Strategies For Teaching English Language Learners—Part 4: Writing, Speaking, & Listening Practice

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science (IES) and What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released the latest educator’s guide to present best instructional practices for English Language Learners. Over the last several weeks, I’ve looked at several different strategies for teaching English Language Learners based on that guide’s recommendations.

Today, we’ll take a look at how to incorporate vocabulary instruction into activities that support listening, speaking, and writing practice for English Language Learners. This is the final week I will focus on the guide’s first recommendation: Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.

Drumbeat in Our Feet
Drumbeat in Our Feet

Using the Lee & Low informational text, Drumbeat in Our Feet, as my model text, I applied the guide’s recommendations on how to choose an appropriate text and words for English Language Learners and how to teach the vocabulary over several days. See how I chose these words here and taught their meanings here.

Using Drumbeat in Our Feet and the IES’s process, my target words are origins, vital, ethnically, diverse, unique, vibrant and varied from the “Origins of African Dance” excerpt.

1. IES: Facilitate structured discussions to increase opportunities for students to talk about academic words. Always anchor these discussions around the topics that are present in the text and that do not have a clear-cut right or wrong answer. The goal is for students to learn to articulate a position or point of view and learn to defend their perspective or analysis. (P. 20)

Lee & Low: Over the course of multiple days, I am teaching a different part to each word’s meaning. After doing so, I want to create open-ended questions for whole or small group discussion that will allow my students to practice using the target words.

As my target words are origins, vital, ethnically, diverse, unique, vibrant and varied from the “Origins of African Dance” excerpt in Drumbeat In Our Feet, I would use these throughout the week for peer-to-peer discussion. This looks like:

  • Why would the authors want to discuss the diverse land and countries of Africa in a book about African dance?
  • Why might African dance vary in form?
  • Why should we study the origins of African dance today?
  • What factors might contribute to the diversity in African dance?

2. IES: Require students to use target words in their writing activities. (P. 21)

Lee & Low: Use the prompts above or focus on vocabulary-specific prompts. This looks like:

  • What are the origins of your family?
  • Write about the origins of a superhero.
  • Create a story about the origins of the universe or how life began.
  • Is it important to you to feel unique? Why or why not?
  • What are at least two things vital to all life forms?

Although we cannot explicitly teach all academic and content-specific words our students will need to know in their educations and careers, we can be strategic in how we teach 5-8 words a week so they can apply these word strategies to new words they come across on their own.

Further reading on supporting English Language Learners in the classroom: