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Improvisational ESL

Recently, I was reminded of the power of theater in education.  Thinking about students who are new to English… but not completely new… I have been looking at improvisational theater exercises to get students talking.  This is not a strategy to teach new vocabulary but to build fluency, spontaneity and confidence while speaking.

Imagine having two students create a skit where someone is lost and the other has to help the first person find his or her way.  Imagine adding a third person who says that the first person is wrong.  What would you say?  What would you do?  Can they ask for an additional person to assist?

Make it a little bit harder and open ended: Imagine students creating a skit based off of three nouns- pencil, stove, rake.  Throw in a verb and shake things up a bit.

There are a million scenes that you can have students improvise based on anything that students need to practice.  Try it; see what happens!

Speaking to My Children- What Language?

The short answer is: speak to your children in the language you know best.  Oral language is the precursor to all literacy skills:

  • What you can think, you can say;
  • what you say you can write;
  • what you can write you can read.

When parents ask me what language they should use with their children I consistently tell them to use the language they know best.  Most of the time the parents are non-English speakers wondering if they should speak with their children using the little English they know.  “No,” I tell them.

When children are offered rich language in extended discourse they develop amazing vocabularies and complex sentences.  If their caregivers offer them limited vocabulary and limited discourse that is what the children will develop.  Because literacy skills transfer, the extended discourse will transfer once the children have the necessary vocabulary in the new language… but they can’t transfer what they do not know.

  • Speak to your children often and listen to their answers.
  • Have them tell you stories and ask follow-up questions.
  • Ask open ended questions (questions that require more than yes or no).
  • Ask them to explain more or tell you what that means.
  • Give them new vocabulary as you ask them questions and respond to their stories:
    • Child: I used that thing to cut cheese.
    • Adult: Oh, you used the cheese slicer.
    • Child: Yes, I used the cheese slicer and I cut a lot of cheese.
  • When you read with your children ask them questions such as:
    • What do you think will happen next?
    • Would you have done that?
    • How would you solve the problem?
    • Tell me the story
    • Talk, talk, talk!

There is much research about the importance of oral language.  Give your child the gift of language through conversation and story telling.

Literacy creates justice!