Strategies for Teachers Working with ELL Students


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This presentation provides background knowledge and information on the population of ELL children in the United States. In the body of the presentation, research-based strategies are provides for teachers and anyone who works with ELL students in an academic environment.

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Strategies for Teachers Working with ELL Students

  1. 1. Teaching English Language Learners Ball State University by B. J. Zagorac, M.A., M.Ed.
  2. 2. ELL Student Demographics • Over14 million students whose native language is not English attend K-12 U.S. schools (Garcia, Jensen, & Scribner, 2009). – About 5 million of these students are English language learners (ELL), a term used to describe students who have not yet fully developed proficiency in the English language. – ELL students compose approximately 10% of the entire student population in schools. – Information above is from Census data, which usually underestimates the number of ELL students. • Most immigrant families come from Mexico (40%), followed by families from the Caribbean (10-11%) and East Asia (10-11%). – 77% of ELL students speak Spanish as their native language. – There is no common language that can be identified for the other ELL students. – ELL students in the United States speak over 350 languages.
  3. 3. Where Do Immigrants Come From? Mexico 41% Carribean 11% East Asia 10% South America 6% Central America 6% Indochina 6% West Asia 6% Soviet Union 2% Africa 2% Europe, Canada, & Austrial 10%
  4. 4. What Factors Affect the Achievement of ELLs?  Family and school factors work in tandem to influence achievement (Garcia et al., 2009) Primary language spoken at home About ¼ of ELL children live in homes where nobody over the age of 13 speaks English proficiently. For Spanish students, those who lived in homes with limited spoken English lagged behind in math and reading compared to students who live in homes where English is the primary language.
  5. 5. What Factors Affect the Achievement…..cont.  Social and economic variations In general, ELL students come from lower- income families that their English-speaking peers. In 2000, 68% of grade K-5 ELLs and 60% of grade 6-12 ELLs lived below the federal poverty level.  Parent Education ELL children are more likely to have parents with limited education  Nearly 50% of PK-5 ELL parents had less than a high school education.
  6. 6. How Can Schools Boost Achievement of ELLs?  If possible, schools should retain teachers who are bilingual so instruction can occur in both languages for ELL students.  Closely monitor and screen ELLs for learning problems or other difficulties with learning in school (Garcia et al., 2009).  Teach English frequently and tailor instruction in English to the level appropriate for the ELL students. Grouping based on students’ language needs is encouraged (Clark, 2009).  Provide instruction in the student’s native language when teaching content-area subjects so ELLs can learn and do work at grade- level (Estrada, Gomez, & Ruiz-Escalante, 2009).  Build on the strengths ELL children have in their first language when teaching new material (International Reading Association, 2001).
  7. 7. How Can Schools Motivate ELLs to Read?  5 Components Influence Motivation for ELLs (Protacio, 2012): 1) Family and friends within immediate environment serve as motivating factor. In Praxis: Promote interaction and conversations among all students in the classroom; Encourage ELL parents to model reading in front or their children or read with them often. 2) ELL students read to bond with American students and learn about the new culture. In Praxis: Provide ELLs with books about the culture of the U.S. and have ELL students talk about their culture with American peers. 3) ELL students read because they want to improve their English skills. In Praxis: Encourage ELLs to read books in English (at their level), and allow them to talk with peers to use new vocabulary.
  8. 8. How Can Schools Motivate ELLs to Read? – cont. 4) ELL students’ perception of their English abilities are related to their motivation to read. In Praxis: Create a safe classroom environment where ELLs feel they can openly explore the English language and feel comfortable making mistakes during the learning process. Positive feedback and reinforcement should be offered to ELLs by the classroom teacher. 5) ELL students are motivated to read engaging books at their independent reading level. In Praxis: Teachers should inquire which genres ELLs are interested in, and help them select appropriate reading material in that area that they can read independently. a) Linguistic background and ability of student should be carefully considered when recommending texts to ELLs. b) Classroom library should include texts geared toward the interests of ELLs and their proficiency in English.
  9. 9. How Does the Law Affect ELLs?  No Child Left Behind (NCLB):  Under this federal law, ELL students are only exempt from testing requirements for 1 school year, in which they are expected to be fully proficient in English to take the tests the next school year.  Failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results in schools being sanctioned for poor quality instruction.  ELL students are included in measurements of AYP, yet there is no empirical evidence that they should be performing at grade level after only having 1 year to learn English (Cummins, 2011).
  10. 10. How Long Does it Take for ELLs to Acquire Proficiency in English? • 2 Different Forms of Language: 1. Social/Conversational English typically takes around 1-2 years for ELLs to acquire (Cummins, 2011; Hadaway, Vardell, & Young, 2009). 2. Academic English takes at least 5 years for ELL students to acquire. • This is the type of language that students encounter in content-areas textbooks. • Standardized tests include academic vocabulary, so ELL students are put at a disadvantage until they have had sufficient experience with content-area words.
  11. 11. How Can Teachers Help ELL Students Learn New Vocabulary? • New vocabulary should be taught to ELLs within 3 phases of reading (Wessels, 2011): 1 – Before Reading Phase  Select vocabulary words for the upcoming lessons.  Students (small groups are preferable) write or draw whatever comes to their mind for each word the teacher presents.  Students discuss the words within their groups to see what background connections were made from what they drew or wrote down. 2 – During Reading Phase  The teacher gives examples of the words in context and prompts groups to discuss their understanding of the words.  Small group activities for the new words can be provided so students have multiple exposures to the words  At selected points, the teacher stops the lesson when the new word is encountered in the text, discusses the context in which the word was used, and clarifies any misunderstandings about the words.
  12. 12. How Can Teachers Help ELL Students….. cont. 3 – After Reading Phase  Students should work together in their groups to write an appropriate definition for the words based on what they learned in the lesson.  Students can share the definitions they developed with the class.  The teacher should include a component to have students reflect what they learned and how their new knowledge about the words relates to their background knowledge.  Importance of Vocabulary for ELLs  Direct instruction in vocabulary for ELL children is critical since low vocabulary is a major factor in low literacy achievement for these children (Carlo & Bengochea, 2011).  Most of the instructional methods that teachers use to teach vocabulary to native speakers work very well with ELL students too.  Like native speakers, ELLs need instruction in phonological awareness and word identification strategies.
  13. 13. How Can Teachers Help ELLs with Academic Reading?  Focus on one topic or theme during the beginning stages of instruction (Hadaway, 2009). – Focusing on one area allows ELLs to enhance their vocabulary and comprehension on the topic. – Wide reading is still important, but it can confuse ELL students when they are first learning new vocabulary and concepts.  Try arranging books in order of difficulty with the easier books on a topic coming first. – Easier books will help ELLs form the necessary background knowledge and understanding of the vocabulary for the topic. – After background knowledge is developed, students can progress in reading more challenging material on the topic depending on their level of English proficiency.  Use children’s literature such as picture books, easy readers, and chapter books to supplement textbooks. – Textbooks generally contain difficult language and poor organization, and other nonfiction reading material can better help ELLs understand a topic.
  14. 14. What Are Some Helpful Websites For/About ELLs? • Website:  This site has a wealth of activities for ELL students ranging from games and puzzles on common English expressions to read-along stories and anagram activities. • Website:  This site contains many links to additional websites about ELL teaching and learning; many organizations are includes. • Website:  This site will be helpful for teachers with younger ELLs who need help with learning short vowel sounds; it offers wonderful activities in sorting and pronunciation.
  15. 15. What’s Most Important to Remember about Teaching ELLs? • ELL students should be viewed as capable learners who can attain success in school like their native speaking peers. • Many skills from an ELL’s first language can transfer to the second language, and teachers should determine those links. o Phonological skills in Spanish have a high degree of transfer to the English language (Lindsey, Manis, & Bailey, 2003). o Teachers should assess literacy skills in both English and the child’s native language (or request information about the child’s performance in their first language). • ELLs are not a homogenous group; many have unique needs and are functioning at different levels depending on their present knowledge of English. • Embrace the language and cultural diversity of ELL students and what they have to contribute to the class.
  16. 16. Concluding Remarks • As increasing numbers of ELL students enter schools within the U.S., educators will need to closely examine their teaching practices to ensure the diverse needs of students are being met. • Even if schools are unable to allocate sufficient resources for ELL students, teachers should remember that many of the methods used to teach native speakers can be easily modified to help ELL children learn as well. • Schools should encourage the involvement of community members to help out in anyway they can; common practices could include volunteering time, donating resources, developing tutoring programs for ELLs, and holding fundraisers for important school programs.
  17. 17. References Carlo, M. S., & Bengochea, A. (2011). Best practices in literacy instruction for English language learners. In. L. M. Morrow & L. B. Gambrell (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (pp.117-137). New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Clark, K. (2009). The case for structured English immersion. Educational Leadership, 66(7), 42-46. Cummins, J. (2011). Literacy engagement: Fueling academic growth for English learners. The Reading Teacher, 65, 142-146. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.01022 Dong, Y. R. (2009). Linking to prior learning. Educational Leadership, 66(7), 26-31. Estrada, V. L., Gomez, L., & Ruiz-Escalante, J. A. (2009). Let’s make dual language the norm. Educational Leadership, 66(7), 54-58. Garcia, E. E., Jensen, B. T., & Scribner, K. P. (2009). The demographic imperative. Educational Leadership, 66(7), 8-13.
  18. 18. References – cont. Hadaway, N. L. (2009). A narrow bridge to academic reading. Educational Leadership, 66(7), 38-41. Hadaway, N. L., Vardell, S. M., & Young, T. A. (2009). What every teacher should know about English language learners. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc. International Reading Association. (2001). Second language literacy instruction: A position statement of the International Reading Association. Retrieved from statements-and-resolutions/ps1046_second_language.pdf Lindsey, K. A., Manis, F. R., & Bailey, C. E. (2003). Prediction of first-grade reading in Spanish-speaking English-language learners. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 482-494. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.95.3.482 Protacio, M. S. (2012). Reading motivation: A focus on English learners. The Reading Teacher, 66, 69-77. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.01092 Wessels, S. (2011). Promoting vocabulary learning for English learners. The Reading Teacher, 65, 46-50. doi: 10.1598/RT.65.16