Are you struggling to make content area instruction accessible to your ELLs? Here are five tips to help your ELLs be successful in your content area classroom.
Any teacher that has had a beginning ELL student in front of them during a science, math, or social studies lesson, knows that it can be disheartening to see them stare at you during a lesson with wide eyes filled with confusion.
You need to cover grade level content area material for all students, so what can you do for your ELLs to make these lessons accessible to them as well? Here are some ways I have found helpful as an ESL teacher working with content area teachers:
1.) PREVIEW AND REINFORCE CLASSROOM MATERIALS WITH YOUR ELLs. You can do this by gathering lower leveled materials and visuals related to an upcoming unit to preview in a small group. If you have an ESL teacher, provide him or her with topics you will be covering so they can work with your students on this as well. Another option is to send home materials you will be working on in class so the student has the opportunity to look them over by themselves, with a parent, or with a tutor.
2.) VISUALS! Providing any visuals – photos, graphs, timelines, etc. can be an extremely helpful tool for your ELLs. I am a huge fan of content area word walls. Hanging permanent (at least during the length of the unit) vocabulary cards with images is a great reference tool and a constant reinforcement of terminology for not only your ELLs, but all of your students.
If you don’t have a ton of wall space, you can also give students vocabulary cards printed for them to use independently on a key ring. I often use pre-made content area vocabulary cards, but I have also had students create their own on index cards if time allows.
3.) LET ELLs USE THEIR FIRST LANGUAGE. If possible, let beginning ELL students use their first language to read about and comprehend content area material. Many teachers I have worked with can be reluctant to do this, thinking they are “cheating” in a way by not using every second as a chance for them to learn English. Although this is the big, overarching goal for your ELLs, think about what the goal of your content area lesson is. If the goal of the lesson for all of your students is to understand content area material, and not an English language goal, then providing them this support is a great way to help them be successful at meeting this goal.
4.) BUILD ACADEMIC VOCABULARY. Teach and review academic vocabulary with your ELLs through speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Research has shown that multiple exposures to a word, along with explicit instruction and practice with the word is the best way to get students to retain vocabulary. All of my ELLs have a simple Academic Vocabulary Notebook. It is separated by subject area for them to write content-area specific words with a visual and definition.
Bob Marzano’s 6 steps to provide multiple exposures are to (introduce) explain, restate, show, (practice) discuss, refine and reflect, and apply in learning games. Using fun, quality games to reinforce content area vocabulary can be a huge motivator to students to really engage and understand vocabulary. My students’ favorite way to review content area vocabulary is a simple game of Jeopardy. I use either a PowerPoint template or a poster board with pockets for points numbered 100-500 for 5 categories.
5. PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR PARTNER AND SMALL GROUP WORK:
Your ELLs, along with the rest of your class, will always benefit from collaborating with peers rather than being lectured most of the time. This allows ELLs to witness back and forth conversations about the topic, ask questions, get feedback, and participate in a way that isn’t as much pressure as singling them out in front of the class. Not only does this help for specific content area lesson instruction, but it allows them to build relationships with classmates in a setting that isn’t as intimidating as walking up to a bunch of unknown students in the lunchroom.