Do you remember the days when teachers asked questions, waited for hands to go up, and then called invariably on the students who were the most vocal/likely to give the desired response? Were you the student who was too shy to raise a hand but knew the answer, and was never called upon? Or were you perhaps the student who also knew the answer but struggled to form the words correctly in English, so never bothered to participate? These scenarios, sadly, are all too common in today’s classrooms as well. “Oh, she never raises her hand, she’s an ELL (English Language Learner)” or “He’s an ELL so he’s low, I’ve never heard him speak.”
Some simple strategies can help to overcome these situations and ensure greater participation. As part of my professional development during my employment in Los Altos, CA, I attended a workshop on Kagan strategies. Instead of calling on individual students, teachers can pose a question, demonstrate use of selected sentence frames, particularly useful for ELLs, have students break up in pairs and share their responses with each other. If the teacher then chooses to ask the same question again to the whole group, it is almost guaranteed that more hands will go up. And even if everyone didn’t have a chance to share out loud, they had a chance to share with a peer.
So for example:
Teacher: What was the main idea of the story we just read? Here are some sentence frames on the board you could use to share your answer (” I think the author wanted to teach us about”…or “The main idea of this story is…”). Take turns to share your responses.
[Students share with each other. Teacher gives them some time, circulates, offers support and then rings a bell].
Teacher: Ok class, so what was the main idea of the story we just read?
This is a simple example of pair-share. You could jazz it up by having students walk around the class (great way to have them move around!) and share with different partners. This would be a mix-pair-share. Alternatively, students could write down their responses in simple words/sentences/diagrams and then share – this works better for older elementary students and is called write-pair-share.
All these strategies increase class participation and is particularly empowering and inclusive for English Language Learners. Give them a chance to communicate in a safe environment in your classroom and demonstrate their thinking.