Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.
Is Anybody Out There?
As a teacher, you've probably been in the situation where you're the only one talking, despite your best efforts to get your ESL students engaged in conversation. The more you try to lighten the mood, the more embarrassed they become (for you), which then leads you further away from the goal of class discussion. This lesson will go over some ideas to get your students talking, then explore some questions to spark class discussion on the topic of crime.
Getting ESL Students Talking
Are you having trouble getting your ESL students to talk in class? It's important to create environments where students don't feel self-conscious or worried about making mistakes while speaking. After all, it can be very intimidating to speak a second language, so make sure your classroom environment is one that:
- encourages students to try without being mocked for their mistakes
- respects and supports one another's differences, interests, and abilities
- praises efforts and accomplishments, no matter how small
- fosters a sense of peer support and teamwork
When students feel they can speak up, make mistakes, and still receive support, they will be more likely to engage in conversation or classroom discussions. Consider including personal references and relevance into classroom discussions. You might use questionnaires or whole-group general questions to find ways to relate discussions to your students' personal lives. This can help students see how the conversations really matter and mean something to them.
When your students are comfortable with one another and comfortable using their English speaking skills, it's time to introduce conversation topics. Each time a topic is introduced, have your new vocabulary lists ready. Go over the vocabulary words, place them on cue cards, and then post them so students can refer to the vocabulary terms as needed. This builds vocabulary recognition and comprehension, which will make maintaining conversations much easier for your students.
When introducing the topic of crime, the same idea goes: Write out the unfamiliar vocabulary words and be sure to build up comprehension before student conversations begin. Some words you may want to consider are:
Once, you have completed vocabulary lessons and students demonstrate understanding, you are ready to move forward with some categorized questioning.
Question Strategies and Questions
When it comes time for students to start the conversation process, have them answer questions on questionnaire worksheets, conduct a think-pair-share with partners, or go round-robin in a small group setting. By keeping the conversation settings small, students will feel less overwhelmed and intimidated. Thus, they may be more likely to voice their ideas.
Rather than just listing a ton of questions, sort questions into sub-categories to keep students on task, while also encouraging them to dig a little deeper into the topic being studied. By asking a handful of higher-order questions, rather than a long list of close-ended questions, students will learn more because they'll be delving further into the topic of crime. Consider using the following lists of question, divided by category, to discuss crime with your ESL students.
Perception of Crime
- Is crime a serious problem where you live?
- Do you feel the police do a good job in your country/community? Why or why not?
- What is the purpose of prison?
- What is the biggest crime story in the news right now?
- Do you watch the news or follow the crimes that happen in your community? Why or why not?
- Do you think people should carry a gun to stay safe?
- Do you believe in the death penalty? Why or why not?
- If a person acts in self-defense and hurts their attacker, should they be punished?
- Is prison too easy on criminals? Why or why not?
- What would you do if someone ever broke into your house?
- Would harsher punishments reduce crime? Why or why not?
- Is prison the best solution for criminals? If not, what is a better solution? Why?
- Is the rate of crime getting better or getting worse? Why do you think this?
- How can we lower the rate of crime for our future generations?
- Aside from prison, what forms of punishment should criminals face? Why?
Causes of Crime
- Do television shows and movies encourage crime or illegal behaviors?
- Do people become criminals as a result of their environment? Why or why not?
- If someone commits one crime, are they more likely to continue committing crimes in the future? Why or why not?
- What is the worst crime that can be committed? How would you punish that crime?
- What are the main causes for crime?
Conversation is a big part of the language learning process, which is why it should be incorporated in the daily classroom routine. Creating a supportive and encouraging classroom environment is a great step toward encouraging students to participate in group discussions and conversations. Personalizing topics so students can find meaning in what is being learned may also heighten student engagement and involvement.
Try to use a variety of conversation strategies, including think-pair-share and round-robin with small groups, to help build students' conversation skills and comfort level. Organizing questions into sub-categories is a great idea, as this allows your students to delve deeply into the topic through higher-order questioning. Taking the time to talk through questions and discuss one another's perspectives is what the art of conversation is all about, after all. Give these ideas and questions a try to see if they work for your class! Good luck!
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