Tuesday, October 14, 2014

TESOL Teaching Tip #53 - Talk, Talk, Talk, Let Kids Have Discussions

As a teacher at an International School, many of my students were English Language Learners. Even my native English speakers were living in a non-English speaking country. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. Here is this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

TESOL Teaching Tip #53 - Let students have and participate in whole class discussions. ESL and ELL students need to use their language well in order to become proficient. Stop by my blog - Raki's Rad Resources - for strategies on how to help your students build their proficiency.

Students learning a new language MUST hear and use that language A LOT in order to become truly proficient.  However, listening to a lecture does not teach students a language.  Neither does having them simply repeat random phrases or verb conjugations.  Instead, students need to be a part of purposeful conversation where they must listen for and use key vocabulary to keep the conversation going.  This is actually quite difficult for teachers because it means – KIDS NEED TO HAVE CONVERSATIONS!  This goes against the common purpose of most teachers – getting kids to be quiet.  Now, I don’t believe kids need to spend the entire day talking, but studies show that kids who engage in conversations regularly, build their vocabulary and usage rules much quicker than kids that don’t.
So, the million dollar question is:  How do you get your students to have conversation, and still maintain decorum in your classroom?

1.)  Have clear expectations - First and foremost, you have to be sure to set up procedures in your classroom which promote positive behavior during discussion times.  Give students the expectations before hand and take time to practice having discussions from the first day of school.

Let students have discussions to build listening and speaking vocabulary - ESL Tip from Raki's Rad Resources 2.)  Begin with a set schedule -  When you are first introducing the idea of discussions to your class, have a set time that this will occur each day.  I used to start with the 15 minutes following Read Aloud.  My students would have a guiding question, which they would answer in their Read Aloud Journal while they were listening to the story. (Focused listening is great for ESL Students – find more details in this Read Aloud blog post.)  After the read aloud was complete, they would have to share their information with 3 classmates in the form of three 5 minute discussions.  Then, we would share out our answers, but students had to tell me what one of their partners had answered, or a conclusion that two students had formed during a discussion – NOT what they had written on their paper.  By doing Read Aloud Discussions every day, at the same time, in the same way, students got comfortable with the idea of discussions within a month and then I could turn around and use discussions in other subjects, at other times, and in other ways.

3.)  Choose groups wisely – With very few exceptions, I NEVER let kids choose their own partner(s) for discussions.  Children tend to choose students who are at close to the same language level as their own, which does not provide students with a chance to grow as an English speaker.  Additionally, students will choose their friends and often get off task or cause any number of management issue.  This is true no matter what age you teach – I have even found it true when teaching PD courses to teachers. :)  Instead, I try to choose partners by pairing up native speakers and fluent speakers with beginning speakers.  I also try to change partners regularly.  In my Read Aloud Discussion example above, I would give each student three partners that they would keep for the week, and then change the partner groups each Monday.  Sometimes I would change all three partners, but more often I would change out one at a time, so that students had a balance of consistency and change.

4.)  Be a part of the discussion – Make yourself a possible discussion partner.  Remember, you are your students’ best role model.  They need time to talk to you and hear you speak just to them.  This practice also gives you a chance to clearly model your expectations to your students, and do quick informal assessments of where their listening and speaking skills are developing and where they are in need of more assistance.  (Anecdotal note time!)

Let students have discussions to build listening and speaking vocabulary - ESL Tip from Raki's Rad ResourcesNow, the second question I often hear from teachers is:  When in my lesson should I let students discuss?  There is no right answer to this.  Whenever and wherever it feels right to your class is when it should be a part of your lesson.  However, here are some examples of where I find it easy to fit in discussions:
1.)  Book talks – read aloud, guided reading, novel studies, etc.

2.)  To answer guiding or essential questions – for a unit, a lesson, or for the school year

3.)  To clarify a new idea or concept in math (or science, or history, or whatever subject you’re introducing new content in.)

4.)  After doing research – in a jigsaw technique, students can share the information they learned with others

5.)  When brainstorming answers to a problem – great for justifying the answer to a problem

6.)  During current events conversations in Social Studies – great for building on Point of View

7.)  While peer editing essays and stories – give and get feedback, quick and painlessly

8.)  When compiling lists of current background knowledge on a given topic – think the K in the KWL chart

9.)  To clarify the meaning of a video or lecture watched in class
10.)  During peer tutoring sessions – have students help each other to find the correct answer, but they must explain the correct way to find the answer, not do the work from them.

One of the best things about have student discussions is that you will find that students will begin initiating meaningful, English conversations on their own.
Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources