Posts Tagged ‘ELL’

How to Create an Anchor Activity Using a Tic/Tac/Toe Board

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Virginia Keasler and Mary Headley, Math Specialists

How do we teach math to the wide range of diverse learners in today’s classroom? It is often difficult to match the readiness levels of every student and knowing where to start can be a challenge. Consider starting simple and celebrating successes along the way. Anchor activities can help you reach the diverse population in your classroom.

What are anchor activities? These activities are used for students to extend learning at their level. Student choice within these activities allows for students to apply and experience the learning in a variety of ways.These ongoing assignments are considered independent work and can be something students are working on for the next two weeks or something due in a few days. While some students are working on anchor activities, the teacher can utilize small group instruction to work with students who need more help.

Tic/Tac/Toe Boards: The content for this anchor activity can be modified to meet the needs of students at varied levels. Teachers may use Tic/Tac/Toe boards for extension, assessment, or as homework choices for the week. On a Tic/Tac/Toe board, the teacher can strategically place activities to enable students to get a Tic/Tac/Toe that demonstrates their learning.

Helpful Hints for creating a Tic/Tac/Toe board:

  1. Determine the content/topic for the board.
  2. Brainstorm activities, assignments, and products for the content/unit you have chosen.
  3. Check TEKS alignment.
  4. Write ideas on post-it notes.
  5. Sort activities based on learning styles (verbal, auditory, kinesthetic, etc…)
  6. Place post-it notes on the Tic/Tac/Toe grid.
  7. Check the configuration for variety to achieve a Tic/Tac/Toe. Move as needed.
  8. Type idea onto the Tic/Tac/Toe grid.

The following table gives an example of a Tic/Tac/Toe board for reviewing a math unit:

Explain the math steps that you would use to solve a problem from this unit Solve two of the problems in the “extensions” station Using the “beat” of a popular song create your own math song. See the choice board station for rules
Create two word problems that go with the concepts in this unit Student Choice Activity (with teacher approval) Define the unit’s vocabulary words with your own form of graffiti
Complete one mini-project from the project board Develop a game using skills you have learned in this unit Research and write how these concepts might be used in the real world


  • Allow student to complete any three tasks–even if it does not make a Tic/Tac/Toe
  • Assigns students task based on readiness
  • Create different choice boards based on readiness (Struggling students work with options on one choice board while more advanced students have different options.)
  • Create choice board options based on learning styles or learning preferences. For example a choice board could include three kinesthetic tasks, three auditory tasks, three visual tasks.

Author Rick Wormeli offers the following Tic/Tac/Toe board based on Gardner’s (1991) multiple intelligences.

Interpersonal Task Kinesthetic Task Naturalist Task
Logical Task Student Choice Intrapersonal Task
Interpersonal Verbal Task Musical Task Verbal Task

To access a blank choice board to use in your classroom click on the following link: Blank Choice Board


Wormeli, Rick. Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhourse 2006, pages 65-66

Teaching Science in the Early Childhood Classroom

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Early Childhood Specialist

I can remember when the idea of teaching science to a room full of 4 year-olds terrified me. My fear often led to science activities that were either “safe,” not messy, or often underdeveloped. Students tended to overlook my science center and it was not utilized enough by my young students. I can even recall a memory where I encouraged my students to look, but not touch. Sound familiar? You are not the only one.

Leo F. Buscaglia states, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” For the longest time I was in denial of the idea that young children already come to school with an innate sense of natural curiosity about the world and how it works. I had to work on my ability to understand the different ways that young children play. I often had to stop what I was doing, listen to what my students were saying and reflect on their subsequent actions through the different play opportunities planned throughout the day. By doing this, I came to understand and conquer my fear of teaching science. I found that my fear was based on a personal struggle of not understanding how play activities connected with content knowledge and how they could come to support young children’s learning of science naturally through play.

Realizing that science is everywhere and that it can be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of ways, I began to develop a deeper understanding of essential scientific ideas rather than a superficial acquaintance of isolated facts. I embraced the opportunity in allowing my young students with sufficient time to develop a deeper understanding for the world around them.  When I began to allow more time for my students to explore, it provided me with the opportunity to observe the capacity to which the play became more complex.  When I engaged in play with my students, I began to understand the opportunities in which to question the understanding of my student’s thinking patterns and to acknowledge the different content areas they were experiencing.  When my students demonstrated to me a variety of skills that could be seen universally across content areas, then I introduced additional materials that supported my student’s’ natural sense of inquiry.

These observable skills included:

  • exploring objects, materials, and events
  • asking questions
  • making observations
  • engaging in simple investigations
  • describing (including shape, size, number), comparing, sorting, classifying and ordering
  • recording observations by using words, pictures, charts and graphs
  • working collaboratively with others
  • sharing and discussing ideas
  • listening to new perspectives (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)

Teachers, just like myself, who utilized inquiry and science in the early childhood classroom came to the realization that it built a natural pathway that allowed them to understand and value the thinking processes of the young learner. In doing so, they used their students’ thinking processes as learning experiences in helping guide their students to uncover explanations that were closer to a scientific idea than simply learning through isolated facts (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)  Developing inquiry in an early childhood classroom can transform a class from a collection of individuals into a community of learners that openly share their interpretations of the natural world around them (Worth & Grollman, 2003). Research has shown that such learning experiences can help children reform and refine their theories and explanations—to learn how to think through their ideas, to take risks and ask additional questions, and to reconsider their ideas on the basis of others’ views (Vygotsky, 1962).

Science is part of our everyday lives. How can teachers use play as opportunities to engage young learners in scientific inquiry? The key is in the types of experiences teachers create for young learners and how well they support children during play. Fostering a young child’s natural sense of inquiry is essentially building a strong foundation for the ongoing development of many cognitive skills across content areas (Worth & Grollman, 2003).


Hamlin, M., & Wisneski, D. B. (2012, May). Supporting the Scientific Thinking and Inquiry of Toddlers and Preschoolers through Play. Young Children, 67(3), 82-88.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, M.A.: The MIT Press.

Worth, Karen & Grollman, Sharon. (2003). Worms, shadows, and whirlpools: Science in the early childhood classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Supporting the Young English Language Learner

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Education Specialist – School Ready

As a former pre-K teacher I often struggled with meeting the needs of my English Language Learners (ELLs), mainly because I didn’t completely understand the resources provided to me. Over time, I came to the realization that while the curriculum and lesson planning that were provided offered guidance on what to teach and when to teach it, they very rarely offered practical methods for how to teach it, which is exactly what the job of curriculum/ lesson mapping and planning is supposed to do. More specifically, I wanted to teach in a way that allowed me to maximize instructional time to meet the needs of my students’ oral language development in their native language as well as provide relevant and purposeful learning opportunities that supported and fostered my students’ English language development. I decided that I would go back to basics and build upon the relationships already being successfully formed in our classroom community.  

As I reflected, I began to understand that planning the act of having conversations with students was going to be the successful foundation that both the student and I would need to establish risk taking behaviors.  By being very deliberate in my planning I could create a love of learning that would be experienced all year long in both their native language as well as their new language of English as well.

So with the end of school year goals in mind, I began to intentionally plan backward to find ways that would support my students’ oral language development and allow for students to express and communicate their own personal experiences in multiple of ways that included listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Research has shown that students who are supported in both their native home languages (L1) and English (L2) have demonstrated increased cognitive, linguistic, and social emotional advantages (Bialystock 2008; Kuhl 2009)

Planning support for the young ELL should include:

  • Variety – I learned that students were more interested in learning a new language when the conversations occurred in different parts of the classroom, not always limiting those dialogues to one area of the classroom. By utilizing a variety of literature in different parts of the classroom like songs, chants and rhymes, students enthusiastically learn and remember new vocabulary words, classroom expectations and concepts.
  • Visual reinforcements – By adding additional environmental supports like photos and rubrics, students receive a message of which behaviors, appropriate conversations and interactions were expected of them.
  • Let them know why – When I planned for engaging in intentional and purposeful play with my students during center time, students were more likely to use new vocabulary words, phrases and sentence stems because they understood the purposes of instructional materials placed in centers.
  • Peer-to-peer learning – Actively encouraging cooperative play and planning instructional work for students to complete in pairs or triads makes students feel more comfortable with taking risks and practicing their listening and speaking skills with one another. They also learn that their classmates are another resource in helping them to learn material being taught as well as a source of problem solving support.
  • Integrate the home culture – By adding labeling and environmental print to the classroom environment, I was able to communicate to parents and students that I was honoring not only their home language but the idea that one day they were going to be bicultural, bilingual and most importantly bi-literate—able to successfully read, speak and write in both languages.


Bialystok, E. (2008). Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism Across the Lifespan. In H. Chan, H. Jacob, & E. Kapia (Eds.), BUCLD 32: Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Boston, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Magruder, E., Hayslip, W., Espinosa, L., & Matera, C. (2013, March 1). Many Languages, One Teacher: Supporting Language and Literacy Development for Dual Language Learners. Young Children, 8-12.

Kuhl, P. (2009). Early Language Acquisition: Neural Substrates and Theoretical Models. In The Cognitive Neurosciences (4th ed., pp. 837-854). Cambridge, MA: M.S. Gazzaniga.


Long Term English Language Learners

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Anna Briggs, ESL Education Specialist

As the number of English Language Learners in the U.S. continues to increase, we are learning that the fastest growing segment of this population in our secondary schools is comprised of Long -Term ELLs. These are students who have been in U.S. schools for more than six years without reaching sufficient English proficiency to be reclassified or exited from the ESL program. Long-Term ELLs are generally identified by the time they reach 6th grade, though recent research trends indicate that factors such as low literacy rates and below grade-level academic performance can predict Long-Term ELL status as early as 4th grade.


Identifying Characteristics

Key indicators can help school district teachers and administrators identify these students in order to better meet their linguistic and cognitive needs:

  • Orally bilingual (proficient in social English)
  • Limited literacy skills (read below grade level)
  • Lacking cognitive academic language (decreased use of academic vocabulary)
  • “Stuck” at Intermediate level of English proficiency (Intermediate TELPAS rating in Reading and Writing for two or more years)

In addition to the academic indicators above, it is important to note that a significant number of Long- Term ELLs were actually born here in the United States. Inconsistent schooling, transitions in and out of various Bilingual/ESL program models, and students’ relocating in and out of the U.S. correlate to gaps in education.From a social perspective, these students may oftentimes be perceived as failures because of their passivity and disengaged nature with academic content. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand the social factors involved when students in grades 6-12 are linguistically lagging behind their native English-speaking peers.


Action Plan

With regard to the classroom, it is important that instruction for Long-Term ELLs (as well as all second language learners) be linguistically accommodated to meet the various proficiency levels of these students. Equally as important is the integration of increased opportunities for listening, speaking, reading, and writing in all content area classrooms.

Administrative support is critical to understanding and highlighting the needs of Long-Term ELLs. It is imperative to identify Long-Term ELLs as a group of students needing support. Administrators should consider a school-wide focus on study skills and literacy to bridge any fundamental gaps in learning and schooling. Additionally, administrators support a focus on the implementation of frequent data/progress monitoring discussions with both content area and ESL teachers as well as instructional leaders to address academic and linguistic needs. Finally, administrators must organize intensive Sheltered Instruction training and classroom support for any teacher of ELLs  as this is vital for fostering the language-rich environment that is needed for all students to perform successfully.



Menken, K and Kleyn, T. (2009). The Difficult Road for Long-Term English Learners. Educational Leadership, 66 (7).

Olsen, L. (2010). Reparable Harm: Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Educational Opportunity for California’s Long Term English Learners.

English Language Learners as Writers

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Dana Ellis, Write for Texas Instructional Coach

According to school accountability data tables, students who are limited English proficient typically struggle in mastering writing skills behind their native English speaking peers. In some ways, this reality is not wholly unpredictable. After all, it takes both knowledge of a language and time experimenting with it to be able to skillfully arrange words into precise lines of reason capable of moving a reader. Though certainly not lacking in reason or passion, English Language Learners do not have the arsenal of English words at their disposal nor knowledge of American style to use on state writing assessments. To top it off, they are still students learning about life while being asked to massage meaning out of it.  Therefore, to ensure academic success in writing, special attention must be given to ELLs.

From the onset, before students memorialize their words on paper, a culture of safe writing must be established. Writing is a personal and intimate act, potentially full of the risk of social acceptance or rejection. Teachers should not skimp on time spent discussing behavioral expectations for writing workshop. Students should be thoroughly convinced that writing efforts will be met with respect and acceptance. Teachers should model their own writing for the class as well. Watching the teacher write messy drafts underscores the idea that all writers make mistakes. If all writers make mistakes, then ELLs are released from the self-imposed mandate to deliver print-ready manuscripts from the outset. All these actions work toward producing a safe, productive place in which to write.

Research from a wide variety of sources consistently supports the effectiveness of explicit writing instruction. However, classroom visits often reveal that teachers favor writing practice over writing instruction. For ELLs especially, writing must be broken down into individual goals, procedures, and features.

For example, ELLs may not realize that standard American academic writing is linear in nature. This type of writing identifies a topic directly and then consistently follows that topic through, without deviation, to a conclusion. However, the ELL may be more familiar with another culture’s academic approach. For instance, Semitic languages like Arabic favor colorful language and repetition or backtracking. Eastern languages such as Japanese explore a topic without stating a writer’s thesis. The reader is meant to mentally engage with the ideas written and draw his own conclusions. Students who transfer from a culture with a different academic writing style will be unfamiliar with the structure of an American essay. Therefore, teachers should point out text features such as a thesis, transitions, conclusions, persuasive arguments and so forth in model essays to help students conceptualize American writing styles.

A major goal for teachers of ELLs is to uncloak the thinking tools used by experienced writers as they compose texts. This means that writing processes are systematically taught through extensive modeling and metacognition while stimulating purposeful writing experiences. This cognitive approach to writing encourages students to construct meaning within a clear, easily duplicated framework. Specifically, students should build a writer’s tool kit so that they are able to approach a writing task declaratively, procedurally, and conditionally. They can determine what the writing task is, how to approach the writing, and when they have achieved the writing goal.

Following this thinking, a teacher might approach an expository essay assignment by leading the class through activities designed to build background knowledge on the topic about which students will write. Academic words used to describe the topic would be identified, explained, and verbally used by the students. The activities would be translated into concrete, language-rich classroom references (anchor charts, word banks, or desk tools). Next, the teacher would introduce a model essay on the topic, analyzing and color coding the model while using spoken thoughts to guide students through the discovery process. Emphasis would be placed on identifying audience and author’s purpose in the piece. Parts of the essay which demonstrate the focus skill would then be labeled clearly. Next, the teacher would provide some type of writing recipe, a graphic organizer, set of index cards, flipbook, or similar device that divides up the writing task into components that imitate the mentor text. Alternately, drawn boxes on notebook paper could indicate an introduction, body, and conclusion. Finally, students would be asked to focus their thoughts into a specific writing task while the teacher circulates and provides feedback. Immersion into the topic in this manner would pave the way for writing success.

To summarize, helping ELLs to be effective writers in the classroom involves being aware of cultural differences; building a safe writing climate for risk taking; giving students the tools, words, and models needed for achievement; and then allowing them time to practice writing. With these practices in place, students and teachers can change history!



Barkaoui, Khaled. “Teaching Writing to Second Language Learners: Insights from Theory and Research.” TESL Reporter 40.1 (2007): 35-48. Web.

Booth, Carol O., and Robert Landa. “A Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School.” Research in the Teaching of English 41 (2007): 269-303. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

“NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs).” NCTE Comprehensive News. ELL Taskforce, Apr. 2006. Web.

Radford, Colin. “The Power of Words.” Philosophy 68.265 (1993): 325-42. Scholastic. Web.

Samway, Katharine Davies. When English Language Learners Write: Connecting Research to Practice, K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006. Print.

Sentence Stems

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author: Joseph Kanke, Write for Texas Instructional Coach

Sentence stems are a writing scaffold which provide students the opportunity to effectively respond using complete sentences.  When provided this scaffold, the pressure of having to think about how to formulate a response is alleviated.

There are four key steps to making sentence stems work with your content.  First, you must create a list of sentence stems.  Be sure that the stems include academic vocabulary and/or mimic sentence structures that are difficult for students.  Next, model the process for students by showing them some of the sentence stems and where you might use them.  At this point students will need time to practice using the sentence stems by responding to questions or completing a writing assignment.  Finally, ask students to share their complete sentences and add clarification as needed.

Sentence stems can be used at any point, in any lesson, to structure meaningful conversation.  Sentence stems may be provided to help respond to a text, as peer response to a presentation, or to activate prior knowledge, teaching students how to seek clarification or to re-enforce academic vocabulary.  Refer to the chart below for some examples.



Academic Conversations for Diverse Learners: The First Steps

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Tonia Miller, Education Specialist: ESL/Bilingual

Reasons for Students to Converse in Schools

“I didn’t know what I knew until I talked about it”

–Seventh-grade science student  (Zwiers & Crawford  2011)

We use language to represent our thinking and, in turn, the act of producing language, through speaking or writing, itself helps us both process and retain information. Given this, it seems natural we would want classrooms to be filled with talking students since we want them to be thinking about the content we are teaching (Fisher et al. 2008).

Rich academic conversations can be powerful tools in schools to build:

  • oral language and communication skills
  • literacy skills
  • academic language and vocabulary
  • critical thinking skills
  • creativity and academic ambience
  • relationships
  • empathy and the understanding of different perspectives
  • skills for negotiating meaning and focusing on a topic
  • content understandings
  • the ability to cultivate connections
  • students’ capacity to co-construct understanding
  • teachers and students’ abilities to assess learning
  • culturally relevant lessons
  • equity in student experiences
  • inner dialogue and self-talk
  • engagement and motivation

(Zwiers & Crawford  2011)

However, most of our students, and particularly English language learners (ELLs), do not walk into our classrooms with the tools necessary to engage in purposeful, academic conversations with their peers. We must explicitly teach these skills, while providing an environment conducive to, and in which students are held accountable for, language learning and speaking academically.

For most educators, it is common knowledge that young children learn to listen and speak before they learn to read and write. Additionally, we know that those children who develop these primary skills will transition much more easily to reading and writing tasks since oral language provides a firm foundation for literacy. Unfortunately, we often neglect to apply this knowledge of language learning to our older students who are learning English, as many classrooms particularly in secondary schools, do not often depart from a lecture style of teaching.

The academic vocabulary of our classrooms must first become part of students’ working oral vocabulary before we can expect them to fully comprehend these terms when reading or apply them in writing. Subsequently, ELLs need frequent, structured opportunities in class to develop academic oral language.  There is a great deal of preparation that goes into realizing this objective. Fisher et al. (2008) support this notion by stating, “We don’t want students to simply talk; we want them to engage in highly academic and oral discourse, using the language and vocabulary of the discipline to talk about grade-level content. And just as we prepare students to read or to write, we must prepare them to talk.”


Getting Started with Academic Conversations

“It was weird. When we finished talking, we had a totally new idea.”

– Sixth-grade student  (Zwiers & Crawford  2011)

Setting the expectation for academic discourse should begin at the onset of a school year. Students need to understand that an essential part of being successful in class will depend upon their ability to engage in academic conversations. A good place to start is to define what conversation is, and possibly more importantly, what it is not. Many students may believe that the goal of conversation is to win an argument. While debate does certainly have a place in academic discourse, students need to understand that primarily conversation “is a process of bringing your ideas to the table, sharing them, and shaping them as you listen to the ideas of another person. All partners should walk away with new ideas. Rather than winning, the goal is learning.” (Zwiers & Crawford 2011)

Additionally, students need to be taught the acceptable parameters for academic conversations.  A good way to accomplish this is to establish discussion norms. Students will need to be involved in this process and the teacher may facilitate a discussion around questions like: How you can tell if someone is or is not listening to you? How does it feel when someone interrupts you while you are speaking? What happens when one person dominates a conversation? How can we respectfully disagree with another’s opinion? Students can develop sentence stems related to the norms that may be posted in the room as a reminder and an anchor of reference for students when engaged in conversations. For ideas about using anchor charts and sentence stems, go to

Reinforce these norms by assessing them often. Praise students that adhere to the discussion norms and involve students in group or self-assessment of their conversations. Students can use checklists or rubrics to determine if, or how well, they are using effective conversations skills, such as:

  • staying focused on the topic
  • building on another’s idea
  • supporting ideas with examples or evidence
  • respectfully negotiating an idea when in disagreement
  • maintaining eye contact and using good conversational body language
  • choosing the most academic ways of talking

(Zwiers & Crawford 2011)


Student Interaction Practice Activities

There are numerous activities students can engage in to get them talking about your classroom content. While they may not quite meet the criteria of an academic conversation, they are useful in training students to speak with their peers in a structured manner, which will scaffold and support the more autonomous conversation work that will come as the school year progresses.

The following sample partner and group activities, as well as many others, can be explored at Region 13’s

  • Inside/Outside Circle
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Nothing Ventured
  • Back and Forth
  • Password
  • Turn-and-Talk


Next Steps for Building Academic Conversations

To extend and deepen the conversation skills practiced during student interaction activities, the next step is to instruct students in engaging in actual academic conversations. Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford have written extensively in Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings about teaching students the five core skills their research has identified as making conversations more academic:

  1. Elaborate and clarify
  2. Support ideas with examples
  3. Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas
  4. Paraphrase
  5. Synthesize conversation points

(2011, p. 31)

Zwiers and Crawford (2011) have designed an Academic Conversation Placemat which incorporates both question prompts and response starters for each of the five previously mentioned core conversations skills. Each conversation skill has an associated symbol, providing a visual connection, and hand gesture, providing a kinesthetic connection, to help students remember and focus on the goal when practicing a particular skill.  These frames for discussion become more and more natural for students over time, provided they are given enough exposure to teacher modeling and supported practice.  For more information about the Academic Conversation Placemat and other tools to use to foster academic conversations in your classroom, visit



The Teacher Toolkit. Accessed March 5, 2014.

Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey, and Carol Rothenberg. Content-Area Conversations: How to Plan Discussion-Based Lessons for Diverse Language Learners. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008.

Zwiers, Jeff, and Marie Crawford. Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Eight Language Program Models: Four Linguistic Roads

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Tracy Dennis, Bilingual/ESL Education Specialist

All students must travel down the educational super highway. However, English language learners (ELL) must be diverted down different educational roads in order to keep up with the regular population. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 fired up states, districts, and schools to construct and/or reconstruct alternate routes along the American highway of education.

A variety of language program models are utilized to assist ELL students, so they can shift gears and reach the same speed linguistically as other students. Eight language models being implemented today are ESL pullout, ESL class period, sheltered instruction, newcomers program, transitional bilingual education, developmental bilingual education, and dual language program.  Four specialized roads and/or routes have been built along the super highway to provide ELL students with assistance: the “pullout feeder road,” the “ELL cul-de-sac,” the “bilingual one-way street” and the “bilingualism two-lane highway.”

In Table 1, Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models, 7 models are compared and contrasted by definition, characteristics of students served, which grade levels are offered in the program, entry grade stipulations, goals of the program, the number of years students can participate, and the qualifications of teachers (Genesee 1999).  Each language program model tries to help ELL students merge onto this busy and fast-paced education highway, but which model is better?

Table 1

Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models


Comparison and Contrast of Language Program Models

(Click link above to download a copy of Table 1.)

Some ELL students are sent down the same highway of education as regular students, but are given more rest stops along the way. Pullout ESL programs place ELL students in the slow right lane of the highway, so students can fuel up with small group or individualized ESL instruction outside of the mainstream classroom. ELL students receive personalized attention and instruction. Nevertheless, ESL pullout is the most expensive of all language program models and is the least effective model (as cited in Ovando et al. 2003). Students pull off the education highway onto the “pullout feeder road” for extra English instruction. When this happens, ELL students miss out on classroom instruction and tend to feel isolated. An alternative road currently under way is the “ESL team teach road” with the ESL and mainstream teachers working as a team. Yet, these teachers must “share equal teaching responsibilities for the whole class, have joint planning time, and collaborate well together.” (Ovando, p. 74)  ESL team teaching allows ELL students to be on the highway without having to exit frequently, yet students still get the roadside assistance they might need.

ESL programs that provide specific classes for ESL students are similar to being on a cul-de-sac surrounded by other ELL students yet still within the mainstream educational community. ESL students might have regular classes for math, science and social studies but have special ESL classes for reading and writing. Also on the “ELL cul-de-sac” is sheltered instruction where students are provided more linguistic modifications and clarifications during content instruction. “Sheltered instruction provides students with continuing English language development, access to the core curriculum, and opportunities for classroom interaction.” (Ovando et al. 2003) The newcomer program in this cul-de-sac is designed for new immigrant students, usually at the middle school or high school level. This High Intensity Language Training (HILT) uses ESL instruction in content area classes, usually incorporating sheltered instruction, and then mainstreams students into linguistically less demanding classes such as music, physical education, and art. (McKeon 1987) The “ELL cul-de-sac” nurtures students as they acquire the English language while giving students access to the super highway curriculum.

The one-way street language program consists of students with the same first language traveling together to gain knowledge. This street has a fork in the road, where some ELL students are driven down the “transitional bilingual street,” or “early exit,” and others take the “developmental bilingual street,” or “late exit.” Transitional bilingual education uses students’ first language to develop English skills needed to quickly move onto the super highway of education. Bilingualism is used to transition students to all English instruction. (Genesee 1999) “The highest priority of most transitional bilingual programs is teaching English, with the goal of mainstreaming students into grade level classes as soon as possible.” (Ovando et al. 2003)  Developmental bilingual education seeks to obtain fluency in both languages before releasing students. Students are mainstreamed based on English proficiency that is sufficient for sustaining academic achievement in an all-English classroom (McKeon 1987). Another route constructed is the One-Way Dual Language, which supports “one language” groups of students to become bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate. Curriculum is separated 50/50 into two languages for instruction, consisting of no translation and no repeated lessons in the other language. The language of instruction is dependent on the content area. The goal of the One-Way Dual Language is to develop students’ English proficiency while maintaining their native language proficiency.

The bilingualism two-lane highway offers native English speakers and limited English speakers the ability to develop fluency in two languages. This highway may soon be the route of choice for helping all students to have the extra edge of being bilingual. On this highway, bilingual education is for all, not just for ELL. “Two-way bilingual programs integrate language minority and language majority students in a school setting that promotes full bilingual proficiency and high academic achievement for both groups of students.” (Ovando et al. 2003)  Dual language programs, originally developed in Canada in the 1960’s, allow for students to learn from each other and develop a sense of community and appreciation of different cultures. (Ovando et al. 2003) In order to construct this two-lane highway of bilingual education, there must be a common second language and a group of native English speakers willing to participate.

Currently, choosing the best language program model is often not centered on what is best for each individual child. The road students are given depends on the district’s and school’s demographics and available resources, as well as the ethnic relations within school and community and the national, state and local political climate. (Mora n.d.) In fact, principals’ and administrators’ knowledge of second language acquisition and attitudes towards ELL affects the services provided. (Mora n.d.)

Districts may implement a model because of the ELL population, lack of available teachers, and/or the district’s priorities. “The design of any ESL program must take so many factors into account that it is difficult to decide which program organization is best for a given set of circumstances.” (McKeon 1987) A district may choose pullout because of the variety of languages spoken by the populations of their ELL students. Or they may choose bilingual education because so many ELL students speak the same first language. If a student is a new immigrant at the middle school or high school level, then they might choose ESL classes, sheltered instruction and/or the newcomer program. All of these language models help students become successful. In a perfect world, though, schools would employ all language models to meet the needs of each individual student.

Advancing into the 21st century will require the rebuilding of America’s educational super highway. The United States is one of the few countries that only teach their children one language. Dual language programs should be promoted to ensure that all of our children are able to compete with the global market because “the 32 million Americans who speak languages in addition to English are at a competitive advantage.” (Jackson-Lee 1996).



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Phonics Instruction for Middle and High School ELLs

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author: Ivonne Santiago, Bilingual/ESL Specialist


Image courtesy of


Learning to read is a little bit like learning to ride a bike while you are balancing a person on the handle-bars, holding a pole, spinning plates, and focusing on the destination at the same time! (Robertson, 2009).

Reading is a complicated process and yet a critical skill. Many children struggle to become strong readers and it can be particularly challenging for English Language Learners (ELL’s). Reading at an appropriate rate with adequate comprehension is necessary. So what role does phonics play in this goal to acquire fluency and comprehension? In this article, we will explore the challenges ELL’s face with phonemic awareness and phonics instruction, why this has a place in middle and high school classrooms and highlight research-based best practices.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in words – to manipulate them. This is particularly difficult for ELL’s because they may not yet have enough experience with English to be able to distinguish sounds that differ from those of their native language. Also, they may not be able to “hear” or produce a new sound in a second language. If they cannot hear and work with the phonemes of spoken words, they will have difficulties learning how to relate these phonemes to letters when they see them in written words.

Phonics instruction teaches students to understand and learn the relationship between letters of written language (graphemes) and the individual sounds of spoken language (phonemes). It teaches children how to use these relationships to read and write words accurately. Systemic phonics instruction can be very effective in helping newcomer ELL’s, even those at fairly low levels of language proficiency, to learn to decode words. Most ELL’s will need additional time and practice to learn to hear and produce the sounds of English, to learn the meanings of words used in phonics instruction, to learn combinations of letters that make the same sound, and to learn many more sight words than native English speakers. Additional time for phonics instruction should be built into reading programs for ELL’s.

Many educators believe that students only need to learn to read once. Once the concept of matching a symbol with a sound has been learned, it can be applied to new languages. Students who have learned to read in their native language have a distinct advantage because they were able to learn this concept with familiar sounds and words. Because some students enter the U.S. schools with limited or even no history of schooling, they may lack understanding of basic concepts, content knowledge, and critical thinking skills. They may not even read or write in their home language. These students will struggle to put together the sound/symbol correspondence concept, new words, and new sounds all at once. Nevertheless, they will be expected to develop higher-order thinking skills in English and prepare for high stakes tests while mastering basic literacy in a language other than their own.

Phonics has a place in the classroom for older learners and these skills fit into the “big picture” of learning to read. (Heidi Hyte, 2012) One reason why phonics belongs in middle school and high school classrooms is because fluency is compromised when students get “stuck” on a word. When students come across difficult words, what happens? Their eyes stop on the word. They reread it again and again. They may even reread the sentence to see if they could pick up context clues. If this scenario occurs frequently in a student’s reading, is that fluent reading? No.

Second, if students are using too much “brain power” to decode words, there isn’t enough left to grasp the meaning of the text. They need to learn strategies to decode difficult words they come across in their reading. These strategies need to become automatic so that students are able to decode words quickly and effortlessly. Their lack of fluency will impede their comprehension.

Third, phonics is important to help students pronounce words correctly. How many times have you heard “Teacher, what is this word?” Once you read it to them and they hear the word pronounced, they say, “Oh yeah, I know that word!” Pronouncing words correctly contributes to better fluency and comprehension. At first, the word may look unfamiliar, but once it’s pronounced correctly, they can connect the sound of the word to its meaning.

Lastly, spelling is improved when students learn phonics. As students better understand letter relationships and phonics rules, they can start to recognize and correct their spelling errors. In turn, the development of these skills will help them become more independent learners because they are not dependent on a dictionary or a teacher to tell them how to decode words that are unfamiliar in their reading.

Teaching phonics poses quite a few challenges to middle and high school ELL’s. Phonics becomes a minimal part of the Language Arts curriculum for students in intermediate grades and above. Unfortunately, it is assumed that students have learned the sound/symbol correspondence necessary to read by the upper elementary grades. For those ELL’s who start their education in the U.S. after 4th grade, this can be very problematic because the intensive phonics instruction they need is unlikely to be a part of their daily schedule.

You may ask “What about those students that have limited literacy skills in their native language?” Students who have not learned to read in their native language or whose language does not use a phonetic alphabet may struggle to grasp the concept of phonetic relationships between sounds and letters. Also, these students must master the concept while applying it to a new language.

Phonics instruction may also be tied to vocabulary words that are unfamiliar to ELL’s. Basic worksheets with CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words are not always effective with older learners because of the lack of context and meaning. They may not recognize all the words in the these basic drills and will not necessarily apply these sounds when they encounter new words in their reading text if they don’t see a connection from one exercise to the other.

Because phonics instruction primarily occurs prior to the 4th grade, instructional materials are often targeted towards much younger children. This poses a problem for our older students because most materials are unlikely to be engaging or appealing to them. They may feel embarrassed at using “childish” materials, and they will quickly get bored by the drill and repetition. Our older students want to engage in activities that will require them to use higher-order thinking skills, which early literacy materials don’t usually have.

Despite these challenges, there are a number of strategies which can be effective for older ELL’s. Begin by building a foundation. Older ELL’s that need further instruction will be most assisted by intensive intervention, so enlist extra support. Ideally students should receive special support to continue phonics instruction from a specialist, preferably an ESL specialist.

Use hands-on activities to help teach letter-sound relationships. This can include using manipulatives such as counters, sound boxes, and magnetic letters or Scrabble tiles. Students may even be interested in making their own materials on the computer, which can then be incorporated into an art project. Students will feel more like they are taking ownership of their learning.

Students literate in their native language will already have background knowledge of how reading works. For those students whose native language is non-alphabetic, targeted support will be needed in directionality and letter-sound recognition. They may not be accustomed to reading from left to right or they are used to a system of characters that symbolize words rather than sounds, such as Japanese and Chinese.

If older students need to review their alphabetic skills, look for jazz or hip-hop alphabet chants that students will find entertaining and engaging. There are quite a few free apps such as AutoRap, Rap to Beats and Rap-A-Long that can be downloaded on mobile devices as well as iPads. Such apps can be used to create these chants; they are very user friendly and students will thoroughly enjoy using them.

Students can also write for sound. The teacher can dictate a sentence that includes one or more words that include the target phonics feature and have them write what they hear. This activity trains students to listen for the individual sounds in words and represent them phonetically in their writing.

Most importantly, incorporate strategies that make learning phonics relevant and fun! Help students make a connection between their first language and English. For students with stronger native language literacy skills (especially in languages related to English, like Spanish), help them understand that the process of sounding out words is the same across languages. Explain that some letters may make the same or similar sounds in both languages. Knowing this can help Spanish-dominant students especially if they are aware of the Spanish-English cognates.

Use authentic text and/or vocabulary words that are known to the ELL’s. You can introduce and reinforce letter recognition, beginning and ending sounds, blends, rhyming words, silent letters and homonyms using relevant literature and content materials. When possible, collaborate with the content area teachers to integrate phonics instruction into the classrooms lessons, as well as academic vocabulary instruction.

Create games like a short game of Scrabble to reinforce word building skills. An online board game from Lanternfish, an ESL website, can be used to review beginning, middle and end. Have the students play a Time Game in which they use a stopwatch to answer as many questions as possible. These are quick and easy activities that can effectively reinforce the targeted phonetic concept.

Look for high-low reading material. These texts are written on a first to third grade level but treat themes and topics that are of interest to students of middle school or high school age. These readers are available in the following genres: traditional literature, realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, biography and informational texts.

Integrate phonics instruction with word study. Teach students how to identify word parts, break words down into syllables and use word families. Use content area words as much as possible for this exercise because students are more likely to encounter them in their academic work.

In conclusion, phonics does indeed have a role in the older students’ classroom. Even older students need to be taken back to the basics. Some teachers are concerned that taking these learners back to the sounds and letters of the alphabet and teaching decoding strategies will cause the students to feel that the instruction is too “elementary.” I disagree. If the instruction is delivered in non-condescending way, older students are appreciative of the fact that someone took the time to cover the foundational skills that no one else dared to.





“All About Adolescent Literacy.” Phonics Instruction for Middle and High School ELLs. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Effective Programs for English Language Learners (ELL) with Interrupted Formal Education.” Office of English Language Learning and Migrant Education-Indiana Department of Education, n.d. Web.

“English Language Learners: Literacy and Language Development.” Indiana Department of Education, 13 Mar. 2010. Web.

Hyte, Heidi. ESL Trail: Phonics for Middle School and High School Classrooms. N.p., 12 Feb. 2012. Web.

Hyte, Heidi. Four Reasons Phonics Has a Place in Middle School and High School Classrooms – Reading Horizons. N.p., 20 Sept. 2012. Web.

Robertson, Kristina. “All About Adolescent Literacy.” Phonics Instruction for Middle and High School ELLs. Colorin Colorado, 2009. Web.