English Learners (ELs) in the Classroom

Developing Assessments

Strategies for Helping ESL Writers

ESL /Bilingual Resource Guide for Mainstream Teachers

Engaging Students in Learning

ELs in the Classroom

Ways to Help ESL Students Survive


Ways to Help ESL Students Survive in the Content Area Classroom

Secondary teachers can help ESL students understand subject matter by using some of the following suggestions. These activities also help ESL students develop skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Through Listening

  • Record your lectures on tape as you teach. Lend the cassettes to your ESL students so that they can listen to your presentation more than once.
  • Have native English speakers record the main points of a lesson which provides them with an opportunity to review and synthesize what they’ve learned.
  • Use “advance organizers” when lecturing so that students will know the lesson’s focus in advance. Recap the important ideas at the end of your talk.
  • As you lecture, write down key words on the chalkboard or on the overhead projector so that your ESL students can both see and hear what you are saying.
  • In an experiment with eighth-grade ESL students, Neuman and Koskinen (1992) concluded that viewing captioned television during a science program provided these students with the type of comprehensible input they needed to improve their acquisition of English reading vocabulary.

Through Speaking

  • Read aloud selected passages from your content area textbook. Ask your ESL students to summarize what was read. Re-read the passage to verify accuracy and details.
  • Plan some activities in which ESL students are placed in groups with English-speaking students. When the groups are small (two or three), the ESL student is more likely to be involved in the discussion. Other native-speaking students should be asked to include the ESL student in the give-and-take.
  • Ask your ESL students to verbalize how the information learned in your content area will be useful in their lives or why they need to learn it.
  • Set up specific purposes prior to reading a textbook selection. Discuss the purpose after the material is read.

Through Reading

  • In a qualitative study with five low-literacy seventh-grade Latino students, Jimenez (1997) reported that the students benefited from cognitive strategy lessons that used culturally familiar texts, emphasized reading fluency and word recognition skills, and taught the students how to resolve unknown vocabulary, ask questions, and make inferences, as well as use bilingual strategies, such as searching for cognates, translating, and transferring knowledge from one language to another.
  • Choose native-speaking students who take effective, comprehensible notes and provide them to your ESL students as study aids.
  • Encourage your students to use bilingual dictionaries when necessary or to ask questions when they don’t understand important concepts. Help them to guess meanings first by using context. Assure them that they don’t have to understand every word to comprehend the main idea. Introduce them to a thesaurus.
  • Request that appropriate content-area books be ordered for the library in the students’ native languages. These can be particularly useful to your students in comprehending the concepts while the second language is being mastered. They also provide your students with a means of maintaining and developing skills in their native languages. Textbooks are often available in Spanish or in versions that have summaries of chapters in Spanish. Check with the publishers. Before you take this step, make sure that your student is literate in his native language.
  • Read aloud a passage from your content area text-book. Let an ESL student orally summarize what you read. Write down what he says. Ask the student to read back what he dictated to you. This can become his own reading if it is done on a chart or in a booklet. This strategy can be especially helpful for students with limited literacy who lack confidence in their ability to read the textbook.
  • Pictures, charts, and timelines make material more “user friendly.” A series of pictures or a flow chart can convey a process to a student more rapidly than a paragraph or two filled with transitional adverbs and complex-compound sentences. Through comprehensible chunks of words and phrases, an outline can concisely convey essential information drawn from a passage. Timelines can subtly encourage the higher-order thinking skill of sequencing, whereas charts exercise the skill of comparing and contrasting. Formats such as these highlight specific points and diminish extraneous information.

Through Writing

  • Have students keep a vocabulary book or glossary for each content area class. Words should be added to this book as they are introduced. Meanings should be written next to each word. The word in their native language could be written in parentheses next to the word. These lists should be reviewed frequently.
  • Dictate sentences from your content area for students to write. Be sure to incorporate vocabulary being studied in the sentences.
  • Increase possibilities for success. Alternating difficult activities with easier ones allows ESL students to experience early successes. For example, in natural science one activity could be to create a diary that Neil Armstrong might have kept on his trip to the moon; the next assignment could be to make a list of the personal items, including food, that he might have taken with him. Of course, the tasks as a whole should gradually become more academically challenging as the students become more proficient in English.
  • Use the cloze procedure to check your ESL students’ comprehension of the content. Provide them with a passage (outline or other graphic organizer) that they have studied and leave out every fifth word. The students should be asked to write in the words that belong in the spaces.
  • Give students opportunities to label diagrams of objects for content area lessons (maps, body parts, parts of a leaf, etc.). Labeling helps students become familiar with the parts of an object as well as learning their names.
  • Written exercises should be focused on the recall level of learning—for example, using who, what, when, where. Interpretive- and evaluative-level questions (why and how) can be incorporated as ESL students become more proficient in English. Sentence patterns should be consistent (subject-verb-object) while more complex variations can be developed later as students gain fluency in writing.
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