Adventures in Literacy Land: ELL

Showing posts with label ELL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ELL. Show all posts

ELL Students Inspire Others and Two Pieces of Advice

ELL Students Inspire Others and Two Pieces of Advice

English Language Learners are more prevalent in classrooms across the United States than ever.  
Even in my suburban east coast town, we are seeing an influx of students where English is not the primary language spoken in the home.  These situations have called for “new rules” when it comes to dealing with parents and families.  I have had conferences with siblings interpreting for the parents.  I have even given my private cell phone number to a parent to report absences when a typical procedure wasn’t understood.  At times, it’s the most frustrating thing you’ll do.  BUT, then there’s the break through moments when you couldn’t pay for the joy you feel.   


ELL Students Inspire Others and Two Pieces of AdviceLet me tell you about Dachael (Dah-shell).  One October morning Dachael came into my classroom 2 days after getting off the plane from Africa.  She did not know English, but did know 7 letters of the alphabet.  She was fascinated by hair and clothes and electronics.  My kindergarten was a half-day program, but I can’t imagine how it is to sit in a classroom for three straight hours and not understand 95% of what is said.  She would crawl up to other students on the carpet and stare at their faces or their clothes.  She’d touch their hair.  I had an honest talk with the class about her experiences and her limitations.  They were genuinely eager to help her.  During our guided reading time, she was obviously in her own group.  We spent time working on letters and sound associations.  I introduced sight words, letters and even new vocabulary all at one time.  I made up silly sentences to teach these skills.  I used the poems to work with her to match words and pictures and to read and write sight word sentences.  She enjoyed our reading time, so she wanted to meet with me.  In addition, she worked on letter matching or sound matching skills with our teacher assistant. She inspired me to help her in new ways.

She inspired the Students

ELL Students Inspire Others and Two Pieces of Advice
As the days and weeks moved on Dachael became an active member of our classroom.  When we would read letter poems in our group, I would make sure to call on her when I needed that letter or sound in our group lesson.  She interacted more and more with her classmates.  They wanted her to be successful and they’d cheer when she made a connection or answered correctly.  They would call our attention to her successes before we could acknowledge them.  She used the lessons in her writing, as well.  There were times when I would forget she didn’t know English as well as the other students and I would be surprised when she would ask about a word or a meaning.  She was making connections and using anchor charts.  Students would want to do well, so they could help her.  Her language and work exploded.  She was writing sentences in no time.  As the journal below shows.

“I see the horse.  The horse is eting (eating) my flowir (flower).  I like my horse.  My horse can dans (dance).
She used mostly word wall words, but the “-ing” in eating and the “ow” in flower were both anchor charts in the room.

BUT my favorite writing sample was her squiggle.  The picture is dated in April.  Our routine for Squiggles is illustrate it, write it, color it.  The squiggle on the page was the curved line at the bottom of the flower AND the bouncing line at the top.  She wrote about the flower in her hair and her braids.  This was a masterpiece.  The perspective alone is amazing.  This was the top of her head.

"I see the rose.
I love the rose.
My rose is big.
My rose is pink.
I pot (put) my rose on my har (hair).
My beds (beads) are prate (pretty).

My two PIECES of ADVICE are simple: 

1.    Don’t give up.  Talk, talk, talk.  Even you realize you are the teacher in a Peanuts comic strip “wah-wah-wha-wha-wha” they need to her you talk.

2.   Involve your students.  They are the best teachers. 

On a side note…

As much as she was developing as a learner, she had a barrier with food.  She didn’t know the food from our country.  During parties throughout the year, I would offer her food and try to explain the taste to her: sweet like candy, salty like chips, chewy like gum.  Most of the time, she would taste things and it would be fine.  At the end of the year party I was trying to explain about chicken nuggets.  What kid doesn’t like chicken nuggets?  I explained it was crunchy on the outside, hot in the middle, and a little chewy…it’s hard to describe.  She trusted me and tried it.  After 3 or 4 chews, she grabbed my hand and spit the chewed up chicken nugget in my hand.  “No,” she said.  “I do not like this.”  I knew I was important to her.  She had treated me like her mother.  

Here's a FREEBIE anchor chart.  I made my anchor charts with the students with markers and construction paper for my room, but these are quickies for you.


Teaching English Language Learners: SEI

Hi everyone! It is Bex here from Reading and Writing Redhead! This summer, I have been engrossed in studying Sheltered English Immersion. In Massachusetts all non-English speaking students need to be enrolled in mainstream English-speaking classrooms (with a few exceptions). ESL instruction might be done in a pull-out setting but the majority of an ELL student's day is spent in the classroom. The state realized that we teachers needed to learn more about effective strategies to meet the needs of those English Language Learners, so all of us have to either take a  course or pass an SEI exam. Since I have been thinking so much about SEI lately, I realized many of you have English speaking students in your classroom and it might be the right topic for a post!

So if you are new to this, you may need to start at the beginning - what is SEI? In Massachusetts, SEI is Sheltered English Instruction. I know in other states, it stands for Structured English Immersion and has slightly different characteristics, but I will tell you what I know. By no means am I an expert- if you want to know more I will give you some resources at the end but if you want to learn more about teaching ELL students in your own state check resources at your school and your state Department of Education Website. Let us know what you learn and comment below.

The short answer is that every classroom in Massachusetts that has at least one ELL student is a SEI classroom. Each SEI classroom must have a Highly Qualified Teacher of English Language Learners- that means the teacher must be certified in ELL, taken and passed the required state SEI course or taken and passed the state teaching exam for SEI.  Basically, classroom teachers and school staff who interact with ELL students in any way are learning what are the best practices for teaching these students in the English speaking classroom.

I'd love to share with you some of the strategies I learned about being a teacher in an SEI classroom. There was a lot of information I had to learn about levels of English Proficiency and how to assess what level students were and a LOT of information on setting both content and language lessons for every lessons, plus differentiating lessons for students at  different levels of proficiency- too much for one blog post.  Here are a few tips I picked up on.

 I had done some reading and taken a course in teaching ELL students last spring, and combined with the materials I studied the summer, I picked up on some vocabulary strategies to try when working with ELL students.  There are a ton of effective strategies and each works best in different situations depending on the word, the content area, the age of the student, and their level of English proficiency.

Word Wheels are great to try. You write the word you are learning in the center and then it is flexible - you can write synonyms, antonyms, word forms, or semantic connections around the outside. Here are a couple examples with detailed directions on Word Wheels: Primary Education Oasis' Blog Post and's preteaching vocabulary brochure pdf.

A word form chart was another suggested strategy for teaching vocabulary to ELL students. I couldn't find a good example of it online but, basically you chart a vocabulary word that has different forms (great for verbs - you can do past tense, present tense, etc) and discuss how the meaning changes and how to use each form. A goal of vocabulary instruction is giving students the tools to unlock word meaning on their own and this is a good way to start!

Focusing on cognates is a solid strategy to use with ELL students. Cognates are words in different languages that are derived from the same original word or root (for example family - familia and conversation and conversacion). There are tons of words in Spanish, for example, that are cognates with words in English.

There are many more great strategies. I will provide links below so you can check more out!


There are many writing strategies that will support your ELL student. One that would be useful for students with lower English proficiency is sentence frames. Sentence frames are sentences the teacher writes, then removes one or more word from . A word bank can be provided for students with content specific words, for example. So a student who has limited writing skills in English can complete sentences such as: Plants need, ________, air, and light to grow.  The _______ of the plant take in water from the soil. The ______ of the plant carries the water to the leaves" and so on instead of having to write an open response stating what they know about plants. 

Here are a couple places where you can find more information on sentence frames:

For students who are early in their English language development and need a lot of assistance with literacy skills you can try the language experience approach. A student would verbally tell you their story and you write it down, word for word as he tells you. Then you read it back and discuss how the story sounds, if the message was communicated, and so on. Then you and he can edit it a little together. I am not an expert on this one, as I have never tried it myself but you can learn more here:
One more strategy that came up a lot as I was reading about teaching ELLs in the SEI classroom was graphic organizers. Graphic organizers have endless possibilities in the classroom anyway, and are so beneficial to ELL students to organize their thoughts and get their ideas written down. There are so many graphic organizers for skills like sequencing, cause and effect, etc. that can be use in writing assignments. Check out these ideas in detail:

I have even more ideas for strategies on teaching reading to ELL students and assessment but I am going to save them for a future post! For now here are some great resources from around the web if you are interested in learning more. Thanks and please comment below and let us know your thoughts and strategies for meeting the needs of ELL students in your classroom!

Mrs. Dailey's blog post on vocabulary
Color in Colorado
Adventures in TESOL
Sharing Learning- Teaching English with Technology Blog
Everything ESL

And a thank you to Ashley Hughes for the beautiful frames and Dollar Photo Club!