Saturday, March 19, 2016

Strategy: Scaffolding

Scaffolding is an instructional method used by teachers to help students gain independence and mastery on their own through a series of steps.  Generally, scaffolding begins with the teacher performing a task by showing the class how to do it.  Next, the teacher should have the students do the task along with them.  Finally, the teachers will create autonomy and require students to do the activity completely on their own.  This ensures that all students see the process first, experience it with help, and then are able to achieve it on their own.

Scaffolding proves to be especially useful for ELLs because they can feel comfortable with learning new things and using the language with their teacher or classmates first and then work up to independently completing tasks. Two important areas for scaffolding with ELLs are vocabulary instruction and reading comprehension, because these are areas that deal with language and content knowledge.

Here is a list of activities you can try to scaffold instruction for all students, but especially ELLs:
  1. During a lesson or unit, start with level one questions (recall), more to level two questions (application), and then to level three questions (reflections/connections with the real world).
  2. Math: model problems on the board and explain them.  Next, have students help you explain the process.  Finally, allow students to try problems on their own, but provide feedback.
  3. Think-Pair-Share: This is one of my favorite methods, and it allows students to work together but also independently.  When asking a question or opinion on a topic, have students think about it on their own, then pair with a partner to discuss, then share the responses with the whole class.
  4. Use of graphic organizers like: KWL, concept webs, semantic outlines, and foldables can be scaffolded and also available for later use.
  5. Science: When doing lab work, model the task, then have students explain the task back to you, then have them perform it on their own.
  6. Vocabulary: Present words with definitions, pictures, etc.  Then, have students work together to give examples of these words.  Finally, have students work alone to create sentence using the words.  
The following video is an awesome example of scaffolding (especially with ELLs), and it demonstrates the method called "I Do, We Do, You Do."  (3 mins. long)

- Photo Credit: Bigstock, AndrewPopov
- Video Credit: "I Do, We Do, You Do."  The Teaching Channel.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Common Misconceptions about ELLs!!

One of the main setbacks to an ELL getting the quality education that he or she deserves is the misconceptions teachers and others have about their way of learning.  As an area I have previously studied, I understand that teachers may be intimidated by ELLs if they hear these misconceptions.  If you ever have concerns as a teacher, there are many resources for you--from the ESL specialist at your district to colleagues to reliable internet sources.

I want to go over a few common misconceptions and clear them up in hopes that people will shed their negative/uncertain attitudes towards ELLs and learn the facts.

  1. Exposure to English will automatically result in language learning.
    • Why it's wrong: Learning a second language requires more focus on grammar, vocabulary acquisition, and academic language than when we learn our first language as a baby.  ELLs can learn social language more quickly by interacting with natives and being exposed, but academic language can take longer than 7 years to achieve.   
  2. ELLs are always good at math.
    • Why it's wrong: This is simply a stereotype, and may be due in part to the large number of Asian ELLs.  No one ethnic group represents ELLs.  
  3. Good teaching for native speakers is good teaching for ELLs.
    • Why it's wrong: Since ELLs learn differently, sometimes they need different types of strategies or modifications/interventions that native students don't need, especially in the mainstream classroom when they're leaning content without being proficient in English.  This also goes along with the learning theories with every person learning in a different way (i.e. verbal, visual, tactile, etc.).   
  4. ELLs have learning problems/should be in special education programs.
    • Why it's wrong: Many ELLs can transfer cognitive skills from the first language to English, it just takes time.  With a portion of ELLs being immigrants with harsh backgrounds, they may not have had the proper schooling throughout their lives, but that also does not mean they have problems learning, they just haven't had the chance. 
  5. All ELLs learn the same and at the same rate.  
    • Why it's wrong: Once again, we know all people learn differently, so why would it be different for ELLs?  ELLs will progress with their language learning at different speeds due to factors like previous level of education, family support at home, amount of practice at school, and more.
So, how can we help to eliminate these misconceptions??  The answer lies in education itself.  Teachers must be educated enough to have a general understanding of second language acquisition and the processes that go along with that.  They must also be educated on different types of strategies and interventions they can use for ELLs.  Furthermore, teachers must work together and use their resources to be able to successfully include and teach ELLs in the mainstream classroom.  

-Photo Credit: &

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Strategy: Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a strategy that benefits every student in the class, especially ELLs.  Cooperative learning is more than just group work, but it's specific, structured task which are done collaboratively.  This helps to create a safe and pressure free environment for ELLs who may be too shy or embarrassed to speak up in a whole class activity.  Additionally, cooperative learning groups should be structured so that the goal of the group is clear and each student actively participates.  This may be done through assigning roles, keeping a checklist, or giving evaluations at the end.  Either way, one of the goals of cooperative learning is for the students to teach each other something.

There are many types of activities to do in a cooperative learning setting, ranging from short to long term.  Here are some I like:
  • Peer review of essays and writing assignments: students can trade papers and read parts out loud to give each other feedback.  This will be especially helpful for ELLs who may need to improve their grammar in essays, and the native speakers can help teach them how to avoid mistakes.  
  • Stimulated conversations: depending on the content area and unit, you can assign a topic and have students converse, ask questions, and more.  It may be helpful to provide a graphic organizer with questions to consider or helpful words.  In a social studies classroom, you could have the students pretend to be someone from history.  
  • Peer mentoring system: pair a native speaker with an ELL for certain activities or bell ringers.  This will help ELLs have a go-to peer to ask questions, converse with, and even help them communicate their ideas during class.  Not to mention, the native speaker will benefit by helping others and making a difference.  
  • Problem-based learning: students can work together to solve problems through teamwork, research, and more.  Students in a science class can come up with ways to stop global warming by creating a poster presentation.
  • Video/technology projects: utilizing technology to do projects can be fun and beneficial.  Students can reenact scenes from a novel to get across the main theme, create a mock presidential election, or even informative video tutorials on solving math problems.   

No matter what, the keys to cooperative learning with ELLs are creating a safe, comfortable environment for them, structuring the activity and stating it clearly, ensuring participation by every student, and ensuring learning.

Below is a great video about ELL education in general, but the cooperative learning ideas are wonderful, too. (13:36 mins long--but worth it!).

Here's the link to a website with great information on cooperative learning with ELLs:

- Photo Credit: & VadimGuzhva
- Video Credit : "Deeper Learning for English Language Learners" by