It’s so easy to get into a routine, leaning on our “go-to” strategies for our lesson plans. There’s a certain level of comfort we gain from familiarity. The big question that arises is, “Are the learning experiences I’m planning engaging all of my language learners?” Engaging all learners in our language classrooms is a challenge that teachers face every day. Our learners vary in their motivation levels, their prior learning experiences, their confidence with the target language, and their beliefs about themselves as learners.
How can we flip the engagement switch? One solution might be to vary our approaches:
- Varying the modality of lesson tasks
- Varying the communicative mode
- Varying content
- Varying groupings
- Varying the level of challenge
- Varying the products students create
Here are some suggestions for ways to vary our approaches—or “mix it up”—to increase student engagement.
- Strategy #1: Use visuals to support student understanding and inspire language production in both in-person and virtual learning environments.
- They stick in long-term memory.
- They transmit messages faster.
- They improve comprehension.
- They trigger emotions.
- They motivate learners.
Some examples of tasks for students using visuals might include:
|Write a dialogue that occurs between the people in the picture.
|Tell what happened before and after.
|Compare and contrast two or more visuals.
|Write interview questions for a person in the picture.
|File a report as a news reporter on the scene.
|Tell a story about the scene from the point of view of a person in the picture.
|Choose one picture of a group and describe it so that others can guess which one it is.
|Choose one picture of a group and answer yes/no questions from your group until they guess it.
|Create a list of expressions that are represented in the picture.
|Write a poem about the picture.
|Describe how the people in the picture are feeling.
|Create a list of dos and don’ts for the people in the picture.
|Describe the picture using comparatives (taller, bigger) and superlatives (tallest, biggest).
|Write about the picture, answering the questions who, what, when, why, how, and how many.
|Create a list of statements about the picture, some true and some false.
Visit pinterest.com/grahnforlang/visuals-for-speaking-and-writing/ for resources for visuals for speaking and writing.
- Strategy #2: Use flexible grouping strategies that provide multiple opportunities for students to interact and collaborate with classmates in self-selected, random, and teacher-selected groupings of varying sizes to practice language independently in a variety of contexts.
Providing opportunities to work with partners or in small groups allows learners to practice language in a safe environment, validate their understanding, and receive models from peers. In particular, productive group work supports reluctant learners before they are required to demonstrate their learning independently.
Check out pinterest.com/grahnforlang/flexible-grouping/ for strategies for forming groups, group norms, group member roles, and group member accountability and cooperative learning strategies.
- Strategy #3: Offer students choices in demonstrating their learning based on interest and readiness through a menu of tasks aimed at the same learning outcomes and expectations.
According to Kanevsky and Keighley in their article entitled “To Produce or Not to Produce: Understanding Boredom and the Honor of Underachievement” (2003), choice ranks among the five characteristics of an optimal learning environment that students seek, along with the aspects of control, challenge, complexity, and caring. Choices are motivating to most people and we often make choices based on our personal preferences.
Students may be given choices in:
- the modes in which they practice
- the tools and strategies they use to gather information
- the way they complete their work
- the planning and design of products
Here are three examples of choice boards, one based on authentic resources, another generic board for vocabulary practice, and a “this or that” choice board:
Check out pinterest.com/grahnforlang/choice-assignments/ to explore more resources for choice tasks.
Visit grahnforlang.com/student-choice.html for more resources for choice boards and RAFT assignments.
In the end, we are hoping that our students view their learning in our language classrooms like the fifth grader in this quote:
“I like this class because there’s something different going on all the time. My other classes, it’s like peanut butter for lunch every single day. This class, it’s like my teacher really knows how to cook. It’s like she runs a really good restaurant with a big menu.”
By Leslie M. Grahn
Watch the recoding of Leslie M. Grahn’s webinar, Mixing It Up: Varying Our Approaches to Engage All Language Learners
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