ESL teachers (English as a second language) need to use activities that activate as many ESL students as possible for as much of the time as possible. This article provides an overview of activities that can be implemented with fairly large mainstream ELL classes within differentiated instruction.
Why open-ended activities?
In a mixed-ability ESL class, teachers should aim for full class participation rather than single-student activations such as calling one student to the board, or having one student write a response on a single paper going around the class. One way teachers can facilitate this process is to offer a variety of open ended exercises.
Using open-ended activities in differentiated instruction
An open-ended activity allows students to work at their own pace and allows for a variety of responses. For the purposes of full class participation however, teachers should aim at activities that ALL students can do together. During this time, the teacher visually checks students answers, correcting wherever possible.
This kind of interaction gives the teacher more control with regard to classroom management and classroom organization. The teacher can use open-ended activities during various segments of the lesson particularly in the first twenty minutes of the lesson where students are either learning or reviewing important lexical (core) vocabulary.
Open-ended ideas for the beginning of the lesson
1. Raise the number of open-ended brainstorming activities (many answers to one teacher cue)
2. Encourage students respond all together, by pointing to things, raising hands or fingers, answering in chorus, moving their bodies, ticking off items or writing responses.
For example, if you are teaching colors and parts of the body for example, you could have students open their textbook and point to the item (in this case, body part or color) that you mention. If you are reviewing vocabulary using pictures, number the pictures. Students then have to hold up the number of fingers according to the picture.
1. Students can recap new Lexi learned during the lesson using the picture-number sequence (listed above) or simply by pointing to the pictures in their textbook.
2. Dictation. Students can write down single-letter or even nonsense-words. Middle students can write the word and more advanced students can write down the phrase or sentence.
3. Command games – simply telling students to do things or Simon Says.
4. Quick guessing games – based on a rough sketch on the board.
5. Brainstorm: how many things can students think of that… begin with a certain letter, have a certain letter in them, are animals, are colors, are in this room, or whatever you like. Give them an ambitious but possible target such as let’s get to 10 / 20 / 30 words, and try to reach it. or:…we have 3 minutes left in the lesson, let’s see how many words we can get to.
It is crucial that both the teacher and the students understand that students will progress at different rates. The emphasis on involving full class participation using open-ended activities takes effort. Students should understand that they are working at the level that will take them one step forward. This is the heart of the principles of differentiated instruction.