Accessibility links

Breaking News

June 26, 2003 - Lida Baker: Encouraging English Learners to Talk in Class, Part 2 - 2003-06-25

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": June 26, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- we chat again with English teacher Lida Baker in Los Angeles about how to encourage English learners to speak up in class.

RS: This week Lida focuses on very shy students. This is one of the techniques she uses to engage those who are especially reluctant to say anything in class:

BAKER: "Probably the best activity for getting the students to talk is a paired activity or a small group activity where each person in the group has a different set of information and the students have to talk to each other, asking questions, to get the information that the other people have.

"So let's say, for instance, that we have three students. They have to work together to fill out a calendar of, let's say, their teacher's weekly schedule. So each of them has a calendar and certain activities are filled in. But the activities that are filled in are different for each of the three people in the group. So what they then have to do is ask each other something like, 'What is Miss Baker doing Friday at 3 p.m.?' Maybe Student A has that information, but Student A doesn't have the information on what Miss Baker is doing on Tuesday at 9 p.m., and so that student has to ask the other students in the group to fill in or provide that information."

RS: "So they're talking and getting the information at the same time."

BAKER: "Right. Now it feels like a game, but in fact what's happening in that activity [is this]: The students have to interact with one another. It's inherently built into the activity that they have to ask questions and provide each other with information, you see. So that is one of the best activities for getting students to talk."

AA: "You have another example?"

BAKER: "Oh, many more! Role plays are wonderful for getting students to talk, where you tell the students, let's see, you're in a bank, and you have gone into the bank to get some cash. And when the bank clerk gives you the cash that you asked for, you count it and you notice that she has given you ten dollars less than you asked for. Role play -- act out -- the scene in which you point out the error to the clerk, and try to resolve this situation."

RS: Now that's an activity she uses for small groups. When she's working with her whole class, and it's time for students to answer questions, Lida Baker uses a deck of index cards.

AA: Each card has a student's name written on it. She shuffles the deck, then pulls out one card after another.

BAKER: "I want to make sure that everybody in the class gets the opportunity to speak, and I also want to prevent what happens so often that students who are not shy call out or shout out the answers and drown out everybody else."

AA: "So you're calling on one person at a time."

RS: "It's a crowd-control kind of thing."

BAKER: "I call on the students -- when I take out that deck of cards, and I hold it up, and the students know it's card time, what that means is that this is not a time when you're allowed to shout out answers. You have to wait to be called on. But students have the option, if they don't want to answer the question or for whatever reason they don't want to respond, they're always allowed to pass. And I teach them the word 'pass,' and this is what makes the activity safe, that they know that they have the opportunity to be silent, if that's their choice. So it gives them a measure of control, you see, and that's why the activity is successful."

AA: "And then you have to come up with some other activity to draw out the ones who keep passing, right?"

BAKER: "That doesn't happen, because another technique that a smart teacher uses when you have people that are reticent to talk is that you -- first of all, the students don't see the names on those cards. So if an easy question comes up and I know that Jorge in the corner is feeling uncomfortable about talking in class, I might pretend that it's Jorge's name on the card -- "

RS: "Sneaky."

BAKER: " -- and give that easy question to Jorge, because I know --

RS: "He can answer it."

BAKER: " -- that he's going to get it right. So I want to -- again, it's all about creating opportunities for students to succeed."

AA: Lida Baker teaches in the American Language Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, and she also writes textbooks for English learners.

RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Don't be shy about writing us! Our e-mail address is, and you'll find our programs on the Web at With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "He's So Shy"/Pointer Sisters 1980