Including ELLs in Mainstream Teaching: Sample Activities and Assessments for English Language Arts 7, 8 & 9
In April I wrote about a checklist and reflective questions for meeting the needs of ELLs in your mainstream and ELL classes. In this post I would like to take the checklist and reflection questions a little farther and offer a package of activities with assessment ideas that you could use in a mainstream English Language Arts 7, 8 or 9 class. I have used the British Columbia (BC), Canada, English Language Arts 9 Integrated Resource Package (IRP) as a guild for developing the activities however, they can be adjusted to suite the IRPs and needs of lower and higher grade. The IRP is divided into three categories and four subcategories. The main three categories are, oral language (speaking and listening), reading and viewing, and writing and representing. The four subcategories, which are part of each main category include; purpose, strategies, thinking and features. In the package I have colour coded each main category and provided two to four subcategories for each activity, along with three Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) and three correlating achievement indicators for each activity. After each activity I have provided a sample assessment and aim. I focused on the assessment for, as, or of learning model. Assessment is not synonymous with grading and I have kept to the basic idea of using assessment for learning as a diagnostic tool, assessment as learning as a formative tool, and assessment of learning as a summative tool, which would be used for grading.
Each activity in this package has been designed to include ELLs and support differentiated instruction. In general my philosophy is to include ELLs in regular instruction, just as I would native English speakers. It is not necessary to make different lessons, activities or tasks for ELLs. Using the checklist from my April post can help guild you in planning how to support your ELLs, for example with pre-reading vocabulary support, additional editing steps, collaborative rubric development or the use of visual representations. I would like to share the words of David A. Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson from their book Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom (2011); "Effective differentiation does not call on teachers to be all things to every student at all times of the day. Rather, it calls on teachers to be consistently mindful of three things: (1) how their content is structured for meaning and authenticity, (2) who their students are as individuals, and (3) which elements in their classrooms give them degrees of freedom in connecting content and learners" (p. 15).
I hope the package provides some ideas and inspiration for your planning. Each activity has been purposely left open for your interpretation, so it can be adapted to meet the unique needs and interests of students in a variety of classes. Planning for ELLs does not mean having to create entirely separate lessons, but it is about looking for different angles from which to build in supports, and allowing for each individual student to share their voice and be successful.
Sousa, D. A., Tomlinson, C. A. (2011). Differentiation and the brain: how neuroscience supports the learner-friendly classroom. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.
Are you meeting the needs of ELLs in your class? This can be a challenging question to answer. Language barriers can make it challenging to communicate with students and assess whether they understand class content and instruction. In this post I have provided a 10 point checklist based off of the information on pages 17-21 of the BC Government document English Language Learners: A Guide for Classroom Teachers. The checklist includes a range of strategies and areas to be aware of in your planning for ELLs whether you are teaching only ELLs, or other subjects such as Math, Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, PE, Drama or any other subject. Although this checklist does not account for all the variables of teaching ELLs, it is a place to start. Reflecting on your planning and the checklist can also provide clues to where to start researching for strategies. Attached is the checklist are post-lesson reflective questions, feel free to print and use them in your planning.
*To view the British Columbia Ministry of Education’s English Language Learning: Policy, Guidelines and Resources click here.
Article Review: Using Standardized Tests to Make High-Stake Decisions About English-Language Learners: Dilemmas and Critical Issues
Article: Using standardized tests to make high-stake decisions on English-language learners: dilemmas and critical issues
Author: Maria del Rosario Basterra
Equityreview’s article Using Standardized Tests to Make High-Sake Decisions on English-Language Learners: Dilemmas and Critical Issues looks at American ELLs and their participation in the National Voluntary Test, which is a standardized exam in the United States. Although this article is specific to America, there are several good points made regarding standardized testing in general with regards to ELLs. The report has come from observations on the changing demographics in American schools and the fact that ELLs, or language minority students, have not been successful overall in the education system (Basterra, 1998-1999). The article was structured into four topics, which interwove together; critical issues concerning ELL assessment, problems that need to be addressed, the improper use of standardized achievement scores used to determine major decisions and proposed recommendations (Basterra, 1998-1999).
Basterra (1998-1999) states that if a student’s English level is not skilled enough then their test scores will not clearly demonstrate their abilities and understanding of the subject being tested. In a 1997 report the National Research Council, in America, indicated three major issues with standardized tests; first, there are norm biases due to the number of ELLs writing these tests being much smaller than non-ELLs; second, there is bias in the content presented, which is targeted at the main culture being represented in the test, and this neglects ELLs from diverse cultural backgrounds; third, generally the structure of tests can pose a challenge with regards to timing and vocabulary content (Basterra, 1998-1999). A major question, which is not unique to this article, was Basterra’s (1998-1999) questioning of whether standardized exams should be used as the central focus when assessing an ELL student. As a recommendation Basterra (1998-1999) noted that instead of relying solely on standardized exams, that performance assessment should also be a part of the evaluation. Performance assessments need to also be carefully constructed to accurately demonstrate true learning, and it is still vital to note that even these tests can pose challenges and should not be relied on as a full assessment of the learner (Basterra, 1998-1999). Basterra (1998-1999) commented that although standardized exams can have a benefit to teachers, student placement and parental and student awareness of needs that they can also be misused and over used for major decision making. For example, to use standardized exams as a measure of high school graduation is a gross misuse of this style of exam (Basterra, 1998-1999). Basterra (1998-1999) concluded by recommending performance be assessed using alternate forms of assessment that incorporate awareness of biases and allow ELLs a more equal advantage to their non-ELL pupils. It was acknowledged that it is a difficult task to make the adaptations and alterations to testing; however, Baterra (1998-1999) was firm on her stance that changes need to be made for the growth of equity and inclusion.
In my own opinion of standardized exams I believe they need to be used very carefully and judiciously. I agree very much with the arguments set forth my Basterra and believe there is a time and place for exams, and especially standardized exams. There needs to be a balance between different forms of assessment to gain a whole picture of a student’s ability, progress and potential. Standardized exams should not be used to determine major decisions, such as high school completion, university entrance or job placements. Standardized exams I feel are better suited for decisions which do not affect permanent decisions; such as the placements in classrooms, where adjustments can be made once the student is able to demonstrate their full range of abilities. Standardized exams should also be used sparingly and for very specific purposes. They need to be created in a very careful way which reduces the potential of bias, and especially for ELLs, cultural bias. For example, I conducted standardized tests in a foreign setting and an animal used in the exam was a beaver, many students were unfamiliar with this animal and because of this their response to the question could not be trusted as an accurate reading of their knowledge. Cultural bias is a very important factor to be aware of and not only for ELLs, but for different cultural groups within any given population.
Basterra, Maria del Rosario. (1998-1999). Using standardized tests to make high-stake decisions on
English-language learners: dilemmas and critical issues. Equityreview. Retrieved from
English Language Learners (ELLs) come from diverse backgrounds, countries, cultures, and experiences. For example ELLs can be Canadian born students who have come from a non-English home, immigrants, refugees or those learning a new dialect of English (British Columbia, 2009). Approaching ELL instruction with curiosity and openness to learn about the diversity in the classroom sets assumptions to the side and fosters an inquisitive and open learning environment that creates a sense of openness apposed to predetermined beliefs.
Aim to Understand
Similar to forgetting assumptions, aim to understand your ELLs. Look for cultural differences to support in bridging the gaps in their understanding, which can smooth their learning and cultural transitions (British Columbia, 1999). Also, look for similarities in culture to build on commonalities (British Columbia, 1999). Learn about the ELLs heritage and celebrate their heritage (British Columbia, 1999). For example; invite ELLs to be the experts about their cultures, celebrate holidays and festivals, embrace differences between cultures as a way to learn more about the world.
Create Positive Encounters
ELLs need to be supported in building their self-worth (British Columbia, 1999). Just like other students in your school ELLs need to be supported in their personal growth in conjunction with their language development. Look for ways to create positive encounters with ELLs and build relationships with them. For example, ask them about themselves, point out what you like about their work through descriptive feedback and acknowledge them by name outside of the classroom.
Talk with your ELLs. Support them to build their communication skills (British Columbia, 1999). Let them practice with you where they can make errors without fear of isolation. Build communication into your relationship and allow students to feel safe to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions with you and within the classroom. Learn from communication with your students and be flexible and ready to adapt when you learn more about them, their interests, needs and goals.
In Meyers’ (2010) article she says, not all teachers are ESL teachers and therefor are neither ESL trained nor specialists. One of the major elements that I have found to effective ELL instruction is the inclusion of structure. Although structure is not specific to ELLs, and could be considered a “good” teaching practice, it is a major piece in maintaining classroom management and a supportive learning environment for ELLs. Structure can take many forms such as; class schedules written on the board, scaffolded lessons or explaining organisation systems. For example, many ELLs come from a different educational structure and using binders versus workbooks can be a new concept. Structure also mirrors the rote style of learning common in China; placing Chinese ELLs in a more familiar setting as they integrate.
British Columbia Ministry of Education Special Programs Branch. (1999). English as a second language
leaners: a guide for ESL specialists. Retrieved from https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/ell//policy/special.pdf
British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2009). English as a second language policy and guidelines. Retrieved
Meyers, M. (2010). Myths and delusion: English language instruction in Canadian schools. Canadian
Education Association, 46, 2, 31-34. Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/sites/default/files/EdCan-
Eliciting Student’s Thoughts, Feelings and Opinions
I recently took a course on English as a Second Language instruction, which was focused on participatory teaching methods. In the course I reflected often on how I plan my lessons and have arranged the classroom so students are actively engaged in the learning process. In this post I have shared some of my thoughts and reflections behind my own instruction.
In the course I was asked to consider my language teaching philosophy and to do this I first reflected on what led me into the field of education. My background is in secondary Social Studies (SS) instruction and I chose this career path because I wanted to contribute to the growth and development of students as critical thinkers who would contribute to society, both locally and globally. As I developed my philosophy around education, I saw critical thinking as a major part of my role and have brought this belief with me into second language instruction. Along with my role of developing my student’s four facets of language acquisition-listening, speaking, reading and writing- I also strongly believe it is my responsibility to provide opportunities for my students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions. Critical thinking and self-expression are the underlying objectives to my short and long term planning. Due to this, it has not been a far jump for me to situate myself among the participatory language teaching movement. Patricia Richard-Amato (2010) said that participatory language teaching “reaches into the very core of the individual by concerning itself with that individual’s place in society and with society in general” (p.93). I believe there are strong connections between the learner’s individual self and their external world, which both creates engagement in learning and deepens a student’s need to fully express themselves. Alistair Pennycook expressed participatory language teaching as the “pedagogy of engagement” (Richard-Amato, 2010, p. 93). Just as I have found that guiding students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions can be empowering, participatory language teaching also empowers students to look beyond themselves and examine their roles within a social and cultural context.
The question then becomes, how to go from the philosophical notions that drive an approach, such as participatory language instruction, towards planning and creating meaningful and targeted activities that not only profess to empower, engage and challenge, but actually follows through on this objective. To explore this question I believe it is important to examine the basis of critical pedagogy. Participatory language teaching is rooted in critical pedagogy, which Paulo Freire developed with the understanding that students arrive in the classroom with a wealth of knowledge that will support them to become active members in their own learning and empowerment (Richard-Amato, 2010). I believe this is an important factor to consider when developing a learning setting as students are viewed as contributors to their education, who are capable, and identifies the teacher’s role as one of a provider of opportunities, which allows for students to grow. In my experience, in order to encourage critical thinking and self-expression I have needed to embrace many of the ideas of critical pedagogy, and specifically the concept Freire presents of students arriving whole and capable, and the teachers’ role as facilitator.
From the start of my career I saw my role shifting from ‘teacher’, as the knowledge body, to ‘facilitator’, an architect guiding the learning process. In order to successfully guide my students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions I have focused on, and continue to work to learn the depths, of three practices and concepts within education theory, and more specifically language teaching theory. These factors, which have become the core of my planning come from constructivism and Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory and his concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), second the use of Jerome Bruner’s scaffolding techniques and third the affective domain’s central notion of student motivation.
Vygotsky’s ZPD presents that effective learning takes place between where the level the learner is at and what their ability for development can reach (Walqui, 2006). Vygotsky further states that learning needs to come before the development of the learning, and in turn challenge learners to be working ahead of their level (Walqui, 2006). In my own practice I aim to achieve this through providing students with higher level content and vocabulary than their current level range and guiding their learning through the use of Bruner’s scaffolding techniques. I feel the ZPD and scaffolding are highly linked in their collective support of one another. Aida Walqui’s (2006) states that English Language Learners (ELLs) can both learn content and succeed with high-level academic work when the teacher knows how to support them. This support as Walqui states, and I agree, comes from building in strategic scaffolding to support students through the learning and expression process. Bruner describes scaffolds as “a process of ‘setting up’ the situation to make the child’s entry easy and successful and then gradually pulling back and handing the role to the child as he becomes skilled enough to manage it” (as cited in Walqui, 2006, p. 163). I feel the concepts within participatory language teaching, along with scaffolding, builds student’s independence and as a result this builds confidence. The third factory I consider in my planning, and which I also feel is linked to the practice of scaffolding, is student motivation. Within the affective domain Richard-Amato (2010) presents motivation as a four part concept; first the relationship between teacher and students and the classroom setting, second engaging the learner’s interests and overall encouragement for success, third keeping the content and learning related to the learners and fourth providing feedback that is useful. Motivation can mean something different to each learner and as Richard-Amato presents there are different motivational factors and as an educator, who views their role as a facilitator of learning, motivation is a key component to creating value and interest for my students. In order for my students to elicit and draw out their own thoughts, feelings and opinions I feel I must strive to create lessons, which are challenging, structured and reflect the different motivation factors of each individual learner. It is an ongoing process and just as I challenge my students to reflect on their own learning I too ask myself to do the same.
Richard-Amato, Patricia A. (2010). Making it happen from interactive to participatory language teaching:
evolving theory and practice. White Plains: Pearson Education.
Walqui, Aida. (2006). Scaffolding instruction for English language learners: a conceptual framework. The
International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, vol. 9, No.2, 159-180. Retrieved from
Scaffolding Part Two: Once Upon a Time: Demonstrating Social Responsibility Through Storytelling Unit Plan
Unit Plan: Once Upon a Time: Demonstrating Social Responsibility Through Storytelling
Lesson Subject: English, ESL and other Language Arts
Grade Level: Middle School (Gr. 6-9)
As a follow up to my post about Aida Walqui’s article Scaffolding Instruction for English Language Learners: A Conceptual Framework I have provided a sample unit plan where I have focused on including scaffolded instruction and considered both Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory and Zone of Proximal Development. In this unit plan I am asking students to create their own stories and work at a high English level, however I have provided structure to support them reach this level. I have considered learners and placed the expectations of the final culminating assignment within a zone of proximal development where the task requires students to reach beyond their current level towards what they are capable of achieving. The lesson has been created with a lot of structure and a lot of space for flexibility. In class working time has been planned for, to provide the teacher and peer tutors (if available) time to actively support the learning process. The unit has been designed with explicit and scaffold instruction. Students’ learning will take place through the active use of the English language in a creative and natural way.
Scaffolding Part One: Article Review of Scaffolding Instruction for English Language Learners: A Conceptual Framework By: Aida Walqui
Article Title: Scaffolding Instruction for English Language Learners: A Conceptual Framework
Author: Aida Walqui
Journal: The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Vol. 9, No.2, 2006
Web Link: http://www.educacion.gob.es/exterior/centros/losangeles/es/series/201003-Scaffolding-Walqui.pdf
Aida Walqui’s article Scaffolding Instruction for English Language Learners: A Conceptual Framework, was written primarily for secondary ELLs, however can be adapted to elementary teaching. Walqui’s thesis states that ELLs can both learn content and succeed with high-level academic work when the teacher knows how to support them (p. 159). The article focuses on the use of scaffolding and how to build students’ confidence to be successful with high level and challenging work. Scaffolding provides built in supports as students progress through the work (p. 177). The article’s key points include; encouraging the use of many scaffolds, telling students the reasoning for scaffolds, identifying that ELLs may need more tasks than native English speakers to achieve learning and although, it may take longer to scaffold and less content is being taught, the results show students have a better foundation and depth to their learning (p.178). Walqui says that teachers need to know what they teach and use many scaffolds, as well as, have teacher training for teaching ELL (p. 177-178). Included in the research is a look at Sociocultural Theory (SCT) originated by Lev Vygotsky. SCT states that learning needs to come before the development of the learning, and in turn challenge learners to be working ahead of their level (p. 161). As part of SCT, Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) is discussed where effective learning takes place between where the level the learner is at and what their ability for development is (p. 162). Vygotsky’s research is used as a way to support scaffolding and the rigorous structuring that goes into planning, and is used to present that students can complete challenging work when structures are in place that keep the learning a ahead of their level, yet within the ZPD. The article details scaffolding and includes types of scaffolding to use with ELLs and examples. Scaffolding steps included in the article are; modeling, bridging, contextualizing, scheme building, re-presenting text and developing metacognition.
In my own classroom practice I have used scaffolding quiet successfully and agreed with the research in Walqui’s article. I liked how useful the information was and how it was written in a way that supports those, who already scaffold, to enhance their practice. Three points specifically provided me with a clearer understanding of scaffolding and ideas on further developing my classroom practice. First the concept of using scaffolding as ‘confidence’ building, was something I naturally understood scaffolding to do, but did not consciously think about in my planning. By consciously thinking about confidence building in my scaffolding planning I think my lessons will become more tightly planned and provide an even clearer focus and keep my students a step ahead of their level. Secondly, to become transparent in my reasoning for using scaffolding with my students, to explain to them the process and why I am having them do what I am doing. I found at the end of last year when I introduced my peer tutors it was a very supportive to have them explain my reasoning for lessons and activities. I can see how providing my rational/objective to my students could help them as they work through assignments. Often times when I have been the learner, I would have liked to know the reasoning behind a task. Walqui’s writing has affected how I view my students, and to respect their potential desires to know the reason behind my planning. Finally, Walqui’s article has confirmed for me a concept I have believed, yet not had research to back my opinion. I have always felt it is better to take the time and really learn a concept through structured-scaffold-learning so that students build a solid foundation and have a greater depth to their learning, apposed to focusing heavily on content for the sake of content. Content knowledge can be picked up, but structured learning and having a solid foundation is the key to success and what they take with them for their whole lives as they encounter many different forms of content.
Have you ever wonder how to correctly pronounce a foreign name or had your students tell you that you said something wrong? I have!
Teaching ESL, and especially in China, I have often come across names, locations and non-translated words I have no idea how to say aloud. Recently while making podcast recordings for my class I came across a handy site called howjsay.com.
Just read the short directions on the homepage and you are set to go. When I first used the site I typed in the name of an ancient Chinese explorer and found the site useful for being able to hear how the name should sound. Fingers crossed my students think I said it correctly!
This past summer I took course work on ESL instruction. In the course we discussed the difference between deductive and inductive instruction methods. Deductive refers to a more teacher-centered approach to instruction, where inductive instruction is a more student-centered approach. For a clearer understanding of these methods visit Dr. Bilash’s page titled Inductive and Deductive Instruction on the University of Alberta’s website. Dr. Bilash has written a very nice description of the two methods along with a clear explanation of “noticing” as if connects with inductive instruction.
Although I do believe there are times for both deductive and inductive instruction, I do fall more often into an inductive and very student-centered approach to my teaching, and especially for grammar instruction. The lesson I have attached below is an example of an inductive approach to grammar instruction. I thought the lesson was a fun activity and wanted to share it here for others to use. I created this lesson with my middle school Chinese students in mind. I used an inductive approach where I have students ‘notice’ the grammar for the simple past tense and then do activities using the grammar point. I chose the inductive approach because, although I like this approach for teaching new grammar concepts, I would likely use this lesson as a review to a grammar point and want students practicing the rule. I also like the inductive approach because is has students discover, or ‘notice’ what the grammar point is through the learning process.
In ESL/ELL instruction Readers Theatre is a strategy that comes up often. Whenever I have looked at Readers Theatre I have often found the lessons or units to be overly detailed and wanted to find a way to simplify the concept. As well, I wanted to ensure my students were gaining practice with the four language skills; reading, writing, listening and speaking. So, I did some research online and came across several Readers Theatre ideas, and a few things I might like to try. The lesson below is a loose planning of a Readers Theatre lesson and not specific to any script. I hope it can support you in your lesson planning and maybe simplify the concept of Readers Theatre for you.
Included in the lesson plan are several suggested modifications and accommodations for the range of learners in any given class.
Ms. Kolshuk's Blog
Welcome to my blog where I post about my teaching practice, ideas, findings and discuss topics of an educational nature. Please feel free to comment and/or email with any topic suggestions.