Implementing Effective Strategies for English Language Learners - Part IV

Monday, December 30, 2013 -- Shari Rios

A few months ago, I began a series, Putting Theory into Practice: Implementing Effective Strategies for English Language Learners.

In Part I, we met Mr. Boyd, an 8th grade science teacher, and learned how he focused on vocabulary strategies to ensure his English Language Learners (ELLs)  13 were able to access the academic vocabulary in this class.

In Part II, we met Ms. Finch, a 7th grade Texas history teacher. By providing background information prior to introducing a new topic, Ms. Finch set up her ELL students for academic success. She found additional resources to support the information being taught in order to let students experience the material in various contexts.

In Part III, we met Mr. Greer, an ESL teacher who works closely with his colleagues to provide strategies to help ELL students. He helped his colleagues implement the use of audio and visual support and used the effectiveness of chunking material to make it more accessible.

In this offering, we will explore the following strategies:

•           Provide multiple learning opportunities reinforces key concepts and vocabulary

•           Provide cross-content application to help tie language acquisition and core disciplines together, making learning more comprehensible


Provide multiple learning opportunities:

If you read Professional Development books and articles or collaborate with colleagues in the field of ESL, it becomes clear that one of the most frequently discussed strategies is providing multiple contexts and learning opportunities to reinforce concepts.

This strategy is effective for all learners but particularly useful for ELLs.

When implementing this strategy, keep in mind the various learning styles of your students and incorporate those styles into learning opportunities. Provide various activities for the same concept. The rigor of assessments is increasing, and so is the need for critical thinking. We must provide multiple ways for students to express their understanding of the material.

Some ideas to provide multiple learning opportunities:

  • Mix it up! Use multiple-choice questions for more than just recall. Multiple choice questions can be effective, but don’t forget to engage higher-order thinking skills in the process.
  • Cloze activities are great for ELLs! Initially, you can fill in more of the blanks and have them fill in the missing terms as they hear the material read to them. As their proficiency increases, they take on the responsibility of filling in more of the blanks themselves.
  • Include more formative assessment throughout lessons to provide comprehension checks in context. By assessing throughout, you can stop and reteach as needed, ensuring that students understand before moving on. This is a great opportunity to model critical thinking to show students how to think about what they are doing instead of just going through the motions.
  • The use of drag-and-drop activities and matching activities are effective when teaching certain concepts. Matching antonyms/synonyms, rhyming words, and definitions are all ways to use these activities.
  • True/false activities are useful if you take it a step further and show students how to break down a true/false question and also ask them to support their answer. If it is true, what evidence supports that? If it is false, why? What would make the statement true?
  • Open-ended questions are effective, as long as students understand the question being asked and understand the expectation. (This is a great place for a think-aloud activity to model the thinking process for students by showing them how you think through a question and how to answer it.)
  • Allow students to express their understanding by drawing a picture, telling you in their own terms (speaking), or even creating a skit.
  • If you assign group projects, clearly define expectations. Providing instructions in a list format is essential for ELLs. Assigning roles in the groups is also a way you can differentiate for ELLs. Provide roles that match their proficiencies, but still allow them to be a contributing member of the group.

Provide cross-content application:

As an ESL teacher, I was often approached by my students who asked for assistance in their other content-area courses. I am by no means a math, science, or social studies teacher. That being said, I was able to help my students in these classes by teaching them reading strategies to use in their other classes. Some of these included: Identifying key terms, using context clues to understand unfamiliar ideas, skimming, reading questions before reading passages, proving their answers by finding evidence and support in the text, using graphic organizers effectively, highlighting important details, and understanding how to read a math problem by honing in on what it was asking them to accomplish.

If you are an ESL teacher, I highly recommend you collaborate with your fellow teachers to know what they are teaching and their timeframes. If you have this information, you can ask them for any key concepts, vocabulary, or processes they will be covering in class. If you are able to introduce any of these items in your class or reinforce them in your class by providing additional activities, your students will have more success across the board.

Next month, we will wrap up this series and explore some ways to teach ELLs by incorporating the four language processes of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

In the meantime, I invite you to utilize a few of the strategies and ideas provided above and integrate them in your classroom.