Working with Multilingual Learners

Classroom Practices:
Interaction, discussion and group work


Many multilingual learners come from classrooms in which the instructor does all the talking. The concept of "participation" is completely new to them. They are not used to class discussion, being asked to give their opinions instead of copying, asking questions in class, or to working collaboratively on team projects.

Facilitating group work and class discussion tips

Video #1

This video contains strategies that can be used to demonstrate the purpose and value of class discussion to multilingual learners and encourage them to contribute their perspectives and ideas in class.

Play video

Video #2

This video from Thompson Rivers University shows a classroom scenario in which an instructor presents a group project and students begin brainstorming in their teams, but it is clear that problems are developing in the groups early on. After watching the video, reflect on or discuss the questions below:

  • What problems did you notice?
  • What was the instructor’s role during this activity?
  • What could the instructor have done to address or prevent any of the problems you noticed?

Play video

Video #3 - Managing group work

The second part of this video provides some cultural background information to explain some of the issues observed in the first part. This is followed by another look at the same scenario, but the instructor handles it quite differently this time around. 

After you watch the video, reflect on or discuss these two questions:

  1. What did the instructor do this time that prevented some of the problems you observed in the first video?
  2. Would you use a similar strategy to form groups in your classroom?‌

Play video

Additional resources

DISC personality approach

If you are interested in the instructor's DISC personality approach, check out the links below for personality quizzes and personality styles descriptions:

Communication styles inventory

This handout is an inventory and explanation of the personality types and will help with communicating effectively with others who have differerent personality types:

Concept mapping

This classroom activity can be used to generate ideas, integrate course content, evaluate content and resources to prepare for a presentation or written assignment, or as a form of classroom assessment.  It provides an opportunity for meaningful dialogue and collaboration in the classroom:

Conflict resolution

Instructors often complain that they do not know that teams experiencing conflict until they receive an email sent at midnight before the project is due.  We have two problems here, which are often closely related: interpersonal conflict and time management.  This resource from UBC provides helpful information on dealing with conflict.

In order to address conflict, we need to clearly understand both sides.  Therefore, the ability to listen actively and reflect back what we heard and understood in a neutral manner helps us to minimize resistance and work toward resolution.  According to the site, this involves a three-step process:

1) Listen actively without response or commentary.  Stay neutral.

Restate, paraphrase, and summarize what the speaker said to clarify understanding.

2)  Respond empathetically and sincerely.  Avoid responses that will elicit resistance. See the website for a list of these responses.

Framing a response empathically has three parts:

  • Tentative statement (It seems to me)
  • Define the feeling (You are frustrated)
  • Framing the situational context (e.g. …because the research director was coming for a meeting and it was important to you to be consulted and your response was missed because the memo didn't reach you in time)

3)  Use open questions to ensure that you have all the information you need to understand the other person's perspective.  Open-ended questions allow you to gather more information.  They are not yes/no questions.

Open questions begin

  • What
  • When
  • Who
  • Where
  • Which
  • How

Time management

In order to collaborate harmoniously and complete team projects without sending last-minute emails to the instructor, team members need good time management skills. This resource from SFU has links to resources with strategies for effective time management that can be used by all students and easily adapted to improve teamwork.

What’s brewing in your classroom?

Meet with Dr. Maureen Wideman to discuss your ideas and challenges. She can help you reach your teaching goals and develop great learning experiences for students.

Book a meeting now

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