The post below was originally written for Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q & A blog on Education Week. It is part of a five post series addressing the question:
How do you promote speaking with English Language Learners?
Speaking is one of the core literacy skills, but ELL students might be shy or overwhelmed to participate in a large class discussion because of their language skills. Initiating small groups discussions and one-on-one discussions is a way for students to share thinking, questions, connections, and synthesis of a text, while at the same time building language and speaking skills. Doing so also addresses Common Core State Standards, which require students initiate and participate in a range of collaborative discussions (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9- 10.1).
Technology tools can help ELL students meet the demands of the curriculum and build understanding so they can meet learning objectives. As authors Heather Parris, Lisa Estrada, and Andrea Honigsfeld (2017) explained in ELL Frontiers: Using Technology to Enhance Instruction for English Learners, “The use of digital media provides a low-anxiety environment with a focus on the traditional four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing), plus the skill of viewing, which must be included in today’s classroom. ELs need ample production opportunities to develop language skills.”
To help ELL students develop academic language, consider having students respond orally using a video discussion platform, such as Flipgrid, Recap, or Seesaw. These tools remove the stress of performance in front of the class and give students the opportunity to present knowledge and ideas orally while at the same time build verbal communication. With these video discussion platforms, you pose a question for which students can record responses. You set the amount of time that students have to respond to a question; for example, students have one minute to answer a question or ninety seconds. Students can listen to each other’s reflections to learn from them and respond to one another. Flipgrid also offers stickers, similar to those on Snapchat, for students to digitally accessorize their look on camera. For students who don’t like to show their face on camera, you could keep a collection of masks or selfie props on hand for students to use when sharing.
On Seesaw students can add written reflections and draw their responses. Students have more options for how they might share and reflect by adding a drawing to explain their thinking or their steps for solving a math problem. Students can view each other’s written responses and add peer feedback with the app. Providing discussion starters or sentence frames can help students scaffold their response and plan out what they will say before posting a response on a video discussion platform.
Both sentence stems and word banks are useful tools to help support students who are new to English Language. Here are a few sentence frames from Achieve the Core that can be adapted to meet the needs of the students in your classroom:
- I anticipate that
- I think that . . . will happen because . . .
- I think . . . might . . . because I know that . . .
- If . . . then . . .
- One reason
- Another reason
- At first I thought
Cause and Effects:
- . . is most likely the cause for . . .
- When . . . happened then . . .
- I think . . . was caused by . . .