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January 5, 2017

Games to Help ELL Students Meet Speaking and Listening Standards

By Amanda Nehring
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    I must admit that while I am really good about incorporating fiction, informational text, grammar, and writing standards into my English Language Arts instruction, I often find it difficult to ensure that my class of ELL students is mastering the speaking and listening standards. It’s just so easy to assume that because students are participating in discussions in English that they are meeting the standards and mastering the language. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true. If you’re like me, then you probably need some concrete ideas for teaching to the speaking and listening standards, so here you go!

    I am using the Common Core State Standards for first grade as my guide, but these activities can be used across many grade levels. Take a few moments to read through these games and activities to use with your English Language Learners and check off “meeting the listening and speaking standards” from your list of New Year’s resolutions!

     

    • SL.1.1. Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

    This first standard is broad and includes just about everything from following discussion rules and engaging in back-and-forth dialogue, to asking and answering questions about texts and topics. One activity I have found useful to intentionally address this standard with my ELL students is to work together as a class to create our own rules for class discussion.

    I begin this activity by breaking students up into groups of three or four, asking each group to come up with discussion rules they would like to see our class follow. By utilizing a small group model even my early emergent English speakers are given the opportunity to practice speaking and listening in an environment that isn’t too overwhelming. After each group has created a list of rules I ask them each to share their ideas with the whole class as I take notes on chart paper. As one group shares, I encourage the rest of the class to listen carefully, ask questions for clarification, and make any suggestions they see fit. When all of the small groups have shared we go back through the list and eliminate any repeated rules.

    Once the class has agreed upon a set of discussion rules we list the “Class Rules for Discussion” on poster paper and hang them in the classroom. Students are much more excited about following these rules when they had a hand in creating them through teamwork and meaningful discussion.

     

    • SL.1.2. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

    Especially in the early elementary grades, much of the literature and nonfiction texts that students experience are read aloud to them. As such, it is important to take the time to foster discussion that encourages students to reflect on the details of the information they heard. Whether you are doing a snack time read-aloud of Junie B. Jones, or your class is listening as you read about the underground railroad, you can be certain that students are able to ask and answer questions about key details from oral information by using these fiction and nonfiction question cards.

    I created these discussion cards using Scholastic’s Word Workshop tool. After you print off the cards you can either use them in a whole class discussion or you can make multiple copies and have students take turns asking and answering the questions with a partner. Either way you will know that your ELL students are getting some extra practice using their English language skills to meet the speaking and listening standards.

     

    • SL.1.3. Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to gather additional information to clarify something that is not understood.

    Remember the game 20 Questions from your family road trips growing up? It was always a favorite in my family and I love using it in my classroom too as speaking and listening practice for my ELL students. This third speaking and listening standard requires students to be able to participate in discussions where they must ask and answer questions to make meaning of something they do not understand. That just so happens to be the whole idea of the game 20 Questions! To play the game with your students have a volunteer think of a noun and tell the class which type of noun (person, place, animal, thing) they have chosen. From there it is up to the inquiring minds of your ELL students to ask probing questions of their classmate in order to gather additional information about the secret noun. Your students will love playing this game so much that they will hardly realize that they are also practicing their English language skills and meeting a Common Core ELA standard.

     

    • SL.1.4. Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.

    Here’s another idea for using a childhood game to practice the English language with your ELL students. Similar to 20 questions, students can play I-Spy to describe the world around them in detail. Begin the game by having each of your students think of an object or person from around the classroom and write it on this I-Spy Planning Page so no one else can see what they have chosen. After they have selected their noun they should take some time to brainstorm and list adjectives to describe their I-Spy item. I recommend having ELL students select their secret objects and come up with descriptive adjectives in advance because it helps reduce the anxiety that can arise if children are put on the spot without adequate processing time.

    Once all students have completed their descriptions of the I-Spy objects, you can begin to play the game. Have students take turns finishing the phrase “I spy with my little eye something…” according to their pre-planned descriptions while the rest of the class tries to guess what they have chosen. My ELL students love this game and I have found it makes a great filler for transition times too.

     

    • SL.1.5. Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

    Ready for my favorite speaking and listening game? It’s called Sentence-Picture and it is a staple game not only in my classroom but also in the Nehring household. Sentence-Picture is essentially a written/drawn version of the classic game Telephone, where a group of people sit in a circle and pass a message around by whispering to the person next to them to see how the message evolves as it goes.

    To play you just need a piece of paper and a pencil per person (you can use this template I created). The first step is to have everyone write a complete sentence at the top of the page. Next, tell all of the students to pass their papers to the person on their right. This person will read the sentence written on the paper from their partner and then illustrate the sentence in the “picture” space below. When they have finished drawing they must fold over the top “sentence” portion of the paper so that only the drawing is visible. At this point they pass the paper to the right and the next person looks at the drawing and tries to write the sentence they think that it portrays. Play continues in this manner until the papers pass all the way around the circle and back to their original creators. If you have more players than spaces on the template, feel free to make multiple copies to pass along so there is room for everyone’s contributions.

    When each paper makes its way back to its owner the students should look at the transformation their sentence made throughout the game. It always promises to be a hilarious way for ELL students to practice adding drawings to express the meanings of sentences, therefore meeting the fifth speaking and listening standard.

     

    • SL.1.6. Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation.

    Complete sentences can be difficult for any early elementary student, but this is especially true for ELL students who are still working to master the English language. A fun class activity to practice producing complete sentences is to create a collaborative story by asking each student to orally contribute a sentence at a time. You may begin by either providing a starting sentence yourself or asking a volunteer to do so. Once the first person has finished sharing their sentence, the next student must add a second sentence to continue the story. Each child shares one sentence and the whole class is able to create a collaborative story while practicing their spoken English.


    Speaking and listening standards can seem abstract and difficult to incorporate into your already busy instructional time, but with these simple games and activities you can be certain that your students, especially your ELLs, are given the opportunity to master the standards. If you give some of these a try, please leave me a comment and let me know how it goes. Also feel free to share your own ideas for meeting the speaking and listening standards in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

    I must admit that while I am really good about incorporating fiction, informational text, grammar, and writing standards into my English Language Arts instruction, I often find it difficult to ensure that my class of ELL students is mastering the speaking and listening standards. It’s just so easy to assume that because students are participating in discussions in English that they are meeting the standards and mastering the language. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true. If you’re like me, then you probably need some concrete ideas for teaching to the speaking and listening standards, so here you go!

    I am using the Common Core State Standards for first grade as my guide, but these activities can be used across many grade levels. Take a few moments to read through these games and activities to use with your English Language Learners and check off “meeting the listening and speaking standards” from your list of New Year’s resolutions!

     

    • SL.1.1. Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

    This first standard is broad and includes just about everything from following discussion rules and engaging in back-and-forth dialogue, to asking and answering questions about texts and topics. One activity I have found useful to intentionally address this standard with my ELL students is to work together as a class to create our own rules for class discussion.

    I begin this activity by breaking students up into groups of three or four, asking each group to come up with discussion rules they would like to see our class follow. By utilizing a small group model even my early emergent English speakers are given the opportunity to practice speaking and listening in an environment that isn’t too overwhelming. After each group has created a list of rules I ask them each to share their ideas with the whole class as I take notes on chart paper. As one group shares, I encourage the rest of the class to listen carefully, ask questions for clarification, and make any suggestions they see fit. When all of the small groups have shared we go back through the list and eliminate any repeated rules.

    Once the class has agreed upon a set of discussion rules we list the “Class Rules for Discussion” on poster paper and hang them in the classroom. Students are much more excited about following these rules when they had a hand in creating them through teamwork and meaningful discussion.

     

    • SL.1.2. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

    Especially in the early elementary grades, much of the literature and nonfiction texts that students experience are read aloud to them. As such, it is important to take the time to foster discussion that encourages students to reflect on the details of the information they heard. Whether you are doing a snack time read-aloud of Junie B. Jones, or your class is listening as you read about the underground railroad, you can be certain that students are able to ask and answer questions about key details from oral information by using these fiction and nonfiction question cards.

    I created these discussion cards using Scholastic’s Word Workshop tool. After you print off the cards you can either use them in a whole class discussion or you can make multiple copies and have students take turns asking and answering the questions with a partner. Either way you will know that your ELL students are getting some extra practice using their English language skills to meet the speaking and listening standards.

     

    • SL.1.3. Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to gather additional information to clarify something that is not understood.

    Remember the game 20 Questions from your family road trips growing up? It was always a favorite in my family and I love using it in my classroom too as speaking and listening practice for my ELL students. This third speaking and listening standard requires students to be able to participate in discussions where they must ask and answer questions to make meaning of something they do not understand. That just so happens to be the whole idea of the game 20 Questions! To play the game with your students have a volunteer think of a noun and tell the class which type of noun (person, place, animal, thing) they have chosen. From there it is up to the inquiring minds of your ELL students to ask probing questions of their classmate in order to gather additional information about the secret noun. Your students will love playing this game so much that they will hardly realize that they are also practicing their English language skills and meeting a Common Core ELA standard.

     

    • SL.1.4. Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.

    Here’s another idea for using a childhood game to practice the English language with your ELL students. Similar to 20 questions, students can play I-Spy to describe the world around them in detail. Begin the game by having each of your students think of an object or person from around the classroom and write it on this I-Spy Planning Page so no one else can see what they have chosen. After they have selected their noun they should take some time to brainstorm and list adjectives to describe their I-Spy item. I recommend having ELL students select their secret objects and come up with descriptive adjectives in advance because it helps reduce the anxiety that can arise if children are put on the spot without adequate processing time.

    Once all students have completed their descriptions of the I-Spy objects, you can begin to play the game. Have students take turns finishing the phrase “I spy with my little eye something…” according to their pre-planned descriptions while the rest of the class tries to guess what they have chosen. My ELL students love this game and I have found it makes a great filler for transition times too.

     

    • SL.1.5. Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

    Ready for my favorite speaking and listening game? It’s called Sentence-Picture and it is a staple game not only in my classroom but also in the Nehring household. Sentence-Picture is essentially a written/drawn version of the classic game Telephone, where a group of people sit in a circle and pass a message around by whispering to the person next to them to see how the message evolves as it goes.

    To play you just need a piece of paper and a pencil per person (you can use this template I created). The first step is to have everyone write a complete sentence at the top of the page. Next, tell all of the students to pass their papers to the person on their right. This person will read the sentence written on the paper from their partner and then illustrate the sentence in the “picture” space below. When they have finished drawing they must fold over the top “sentence” portion of the paper so that only the drawing is visible. At this point they pass the paper to the right and the next person looks at the drawing and tries to write the sentence they think that it portrays. Play continues in this manner until the papers pass all the way around the circle and back to their original creators. If you have more players than spaces on the template, feel free to make multiple copies to pass along so there is room for everyone’s contributions.

    When each paper makes its way back to its owner the students should look at the transformation their sentence made throughout the game. It always promises to be a hilarious way for ELL students to practice adding drawings to express the meanings of sentences, therefore meeting the fifth speaking and listening standard.

     

    • SL.1.6. Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation.

    Complete sentences can be difficult for any early elementary student, but this is especially true for ELL students who are still working to master the English language. A fun class activity to practice producing complete sentences is to create a collaborative story by asking each student to orally contribute a sentence at a time. You may begin by either providing a starting sentence yourself or asking a volunteer to do so. Once the first person has finished sharing their sentence, the next student must add a second sentence to continue the story. Each child shares one sentence and the whole class is able to create a collaborative story while practicing their spoken English.


    Speaking and listening standards can seem abstract and difficult to incorporate into your already busy instructional time, but with these simple games and activities you can be certain that your students, especially your ELLs, are given the opportunity to master the standards. If you give some of these a try, please leave me a comment and let me know how it goes. Also feel free to share your own ideas for meeting the speaking and listening standards in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

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