Supporting ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom

Photo Credit: FatCamera

As we get closer to the end of summer, many of us are beginning to think about the 2018-2019 school year and how we will structure and set up our classrooms.  What will my routines be? How will they differ from last year? How will I plan and execute my curriculum? What do I want to replicate from last year? What might I change from the previous year?  All of these thoughts begin to creep into the mind of an educator around the month of August. As much as we want to squeeze every little last drop out of our summer, the beginning of the school year can be an exciting time to begin to envision how we want the upcoming school year to unfold.  Alongside the staples of routine and procedures, many of us will start planning our curriculum and reflecting on how we will deliver our lessons to reach all of the students who will walk through our classroom doors-those who are above grade level, on grade level, below grade level; those with home struggles, learning struggles, social struggles; those with IEPs, 504s, and those identified as second language learners.  As we begin to think about the approaching school year, I wanted to share with you three strategies you can use from day one that will support and encourage the English Language Learners in your classroom. In fact, these strategies will support and encourage ALL learners in your classroom.

  • Close Reading
    Close Reading is one strategy you can incorporate into your lessons that can support ELLs in their understanding of complex text.  In the world of Common Core Standards, we know that students should be exposed to an array of complex, critical text.  For many ELLs, exposure to this type of text can create stress and issues in comprehension. It is imperative that we use inclusive strategies such as close reading to support ELLS in their understanding of text.  Ideally, a shorter text would be ideal for this strategy.

What is Close Reading?

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) supplies clarification useful for teaching with Common Core standards in mind:

Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7).

For me, close reading is a much simpler concept.  It is any scaffolding or support you can provide a student to ease their understanding of a specific text.  It almost always includes some sort of teacher modeling, multiple reads of the same text, and students directly interacting with the text. A simple close reading lesson would look something like this:

Read 1: Teacher reads text aloud while students listen for Gist, or what the text is mostly about. Students can also note unfamiliar words or questions they may have about the text.

Read 2: Students work in partners to reread and interact with the text to create a collaborative summary.  In order to do this, students might circle the nouns and noun phrases, underline the verb phrases, and box the keywords that help them find the why.  Ideally, students can use highlighters in various colors to do this work.

Read 3: Answering text-dependent questions created by the teacher.  Students will work with a partner to create a collaborative response.

I’ve included a sample text and close reading document for you to explore.  Feel free to print and use or adapt as necessary.

Collaborative Close Reading-Harriet Tubman

Could you see this working in your classroom?  How might this support the ELLs in your classroom?

  • Use of Sentence Frames

Teachers spend hours creating documents that will support the students in their classrooms.  These documents help to scaffold grade level curriculum for students. While there are endless amounts of supporting documents we can create and use in our classrooms, I have found that ELLs really benefit from the use of sentence frames.  Elementary school teachers are extremely familiar with incorporating sentence frames into their lessons; however this may be a new concept for many secondary teachers. Sentence frames provide language support for students who are still learning the language.  They provide students access to more sophisticated academic concepts and give them an avenue to interact with the content. Sentence frames can also expose students to academic or content-specific language-words or phrases they may not hear nor use in their everyday lives.  Teachers can provide students with sentence starters to help them formulate a response to a question or to support them in starting a conversation. They can also provide students with sentence frames to give students the opportunity to formulate a complete sentence. Depending on the purpose of your activity, sentence frames can be a great way to get ELLs participating in your lesson.  Check out this sentence starter resource:

Sentence Starters from the Eastern Institute of Technology

How do you see the use of sentence frames benefiting the students in your classroom?

  • Front-loading Vocabulary

For years we have been told we need to front-load vocabulary to make content more accessible for students. Yes, it’s a great strategy.  Yes, it still works. But, how often do we actually do this? How thoughtful are we when we select words or phrases to front-load? Front-loading vocabulary for students is still an extremely effective strategy to use with students, especially ELLs.  A couple of things to keep in mind when choosing words to pre-teach to students:

  • Look for cognates to point out to students.  Cognates are words that have similar roots or origins and look similar in two separate languages.  A few Spanish/English examples include words like organization, fundamental, conservation, or abstract.  Pointing these out to students can be a tremendous help to ELLs.
  • Use synonyms and antonyms to support a word’s meaning. Providing students with examples and non-examples of words can help to clarify meaning for them.  This is a strategy that simple to incorporate but can have lasting effects for those learning a second language.
  • Be thoughtful and purposeful in the words you choose to front-load.  Scanning and identifying potential problematic vocabulary in the lesson you are about to teach is a good place to begin when thinking about front-loading vocabulary.  Not only should we focus on content-specific language, but you should also consider front-loading Tier II type words such as describe, justify, predict, summarize.

In conclusion, supporting ELLs in the mainstream classroom should not be difficult.  It should not mean more work. It should not mean rewriting all your existing content.  There are simple strategies you can thoughtfully incorporate on a daily basis that will raise student achievement.  Pick one strategy-try it for a few weeks and see if it’s making a difference for your ELLs. The start of a new school year is a great time to think about your goals for yourself and your students.  Focusing on setting up ELLs for success in your classroom is a great place to start. Best wishes for your upcoming school year and contact Smart ELD  for other simple yet effective ways you can make content more accessible for your ELLs.