English Language Learners (ELLs) have always held a special place in my teaching heart. Perhaps it’s because my own grandfather, orphaned at the age of nine, immigrated to the United Stated without knowing a single word of English. My grandfather passed away when I was in high school, so unfortunately I cannot ask him about his experiences as an ELL in America. Whenever I meet a newly-arrived ELL, however, I think of my grandfather as a 9-year-old, and try to be the most compassionate teacher possible… the type of teacher I hope my grandfather had when he arrived to the United States.
When I plan lessons with my ELLs in mind, I focus on these two words: comprehensible input. Comprehensible input means that students can understand the information that is being presented to them, even if they don’t understand every word in isolation. Therefore, comprehensible input does not rely on teacher talk alone, but almost always provides visual supports to accompany the teacher talk. When teachers use some sort of visual support as they are talking, ELLs are able to grasp concepts even though they might not understand every single word that the teacher said. Today I’m going to share examples of resources that provide comprehensible input, and explain why they work with ELLs at certain levels.
#1- Use of Visuals
Which ELL levels do visuals benefit? They benefit all ELL levels, but especially Level 1 students.
When visuals are used, even students with very little English vocabulary can participate in activities. Let’s use my nonfiction text feature foldable as an example. As you can see, a visual example is provided with each text feature presented. If you are leading your students in a nonfiction text feature scavenger hunt where students are perusing books trying to track down examples of each text feature, ELLs who have access to this visual-filled foldable can refer to it as needed, allowing them to participate fully in the activity.
#2- Use of Graphic Organizers
Which ELL levels do graphic organizers benefit? They especially benefit intermediate ELLs.
Graphic organizers help ELLs because they present written information in a visual format. When ELLs can see information presented in an organized and predictable fashion, their ability to comprehend the information increases significantly. For example, when I teach students about informational text structures (which is a notoriously difficult concept for many upper elementary students), I rely heavily on graphic organizers. My PowerPoint, flipbook, worksheets, and craftivity all utilize the same graphic
#3- Use of Student-Friendly Analogies
Which ELL levels do analogies benefit? They especially benefit intermediate ELLs.
When you think for a moment of the many academic terms being mentioned to ELLs during one school day, it’s easy to understand why ELLs can become confused, and why long-term retention can be a struggle for many ELLs. In 2012, I created my first craftivity in an effort to help my students retain what they had just learned about author’s purpose. I was co-teaching in a 5th grade classroom, and the students (both ELL and non-ELL) loved doing this activity. Best of all, I found that it was super effective in helping my students remember the five types of author’s purpose long after the unit had been completed. So began my love affair with craftivities as effective teaching tools! It was hard to select just two, but I managed to choose two favorites to show you.
#4- Use of Cooperative Learning or Partner Activities
Which ELL levels do partner activities benefit? They benefit all ELLs, but for different reasons.
If you are lucky enough to have another student in the class who speaks the same language as a newly-arrived ELL, cooperative learning activities can be valuable because the one student can translate and/or clarify for the newly-arrived ELL. Cooperative learning activities are also powerful for intermediate ELLs. Many ELLs feel uncomfortable speaking up in front of the entire class, but a smaller group often seems less intimidating. In order to become fully proficient in a language, students need to be given opportunities to USE the academic language they are learning, and this is often best accomplished through a small group or partner activity.
My favorite resources to meet this need are my partner plays because they target so many skills. First of all, their primary purpose is to help build reading fluency. Since students are reading with one other person, they rarely get nervous about reading aloud, and they have plenty of opportunities to read and improve their fluency. Also, they feel comfortable asking their partner questions if they don’t understand a word or phrase. After they are finished reading the play, the partners can often complete a follow-up comprehension worksheet together, allowing them many opportunities to converse while using academic vocabulary. (Note: Some of my 2nd/3rd grade sets do not include follow-up questions. Students can use this free set of questions with those scripts that don’t yet contain follow-up questions.)
|This particular set also features the added bonus of integrating science content! When discussing answers, students have an opportunity to use academic science vocabulary.|
Deb Hanson has 16 years teaching experience. She began her career as a 2nd grade teacher. For the majority of her career (13 years), she’s worked as an elementary ESL teacher. In that capacity, Feb has worked with students from kindergarten to grade 6 at all language development levels, but she most frequently worked with 3rd, 4th, & 5th grade students. She was an upper elementary Reading Teacher (grades 4-5) for two years, as well. She has also spent some of her summers teaching ESL classes at a local university for teachers seeking an ESL endorsement.