Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies that Work
This article is excerpted from two books by authors Katharine Davies Samway and Dorothy Taylor: Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies that Work, K-5 and Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies that Work,Grades 6 to 12.
Teaching students to speak, read and write English has always been challenging. But the challenges are worthwhile when it is clear that students are learning and succeeding. Toward this goal, authors Katharine Davies Samway and Dorothy Taylor offer several strategies at grades 6 to 12 and grades K to 5 that will help you tackle the day-to-day job of bringing comprehension to students who are struggling to master a second language.
Here are four suggestions based on teacher questions for grades K to 5 ELL students.
My ELL student doesn't pay attention when I'm giving directions.
ELL students often become accustomed to tuning out of classroom
conversations, especially when they are not actively engaged in learning.
The best way to get them to tune back in is to actively involve them.
Most of the strategies for understanding directions require some kind
of action on the part of the student. In the following strategies, students are actively involved.
Targeted Strategy 1: Assess background knowledge.
Elicit from students what they already know about the activity before
beginning to give directions. If the ELL student has a general idea of what
he or she is supposed to be doing, it will be easier to follow directions or
instructions. For example, if students are expected to read information or
watch a video about Martin Luther King, Jr., and make a timeline about his
life, hold up a picture of him, and ask students if they know who he is. Write
his name and other facts contributed by the students on the board.
Targeted Strategy 2: Model steps and the final product.
Show students what you expect them to do and what a finished product, or
similar finished product, should look like. In the example of the Martin
Luther King, Jr., timeline mentioned above, after eliciting information about
him, add dates to some of the facts. Draw a timeline on the board, and
demonstrate how dates and facts can be added to it. Then ask a couple of
students to come to the board and add more dates and facts.
Targeted Strategy 3: Introduce jigsaw listening.
Jigsaw listening is an activity in which each student has only one part of a
set of directions and must work with a group to construct the complete set
(Gibbons, 2002). The directions can be provided through pictures, in writing,
by the teacher, or on audiotape. For example, if students are conducting an
experiment with Queen Anne's lace to investigate how flowers store water,
each student can be given one of the following directions on a slip of paper:
Take a flower from the vase on the table.
Take a container from the table and fill it with water
Take a bottle of food coloring from the table.
Put four drops of food coloring in the container.
Put the flower in the container.
Write your group's name on the container with a marker.
Each student then reads his or her direction as the others listen.
Then students discuss the best way to put the directions in order. The activity
can only be completed through a combination of listening and following each
Targeted Strategy 4: Craft activities.
Craft activities, such as making corn husk dolls when studying colonial life,
or tissue paper fish for Chinese New Year, provide a here-and-now focus for
listening, and the finished product provides a strong motivation for listening
carefully to instructions.
Here are five suggestion based on a question from an ELL teacher with students at grades 6 and above:
My ELL students understand me when I talk about things that they are familiar with, but they look totally lost when I teach abstract ideas or unfamiliar content.
Targeted Strategy 1: Preteach or provide background information.
Bring in pictures or objects to help students understand key vocabulary and
concepts prior to beginning a unit. For example, an ESL teacher we know
did the following with her ELL students prior to beginning a unit on the
Showed the students a map of the world.
Helped students locate England and Virginia, and wrote these place
names on chart paper.
On the map of the world, moved pictures of ships from England to
Jamestown, while talking about events surrounding this movement.
Showed pictures of the English settlers-again, writing important words
on the chart paper (John Smith, John Rolfe, James River, settlement, settlers)
Had a conversation with students about how they had come to
Asked students to compare their arrival to the arrival of the English settlers.
Targeted Strategy 2: Use pictorial input charts.
The teacher introduces a topic (for example, volcanoes, photosynthesis,
westward movement) through talking while drawing a picture in front of the
students (a pictorial input chart). In this way, students have access to both
auditory and visual input.
Targeted Strategy 3: Introduce hands-on activities.
Hands-on activities help ELL students acquire knowledge and vocabulary,
and can help enormously in the development of reading and writing skills.
Hands-on learning can also be used for assessment purposes by enabling
teachers to measure both factual knowledge and comprehension. See Figure
2.3 for hands-on subject-area projects and activities that have proven to be
particularly helpful in supporting ELLs.
Targeted Strategy 4: Allow time for pair shares and table talks.
It is very important to provide time for students to talk with a partner or in
small groups about what they have just learned. For a lesson on the Amazon,
for example, the teacher might begin by holding up a picture of the Amazon
jungle and asking, What do you see here? Subsequent pair-share questions or
table discussions could focus on Which animals are you familiar with? What
kind of place is this? Where might we see a jungle like this? Why are there so many
plants in the jungle?
Targeted Strategy 5: Use charts and graphic organizers.
Charts and graphic organizers, such as KWLH (What I Know, What I Want
to Learn, What I Learned, and How I Learned What I Learned), Venn diagrams,
and timelines help students focus their listening. For example, students
watching a video about the Amazon jungle can complete a KWLH chart
prior to watching the video, and then complete a Venn diagram after they have watched it.