Talking is Allowed in Class

My class consists of 19 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.  Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French.  I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect.  All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees.  My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.)  Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners.  Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners.  So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners.  Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

ELL Teaching Tip #3:  Let Them Talk

This week’s teaching tip is a hard one for me, because my classroom is SOOOO loud these days!  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.  (With my class, there are days that the noise is in Arabic or French – and we really talk about how we are in class to learn English, so we must use our English to practice it.)  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.

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 time to use their English.  There are many ways to do this, including collaborative learning teams, peer tutoring, partner work, read and repeat, tell a friend what I said, etc.  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 it wherever possible.  (See Tip #2 about rate of speed and pause time, and Tip # 21 about teaching your non-ELL’s about English Language Learning.)  When at all possible, try teaming up your English Language Learners with native English speakers for best results in language learning.

My favorite strategy for encouraging spoken English in a general classroom is to tell the students to “Turn to a Friend”.  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.  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 works best when using with open-ended questions.  One place I use it most is in coordination with my Reading Journals (works with Primary and rj2Intermediate).  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 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?

Do you want more TESOL Teaching Tips – check back each Tuesday for more.  Also, check out Teaching Tip #1 – Use Graphics and Teaching Tip #2 – Talk Slowly.



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About rakisradresources

teacher mother of 3 wife

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