Do you know what an Iconic Gesture* is?  Take the poll first:

Yes indeed…gestures are physical movements expressing verbal speech.  You know….giving someone a thumbs up or an Okay sign….fist in the air to show urgency…and even  vulgar hand gestures succinctly convey verbal meaning!  So, why should we be using our hands to support our verbal cues?  To enhance communication of course!  Communication is both the sharing and receiving of communication, so why not make sharing the information more efficient?  That is what a gesture does!  Makes learning/understanding efficient!

One picture may be worth a thousand words, but one gesture is a time-saving and almost instantaneous representation of  verbal explanation.  A baby may not be able to ‘tell their mother that the milk is too hot, but with a learned gesture (or the iconic shake of the hand in front of mouth), the baby can efficiently (before a burn occurs) tell the mother that the milk is too hot without words.

Regarding boosting Language Acquisition, it is so beneficial to learn a language through the addition of gestures supporting vocabulary.  Teaching the word “cut” or “scissors” could be supported with a hand movement of two fingers taking the action of the cutting.  Efficient.  It is just good teaching–it supports verbal language understanding.   Would you really want to make sure a student master the word scissors before teaching them how to use them?  The poll answer is the second one:  physical action to display verbal expression.

*Iconic gestures can differ culturally

Even though most of my job is direct student contact time with EAL students, that is not where all the learning happens.  Some of my most important, most powerful teaching  happens when I meet & consult with PARENTS.  I meet with parents often..informally almost daily, and formally for consults about once a fortnight.  The parents just seek me out and corner me and ask me really hard questions about what they should do with THEIR children!  Parents seek educated understandings to surround best practice and partnerships between teacher & parent.  Parents want the best for their children and want to participate.  I love my job.

It just so happens this afternoon, I sat down with a parent to talk about her “Home Language Plan”, and the multi-language-literacy goals she envisions for her children.  She herself has two mother tongues (Spanish-English), her husband speaks German, and the language they speak to each other is English.  However, each parent speaks their mother tongues to their children.  (Children speak Spanish with mom, German with dad, and learn English at school.)  This is a lot to juggle.   This  parent wanted to meet to “check her plan out” with me to see if she was on the right track (which she was) and to gain strategies to support their mother tongues.

You see, our EAL team has pushed for years to educate parents that speaking their strongest language and mother tongue is a value, an asset to our International community.  And now?  The tables have turned and all of the EAL team’s hard work has paid off, because, parents now seek us out to refine their own strategies to improve their child’s multilingual potential.  I wonder what other schools do to help parents understand the value of the parents speaking to their young children in their native tongue?

Parent + Teacher + Research & Education = long time benefits.  Good teamwork.  We are so much better together.


10 ways to Boost Language in your classroom, (there are so many more, but here are some basics):

  1. Use visuals—we learn so much from what we see.
  2. Limit Teacher Talk!  You talk less—they talk more.  (e.g. Think-Pair-Share, Wh Q’s)  Your voice is an effective tool, and so are your ears.
  3. Give wait time…and lots of it.  It is amazing what happens when you allow space.
  4. Comprehension Checks—check for understanding all along the way.  Formative assessments are key for continuing.
  5. Use Hand/Body Gestures—makes input more comprehensible.
  6. Use Graphic Organizers—make time for this, it helps students rehearse and organize what they are learning. (e.g. Venn diagram, T-chart, Story Map)
  7. Let them talk with their peers.  Peer Talk helps them organize and express their content.
  8. Add chants and music—great for hearing and speaking target language.  Great for assessment too…have them make their own song up about the content!
  9.  (       this space for YOUR favorite strategy…    )
  10.  (       got one more?      )

Feel free to share your favorite strategies in the comments section.  All learners,  (not just ELL’s) need to develop new academic language.