Posted on 03/20/2015 at 01:21 PM by Liz Determan

Being able to speak English fluently is an essential skill needed by our EL students in order for them to be successful.  How can we get our EL students more involved in class discussions? Providing a safe environment for them to practice their speaking skills is key.  Below are some things to consider when supporting your ELs:

1. Mix up the groups.  Partner discussions maximize the time students are engaged in speaking and listening.  It gives them a chance to practice using their academic vocabulary.

2. Use discussion strategies that require all students to talk.  Some examples might be discussions using Round Robin, Talking Chips, or cards that encourage participation from all students.

3. Provide support for language use.  Give students sentence stems, word banks, pictures, etc. as they practice using their academic vocabulary.  Be willing to scaffold this support as their comfort level rises.

4.  As their speaking skills increase, expect more than simple responses from your students.  Encourage them to expand their answers.  Give them plenty of time to think before responding.


This resource provides you with a well-planned out approach to developing academic vocabulary.  The following information can be found at by looking under “Resources/Kate Kinsella Resources”.


(Kinsella/Feldman, 1/06)

Essential Features of Structured, Inclusive Academic Discussions


1. An Appropriate Question/Task

• a clearly worded task, with any embedded vocabulary clarified through


• an open-ended task that invites varied responses

• a modeled response so students fully understand the task demands:

generate reasons and justification, examples, predictions, etc.

• a task that elicits/expands upon prior knowledge/experiences

(or follows a schema-building activity if students have limited background)

2. Structured Thinking/Processing Time (“Prepared Participation”)

• adequate wait time for all students to process the task and formulate a

response (without hand-raising or blurting)

• for more demanding tasks, time to write first to organize and focus thinking

• for more demanding tasks, sentence starters that model academic discourse

and include target vocabulary

3. Partner Rehearsal (Prior to Unified-Class Debriefing)

• students feel more accountable for generating a thoughtful response

when they know they will be asked to share with a peer

• less intimidating practice with academic responding

• entire class is engaged in responding since relatively few will actually

contribute to the unified-class debriefing

• students receive feedback on their response before potentially contributing

to the class discussion and have the opportunity to modify/improve


4. Unified-Class Debriefing & Wrap-Up

• no initial hand-raising or blurting

• random calling on students (consider jump-starting the discussion with a

few “nominated volunteers” identified by the teacher during the

structured thinking and writing phase of the activity – this makes the

discussion run more efficiently and ensures a range of responses)

• authentic volunteers asked to contribute after random calling

• accountable listening: assigned note-taking task, an expectation

to acknowledge similar ideas or report a partner’s idea

(Kinsella/Feldman, 1/06)


Questions Regarding Structured Student Lesson Engagement


For the Specific Lesson on


I plan to teach this lesson on the following date(s)




. What will be the most beneficial way to partner/group students for structured interaction?



. How will students be kept “on-task”?





. List at least 2 critical questions/tasks that all students must respond to/complete for this

lesson that guide students’ understanding of the focal lesson concepts.





. List the anticipated responses that will demonstrate students’ understanding of the focal

concepts being addressed in this lesson.





 Academic Vocabulary:


. What academic vocabulary will be critical to explicitly teach to students in order for them

to understand the lesson and successfully complete any lesson tasks?


How will you teach these key terms to students?

 Sentence Starters:


. What scaffolds will you provide to support less proficient learners in accomplishing your

tasks: sentence starters, note-taking support, model answers, partner rehearsal, visual aids, etc.?


. List at least 2 sentence starters that students will use that will demonstrate students’

understanding of the lesson and will demonstrate their ability to utilize academic





. How will you explicitly teach students effective use of these academic language scaffolds?




 Student Engagement:


. How will you actively monitor student engagement? For example, will you be walking about

to review the quality of students’ written work and shared verbal responses as they interact?




. What clues (evidence checks) will you look for to recognize that students are actively

engaged in various lesson tasks?






. How will you assess whether students are leaving class with the intended skill set?




. What will you do to meet the needs of students who have not met the intended goal?




(Kinsella/Feldman, 1/06)



For General Classroom Practices:



Are students partnered for routine verbal rehearsal, accountable listening and

sharing, idea generation, etc.? If so, how? If not, why not?





 Are students regularly cued to reflect (not blurt), write a brief response to a

posed question/task, and prepare to share within a unified-class discussion?


Sentence Starters:

Are students regularly provided with sentence starters and expected to utilize

academic language or are they simply sharing utilizing casual English?



Student Engagement:

Are students provided with other forms of learning scaffolds and response

tasks that provide the teacher with evidence checks of engagement during

teacher read-alouds, lectures, class reading, films, etc.?



Idea Wave (A Structured Academic Discussion Strategy)

Implementation Guidelines for Teachers:

*Students listen while the teacher poses a well-focused question or task that gets

students thinking about a topic before or after reading (e.g., List 3 potential reasons

the proposed amendment to the constitution will/will not pass in the Senate).

*Provide students with one or two ideas to jump-start their list. Ask everyone to begin

their brainstorming list by copying the ideas from the board. This will get their

cognitive juices flowing and help struggling writers feel less intimidated by a blank

piece of paper.

*Give students adequate quiet time (e.g., 3 minutes) to consider what they know about

the topic and record a number of possible responses prior to the unified-class

discussion. Encourage students to jot down as many ideas as possible, using phrases.

*Provide students with 1 or 2 sentence starters after they have generated individual

brainstorming lists. The sentence starters serve as models of effective syntax and

academic vocabulary usage. Ask them to select their favorite idea(s) and

rewrite it using a sentence starter. In this way, less proficient academic

language users will have a linguistic scaffold to bolster their linguistic output and

confidence in sharing aloud. They will also receive some vital guided practice in writing

academic English discourse vs. simply writing down their spoken English.

*After students have completed writing a complete statement, ask them to

practice sharing their idea with a partner. Before they begin “rehearsing”

with a partner, model how to read aloud each sentence starter using one of your ideas.

Ask everyone to read aloud your two sample sentences with you, after you have

modeled using effective prosody (proper pronunciation, pausing, and intonation).

In this way, less confident language users will have a necessary rehearsal session.

*Monitor students’ written responses and select 2 “nominated volunteers”

to jumpstart the discussion. Remind students to use a “public voice” when contributing.

*Whip around the class in a relatively fast-paced and structured manner, simulating a

wave-like direction (e.g., down rows, around tables), allowing as many students as

possible or necessary to share an idea using the assigned starter in 15 seconds or less.

*Require that students point out similarities/differences in responses rather than state

that their ideas have already been mentioned: (e.g., My idea builds upon/is similar to).

This fosters active, accountable listening and validation of ideas. Consider also giving

students a focused active listening and note-taking task during the idea sharing:

(e.g., Jot down 2 ideas that you hadn’t thought of and the name of the contributors).

*Refrain from interrupting the structured idea generation by elaborating upon students’

contributions during the Idea Wave; synthesize/elaborate to provide closure.


Language Strategies for Active Classroom Participation


Expressing an Opinion                     Predicting

I think/believe that . . .                        I guess/predict/imagine that . . .

It seems to me that . . .                       Based on . . ., I infer that . . .

In my opinion . . .                               I hypothesize that . . .


Asking for Clarification                  Paraphrasing

What do you mean?                            So you are saying that . . .

Will you explain that again?                In other words, you think . . .

I have a question about that.               What I hear you saying is . . .


Soliciting a Response                      Acknowledging Ideas

What do you think?                            My idea is similar to/related to

We haven’t heard from you yet.         ____’s idea.

Do you agree?                                     I agree with (a person) that . . .

What answer did you get?                  My idea builds upon ____’s idea.


Reporting a Partner’s Idea              Reporting a Group’s Idea

____ indicated that . . .                       We decided/agreed that . . .

____ pointed out to me that . . .         We concluded that . . .

____ emphasized that . . .                   Our group sees it differently.

____ concluded that . . .                      We had a different approach.


Disagreeing                                       Offering a Suggestion

I don’t agree with you because . . .     Maybe we could . . .

I got a different answer than you.       What if we . . .

I see it another way.                           Here’s something we might try.


Affirming                                           Holding the Floor

That’s an interesting idea.                   As I was saying, . . .

I hadn’t thought of that.                     If I could finish my thought . . .

I see what you mean.                          What I was trying to say was . . .

(Kinsella/Feldman, 1/06)








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