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March 1, 2021

Video Playlist: Engaging ELLs in Academic Conversations

In this new series, created in partnership with Oakland Unified School District, we delve into three classrooms where English Language Learners (ELLs) are engaged in academic conversations. From talk moves to participation protocols, these teachers share clear structures that encourage students to talk and learn from each other.

Inspired by Jeff Zweirs and Marie Crawford’s book Academic Conversations, teachers at OUSD are working on building the oral language skills of all students.

It’s clear that academic discussions benefit all students, with particular benefits for ELLs. As Nicole Knight, OUSD’s Executive Director of the English Language Learner and Multilingual Achievement Office says in her blog, “Academic discussion helps all students to develop their reasoning, understand multiple perspectives, and deepen understanding of content.”

Watching students engage in academic conversations can seem mystifying: how did the students get to the point where they could independently hold these types of conversations? By hearing the teachers break down their structures and routines, the process becomes much more understandable.

From these videos, we learn five tips for engaging students in academic conversations:

1. Talk Moves: Middle School English Language Development (ELD) teacher Tamica Groves has her students learn and practice various “talk moves” as a way of engaging in academic conversations. In this video, we see students practicing talk moves like adding on to each others’ responses, asking questions, and agreeing with what others say.

2. Using and Adapting Socratic Seminars: High School ELA teacher Johanna Paraiso has been using the Socratic Seminar format with her students all year long. After holding numerous Socratic Seminars as a way to discuss complex texts, Johanna adapts the format to have students discuss their senior research projects. It’s inspiring to see students reflecting on their performances through discussion with each other.

3. Participation Protocol: Middle School ELA teacher Viet-ly Nguyen uses a participation protocol to structure her students’ discussions. This protocol encourages students to actively listen, add onto each others’ ideas, and cite evidence for their thinking. In this lesson, students read a chapter from the book One Crazy Summer, and then engage in an academic conversation to analyze characters’ actions. The participation protocol helps encourage active participation from every student.

4. Reflecting on Discussions: Using video and scribing helps Johanna Paraiso and her students reflect on their academic conversations. Jo takes video of her students’ discussions and then transcribes what they say. By sharing her videos and notes, students are able to think about how they participated and how they can improve their participation. Jo is also able to use these videos to reflect on her teaching and how it impacted student learning: a win-win!

Watch an overview video of this series.

As you watch these videos, think about how you can engage your students in academic conversations. Which strategies can you adapt for use in your classroom?


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