Tag Archives: ELL

Reading Strategies for ELL (English Language Learners)

Reading Strategies for ELL/ESL

As teachers receive more and more ESL/ELLs (English Language Learners) into their classrooms, it’s important that they learn to integrate them with the rest of their student population.  The following reading strategies will help you with the process. Comprehensiable instruction and opportunities for verbal interaction will motivate students to engage in learning and actively participate in classroom activities. Here are some great reading strategies to help ELLs be more comfortable with reading.

Echo Reading

Use this strategy to help struggling readers with fluency, pronunciation, intonation, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. The teacher (or other native English speaker) reads the text first, using proper intonation and a good pace. Students follow along silently and then “echo”, or imitate, the first reader.

Echo reading helps ELL students 
-Improve sight reading and speaking skills.
-Build confidence in their pronunciations.
-Remember important concepts.

Ways to Use Echo Reading: During chants, jingles, songs, poetry, and short stories.

Tips for Teaching this Strategy:
-Use gestures to show students which text to read.
-Have Students who are native English speakers lead the reading; it’s helpful for ELLs to hear voices similar to their own.
-Adjust the length of the text being read to meet the needs of your students. (e.g. For Emerging ELLs, the first reader should read one line of text; for Developing ELLs (and higher levels), the first reader can read several lines of text.)

Sample Activity
Hold a hand to an ear to demonstrate the idea of hearing an echo. Explain that bats use echoes and different tones to locate food sources and other important information. Vary the pitch (higher or lower) while reading to encourage students to practice different intonations when they echo read.


Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DRTA)

Use this strategy to model how to make and confirm predictions. Here are the steps to DRTA:
1) Choose a text. Preselect stopping points where students can pause while reading.
2) Preview keywords or pictures. Ask questions to guide students’ thinking.
3) Have students make prediction about what they will read.
4) Stop at set points so students can check predictions, revise them, and make new predictions.
5) Ask questions to help students match their predictions to the reading.
6) Discuss what has been read before reading the next section.

Examples: Use objects or pictures to preview a text and make predictions; ask questions about keywords and vocabulary; focus on characters and what they might do.

Tips for Teaching this ELL Strategy
-Use as a whole-class or small-group activity
-Remind students to use what they already know to make predictions

Sample Activity
Have students look at pictures in a book to predict what a story or text might be about. Have them write one or two questions they have about the story. Review the students’ questions to determine where to stop and discuss the story. Read the selection as a class, pausing as planned. Call on the students who quote questions related to that part of the story, and conduct discussion about the reading thus far.

For more strategies on teach ESL/ELLs, see Strategies to use with your English Language Learners

ESL – Another Perspective

I suppose one way to get a “crash course” in teaching English Language Learners is to go to them. I had just that opportunity last year, when I traveled to Slovakia to teach English for two weeks. In our classes we had students of all ages, at all stages in their process of learning English. I was privileged to work a week with the beginning class, and then a week with the advanced class. Our task, as much as teaching the students English, was to engage them, motivate them to come to class each day, and encourage them to speak only English in class – a tough challenge when we were in their country, and they could—and would—speak their native language as soon as they stepped outside the classroom. I was surprised to find the same basic principles of ELL instruction I had learned in an American class on how to teach ELL students put into practice in another country.

Build Background Knowledge

  • Get students talking with simple sentence frames:

I am _____.

I have _____.

I like _____.

Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Have students use pictures to help them describe themselves, their pets, families, favorite foods, places, etc.

  • Allow students to use translation resources, such as picture dictionaries, for introductory activities.
  • Students need to know how to say the letters in English to help them spell and learn new words – a spelling bee or a game of hangman is a great way to have students practice their pronunciation.
  • Teach students simple questions they can use to help in their process of learning English.

How do you say that?

What is that word?

Please speak more slowly.

Will you repeat that, please?

Use Comprehensible Instruction

  • Create word charts to help students distinguish between verb tenses.
  • Use different colors to add a new concept to something students already know, for example, to add contractions after students have learned a pronoun-verb structure.
  • Use gestures in a listening exercise to help students distinguish between sounds in two columns of a word chart.
  • Introduce new words or concepts before doing dictation.

Encourage Active Participation

  • Have students dramatize feeling words.
  • Have students learn the meaning of prepositions by using objects to act out each word.
  • Have students practice asking and answering questions: Place a variety of items in a small bag or backpack. Have students take turns selecting an item and hiding it from view. Classmates will ask questions to guess the hidden item. Vary the types of questions and answers required based on students’ English proficiency level (yes/no questions for beginners, questions that provide a word choice for intermediate students, etc.).
  • Invite students to teach words in their language – they will have to practice their English to teach others.

These classes were offered during the summer. One characteristic that stands out in my mind is that it didn’t feel like school, even though we were in classrooms from 9 to 3 every day (with a lunch break). We engaged the students in conversation, maintained the pace with games, activities, and movement, and spent most of the time working with students in small groups, a good summary to remember the next time I work with ELL students!

Tracie Heskett has taught multiple grades in public and private elementary schools in southwest Washington. She currently writes teacher resource materials and curriculum. She has authored many books for Teacher Created Resources including Blogging in the Classroom, Going Green, and Traits of Good Writing. Her most recent series Strategies to use with Your English Language Learners and Math Strategies to use with Your English Language Learners were released in May 2012.