During the first week of her class, Victoria Villegas’ students are mostly silent and unwilling to speak, but soon open up with the help of a few creative activities. “Students learn from games better than listening to a teacher speak,” says Victoria as we discussed best practices for encouraging ELL students to engage. She has been using Thesys’ ELLoquence curriculum for almost four years while teaching junior high international students at Fairmont Private Schools in Anaheim, California. A credentialed teacher with an emphasis in SIOP methods for ELLs, Victoria is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to working with lower level beginners in a sheltered classroom. She stresses that it’s important to engage students or else they quickly become bored, frustrated, and ultimately zone out. When learning a new language, students need to be excited about the material and possibilities, so keeping them active is essential.

In the classroom, Victoria’s students are perpetually working on reading, writing, listening, and speaking. They are competing in games and completing activities to build these essential skills. She advises that speaking and listening activities are the easiest method to encouraging her students to participate. However, in most ELL classrooms these two skills are the ones most often overlooked. For writing practice students play vocabulary games, then use the words in a creative writing paragraph, emphasizing grammar fundamentals. Sometimes she partners students together to complete writing tasks, promoting engagement, team building, and communication. Victoria’s goal is always to keep students active, moving, and playing games, so they’re not bored and are constantly learning.

Try one of Victoria’s favorite ELL activities guaranteed to foster participation:

Telestrations – A game adapted from the board game, Telestrations uses word and image association to practice vocabulary.  A student will pull a vocabulary word from a pile. The student will then draw an image of the word onto a whiteboard book. The next student will look at the image, then write a vocabulary word that he or she associates with the image.  The next student will look at the word and draw an image on the next page. The last student in the group announces the word to the class. The word may morph during the game, but this provides an opportunity for the students to discuss where and why it changed.

Carousel Writing – Students use their vocabulary list to collaboratively create a story. Students start a story on blank paper, only writing one sentence using at least one vocabulary word. Students pass around the paper, reading the sentence, then adding a new sentence until the story is complete or time is up. The teacher or students then read the completed story to the class.

Fluency Lines – Students brainstorm a topic and create a piece of writing addressing the topic. Students then line up in two lines, with one line as the speakers and the second line as the listeners. The speakers begin presenting their writing to the listeners. The listeners will then become the speakers after the teacher has announced to switch. The lines rotate and students engage with new partners. Students will become more fluent through repetition as they speak about the same topic to multiple partners. For a variation, students can be required to add more information for every round they speak.

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