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ELL Guide

Page history last edited by MrsK Books 7 years, 8 months ago

Ed Week: ELL: How to Make the Most of the Web by Larry Ferlazzo 

Reading Rockets #2757


Supporting ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom: Reading Instruction


Note: This article was adapted from excerpts of the ESL/Bilingual Resource Guide for Mainstream Teachers, published by the Portland, OR Public School District.


Teaching reading to English language learners (ELLs) may seem daunting, but the good news is that you don't have to learn an entirely new method. You can and should use what you already know to be effective, research-based reading instruction. However, ELLs will need additional support in learning how to read. The strategies below will help you to provide this much-needed assistance in the context of your everyday teaching, particularly for newcomers (students who have recently arrived in the U.S.).

For more information, take a look at Colorín Colorado's section on Teaching Reading.


1. Read to students every day

Look for reading material for English Language Learners (ELLs) that contains some of these characteristics, especially at the beginning of the school year:

  • Numerous illustrations that help clarify the text
  • Story plots that are action-based
  • Limited text on each page
  • Text that contains repetitive, predictable phrases
  • High-frequency vocabulary and useful words
  • Text that employs simple sentence structures


2. Support students' comprehension as much as possible

When you read to newcomers, look for ways to help support their comprehension of new vocabulary and the story.

  • Read sentences at a slow-to-normal speed, using an expressive tone.
  • Allow time after each sentence or paragraph for students to assimilate the material.
  • Point to the words in the text as you read them. This is particularly useful for students who need to learn the left-to-right flow of English text.
  • Point to the corresponding pictures as you read the text.
  • Act out the story as you read, and ask students to act along with you.
  • Use visuals and manipulatives such as flannel board pieces, props, puppets, and "realia." ELL learners especially benefit from any three dimensional objects you bring in to enhance the reading experience.
  • Verify comprehension of the story by asking students to point to items in the illustrations. Check comprehension with yes/no and either/or questions at first, and then move to fill-in-the-blank or who/what/when/where/why questions when students are more comfortable.
  • Read the same story on successive days. Pause at strategic points and invite students to supply the words or phrases they know.
  • When students are familiar with the story, invite them to "read" along with you as you point to the words.
  • If appropriate for younger students, use Big Books, as both text and illustrations can be easily seen.


3. Teach the alphabet when necessary

Remember that newcomers' schooling and literacy skills may vary dramatically. Preliterate students and literate newcomers who speak a language that does not use the Roman alphabet need direct instruction in letter recognition and formation as well as beginning phonics.


4. Teach phonics in context

Using literature and content material, you can introduce and reinforce letter recognition, beginning and ending sounds, blends, rhyming words, silent letters, homonyms, etc. Phonics worksheets may not be useful to the newcomer since they present new vocabulary items out of context.


5. Check comprehension frequently

Your students may learn to decode accurately but be unable to construct meaning out of the words they have read. Teach newcomers to reflect on what they have decoded and to monitor what they do or do not understand. Check student comprehension with one or more of the following activities.

  • Teach students to use graphic organizers such as story maps while they read. Visual depictions of information allow ELLs to better understand the material while learning important vocabulary.
  • Write individual sentences from the text on separate sheets of drawing paper; then read or have the students read each sentence and illustrate it.
  • Informally test students' ability to sequence material from a story: print sentences from a section of the story on paper strips, mix the strips; have students put them in order.
  • Check students' ability to order words within a sentence; write several sentences from the text on individual strips of paper; cut the strips into words; have students arrange each group of words into a sentence.

You can find a number of other ideas in AdLit.org's Classroom Strategy Library.


6. Use audiobooks

Look for books on CD, Playaways, or podcasts of the stories you are reading in class. If the stories haven't been recorded, set up a tape recorder and record stories as you read. Newcomers will have the opportunity to listen to a story and read along as many times as they wish.


7. Support native language literacy

Students who learn to read in their native language generally learn to read more successfully in English. Whenever feasible, students will benefit from receiving reading instruction in their home language prior to receiving reading instruction in English. If you are a mainstream teacher and find yourself responsible for the developmental reading instruction of preliterate newcomers, allow newcomers time to develop some aural familiarity with English and build a vocabulary base before beginning reading instruction.


8. Encourage reading outside of the classroom

Stock your classroom library and encourage students' parents to join the public library and check out picture books, books with read-along tapes, and home-language books, if available.


9. Establish an English Language Learner Center

Fill the ELL Center with activities for your new language learners. Here are some of the items you may want to include. It is not necessary to put everything in at once! Add to the Learning Center a little bit at a time.

  • Tape recorder and earphones
  • Copies of appropriate activity pages, and keep them in a loose-leaf binder, a large envelope, or a folder with pockets.)
  • Crayons, scissors, pencils, erasers, and paper
  • An ESL notebook
  • An ESL folder for Dictionary pages
  • Labels for classroom objects
  • A picture file (class-made or commercial)
  • Well-illustrated magazines for cutting out pictures
  • Blank 3"x 5" index cards to be used for flash cards or concentration games
  • A picture dictionary
  • Home-language books on your newcomers' reading levels
  • Home-language magazines with lots of pictures
  • Nonfiction picture books from the library that cover the same content material you are currently teaching
  • Beginning phonics books with tapes
  • Taped music in both English and home language
  • Picture books and well-illustrated beginning-to-read books with tapes
  • Simple games: dot-to-dot activities, word searches, concentration games, sequencing activities, and jigsaw puzzles
  • An "object" box containing small manipulative objects for beginning vocabulary or phonics learning.


10. Make up individualized activity packs for your newcomers

Activity packs enable entry-level students to work independently on activities suited to their specific needs, such as phonics practice or vocabulary exercises. Encourage students to work on these activities when they cannot follow the work being done in the classroom. Remember, however, not to isolate the newcomers from their peers with separate work all day long. They, too, need to be a part of your class and should be integrated as much as possible.



U.S.A Learns is an incredible Web site to help users learn English. Even though it’s primarily designed for older learners, it seems very accessible to all but the very youngest ELLs. It’s free to use and is appropriate for both beginning and intermediate ELLs. In order to save their work and evaluate their progress, students must register on the site. Teachers can also create their own “virtual classroom.”

Henny Jellema’s Online TPR Exercises is a site you have to see to believe. I can’t imagine the amount of work that went into creating these exercises, which use the technique of “Total Physical Response”…virtually.

Starfallis a well-established primary school site that is without rival when it comes to providing accessible literacy activities for beginning English-language learners. Although it’s maintained by a vendor, there are lots of free tools and activities.

Mingoville is a site from Denmark designed to teach beginning English-language learners. There are many interactive exercises and games. It’s very colorful, and there are both listening and speaking activities, including a voice-recording feature. You can experiment with it as a guest for a few minutes, but then you have to register. It’s completely free; registration takes about 20 seconds.

The Everyday Life Project is sponsored by the Goodwill Community Foundation in North Carolina and has interactive exercises for intermediate and advanced English-language learners. Its activities on food, money, work, shopping, and maps are excellent. Registration is required, but is free and easy.

BITS Interactive Resources is another good site for intermediate ELLs. It has 19 “sets” of five different and excellent reading activities focusing on “signs, details, matching, gist, and gap.”

Into The Book is an absolutely incredible resource designed to help students learn reading strategies, including visualization, prediction, and summarization. The site has been under construction for several years, but now all of its exercises are fully developed. Users are led through learning each reading strategy with interactive exercises.

Dvolver Moviemaker his a great way for students to easily and quickly make an animated film.

VoiceThread allows you and your students to upload or grab pictures from the Web, and create an audio narrative to go along with them. In addition, audio comments can be left by visitors--a great way to raise student interest and engagement.

You can see some work samples from my classes using the Dvolver Moviemaker and VoiceThread at The Best Online Examples Of My Student’s Work.


Teaching English As a Foreign or Second Language and Teaching English As A Foreign Language To Large, Multi-Level Classes are two PDF downloads developed by the Peace Corps, which has some of the best professional development resources for teaching ELL students.

English Raven, created by teachers, is one of my favorite sites—among many— for great printouts. Not only are the materials particularly engaging but you’ll find excellent ideas about how to use them. I don’t say this too often, but using their site has made me a better teacher. Most of the resources are free, but by making a donation (the amount is self-determined) you can access even more.

EFL Teaching Recipes is a brand new resource with an extremely accessible design. Teachers can share their lessons, including video and images, and also rate their site favorites. It’s just beginning, and I’m sure it’ll be brimming with ideas quickly. Go over and contribute a recipe of your own and rate what’s already there!

EFL Classroom 2.0 is a social-networking site, using the free NING engine. In keeping with the spirit of its motto—“when one teaches, two learn”—you’ll find teachers posting lots of their resources and encouraging you to do the same. You have to join to access the conversations and content, but registration is free and takes less than a minute.

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