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One New Activity I’m Doing To Help ELLs Learn Academic Vocabulary – & Practice Speaking It

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One of my students’ favorite activities, and one that I believe is very effective, is several times a week getting together in assigned small groups to practice conversational English. They all have a “cheat sheet” of about seventy different questions and answers that is in our book, The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide and practice asking and answering each others questions. Of course, if you don’t have our book, you can easily come up with your own “cheat sheet.”

Periodically, I ask students what other kinds of topics they want to practice, they come up with more questions, and I put them together on additional sheets — which they all glue into their notebooks.

My combination Beginners/Intermediate class has a wide enough range that the groups can work on their own with me just walking around between them.

This semester, however, I gained several excellent twelfth-graders who work as peer tutors during one of my class’ periods. I’ve assigned each one to a small group, and have given each of my students and them copies of various Academic Vocabulary Lists. Now, in addition to the regular conversational questions-and-answers, during each session tutors spend a short time teaching the concept represented by two-or-three of the words (the academic vocabulary on the lists is for the early grades and tutors know the vast majority of them) and develop a question using it and an “answer frame” that students can use in response.

Here’s an easy one a tutor did today — she first explained what the word “fiction” meant (many of my students, though not all, knew it already), asked the ELLs “What fiction book have you read this year?” Then each student responded, “One fiction book I read this year was ____.”

I’ll eventually develop “academic vocabulary” cheat sheets but, until then, this seems to work well. The peer tutors find it challenging and fun, the ELLs are learning needed academic vocabulary, plus they’re gaining speaking practice and confidence.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve on what we’re doing?

Though it doesn’t quite fit, I’m adding this post to The Best Websites For Developing Academic English Skills & Vocabulary.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. Definitely a good, yet simple way to encourage interaction. Having those 12th graders sounds like it makes a world of difference.

    I would probably add another aspect to the activity. I would split up the words on the list between group members or even across the entire class (to lighten the workload). Then ask each student to come up with a question for each assigned word prior to class. Of course, we would have to teach and revisit question-formation skills to avoid questions like ‘What is fiction?’ We want to encourage questions that are a bit more creative and not simple display questions. Just a thought.

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