Post by Elizabeth Apicella
Planning for Differentiated Learning and Motivation? There’s a gesture for that! As the ENL (English as a New Language) teacher, I tend to bounce around between the primary grades. This year I’m teaching second grade and let me tell you something, second grade is where it's at! Second graders are at their prime sweetness and eagerness to learn. Their stamina is building exponentially and they. are. silly.
Assuming we are on the same page regarding the benefits of planning for small group instruction, tiered questioning, comprehensible input, and differentiated entry to content as formal strategies, it's time to play. There are many benefits of incorporating movement in the classroom including engaging all learners and redirecting their attention. It's also fun! Every student needs to feel included in your classroom, and gesturing is the great equalizer. I model it, we do it together, and students can do it on their own. Gestures transcend language. Gestures are fun.
I love to give space to my meta-thinkers in class discussions. They need to let their big ideas out, and they serve as strong language models for ELL peers. But when one of your stronger students gets going with their big ideas on a topic, and sometimes a laundry list of the past weekend’s events in a whole group discussion, the attention of your ELLs in the front row can start to wane. It's time to change things up. I’ll clap my hands together and say, “Great! Everybody up! There’s a gesture for that!” The bigger, louder, and sillier the gesture, the better. Truly, there is a gesture for everything. I’m often tasked with supporting students in building literacy skills. My favorites are gesturing punctuation.
Have you ever seen a class of second graders simultaneously engage in making air quotes to notice dialogue in grade level text? Or scoop their arms for all those commas? In reading and writing poetry I like to modify our comma gesture to an aggressive straight line down in a discussion of line breaks. After all, the line break is just like a modified and invisible comma. When students are obsessed with gesturing punctuation, they tend to stop writing run-on sentences. This works for everything. Imagine the possibilities. Question marks? A left jab, right undercut for a semi-colon (ugh, semi-colons), a symmetrical hand gesture for doubles in math or holding hands for ‘friends’ of 10, Let’s rethink difficult language concepts like prepositions. Put your hands way up over your head for (you guessed it!) over. Beside? Along? In? How about question types? Connect your gesture to a chant like, “Who names a person!” while gesturing to yourself or a partner in some way. “Where names a place.” You get the idea.
Once this routine gets going, students can come up with their own gestures for just about anything. Let go of the reigns and let your students invent and teach gestures to each other. Some gestures will make it through the entire school year, others will be a one time attention-grabber. Connecting gestures to difficult concepts focuses the student’s attention to something new and the joy of the experience helps them to recall it later. Do you teach adults? Even better! Let’s laugh in our classrooms, and unpack the hard stuff together. So if you have cultivated just one student who completely overuses quotation marks, commas, and various punctuation, Congrats!! You have done your job as the crazy language teacher.