What questions should teachers ask English Language Learners?

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In conversation, it is often helpful to show other people that we understand what they are trying to say.  It is also something very respectful to do.  A smile, a nod of the head, and eye contact are encouraging to others at work and at home.  Frowning, shaking one’s head no, or looking away while others are speaking will discourage others from trying.  In our ESL classes, we want to encourage each other as we learn and make “good mistakes.”

Gestures matter – in conversation and in ESL class.  I often ask ESL students to practice smiling at others, nodding encouragingly, and giving eye contact.  Here are some simple questions that I suggest teachers, administrators, and students ask each other during the first week of class:

1. Why do you want to learn English?

2. Where do you use English now?

3. How will better English conversation skills help you at school?

4. How will improved English conversation skills help you at work?

5. How can you use English speaking skills in your daily life?

6. How do you feel when you speak English now? Why?

7. Where do you plan to speak English in two years? Why?

Getting English Language Learners to answer these simple questions will give instructors a chance to evaluate skills, learn about the background and ambitions of ESL students, and focus student attention on the task at hand.  English students, on the other hand, will benefit from this simple “icebreaker.”  English students need more opportunities to practice and improve their speaking skills in our classrooms.

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