Communication and collaboration are among the top skills identified to be successful in the 21st Century; for English learners, these skills can be quite intimidating in the classroom. Academic language must be supported and scaffolded to help not just English learners but ALL learners in the classroom. The SIOP Model provides many different techniques to get English learners engaged in these skills. Below are my go-to techniques to get English learners collaborating and communicating in my classroom.
Inside Outside Circle:
What it is: For this teaching technique, the class is divided in half; the first half forms an inside circle, and the second half forms an outside circle around them. Each student pairs with the person across from him or her in the opposing circle. After students respond to a question prompt from the teacher, the inside circle or outside circle rotates to form new partners.
Why it’s effective: Speaking in pairs is less intimidating than speaking in front of the whole class. English learners have time to listen to their partner first, to hear an example if needed, and have a safe place to respond. After rotating, the English learner has 2 different responses to share with their next partner, and confidence has been built. This also is a safe place for students to work together and to work with many other students. By rotating pairs, all students see that working together with everyone is a class expectation. This not only helps students learn the content, but it also builds community in the classroom.
Variations: Teachers can use personal whiteboards for math problems; provide sentence stems for students to include, or practice specific vocabulary; teachers can have students prepare questions to quiz one another with as a form of review; teachers can use this with vocabulary cards as a form of vocabulary review; teachers can use this to have students share prior knowledge on a subject before starting a new unit, or share research from an article in preparation for a Socratic seminar.
Numbered Heads Together
What it is: Students are placed into groups of 4, and each student is given a number in the group, 1-4. The teacher provides a question on the board and students in the group work together to reach consensus and answer the question. Once the groups have finished, the teacher spins a spinner to determine which number will give the group’s response. If the spinner lands on number 2, then all students who are number 2 in each group stand up and share the group’s answer.
Why it’s effective: By having students work in groups to reach consensus, English learners have the opportunity to practice what will be shared with a small group first before presenting it to the whole group. By working together, all input is valued at first, and students decide together how to craft a final answer. English learners then not only have more opportunity to speak, but also to listen to their classmates. This also supports collaboration in the classroom by having students work together to reach consensus before sharing.
Variations: This technique can be used with a review sheet at the end of the lesson to review key concepts and vocabulary; it can be used to create visuals for a word wall; this technique is also highly effective when sharing out information at the beginning of the unit to help build background and share prior knowledge of the next topic.
What it is: In this variation of the traditional Think-Pair-Share, students are first asked to think about a posed question, and then write down their thoughts and answers on a post-it note before finding a partner and sharing their answer.
Why it’s effective: Processing time! English learners especially need time to process information before formulating a thought and answer. The English learners brain is dedicating its full attention to the question you are posing–taking that question in English and in some cases translating it to their native language first before even thinking of an answer! By giving EVERYONE think time and EVERYONE write time, English learners are better able to produce a quality response and share.
Variations: Post-its responses could be shared with a partner, stuck on the front board and then sorted or categorized by content, be used as an exit ticket, or traded with another student to write a response to instead of orally sharing.