Interaction for ELLs

SIOPThe Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) has eight components. The English Language Learners entries in this blog have already touched on the first four: Lesson Preparation, Building Background, Comprehensible Input, and Strategies. This month we turn our attention to the fifth: Interaction.

When it comes to interaction and lesson planning, there are four questions one might consider… Think of a content concept that you might be teaching.

(1)Can you describe three different grouping configurations that could be used for teaching and learning this concept?

How would you organize the members of each group? Teachers trained in SIOP know that instead of teachers talking and students listening, content classes with English language learners (ELLs) should be structured so that students are interacting collaboratively with structured oral activities to foster student-to-student interaction.  Such grouping configurations can be:  with partners, in triads, and small groups of 4-5 for cooperative learning. The variety of grouping can be: homogeneous, heterogeneous by gender, language proficiency, language background, and/or ability. There are times when it may be most effective to group students by language proficiency, but, grouping all ELLs together regularly in sheltered content classes is not a good practice.

(2) How then would you monitor student learning?

The two most common ways in SIOP are by consciously allowing students to express their thoughts fully without interruption (wait time) and by pausing frequently. Some more strategies are: ask more advanced students to write answers down while waiting for less advanced oral response; offer two possible choices (“50-50”) and allow students to ask for a classmate’s help (“phone a friend”). Also, check to see “how many got it” by a show of hands; call on students that ensured participation from entire class (ex. Selecting their names on written sticks “tongue depressor”); ask for volunteers to respond; Teacher would continuously circulate room to monitor, stopping at all desks; ask students to “peer check” to make sure classmates get it; have students work in pairs with additional problems/activities to make sure they had enough practice (repetition); make sure there was balanced discussion among students, and between teacher & students; review concepts with whole group after group interactions and observe/ask for understanding with volunteer responses.

(3) What would you want students to do while working in their groups?

Teachers should allow for use of bilingual dictionaries, use of their native language (“L1”), and if computers are in the classroom, use of Internet for translations/resources in their L1. Additionally, teachers should allow for frequent opportunities within groupings for interaction so students can discuss concepts and ask for clarification if necessary. To maximize achievement, especially with ELLs, a balance between active and passive learning in the classroom is necessary. Elaborated responses are encouraged (“Tell me more…” What do you mean..?” “What more can you find?” “How do you know..?” “Why is it important?” “What do you see that makes you say that?” What did you read that made you think of that?”), as well as restatements (“In other words…” “So what you are saying is…”) Many of these “group works” we find addressed throughout the CCLS.

(4) How would the grouping configurations facilitate learning for ELLS?

It would allow for practice of language and content concepts (asking and answering questions, negotiating meaning, clarifying ideas, giving & justifying opinions.) Also, the variety of groups helps to maintain student interest, adds variety to the learning situation, offers more meaning to the activity and increases student involvement-all of which increase learning.

More information on opportunities for students to interact and to use language in a typical classroom, check the chapter on Interaction from Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model, 3rd edition, available through the RBERN library  and in this short video.


Sally Doran
Mid-State Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network

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