DEEP DIVE / English Language Learners

How can I structure academic conversations in the classroom to boost oral language development?

< Teaching Channel Guide to English Language Learners

As educators of ELLs, it’s important to embed language instruction throughout the day, not just in isolated blocks of ELD time. For this reason, academic conversations are essential to helping students develop a deep understanding of content and language at the same time. But just because we ask students to discuss doesn’t mean they will! We need to provide supports and structures that will engage and challenge our students to have these important conversations. Take a look at the resources on this page to learn more. Have questions? Be sure to ask them in the Q&A!


The Importance of Academic Conversations for ELLs

Begin by starting with the “why.”

Read Nicole Knight’s blog post on the importance of academic conversations
See academic conversations in action

Read Nicole Knight’s blog post on the importance of academic conversations and how schools can support and prioritize them.

Read the blog >

Then, see academic conversations in action by watching some of the videos in this playlist.

Read the blog >


Create a Classroom that Supports Rich Talk

Get some advice from Stanford’s Understanding Language by reading these two blog posts.

3 strategies for developing oral language
Creating a culture of conversation in your classroom.

Jeff Zweirs, co-author of the book Academic Conversations, suggests three strategies for developing oral language.

Read the blog/Watch the videos >

Kenji Hakuta offers advice about creating a culture of conversation in your classroom.

Read the blog >


Teach Talk Moves

Give students the tools they need to have engaging conversations.

Restate, revoice, and add reasoning during discussions
Empowers students with talk moves

Watch how Paul Lowe teaches his students to restate, revoice, and add reasoning during discussions.

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See how Tamica Groves empowers her middle school students with talk moves.

Watch the video >


Strategically Use Scaffolds

Help your students participate in academic discussions by scaffolding the experience.

Use role-alike groups to help students prepare for literature circle discussions
Give students multiple opportunities to practice academic language through a strategy called Second Set Partners

Watch how high school teacher Kyle Halle-Erby uses role-alike groups to help his students prepare for literature circle discussions.

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See how Elizabeth Iwaszewicz gives students multiple opportunities to practice academic language through a strategy called Second Set Partners.

Watch the video >


Provide Multiple Opportunities

Give your students the practice they need through short, daily, structured speaking activities.

Encourage collaboration and equitable speaking opportunities
Give students multiple opportunities to give and receive verbal feedback

Watch how this strategy encourages collaboration and equitable speaking opportunities.

Watch the video >

Give students multiple opportunities to give and receive verbal feedback with this fun strategy.

Watch the video >


Engage Students in Challenging Conversations

Help your students increase their language skills by engaging them in real-world conversations. At ENLACE Academy, newcomer ELLs partcipate in Model UN and leadership seminars. These structured opportunities give students scaffolded experiences that challenge them while building their confidence.

Engage Students in Challenging Conversations

Formatively Assess

Work with students to set goals, give feedback, and adjust teaching and learning. Also be sure to look for our Formative Assessment Deep Dive in the coming weeks for more great ideas.

Use targeted checklists during academic discussions
Use technology to to gather data

Learn how you can use a targeted checklist for formative assessment during academic discussions.

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Use technology to to gather data during and after discussions.

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Share Formative Assessment Data

If you’re co-teaching or sharing students in a team of colleagues, it can be hard to remember to share formative assessment data. Make it easy with a simple system. In this video, see how co-teachers use a chart and clipboard system to share their data.

Sharing formative assessment data

Carefully Structure Content Conversations

Content areas such as math and science are great places to have students share their thinking using academic language. Read Nicole Knights’ blog to see how teachers in Oakland are integrating content and language. Then, check out the two videos below for some great examples.

Number talks sentence starters
Sharing science research in structured small group and full class discussions

Number talks are a great way for students to share mathematical thinking while gaining academic language skills.

Watch the video >

In this video, students share their science research in structured small group and full class discussions.

Watch the video >


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