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Ideas for teaching reading to English language learners

FRIDAY, JUNE 05, 2015 11:02 AM

English language learners, commonly called ELLs in shorthand, were one of the biggest questions in people's minds when the Common Core State Standards were first introduced. Because the Standards are more academically rigorous, many ELL teachers felt that their students would fall behind others due to their language gap. However, an addendum to the Common Core explains that while ELL students may be held to the same Standards, they should also receive additional support and take exams that are appropriately aligned with their language capabilities.

English/language arts teachers are perhaps the backbone of ELL students' entire learning career. Think about it: Non-native speakers must learn to read, write and speak in English before they're able to understand future lessons in other subjects. That said, here are a few ideas for helping ELL students read fluently:

Implement group learning
Research has shown that one of the most effective methods for teaching ELL students English is to group them with students who speak the language fluently. These native English speakers can model correct phonetics, grammar and syntax, which is crucial for helping non-native speakers learn some of the more difficult concepts. Craft small-group activities related to reading. For instance, divide students into threes or fours, have each team read a passage of a text, then have the groups present their passage to the class. Make sure each student in the group, including the ELL student, presents some of the information.

Try read-aloud lessons
Read alouds are highly beneficial for every student, especially in younger grades, because they improve children's comprehension speed and verbal fluency. For English language learners, they hold even more merit. Read alouds allow ELL children to listen to English as they're looking at each word being spoken. The difference between this and simply listening to a lecture or presentation is that they can become more familiar with the unique spelling and phonetic rules that are rampant in the English language.

Make connections to their prior knowledge
It's imperative that ELA teachers understand their students' native languages, because making connections and concentrating on language similarities is one of the best ways for students to learn. As the Common Core says, ELL students bring with them a great deal of expertise in their own language and culture, which means they already have a foundation for learning more. According to the ELL addendum, teachers should "build on this enormous reservoir of talent," rather than attempting to start their education from the beginning.