Tuesday, May 8, 2012

TESOL Teaching Tip #24 - When Did You Learn That?

My class consists of 20 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes, and go to school in English, although they don’t live in an English speaking country.  Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

TESOL Teaching Tip #24 - Wait for the language cycle. Language learning cycles around and suddenly students know things you didn't know they knew. Find strategies on how to help your esl or ell students to begin the language cycle at my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

ELL Teaching Tip #24: Watch for the Language to Cycle

This is the best time of year for me, because it’s the time of the year that all of the hard work we’ve put in all year long pays off.  Everything we have been working on all year long starts to sink in and the students are finally connecting all the pieces of what they have learned.  When you are working with English Language Learners, this time of the year is super exciting, because the language is starting to  cycle.
Here’s what I mean when I say that language learning cycles:  When you are learning a language, you learn a word or a phrase at a time.  When that word makes sense to you, then you can start to pick it out in a sentence you hear.  Once you know part of the sentence, the rest of that sentence, or another part of it might make sense and you now know the rest of the sentence, and hopefully will remember it for future use.  So, the more language you know, the more language you will learn.  In the beginning of Language Learning Sprials for English Language Learnersthe year, many students don’t know much English, and so they aren’t learning as much as fast, because they simply don’t know enough of what’s being said.  But, once they start picking up the words, they are able to understand some of what is being said, and can often guess the rest.  Then, suddenly it turns into this word cyclone and for every word they know, they pick up a few more they didn’t know. 
This cycle stays at a high speed for most students until they become what they deem to be “fluent” – which may not be what you deem to be fluent!  Once they think they know what they need to know, then you might need to lay in some further motivations, but even at this time when they are slightly less motivated, they learn faster because they already have a strong base of language.
It’s really enjoyable to see this happen in students.  I had a student this year who didn’t know a word of English on day one, and barely answered to his own name being called.  For weeks, he would wander off (mentally and literally) because he had no clue what we were talking about.  But, during those early weeks, he picked up some key vocabulary – book bag, book, bathroom, lunch, cafeteria, music, student, teacher, math etc.  In late November, he started to talk to me, and I realized he wasn’t wandering any more.  All of a sudden, he understood most of what was coming out of my mouth.  Then, in January, we got a new student and decided to do introductions.  This student stood up and gave us 4 complete sentences with details we could understand!  Nowadays, I wish I could get him to stop talking!  He always has an “important” story to tell me at the worst moment!  But, I’ve learned to listen, because it’s a great opportunity to add some new words to the flury of words he already knows.
So, if your English Language Learners is in the beginning stages – remember that they are building their schema, and getting ready to cycle.  When that cyclone hits – you’ll know that all your hard work has paid off.

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Find more TESOL Teaching Tips here, and come back every Tuesday for a new tip!