Heather Wolpert-Gawron

40 Strategies for Teaching ELD Students

By on April 24, 2012

I love the teachers in my Language Arts department.  Ever since I became department chair, they have been willing to go on so many curricular adventures with me.  If I ask to try a collaborative website, they are game.  If I ask to try articulated scoring of our essays, they are game.  If I’m running through a workshop in my classroom after school, they appear at the door as guinea pigs, supporting me as my mythical audience.  And yet, we are all different teachers with all different styles.  We disagree sometimes about some skills that should be taught, but we agree that every student can learn and every student deserves the right to enjoy learning.  This makes for a diverse group of teachers that reflects our diverse population of student learners, and a variety of teaching styles benefits every school.

A couple of months ago I asked my Language Arts department to each share 5 strategies they are currently using in their classrooms to help teach their ELD students.  After all, I knew that if we combined our strengths, we could all learn from each other.  So in that spirit of collaboration and variety, I wanted to share the list that we made.  After weeding out some repetitions, we ended up with 40 different strategies: some obvious, some not so obvious.

Lists are awesome resources.  They are easy to write and, more importantly, easy to use.  As a reader you can check out a list, highlight what you might want to use, and ditch easily what you don’t. We each wrote a list of 5 strategies that we use to aid our ELD students.  It can be a particular way we assess, like a project that we have found that really brings out the best in our kids, or it can be a way we teach a particular skill.  It can be a strategy we use to ensure that they are “with us” or a way we help to assess gaps or bridge them.

Perhaps you are already using some, but it’s possible that there’s one or two in here that are new.  I hope you not only can find a new strategy to use, but that you encourage your own department to generate its own list down the line.  Next steps?  Distribute your department’s list to the teachers in other departments and have them add their own strategies.  Create a list that owned by all.

But make sure you come back and post your list so that we might also learn from your department too!

Pick and Choose: ELD Strategies

Main Theme for this school year’s focus: The strategies that are good for teaching English Language Learners are good for every learner.

1. Identify them– Step one.  Know who the EL students are in your class.

2. Give them ways to show understanding in different ways that count– Sure, we assess on writing essays, but can we also assess a skill based on a 1-3 sentence submission like an exit card, blog post, or caption? ?How ‘bout as a sound file?  How about as a discussion, debate, or formal conversation?  We can make rubrics for just about anything, so why not try something that isn’t just writing-focused?

3. Keep them close– Try to put as many EL students as possible in the tables closest to you or the front of the room.  If they can’t be right next to the teacher, at least put them in a functioning group, surrounded by achievers plus hopefully a person they would like to sit with. (see strategy #14)

4. Notice the top 3 errors they all share and teach to those– It’s hard to individualize attention for every kid, but if you can identify the top 3-5 errors they all tend to make and then weave lessons around those into your class lessons, then at least you will have some targeted lessons in the bag.

5. Blog– Blogging means they don’t have to raise their hand in public.  In addition, a teacher can create a prompt easily based on responding not only to a piece of reading, but also to a picture or a video.  What’s turned in can be anywhere from 1 sentence to 5 paragraphs.  It’s up to you, but it definitely seems to demystify participation for many of them.

6. Give Students Choice– Let them choose the book they get credit reading.  Let them choose from a few prompts to answer.  Let them choose the question they respond to.  Etc…

7. Give them Accessible Scaffolds– Have them glue scaffolds into their writers note books to give them ownership of their resources.   These can be sentence stems for oral discussion, definitions, sentence stems for leveled questions, outlines, etc….

8. Have them work with partners– Working with partners develops their oral communication skills and comprehension. Talking about what we are learning about or sharing what they have written helps them retain information and get better in communicating their knowledge.

9. Have them use T-T-W Use?the think, talk, write strategy to prep their brains.

10. Create opportunities for “small responses”- Use “Think Marks.” These are book marks where they can write questions, thoughts, vocabulary in a non-threatening, short and sweet format.

11. Use the “Say Something” strategy– This is where the students are given sentence starters to help them comment on what they are reading before, during, and after.

12. Use cloze paragraphs to help scaffold writing – Create paragraphs structures that ask them to fill in the blanks with content. ?That way they learn organization and structure through modeling while still showing their knowledge.

13. Review Key Vocabulary– Model the correct pronunciation and have the whole class repeat it chorally (this is good for our EOs as well, since sometimes they don’t know how to properly pronounce the words either).

14. Use Heterogeneous Grouping — Mix them up. ?Seat an English learner next to another student who speaks the same language.

15. Modify rubrics for our ELD students– Develop modified rubrics that reflect mastery of content rather than perfection of grammar, syntax, mechanics, punctuation, etc.  Assess what’s most important.

16. Use a word of the day to teach high-level content words–  Be sure to use these words on a regular basis and to remind students of the meaning and simpler synonyms we often use to mean the same thing. ?e.g. “The exposition is the word we use to describe the beginning of a story. So, what happens in the exposition of “Seventh Grade?”

17. Use BrainPop to review concepts – Have students take notes from the video, as needed. Use the close captioning option so students can hear and read the words as the video progresses.

18. Use Listening and Reading Simultaneously – Use the audio CDs or downloads to listen to the story as students follow along in their texts. ?

19. Give them choice, but limit their choices – Unlimited choices are overwhelming for anybody. ?Limit their choices of presentation so they aren’t hit by a a wall of possibilities. ?That way, they are also choosing from possibilities that reflect the level you expect and it doesn’t freak them out.

20. Provide first sentences or paragraphs for writing assignments – Having that first part done already for them to tack onto can defeat the blank-white-paper-phobia.

21. Allow students to parrot the teacher’s answers – If they can do that much, they’ve likely been paying attention.

22. Find time to teach grammar explicitly – Principal parts of verbs is an area that deserves special attention.  When we hear someone say “the car is broke” or “I should have went” we ask whether he paid attention during English class, yet many of the errors adults make involve similar problems with verbs. Be the model and target what you want them to know.

23Provide Model Pieces – Post correct examples of work, color-coded when possible.  It’s a great time saver when kids say they don’t know how to do an assignment or are confused about your level of expectation.

24. Provide a Print Rich Environment Have a classroom library with a wide variety of reading materials.  Picture books, Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Young Adult Novels, Classics, Poetry, Weird Science, etc. etc.  Bring in a daily newspaper and subscribe to student friendly periodicals such as Sports illustrated For Kids. Encourage them to read whatever strikes their fancy even if it seems that it is not challenging them.  Once you get them hooked on your library, then you can direct them to more challenging materials.

25. Teach How to Use DictionariesDon’t assume kids know how to use a dictionary or any other kind of informational resource. Teach them how to use them and that they are not all created equal.  Have several types in the classroom-picture dictionaries, collegiate dictionaries, English-Learner dictionaries.  Show them some reputable online dictionaries. Encourage their use. Create a homework assignment that requires dictionary use. Model using them yourself regularly.

26 Color Code Use color and shapes to locate text structure, find verbs, adjectives, literary techniques at work.  “Cloud the similes and make the descriptive adjectives green.” Use color to get them interacting with text.

27 Utilize Props and Visual Cues Point at things, use the document camera; get props from a yard sale.  A giant ear for “listen”, a golden key for “this is important”, a pirate’s hook for narrative attention getters.

28. Speak idiomatically Use idioms and figurative language in your speech and draw attention to it when you do.  “Metaphorically speaking, we need to get a fire under us to finish this assignment before the bell rings.”

29Give them a heads up –  Don’t “require”  EL students to talk on the spot.  Instead,  give them fair warning.  Tell them that tomorrow we’re doing this and that, and then let them know that you will ask them two questions about it.  Or ask a stronger student to answer, and then ask the EL student to repeat what that student said.  Ask the EL student if he agrees.   This way, you can indirectly get the student to participate in discussions without all the anxiety.

30. Let them use their expertise – Encourage Spanish speakers to use their knowledge of the language in figuring out meanings of new vocabulary.  There is a lot of correlation and similarities that they don’t realize.

31. Utilize role-playing – Role playing is great to use and it doesn’t have to take a lot of class time.  It’s fun for everyone and EL students can “see” what they just read.  You can also ask for students to illustrate on the board.

32. Encourage parental involvement – Many EL parents still don’t understand the American educational system.  Something as simple as reading a report card or grade sheet is new to them.  They may not even know what classes their children are taking. Find ways to get parents involved. ?Send home a sheet in the home language that specificially explains how to email or call you. Encourage parents to write notes to you in their own language (student will translate, and they usually are very honest).  This bridge in communication makes students more accountable because now they know that their parents are involved and parents have a better understanding of what’s going on.

33. Compare their learning to what they recognize – When teaching the grammar/mechanics of writing, ask students to compare it to their native language.  Sometimes if they are aware of the differences or similarities, then English grammar will make more sense.  Teachers don’t have to be bilingual necessarily, but if they are aware of some of the common rules of their students’ languages, it might help.  Just ask them something like, “Well in Spanish, would the verb go here or there?  How would you make this verb past tense?  In English, most of the time, you just add ‘ed’, but there are some exceptions.”  Then ask them to think about it in Spanish.?

34. Have them think and write in their first language to fill in gaps – If there is a word or phrase that must be used to enhance the writing, but the student can only write it in her native language, let her do so.  We want to develop fluency of thought.  We don’t want the student to give up because she’s stuck on a word or phrase.  This is true for using the bilingual electronic dictionaries.  Tell students to only use it the last five or ten minutes of an assignment.  Write whatever they can in English and leave blanks for the words/phrases they don’t know.  Then they can look it up later.  Otherwise, they’ll look up every other word!

35. Have them create samples on/at the board – Using the new activeboards or using a document camera/computer, students can come up and write, click/drag, label, color, highlight, etc. on the board. This helps check for understanding and its FUN!

36. Find small group/one-on-one time – After teaching a lesson and sending off the kids to break out into small groups or work independently, pull  the EL’s and make sure they understand the lesson, and, if not, find out what they didn’t understand.   By working with a small group, even if it’s only for a few minutes once or twice a week, you slowly gain an understanding of how much they understand from your lessons and what things you need to go through more thoroughly.

37. Use visuals – By having students draw pictures to represent vocabulary or key terms it helps them visualize the word or the concept better. For some EL’s they can express themselves better through pictures than words.

38. Provide student samples – we can give kids directions and rubrics and tell them what a 5 paper looks like and the components that are necessary, but showing  them samples of a real 5 paper from former students and comparing  it to a 2, 3, or 4 paper has real power.   Let them dissect it to help them become better writers. It is also a good model for them to refer back to and compare their own writings to.

39. Use academic vocabulary – Even if it seems like it would be above their heads, ELD students won’t learn higher levels of word choice unless we use those words daily. ?Don’t hesitate to use the word analyze or synthesize. ?Just make sure you use easier synonyms too while talking about what the words mean. ?Academic vocab is hard to understand on context alone.

40. Don’t assume… – Finish this sentence however you want. Don’t assume that just because they don’t speak our language the student isn’t capable of greatness.

In the end, it’s really all about ensuring that we are doing everything we can so that they understand the content and produce evidence of that knowledge in the most engaging way they can.

Please feel free to comment and add to the list!

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