Keys to Effective Communication
by Judie Haynes
Do the classroom teachers in your school need strategies to help them communicate more effectively with English language learners? Just stick this article in their mailboxes.
Classroom teachers need to gain a better understanding of successful strategies for communicating with English langage learners. It is the ESL teacher’s role to help them with this task. We can begin this effort by providing professional development on communication strategies. This can be done at staff meetings, inservice days or by simply putting this article in teachers’ mailboxes.
The following tips are keys to good communication that all teachers need to keep in mind when teaching new learners of English.
- Newcomers need visual and kinesthetic support to understand academic content material. Use drawings, chalkboard sketches, photographs, and visual materials to provide clues to meaning. Try mime, gestures or acting out the meaning of your message. Exaggerate emotions and vary your voice. Teach your mainstream students to do the same. If necessary, repeat your actions and rephrase the information.
- Speak in a clear, concise manner at a slightly slower pace using short, simple sentences (subject-verb-object) and high-frequency words. Your students will not understand you if you speak too fast or run your words together. Use the names of people rather than pronouns. Pause after phrases or short sentences, not after each word. You do not want to distort the rhythm of the language. Avoid the passive voice, complex sentences. idiomatic speech and slang.
- Smile and speak in a calm, reassuring manner. Raising your voice does not facilitate comprehension. Your voice should not be too loud. Show your patience through your facial expressions and body language. Give full attention to your ELLs and make every effort to understand their attempts to communicate.
- Allow your new learners of English extra time when listening and speaking. Many of your ELLs are translating the language they hear to their native language, formulating a response. and then translating that response into English.
- It is important for you to check comprehension frequently. Don't ask "Do you understand?" This is not a reliable check since many students will answer "yes" when they don't really understand. Teach the phrases "I don't understand," "Slowly, please," and "Please repeat." Write down information so students have visual as well as auditory input. Print clearly and legibly on the chalkboard. Remember that many of your ELLs and their parents will not understand cursive writing.
- Accept one word answers, drawings and gestures. Do not jump in immediately to supply the words for students or insist that they speak in full sentences. Resist the urge to overcorrect which will inhibit newcomers so that they will be less willing to speak. If students respond in heavily accented or grammatically incorrect English, repeat their answer correctly. Do not ask the student to repeat your corrected response as this can be very embarrassing. Allow new learners of English to use a bilingual dictionary or ask for help from a same language buddy.
- If you have important information to convey, speak to the newcomer individually rather than in front of the class. The anxiety of being in the spotlight interferes with comprehension. Don't insist that students make eye contact with you when you are speaking to them. This is considered rude in many cultures.
- Help students to participate in your class by letting them know which question you are going to ask in advance. This will give your students the time to prepare a response.
- Use choral reading. Your ELLs will want to participate but being the focus of attention can be traumatic. Remember that your ELLs should understand what they are reading chorally.
- Write key words on the chalkboard so students have visual as well as auditory input. Emphasize these key words. Since many of your ELLs will not understand cursive writing, you need to print clearly and legibly. When writing notes home to parents, print your message and use a pen with black or blue ink. In some cultures red is the color of death.
- Knowledge of questioning strategies is essential in differentiating instruction for ELLs. Involving English language learners in the discussions in their content area classes can be frustrating if teachers do not develop strategies for asking questions. Below is a list of types of questions to ask from easiest to most difficult.
- Ask newcomers to point to a picture or word to demonstrate basic knowledge. “Point to the penguin.
- >Using visual cues, ask simple yes/no questions such as “Are penguins mammals?”
- Embed the response in the question using “either/or”. "Is a penguin a mammal or a bird?”
- Break complex questions into several steps. Simplify your vocabulary. Instead of asking “What characteristics do mammals share?" say “Look at the mammals. Find the bear, the dog and the cat. How are they the same?"
- Ask simple "how" and "where" questions that can be answered with a phrase or a short sentence. "Where do penguins live?" Do not expect your ELLs to answer broad open-ended questions.
- Remember that there will be times when you will not be able to get an idea across to newcomers. Ask the ESL teacher in your school for a list of students who speak the newcomer's language. You will be able to call on these students to act as translators if necessary. Keep in mind that K-2 students do not make good translators.
© 1998-2007 Judie Haynes, www.everythingESL.net