Teaching Tips

Instructional Conversations

Student participation in the classroom is essential to teaching, helping students gain focus and improving their depth of understanding. Yet, some days students seem to want to participate, and on other days, it is almost impossible to get the students to engage. So, how do we get more participation?

One way is to set up Instructional Conversations. This technique is beneficial for all students but is especially valuable for our English Language Learners as they get to hear the vocabulary of the class content in different voices, giving them a chance to internalize both the vocabulary and the content.

What Instructional Conversation looks like:

  • It happens in small groups – 6 – 8 students is ideal.
  • The atmosphere is non-threatening and encourages all students to share their ideas.
  • There are clear academic and content-related goals.
  • The instructor has prepared open-ended questions (avoid yes or no questions).
  • The conversation is on target, and mostly run by the students. They should be talking at least 80% of the time.
  • The discussion turns are self-selected, but the instructor should model the way the students signal that they want entry into the conversation: sitting forward on their chairs, making eye contact with the current speaker, or being ready to enter the discussion when there is a conversational lull.
  • The instructor needs to make sure that everything they say in the conversation is a modeled for the students. This includes questioning, restating, commenting positively about the students’ contributions, and encouraging them to delve more deeply into the subject.

Other tips for the Instructional Conversations:

  • Avoid having students bring their questions to the conversations in a written form. This might promote the idea of just reading their questions and not thinking deeply about what their peers are saying.
  • Tactfully correct wrong assumptions – don’t let false information float around but try to do it in a way that is not going to bring the conversation to a halt.
  • Make sure that you are part of the groups (a chair for you in each group so you can float in and out).
  • Model enjoyment. Have a good attitude and be enthusiastic about the discussion. That will help send the right message.

If you have any questions about this strategy, feel free to contact me.  Let me know how it goes!

Rico-Diaz, L. T. & Weed, K.Z. (2013). Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Handbook: A Complete K-12 Reference Guide (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn-Bacon.

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