, “If you notice Alejandro has not said anything, you could say, ‘What do you think Alejandro?’ Alejandro can add his thinking, or say something as simple as, ‘I agree with. ...’” Participation and engagement with the group are essential parts of this process.
Time, time, time...we never have enough. For ELLs, wait time is essential and worth the extra minutes. Imagine how frustrating it would be listening to a teacher ask a question or give a “Think, Pair, Share” prompt, only to have other students shout out the answer or “share” before you had a chance to translate and process the question. An easy support is simply building in wait time to all of the traditional speaking practices like “Think, Pair, Share.” We emphasize the “Think” part and build in extra wait time when no one is allowed to speak until the teacher says “Pair, Share.” Another structure modification is giving all students a chance to rehearse and/or prepare what they are going to say before asking them to share. In the primary grades, we ask students to “Think” (the students silently think and prepare a response until we say “Whisper”), “Whisper” (students whisper their response into their hands), and “Let it go!” (students release their hands into the air as they shout out their response). This speaking opportunity gives everyone a chance to speak without the fear or anxiety of peers listening and looking only at you. ELLs become better speakers by speaking; it is our job to support that process with planning, scaffolds, and time.
Response From Nancy Callan
Nancy Callan is the author of 13 books for absolute beginner to mid-intermediate English-language learners. Most of her books feature the four-skills cooperative-learning method called Jigsaw:
It will be no surprise that I think the Jigsaw is the most effective way to transform your class from teacher-centered to student-centered. It promotes lots of meaningful conversation in English at any level. Besides the jigsaw, though, there are many other ways to promote student speaking.
We all know Think, Pair, Share is a wonderful strategy for encouraging students to reflect on and discuss class material, often providing those much needed further opportunities to use and hear new vocabulary in order to make it stick. I have a similar pair activity I love to use during unscheduled time at the end of a class. I call mine “One-Minute Talking and Active Listening.” Students are put into pairs. One student talks for one minute without stopping, and the other student listens and talks only to indicate active listening.
The activity could be used to review simple present tense with a question like, “What did you do last weekend?” or to review vocabulary with a question like, “What do you have in your bedroom?” This activity also adds to students’ soft skills. In a language culture where it is socially acceptable for other speakers to jump in and take the floor during long pauses, sometimes speakers need strategies to hold the floor when they need a moment to think. Furthermore, students often need to expand their ability to indicate attention and comprehension beyond simply making eye contact and smiling. Imagine the importance of this skill when being given instructions on the first day of a new job!
The teacher first needs to preteach strategies English native speakers often use to fill pauses in speaking. Start by writing “um” on the board and ask your students if they have noticed others. They might come up with “uh,” “like,” or “so.” When speaking, students are also allowed to repeat information already shared with expressions like “as I said” or “like I said.” They are just not allowed to stop talking until the teacher or time-keeping device tells them one minute is up.
The teacher also needs to preteach ways to indicate listening through body gestures and words, such as nodding and saying, “Oh.” “Uh huh.” “Oh, really?” “Wow.” “I see.” If the speaker says he has a king-size bed, the listener cannot say, “I have a king-size bed, too.” He could say, “Oh, really, a king size!” The listener can also check comprehension,with a question such as, “Did you say king-size?” or “So you have a king-size bed?” He is not there, however, to add his or her own experiences or even to praise.
After time is up, I have pairs switch roles and do another one-minute talk and listen. Other times, I ask the listening student to report to the class on what they learned, practicing reported speech. I find students love practicing this soft-skills part of the activity the most. In addition to developing those soft skills, though, it’s a great way to make use of the last few minutes of class and to promote speaking with English-language learners, often using target vocabulary or grammatical structures.
Response From Kelly Wickham Hurst
Kelly Wickham Hurst is a 23-year educator, classroom teacher, and administrator who founded Being Black at School in 2016. BBAS is an advocacy organization that uses frameworks and data to assist schools in being more equitable. She’s a mom of six and grandmother of two and lives with her husband in Springfield, Ill.:
First, there’s academic language and social language. ELL students soar at the social first because that’s how they practice most. I had a teacher get so angry at a student because she watched him on the playground at recess talking up a storm, but he was silent in the classroom. That’s his comfort level! She should have met him there and not gotten upset that her difficult scientific vocabulary was being a barrier. It’s all about allowing them to practice language, ask questions, and feel comfortable enough to ask questions about English (which is superhard to learn! We have weird rules!) without feeling inadequate. Teachers have to make space for that.
Response From Areli Schermerhorn
Areli Schermerhorn is an ENL (English as a New Language)/bilingual independent evaluator for the Syracuse, N.Y., school district. She’s also honored to represent New York State United Teachers as an ELT (English Language Teaching) instructor, and the AFT (American Federation Of Teachers) as a national trainer on English-learners:
The English proverb, “Children should be seen and not heard,” certainly has no place in today’s classroom. The research continues to support the importance of developing the speaking skills of all children, and this is particularly important to remember when working with English-learners. For example, the report, “English Language Learners in U.S. Schools: An Overview of Research Findings (2005)” by Fred Genesee, Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, William Saunders, and Donna Christian identified the development of oral English-language skills as a key focus area for the literacy development of ELs.
Armed with this information, I began to reflect on my practice and the ways that I promote speaking and social interactions in my classroom so my students have the opportunity to communicate in their new language. My first thought was that it is not enough to have strategies that engage students in speaking activities. Teachers have to create an environment where students feel safe and respected. The strategies that allow us to both build a sense of community and strengthen communication skills are true gems! Often as teachers we are concerned, even overwhelmed, by the content that our students need to learn. The reality is that we don’t teach the content, we teach children. So take the time to infuse questions that have students not only making text-to-self connections but also fostering peer-to-peer connections!
These are a few of my favorite things:
Mingle to Music:
- · When the music plays, stand up and “mingle.”
- · When the music stops, turn to the person closes to you.
- · Discuss the question or statement.
- · Thank your partner!
- · Repeat!
Back to Back - Face to Face
- · Find a partner and stand BACK to BACK.
- · Listen to the question.
- · Think about your response.
- · Turn and FACE your partner.
- · Take turns discussing your responses.
- · High-five your partner!
- · Read the text.
- · Write 3 important ideas on Post-it Notes and place on mat (chart paper).
- · Share information with group.
- · Come to consensus on the 3 most important ideas in entire document.
- · Write or place ideas in middle.
- · Share information with class.
- · Applaud!
Stand Up! Hand Up! Pair Up! High-Five!
- · Read the question/statement/text.
- · Write (Draw) a response to the question/statement/text on a Post-it Note.
- · Stand up! Hand up!
- · Look for a partner - Give them a high-five!
- · Share the information.
- · Put your hand back up when done sharing.
- · Hand up! Look for new partner!
- · Repeat!
Find Your Match
- · Study your card.
- · Stand up.
- · Ask your peer - “Are you my match?”
- · When you find your match, sit down next to your “match” or new partner.
- · Tell your partner, “I’m so glad you are here!”
Give One - Get One
- · Think about______.
- · Write words about______.
- · Stop!
- · Stand up and get more words from your classmates. Say “thank you!”
- · Write new words on your list.
- · Sit down.
- · Share your words.
Collaborative Quizzing is an idea from “Five Types of Quizzes That Deepen Engagement with Course Content” by Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D.Collaborative Quizzing
- · Work on quiz.
- · Turn it over when done.
- · Stand up (when instructed by teacher).
- · Talk with a partner (to others in a small group or student choice).
- · After discussion, return to quiz and make changes, if necessary.
Collaborative Quiz (Option 2)
- · Complete quiz individually.
- · Turn it in.
- · Complete the same quiz in a small group.
- · Turn it in. (Individual quiz (75%) Group quiz (25%) or some other variation).
I have these strategies on Power Point slides supported with visuals so they can be easily integrated into a lesson. Additionally, I have students refer to a generic checklist to self-assess their speaking: “Did I connect my response to the topic? Did I use new (academic) words? Did I use more than one word in my response? Did I speak clearly so others could hear me and understand me?” Developing speakers, in particular, benefit from exemplars and repeated modeling of the strategies.
Response From Mary Amanda (Mandy) Stewart
Mary Amanda (Mandy) Stewart is an associate professor at Texas Woman’s University. She shares more ideas on developing students’ oral language in Keep It R.E.A.L! Relevant, Engaging, and Affirming Literacy for Adolescent English Learners. Find her @drmandystewart or at maryamandastewart.com:
Start From the Heart: Connecting to Students’ Homelands
I walk into the high school ESL class with a singular purpose—to get 16-year-old Marco to speak in English. I know that he is in more than normal adolescent emotional turmoil, having to leave Cuba, his friends, the cultural surroundings he felt familiar in, and the taken-for-granted comfort of using his language in school. Just as he was gaining greater independence in young adulthood, he was thrust into a new culture, country, school system, and language that made him feel like a helpless and confused child.
Marco had lost his swagger.
Teachers of young men new to the United States know exactly what I mean. Marco did not want to say a word in English because trying to form those strange words made him vulnerable.
As I worked with his ESL teacher for a year, we saw growth in his English proficiency through reading, writing, and listening. We were patient with him as far as speaking, knowing how close he was to giving up on school. Sometimes, I spoke to him in Spanish to try to develop a trusting relationship, but as the months passed, he still refused to speak in English.
By April, I was utterly frustrated with my lack of progress with Marco. All of the “best practices” did not seem to make a dent in his emotionally-laden decision to not speak English. Then, I introduced a new project to his class of newcomers. They would research their own countries using various texts in both English and their first language.
As I helped a student at another table, I heard “Miss! Miss!” from the other side of the room. It was Marco. In the past, he only called me over to ask "¿Puedo ir al baño?” [Can I go to the bathroom?] That’s what I was expecting as I reluctantly went his way.
However, Marco was pointing excitedly at a photograph in a book. It was an image of the Plaza de Armas in Havana, Cuba. As he pointed he said, “Miss, I play soccer here. I play soccer here in Cuba with my friends.”
I was shocked! Marco was willingly speaking to me in English. He even answered questions I had about the picture. Then, he wanted to tell the student next to him from China about playing soccer at the plaza pictured in the book.
Finally, Marco had an authentic reason to say something. He finished his project on Cuba and used English to tell us about the country he missed and most important, his experiences there.
Since then, I’ve partnered with another ESL teacher to complete this project. Here’s some ideas:
- Locate texts about your students’ countries with accessible English and L1 support. I use Worlds of Words, newsela, and these series, depending on students’ age: I See the Sun, Country Explorers, Global Hotspots, and Country ABCs.
- Make a graphic organizer to provide structure for students’ research.
- Model how to research and complete at least one graphic organizer together before independent work.
- Communicate your expectations for research clearly, in writing and orally. Students can also make posters or digital presentations after the graphic organizer.
- Once their research is complete, provide sentence stems for sharing about their country in small groups.
- Provide sentence stems for group members to ask questions as well so everyone is speaking.
If you teach reluctant speakers like Marco, be understanding. Yet, don’t give up on providing them authentic and meaningful reasons to speak. Think about what’s in their heart and start there.
Thanks to Luis, Jennifer, LIndsey, Nancy, Kelly, Areli, and Mandy for their contributions.
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Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.
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This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts
Best Ways to Begin The School Year
Best Ways to End The School Year
Student Motivation & Social-Emotional Learning
Teaching English-Language Learners
Entering the Teaching Profession
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Look for Part Five in a few days.
The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.