Speaking is one of the most fun skills to build when working with English language learners! It’s great to have time in class for conversation, discussions, games, and so on.
Often as teachers, we don’t provide enough time in class for speaking. This is especially true with students building English skills. No wonder slang and non-academic skills are built so much faster; students have so much more time to build these outside of class!
Here are some of my favourite ways to build and assess speaking skills with English language learners.
PROVIDE TALK TIME IN CLASS
As I just mentioned above, we often don’t provide enough time in class for students to talk. Many teachers value an extremely quiet classroom the majority of the time.
There certainly isn’t anything wrong with this when students are working on tests or independently, we just don’t want to do it too often.
Students, whether they’re English language learners or not, need time to talk, discuss, and collaborate.
This helps them learn how to use academic vocabulary in conversation, listen to others and provide input, and work on polite and appropriate debate and discussion skills.
Do your best to allow pair and share, group talk, class discussions, and so on whenever you can to build these skills.
Interviews are one of my favourite things to have students participate in. They’re a great way to practice speaking as well as listening and writing.
As students become more and more comfortable in your class and with their peers, start to switch up who you pair them with. Or, try having larger groups and see how they do with more people talking.
As you begin interview activities, they will likely only feel comfortable with one or two peers, but start to expand who they work with to provide more opportunities to speak and engage with peers they’re less comfortable with.
TRY USING TECHNOLOGY
There are many options for students to use technology to practice their speaking skills. This is especially useful for students who are still too shy to interact with peers.
My personal favourite is FlipGrid. Students have the ability to respond to a question or other activity you’ve set as the teacher. They record a video and can add cute emojis and so on, which makes it more fun.
For students too shy to video, I have them cover the camera and just record their voice, then I can still hear and respond to their speaking skills.
Another great option is simply using the microphone on Google read and write. Then students can also listen back as well as see how what they’re saying pops up as text. This is a good option for some of the more studious students to self assess their speaking skills and make necessary adjustments.
HAVE STUDENTS REPEAT
Students who are brand new to English and still have extremely low speaking skills can try repeating activities.
If you have an educational assistant or classroom volunteers, a good activity is to have them work one on one or with a small group of English language learners on repeating words or phrases.
This is also an extremely helpful activity for students whose first language used a different alphabet and do not yet know letter sounds.
Understanding how to articulate for certain punctuation is also a good thing to practice when repeating for students who have made progress with words and letter sounds.
As mentioned above, having your students use technology is a great way to engage them and have them work on speaking skills.
Having them make videos is a great way to engage students in content and build speaking skills. They can use their phones, tablets, computer programs, and so on to make these.
Depending on a student’s language level, they can start small with making videos about their own interests, their home countries, or other things without the need for academic vocabulary. As they become more skilled in English, you can start to make the assignment more challenging and include course content to assess their knowledge.
This is always a fun and practical activity for all students, but having the ability to re-do any errors is extra beneficial for students learning English and weaker students as well.
Of course, presentations are always a go-to for all students when it comes to working on speaking skills as well as gaining confidence in front of teachers and peers.
When it comes to working with English language learners, I am always very cautious about assigning presentations. While I do believe they’re an important part of education, if students aren’t yet ready for them or feel their English skills are below that of their peers, it can cause a lot of emotional turmoil.
Use your professional judgement when assigning presentations to English language learners. If I have a specific ELL class, I’ll do presentations quite a bit since everyone is “in the same boat” when it comes to levels. However, in a “regular” education class, I’ll always allow ELL students to work in groups or have the options of filming their presentation rather than doing it “live” in front of their peers.
Like presentations, having students perform plays is another great way to get them involved and practicing speaking skills. In younger classes, this usually looks like a reader’s theatre. With older kids, I’ll usually have them create their own plays in relation to the content we’re learning.
Of course, many ELL students aren’t yet ready to write and perform their own plays. In these instances, and depending on the class I’m teaching and the class make-up, I’ll either strategically pair them with students who can support them, or I’ll provide them with a pre-written play.
No matter how you set it up, this is a great activity because it gets students up and moving. It also has them engage in an activity and ways of thinking that are out of their “regular” day-to-day school activities.
READ OUT LOUD
Reading out loud may seem boring or “old school”, but it’s still an easy and great way for students to practice their reading skills.
I always let students have the option to “skip” when it’s their turn to read, which is great for their mental health and shyness, but can backfire if the students we want to practice reading always skip.
To help with this, try to mix up how you have students read out loud. Put them into small groups, or have them pick partners and take turns reading. This ensures all the students get a chance to read, but they don’t necessarily have to read in front of the whole class.
Finally, a great way for kids to work on their speaking skills is by playing board games.
When I teach an English language development course, we play fun board games all the time. They don’t have to be content related because we’re working on English, not on academics. This is great because students can pick the games they want to play and generally enjoy them.
However, if you’re teaching a content course, it’s harder to incorporate board games into the class. In younger grades, I’ll have one of our centres on Fridays always be math or language arts games. This way, the kids are learning content as well as having fun and playing games.
In older grades, we’ll play less often, once every two weeks or so, depending on how much content we’ve covered, and so on. It’s a great opportunity for students to have some fun, talk with one another, and take a break from desk work.
Well, what do you think about these tips? Which ones do you already use? Are there any great strategies I’ve missed? Let me know!
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