Engaging ELL Students In Rich Academic Conversations


Engaging English Language Learners (ELL) in rich academic conversations is not something with which many students are comfortable with. Students often will need to be taught how to engage in discourse, be provided ample opportunity to practice their new skills and be given regular feedback on their practice.

When teaching students how to engage in rich conversations, you may have to teach them not only how to talk about a concept, but also how to listen to their peers.

Developing Students' Mathematical Habits of MindVery often, students check out when another student is talking simply because they are used to the IRE cycle of talk. If they are not called on, then they don’t have to worry about answering the question. What the student is saying who is answering the question does not hold relevance to them. When students engage in rich conversations, the opposite is actually true. It is very important for students to listen to each other in order to have a discussion or dialogue.

The following are strategies (Smith & Stein. 2011) that can be used in both whole group and small group discourse settings that will help students to learn to talk with and listen to each other:

Re-voicing: Involves having students repeat what another student said. For example, the teacher asks a question, Student A answers the question, then the teacher asks Student B to tell her what Student A just said. Re-voicing is a very low-risk way to bring students into a discussion. Re-voicing can be implemented in both small and large group discussions. If, when a teacher is walking around observing small groups and notices that a student is not participating, he or she may ask that student to tell her what someone’s idea is. Again, this is a low-risk situation because the student being asked only needs to repeat versus create an idea.

Restating: Is similar to re-voicing but rather than have a student repeat what another student has said, they are asked to restate that persons idea/answer in their own words. This is another low-risk strategy, but it begins to involve students at a deeper level within the discussion and the topic.

Applying Reasoning: Involves having a student add-on to another student’s idea/answer. For example, the teacher asks a question, Student A answers the question, the teacher then asks if anyone would like to add to Student A’s response, Student B is called on and re-voices or restates what Student A said, then says ‘ I would add that….’. Applying reasoning can also include students revising or refuting another student’s answer/idea, as both are opportunities to apply their own reasoning. Students should always begin with what the other student’s idea/answer was, so they can demonstrate that the understood what was said and then provide their revision or rebuttal. Applying reasoning is a high stakes strategy because students are stepping out on a limb with their own thinking and reasoning.

In a Learning Classroom, the environment is one in which students will feel safe taking this step and the student whose idea/answer is being added to, revised, or refuted understands that the discussion is not about them personally, but about the topic being discussed. When working with students on how to apply this strategy, teachers need to address the tone of voice, body language, and word choice as all play a role in keeping the focus on the topic and not an individual.

Teach & Kids Learn (TKL) offers an online course for educators which focuses on strategies that will provide learning opportunity which are designed to support teachers in making evolutionary changes to their instructional practice. We examine and implement ways that can provide the most effective support in the forms of equipping your student with learning strategies for the classroom and communicating with parents about how their child may learn best with their support. With support from home and teaching strategies that work in the classroom, there is no reason why students with attention deficits can’t flourish in your classroom.

Here are a few online courses that we offer to help with English Language Learners (ELL):

  1. Building Academic Language Skills and English Language Learners (ELL) through Dialogue, Discussion, and Discourse
  2. Meeting ELL Students’ Needs in Today’s Classroom, Grades K-12
  3. Academic Achievement For English Language Learners (ELLs)
  4. Building Academic Vocabulary and Deep Comprehension, Grades K-5
  5. Building Academic Vocabulary and Deep Comprehension, Grades 6-12