Exposure and Context Make All the Difference in ELL’s Use of Academic Language   5 comments

Just finished viewing my listening, speaking, reading students’ debate on whether plastic surgery benefits outweigh the risks. I recorded the debate on a flip camera and saved the files on my ePortfolio using Evernote. Recording oral presentations helps me in ways similar to my ELLs listening to recordings; in that I play and replay as often as I need to until I’m confident I have found the items I was looking for.

I evaluated my students on a 3-point scale on the following items: clarity of argument, opening and closing statements, delivery, organization and research (planning), following debate rules, and time.

Apart from the fact that my students were totally invested, and did a great job in debating each other in front of an audience, the best part was an aspect that is often the “icing on the cake” for this type of pre-academic exercise. While watching my students’ debates, I began to notice how often they were using signpost language to signal agreement, disagreement, and sequence of points, in addition to topic-specific academic vocabulary.

The content vocabulary was great, but not unusual for this high proficiency level. The class had spent a lot of time preparing for the debate. They had researched the issue on the Internet, listened to interviews about plastic surgery, and conducted in-person surveys of other community college students’ opinions about plastic surgery and the perceived benefits of being physically attractive. I had also given them explicit instruction on signpost language, but their exposure to this was not as extensive as it was to the content of the debate. My reasons for focusing more on content than on form was to improve my students’ background knowledge in the subject, and therefore improve their fluency.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how often they were using the signpost language so necessary for debates to work both for the opposing team, but also for the audience who are evaluating them. My students were saying things like, “for these reasons,” “in addition,” “to the extent that,” and “this is why I believe…”

Wonderful job! I’ll post the video soon.

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5 responses to “Exposure and Context Make All the Difference in ELL’s Use of Academic Language

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