Tips for Supporting ELLs

Today’s Leadership Column is courtesy of Rebecca Alvarado:

When you walk the halls or enter a classroom at Owings Mills High School, the school’s cultural diversity is evident. The 282 ESOL students now enrolled at the school comprise almost 28% of the school population, and that percentage is likely to climb throughout the school year. In addition to the ESOL population, 142 other students report speaking a language at home other than English.

Due to the increase of the ESOL population at Owings Mills High School over the past several years, mainstream teachers are now expected to “scaffold” instruction for English Language Learners more than ever. So just what is scaffolding? And what are some simple, effective ways to scaffold lessons that don’t add too much to your already busy workload?

In an Edutopia article, Rebecca Abler describes scaffolding as “Breaking up the learning into chunks and then providing a tool, or structure, with each chunk.” This definition reminds us that new learning can only happen in small pieces. The AVID 10-2-2 note-taking strategy calls for 10 minutes of note-taking followed by 2 minutes to process the information in small groups and 2 minutes to summarize it individually. Not only does this strategy “chunk” information, but it also creates a perfect opportunity for the teacher to formatively assess students after presenting new material.

In addition to breaking up learning, we need to provide structures that allow students to comprehend material more easily. Some strategies that are especially effective for English Language Learners include:

·         Make your instruction as visual as possible. Find pictures of important vocabulary words, or have your students find them. Put word walls up in your classroom with words in more than one language or with pictures of key words and concepts. Start a unit with a relevant video clip (preferably with closed captioning). Google images that can illustrate abstract concepts.

·         Display written instructions. Use your Elmo, a Power Point slide, or a lesson tile to give instructions rather than simply telling your students what to do. This will allow students to refer back to your instructions (and will probably end up saving you time!).

·         Group students strategically to facilitate learning. At times, you may want to pull a small group of English Language Learners to focus on key vocabulary, a challenging text, or a difficult concept. Other times, encourage mixed groupings so that students are required to talk to native speakers of English.

·         Use graphic organizers to help students organize information, especially before writing. Graphic organizers can be easily differentiated by filling in blanks for some students.

·         Create sentence frames with the language you hope students will produce. As students become more comfortable writing about a concept, try taking away the frames to encourage independence.

Implementing these strategies can help your English Language Learners meet with success. If you would like help in preparing or teaching a lesson, please let me know. I am happy to help you scaffold materials and/or instruction.

–Becky Alvarado

Useful Resources:

Rebecca Abler’s Article on Scaffolding: )

Information on the 10-2-2 Strategy: [Advancement Via Individual Determination] 10 – 2 – 2 Note-taking …

A Great Resource for Graphic Organizers:

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