Many of us have English as a Second Language (ESL) students in our classes, who come to us with varying levels of English proficiency when they arrive, and in some cases, varying levels of education. I’m going to share a few tips for mainstream teachers who may be struggling with modifying instruction for English Language Learners (ELLs) in their classrooms.
Let’s start by doing a little activity: Raise your hand if you’ve ever traveled to another country. Lots of hands! Now raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to school in another country. Fewer hands. Now raise your hand if you’ve ever learned math, science, or social studies in a language besides English in another country. Even fewer hands. That last example is what we are asking our ESL students to do: learn specific content-area vocabulary at their grade level, when in reality they may not have the background education, knowledge, or experiences to be able to keep up with their classroom peers. So how can we make it easier?
Get to Know Your Student
The ESL teacher in your school or district should be able to provide you with a report that gives that student’s level of proficiency. About half of the states in the US, including NJ, use WIDA; check and see what your state uses. If you use WIDA, once you know your student’s English proficiency level, then you will be able to find a list of Can-Do Descriptors for that student.
I treat this similar to an IEP, in that now I know what I can absolutely expect the student to achieve in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Giving the student achievable work on his or her level makes learning so much more rewarding. Below is something the teachers at my school use to make the Can-Do Descriptors a little bit easier to manage. If you use WIDA, then hopefully it can help you too!
Build Background Knowledge with Quality and Quantity
Robert and his grandfather are going camping. They set out early with a tent, fishing pole, and hiking boots. What did they forget?
- They may never have been camping before.
- They do not know what a tent, fishing pole, or hiking boots are if there are no illustrations.
- I could go on and on!
But how do I fix it? Well, if I know that the selection for the week is going to be about camping, I could put together a 10-minute PowerPoint about common camping vocabulary for the benefit of all the students in the class. Maybe I can find a YoutTube video to show to my small group of ELLs before reading the story during guided reading. Or, if I know of a native speaker who is an avid camper, then I can have him/her “teach” the ELLs about camping and then partner-read the story together to answer questions as they arise. And, as I always tell my students, Google Images is our best friend.
Have one student be the “expert” to build background and enhance speaking and listening skills.
Make Language Personal