All of my high school students are recent immigrants to the U.S. These teenagers pick up oral language and slang from their peers fairly quickly, but may lag far behind when it comes to academic language used in an instructional setting.

I have to assume they don't hear this language outside of the classroom. Therefore, it is my job to teach them appropriate oral responses to classroom discussion — and how to respond to their peers. [This lesson has been adapted from the MCPS instructional guide and takes about one hour.]

To begin the lesson, I assign students to small groups. I usually choose the groups so that students at different levels of fluency, with different language backgrounds and comfort speaking out are forced to work together.

Each group has a different reading passage. For this example, students are assigned different short texts about one aspect of adjusting to a new culture like food, clothing or dating customs. For this activity, I choose a short text that is easily accessible, not above their level of comprehension because the goal is to produce appropriate oral language in conversation with their peers, and then to report that conversational outcome to the class.

Members of each group must decide through unstructured conversation how to read the text: take turns reading aloud, one person reads aloud, or everyone reads silently. Once they have decided how to read, they should spend about 10 minutes reading. Then provide another 10 minutes to discuss what they have read, using the Critical Response Sentence Starters.

Each person in the group must say something, even if they are summarizing or agreeing with someone else in the group. They may not simply repeat what someone else has said; they have to add a comment to the discussion. For example, "I agree with what Amanda said about dating because in my country you're not allowed to date either."

When students are finished speaking, they must record one thing that each person said. Note that this writing activity sometimes inhibits the free flow of ideas, but it holds the students accountable for their participation.

If there's time, I ask students to create a poster that captures their ideas. For young high school students, this product makes it easier to get students to "buy in," and a poster provides a nice visual focus for making a presentation afterward. Students can write words, phrases or draw pictures to communicate the ideas from their reading and group discussion.

This lesson meets several objectives simultaneously and can be adapted for almost any text and for most levels of ESOL instruction. Students practice using academic language to respond orally to a text, they listen actively to their classmates and they synthesize information when capturing the conversation on their paper.

Instructions for students:

  • Sit with your group
  • Read the text
  • Say something about the text
  • Write down one thing that each person says
  • Write a summary sentence about your topic
  • Choose a spokesperson and
  • Share your group's discussion with the whole class

Instructions for teachers

  • Choose a text that students can understand easily (you may want to assign it for homework in advance)
  • Assign students to groups
  • Provide instructions and capture sheet to each student
  • Provide focus questions for group discussion

(For example: What did you learn about adjusting to American culture? How is it the same or different from your/your group's experience?)

See this attachment for further information.