It can be overwhelming to prepare a reading lesson in a way that supports English Language Learners’ (ELLs) reading comprehension alongside their non-ELL peers, but it doesn’t need to be.
Research shows that best practices for building reading comprehension in non-ELLs also works well for ELLs. Some instructional practices just need to have a greater emphasis in order to provide ELLs the specific supports they need in order to be successful.
Part 1 of this blog post focuses on supporting ELLs before reading, and Part 2 focuses on how to help them succeed during and after reading.
Below is a list of 10 steps to tackling reading comprehension of any text with your ELLs.
1. THOUGHTFULLY CHOOSE TEXTS:
It is important to be mindful of the difficulty level of the reading materials ELLs are expected to read and understand. They need to be able to access the same content area information as the rest of their non-ELL peers.
It is very helpful for ELLs to provide them with lower leveled books (at their instructional reading level) and online texts on topics they will be studying in their regular content area classroom(s). The ELL teacher and classroom teacher can communicate about what is coming up next across the content areas to keep that in mind when both teachers are selecting texts for students.
After students have the academic vocabulary and content-specific information on a topic, they will be ready to tackle more difficult texts that are a bit above their reading level.
2. BE SELECTIVE WITH VOCABULARY:
It can be overwhelming to try to select vocabulary words from a text for ELLs, as there will most likely be many words that could be unfamiliar to them. Be selective in picking out no more than 7 words (I find that 5 is ideal) that are necessary for comprehending the text.
When picking a word think, “Will they be able to comprehend the text without knowing this word?” If the answer is “Yes,” then cross that word off your list of words to preteach. If the answer is, “No,” then you have selected a great word to preview!
3. PREVIEW VOCABULARY:
There are many ways you can preview vocabulary with ELLs, from a quick discussion on important words from the text to spending an entire class having students develop their own definitions, pictures, sentences, etc. for each of the words.
One of my go-to ways to preview vocabulary is to use a simple vocabulary chart. I usually go through this with students, working together to create a common definition, discuss images they can draw to help them understand the word, and then putting the word in a sentence. Working through the chart together makes the information more accessible to your beginners.
4. BUILD BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE:
Before reading both fiction and nonfiction texts, consider what will come up that your ELLs may be unfamiliar with. In fiction, this could be a traditional birthday party, holiday, or fantasy figure (i.e. the tooth fairy). With nonfiction, building prior knowledge with your ELLs can look very similar to building prior knowledge with your non-ELLs. This could be discussing a topic to create a group KWL (Know, Want to Know, Learned) where you brainstorm what the class collectively knows on a topic and what they want to know on a topic. It can also be helpful to provide visuals to discuss, such as photos, videos, or picture walk of a text.
For more ways to build background knowledge in students, read this blog post on how to build background knowledge in your students.
5. USE VISUALS AND REALIA:
Visuals are an important support for ELLs of all levels, but especially in tackling texts that are above their reading level. The visuals you choose to use will look very different depending on what you are reading. Some examples could be:
- Simple picture book: Do a picture walk prior to reading a fiction or nonfiction text. Discuss the pictures or images with students using terms or content-specific vocabulary they will come across in their reading.
- Novels without pictures: Before reading, select parts of the text that could be helpful to stop and have students create visualizations, or drawings (as a whole class or small groups). This can give life to the text for your ELLs. If applicable, use film as a support. For example, I would have my 8th grade ELLs reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” in their ELA class watch each chapter of the film version prior to analyzing each chapter in their whole class setting. This supported them in understanding both the text and the whole class discussion.
- Nonfiction Articles without images: Search for images online that depict portions of the text. Discuss the images using language they will come across in their reading.