Expressive and receptive language skills are valuable abilities that help all students to succeed in and out of school. Expressive language allows us to communicate needs and wants through words, symbols, or gestures, whereas receptive language is our ability to listen and understand information that has been transmitted via words, symbols, or gestures. It’s most important for all students, including English language learners (ELLs), to develop speaking and listening skills in order to move to higher-order expressive and receptive skills such as reading and writing.
Flip Helps Support Student Language Needs
One easy edtech tool that helps students practice their language skills is Flip (formerly known as Flipgrid). I found that Flip was a powerful tool for working with all my students, including my ELLs, because it helped them practice their speaking skills while also meeting their individual needs.
I first started using Flip in my first-grade classroom of 23, where about 10 or 11 were ELLs. Using Flip allowed me to give my students a safe space to answer questions and also practice oral skills without the pressure of others watching. I found that many of my ELLs preferred the weekly question(s) on Flip compared with in-person questions that we did in our classroom daily. When using Flip, not only are we addressing language needs, but we’re helping students meet the learning outcomes set forth for them.
Make Expectations Clear and Offer Simple Training
In order to get started, the first thing teachers can do is review the expectations of Flip usage. In my classroom, I introduced Flip virtually—we were teaching from home at the time. I explained to the students that we would practice our speaking and listening skills on a new online program. I explained that I would give them a question daily or weekly, and their job would be to respond back to me with their answer.
I also reviewed expectations for the language output, or the types of responses that I hoped to see from my students. For students with lower language-speaking abilities, I made it clear that I would be OK with simple words or phrases to answer the questions. As for students with higher language-speaking abilities, I expected them to respond using simple to more complex sentences.
When deciding what the expectations for each individual student were, I considered different factors. The first factor was the speaking score that they received on their English language proficiency assessments (WIDA Screener for Kindergarten, etc.). I met with students in level two and below for one-on-one meetings during small group rotations. We discussed their tasks and practiced using recently learned words before they went back to work independently. The second factor I considered was my students’ ability to speak in front of others.
I took many anecdotal notes about how my students responded to the questions I asked. This gave me insight into how to design lessons that would encourage their development. Throughout this process, none of the students knew what their other peers’ expectations were, which allowed them to focus on their own goals.
Next, I created a video for both students and families that showed them how to access Flip and use the program, including all of its logistical pieces. Each student had experience with using their Google accounts, so logging in to Flip wasn’t a problem for the most part. When all the students gained access to their account, I showed them a video I had made with a practice question.
Once we viewed my initial video post, I showed my students, step-by-step, how to record a response video to my question. We practiced making multiple responses to that video to ensure that all students were comfortable with making a video on their own.
Create Prompts That Encourage Engagement and Support Growth
In the early days of using Flip in my class, I created questions around topics that students could relate to on a personal level. For example, we started by talking about favorite colors, favorite foods, family, and “would you rather” questions. As the year progressed, I created content-related questions.
When developing the questions for student responses, I embedded scaffolds that would help students who needed them. For instance, for each question that was stated orally in the video, I also provided written directions, as well as sentence stems and word banks to help students develop their response. These important tools are essential for English language learners and other students because they offer differentiation that can help them craft oral responses.
Throughout the course of the school year, I saw improvement from all of my students in the area of language development. The biggest success I saw was in my students’ comfort in communicating with their peers and with me as their teacher. Many of my students felt more comfortable using academic language that they encountered in class texts, tests, lessons, etc., to effectively ask and answer questions in person during class after practicing their language skills on Flip.
Scaffolding Needs Will Decrease Over Time
I had students who went from using only gestures to communicate to progressing to answer questions with words or simple phrases. Many of my ELL students who had higher speaking abilities started to use more complex sentences. For example, when asked a question, the students would restate part of the question and then give their reasoning using words such as “because.” As time passed, I also noticed that I was able to cut back on the sentence starters as a scaffold on Flip for many of my students because they had become comfortable with using their own language to answer questions.
I encourage all teachers who have the opportunity to teach native English speakers as well as English language learners to incorporate programs such as Flip into their daily or weekly instruction to give all students an accessible way to practice their language skills in order to improve their communication in and outside of the classroom.