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Growing English Proficiency: Lines of Communication


structured interaction In this series, we discuss Student Interaction Routines, which are task-based strategies that help ensure each student has abundant strategic practice using new language for meaningful purposes. Developing a robust wheelhouse of interaction routines enhances student engagement and increases productive talk time.

Lines of Communication is a whole-class routine that provides multiple opportunities for language production with a variety of partner combinations. This routine can be structured to practice asking and answering questions, building on each other’s ideas, or reviewing tricky language patterns. Students of all ages enjoy the opportunity to talk to multiple classmates about interesting topics. It is perfect for the You Do Together portion of the lesson.

 Thoughtful planning is critical to success. The basic guidelines for this routine are: 

  • Make sure you have plenty of space for the class to form two lines facing each other, with some personal space on either side.
  • Name the lines “A” and “B.”
  • Establish a start/stop signal – a bell, musical cue, chimes, etc.
  • Present a prompt or question and provide a model for students.                                               
  • Line A responds to the prompt or question. Line B listens and responds to Line A appropriately (asks a question, builds on the idea, or repeats the language pattern).
  • Signal for the students to stop talking. Present and model a prompt or question (this may be a new prompt or the same one given to Line A).
  • Line B responds to the prompt or question. Line A listens and responds to Line B appropriately (asks a question, builds on the idea, or repeats the language pattern).
  • Signal for students to stop talking. Direct everyone in Line A to move one person to the left. The student at the front of Line A, who is now left without a partner, moves down the center aisle, high-fiving or dancing to the opposite end of the line. New partners greet each other.
  • Continue with as many rounds as possible, considering the amount of practice you want students to have. Consider attention span, too. Keep it snappy!

Change it up!
As students gain experience with this routine, there are lots of exciting ways to change it up!

  • High school teachers have great success when they call this routine “Speed Dating,” keeping interactions brief and using the ding of a bell to move the lines.
  • Try an Inside/Outside Circle instead of straight lines.
  • Have younger students sit and face each other (this minimizes fidgeting).
  • Be creative with how the lines are formed (use birthday months, favorite sports, favorite foods, etc.).
  • Use Discussion Cards to support challenging language and kick up the rigor.

Make it worth students’ time!
However you decide to run Lines of Communication, be sure you’ve taught the language you’re asking students to practice. Create prompts that are relevant and push students to think. Be ready to tweak the prompts or responses if they prove too easy. Then you can confidently set the expectation that students continue practicing until they hear the signal. 

lines of communication

Find more details on Lines of Communication and other interaction routines in the Cue Card Booklet.

susana and donnaSusana Dutro, Co-founder and CEO
Donna Smith, Director of Research and Communications and District Support Lead

This blog is one in a series on Student Interaction Routines. Read the additional installments:

Growing English Proficiency: What's Practice Got to Do with It?
Growing English Proficiency: Numbered Heads Together
Growing English Proficiency: Talking Stick

Visit the E.L. Achieve blog regularly for details on different structured interaction routines and creative variations you can use with your students.

This blog was previously published with the title, "Blog Series: Empowering students to grow their language – Talking by Design: Lines of Communication."


Growing English Proficiency:
Growing English Proficiency: Talking Stick

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