Over this week, I’ll be sharing 5 posts-all of them focused on ideas for online learning with your BMLs. Since some teachers have limited access to their students and learning materials at this time, these ideas are quick-win strategies you can implement right away.
I know ‘talking’ almost sounds too simple, but let’s be honest, talking creates unlimited opportunities and BMLs will gain so many benefits by building up their conversation skills. Conversation or rich discussions, can allow you to explore a variety of topics and interests with your students. You can literally talk about anything and everything. You can even let your students’ experiences be the ‘curriculum’ and dive as deep as you can on topics that excite, interest and motivate them. When you have focused conversations, you’re naturally visiting a variety of vocabulary words-some of which the learner might already be familiar with, and some which may be new. There’s a sort of ‘art’ to a good discussion and that usually includes enjoyment as a natural side-effect. If you’re not able to give your BMLs much ‘organised learning’ during this time, you can still be confident in knowing that speaking with your students regularly offers them a great deal of language enrichment.
If your learners already have some conversation skills, it’s much easier to keep things flowing; but don’t worry, you can still have ‘talk time’ with your Newcomers as well.
The secret to speaking so that BMLs learn new words is to make sure the input you’re providing is just slightly beyond their current level. According to researcher Stephen Krashen, this approach is optimal. As educators, we already apply this strategy across many aspects of our teaching and we refer to this as ‘scaffolding.’ When you consistently scaffold the conversations you have with your learners, they’ll be better able to understand and recall new words they’re exposed to.
To make good impact through speaking, the key is to fully explore ideas and topics that students are interested in. Try to introduce a few new words over the week. Start to use them repetitively within your conversations but make this process as natural as possible. Did you know that an individual has to hear a word more than 12 times in order to learn it? Putting this at the forefront of our minds will help us become more deliberate with the specific words we want to use during our conversations. For example, if you know that ‘record’ is an important word for students, you can start to work it into your conversations. Be aware that you’ll need to use some visual/physical prompts to model the word initially (e.g. “I’m going to ‘record’ my answer on this page” while showing yourself writing the word on the paper). Then, over the next few days as you interact with the learner, just keep giving them exposure to your target words across various situations. Over time, you’ll have learners begin to demonstrate their understanding by using some of these new words. Also, be sure to mix up your style of conversation regularly so that you offer up more contexts for students to actively use the target words. Try to have more ‘academic’ discussions like debates, for example. Pose question prompts about topics they’re learning about (or have already learned about) and discuss world events at a level that’s appropriate for their age and language. Varying topics unlocks a new door to a different range of words. Speaking (and listening) can actually be a major source of learning for individuals. In the past, many indigenous communities used only the power of speaking and oral storytelling to pass along knowledge, traditions and customs. For centuries, ideas were preserved through this form of sharing.
If you have learners who are completely new to English, you’ll of course be the only one making all the conversation. That can get boring quick! The best thing to do in this case is to bring in some props and use those to build the conversation around. You can have learners share artwork they’ve made, their favourite toy or something else meaningful. Your job for students at this level is to model language by ‘labeling’ the items as you go (e.g. “I like that red shirt. There’s the shirt..” while pointing, etc.) and if possible, asking simple questions about it (e.g. “Do you like red?”). You might think of this as a form of ‘Show and Tell’ and it’s actually effective for all ages. You can also keep things interesting by sharing some of your own items during the session. This can help build rapport between yourself and your learners.
Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards. – Theodore Zeldin
Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of conversation, don’t forget to implement it as a key part of your online lessons. Even if learning is challenging and talking is all you can do right now, your students will still reap the rewards of this high-quality, language-boosting activity.
Alison Schofield is an educator, consultant and co-founder at the Centre for Educators of BMLs. She loves sharing her expertise with teachers around the world. She’s especially passionate about literacy and learning approaches with BMLs. If you have any questions about this article, feel free to reach Alison at: firstname.lastname@example.org