Wednesday, October 13, 2021

ELL Discussion Strategy: Show and Share

In this strategy, students are asked to select or draw and image they feel relates to a concept, topic or text. Students share their images with one another. The teacher then leads a whole group discussion where students comment on their own picture, or another picture. *Note: this activity is most easily accomplished via technology!

The example below shows how a teacher used this show-and-tell activity in Jamboard to start a discussion about life cycles.




This activity ensures that all students are participating, even if the student doesn't feel comfortable talking during whole group discussion. When students connect a visual to a content concept, they're better able to solidify their understanding. This activity allows the students to connect to multiple visuals, to share their ideas, and to hear ideas, noticings and wonderings from their peers as well.

On the teacher side, it allows the teacher an opportunity for informal assessment and a chance to correct misconceptions. Student noticings and image choices can also provide the teacher with insight to student thought patterns. 

How do I use it?
  1. Students find (or create) a photo, painting, or object related to the topic, and then think about following questions on their own.
    • What are we looking at?
    • What do you notice?
    • What makes you say that?
    • What do you wonder?
  2. Students then share their image or object with the class. This can be done virtually with a tool like Padlet or Jamboard, or with sticky notes and chart paper.
  3. The teacher then leads students in a whole group discussion. Students can volunteer to discuss their own picture, or choose one shared by another student that gives them ideas.
This is a great way to jump start discussion in your classroom. To add additional scaffolds for discussion, consider including sentence frames also! 


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

ELL Comprehension Strategy: Blackout Poetry

Blackout poetry is a type of found poetry that students create by blacking out words and phrases in an existing text. The remaining words comprise their poem. This strategy can be used with fiction and non-fiction texts across content areas. 



Blackout poetry allows students to "play" with language- this is particularly important for ELLs. Students have to choose which words and phrases to keep in order to express their ideas, helping them practice the skill of summarizing. Unlike typical summarization, this particular strategy is great for English learners because of the lower language demand. Students are able to use existing language to demonstrate their knowledge. 

The example above is created from a non-fiction article on the American Revolution.

How do I use it?
  1. Provide students with a source text (see below)
  2. Have students scan the page looking for words and phrases that jump out at them, and have them highlight those
  3. Students can read through the list of words they’ve circled and begin to see their poem appearing. Remind students that we read from top to bottom and left to right, so the words need to be in that order so the reader will understand the poem in the same way the writer wants. They may find words that they want to eliminate from their poem, or they may find that they need more
  4. Have students to read their poems aloud to themselves to make sure they make sense
  5. Once students are happy with their poem, they can begin to blackout the page- in Google Docs you can use the highlight tool or change the background color. Or, in the Blackout Poetry Maker, just click "black out" at the bottom of the page. 
Preparing your source text
You can put your source text into a Google Doc or use a tool like this Blackout Poetry Maker- whichever you think will work best for your students. The short video below shows how you can use Google Docs for blackout poetry. 




Wednesday, September 29, 2021

ELL Vocabulary Strategy: Concept Check

This is a simple, no-prep strategy that is super easy to implement with your ELLs. It works as a pre-assessment for new vocabulary, or as a review for vocabulary that's already been introduced, or as an exit ticket. This strategy works well in person and is easily adapted for the virtual or hybrid environment.




This activity allows the student to assess their own knowledge of the vocabulary, helping them to identify key words that they don't know or don't understand fully. Such self-assessment at the beginning helps students know which words they need extra practice with so they know where to focus attention during the lesson. Assessing again after allows students to see and recognize their own growth. The added bonus of this strategy is that it provides valuable pre- and post- assessment information to the teacher as well.

How to use it
  • Identify 4-5 key words that will be central to the lesson, week, topic, etc. 
  • List the words for students on paper, a slide, etc. 
  • Have students rate their understanding of the word prior to the lesson. 
  • Have students take time again at the end of the lesson to re-rate themselves on each word. 
  • Allow students who rate themselves at the top a chance to explain the meaning of the word to the class.
Encourage students to be honest in their ratings. Explain that identifying the words they don't know will help them know what to focus on during the lesson, and rating themselves after helps them to see growth and set goals for improvement.

Digital Adaptations:

  • Use a tool like Peardeck or Nearpod for students to rate themselves using one of the interactive elements
  • Have students show thumbs up, thumbs middle or thumbs down 
  • Have students write a 1 (I don't know this word), 2 (I kinda know this word), or 3 (I know and can explain this word) in the chat


One of the schools I worked with last year implemented this strategy school-wide and across grade levels and found great success. It really helped them and their students to pay more attention to key vocabulary in their lessons and units and provided opportunities for quick informal assessment. 


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

ELL Strategy for Activating Background Knowledge: Anticipation Guide

Before starting a new unit or topic, it is important to find out what students already know, and connect it to the new concepts they'll be learning. One way to do that is with an anticipation guide. Anticipation guides stimulate students' interest in a topic and set a purpose for reading or learning. They also teach students to make evaluate statements in terms of their existing knowledge.

By evaluating a statement about a topic or related to a topic, students are able to assess their own knowledge and determine which information they're lacking. This helps them to set goals for their own learning during the lesson or unit. At the end of the lesson/unit, they're able to reevaluate the statements and see if their answers have changed. This allows them to determine if they met their learning goals and see their own growth.

How do I use it?

  1. Construct the anticipation guide by writing 6-8 statements about key ideas in the text (4 for younger or lower proficiency students). Some statements should be true and some false. Include a blank for students to enter a check or an x to show whether the agree/think the statement is true or disagree/think the statement is false.
  2. Introduce the text or topic and share the guide with the students. The first time you introduce this, model the process of responding to the statements and marking the columns.
  3. Read each of the statements and ask the students to mark if they agree or disagree. Provide the opportunity for discussion. The emphasis is not on right answers but to share what they know and to make predictions.
  4. At the end of the unit, lesson, or text, have students review and reevaluate the statements. Discuss whether anyone changed their answer, and what they learned that changed their minds.

Do you use this strategy in your classroom? Have you found it successful?



Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Questioning Techniques for ELLs

One key way to get your ELLs talking is to ask high-quality questions. This means we should plan our questions in advance, and ensure that we are asking a variety of questions to ensure students at all levels of proficiency are able to participate.

Check out the chart
With that in mind, I created a document that breaks down some of the types of questions most appropriate for each level. This document is a starting point that can help you plan questions appropriate for various proficiency levels. However, please keep in mind that this is not exhaustive, and with appropriate scaffolds, a particular question can be appropriate for many levels. Click on the pic below to access the document for printing.

Example
Let's take a quick look at one way this chart can be used. Let's say my students and I are talking about recycling and reusing. I want to find a way for each student to demonstrate their understanding of the differences between recycling and reusing in a way that's linguistically appropriate. Using the chart as a guide, here are the questions I created for each proficiency level.


At each level, I'm able to gauge their understanding of reuse v. recycle, but the way in which they demonstrate that knowledge differs. We can give all students visuals of items that can be reused and recycled as support and provide additional scaffolding through sentence frames. 

I hope this helps you to plan more effective questions for your ELLs!


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Academic Discussion for ELLs

As part of my job, I routinely visit content classrooms to observe instruction. Often times I walk into these classrooms and find them to be quiet places where you can hear a pin drop. The teacher is lecturing or monitoring independent work. And the students....well, they're not talking about what they're learning.


I'm always a little baffled by this! After all, academic discussion is a critical part of learning and a key factor in language growth for ELLs. Rich discussion gives them opportunities to use the language authentically to answer important questions, share key ideas, explain their thinking, and more. It also builds important speaking skills that will, in turn, support writing as well.

What IS Academic Discussion?
Academic discussion demonstrates the following characteristics:
  • Purposeful and sustained conversations about content
  • Anchored in grade-level texts and tasks
  • Use of tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary as appropriate
  • Students working together to co-construct knowledge and negotiate meaning
  • Students using discussion techniques such as asking for clarification, paraphrasing, and building on or disagreeing with a previous idea
Features of Academic Language
When it comes to academic language for ELLs, WIDA breaks it down into three levels or dimensions- the word level, the sentence level, and the discourse level. The chart to the below identifies key features in each dimension. As students move through the proficiency levels, we want to see growth in all three dimensions. For example, students at the beginning proficiency level will be generally using basic vocabulary and simple words, sentences and phrases to communicate. As they grow their academic language skills, they will produce more language, add details, begin to use more complex grammar, and begin effectively using tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary. When designing activities and supports, it is important to consider all three dimensions.

Scaffolding Academic Discussion
In order for ELLs to effectively participate in academic discussions, they will need scaffolds. Check out these posts on sentence frames and word walls to learn how to incorporate these supports. Such scaffolds are key to making academic discussion in the classroom accessible for English learners. 

Next time, we'll discuss how to use questioning to encourage academic discussion, and touch on differentiating questions by proficiency level, so be sure to tune in next week!


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Sentence Frames 102: Differentiating Sentence Frames

As you may remember from my previous post, I believe that Sentence Frames are a high-yield strategy for our English learners and should be provided for every speaking and writing activity. However, sentence frames for ELLs are not one-size fits all. We want to be sure to differentiate our sentence frames to make them appropriate for learners at all levels of proficiency.

What's appropriate for each level?
Since 40 US states currently use the WIDA standards for ELLs, I'm going to show how we can use the WIDA performance definitions to help differentiate our sentence frames. 
As you can see, at levels 1 and 2, students are able to use words, phrases, and simple sentences. As we move up to levels 3 and 4, students are able to use longer and more complex sentences. Therefore, the sentence frames we provide to lower proficiency students should help students construct simple responses, while the sentence frames we provide higher proficiency students should elicit longer, more complex responses. 

Examples
Below is an example of how a sentence frame for "predicting" might change across proficiency levels.

It's easy to see how the complexity evolves from Level 1 through Level 5. Below you can see an additional example- these sentence frames for discussing main idea are differentiated for Levels 1-2 (top) and Levels 3-4 (bottom).




It does seem like extra work up front, but once you've created a set centered around a particular skill or topic, you can reuse those when reviewing the skill or topic in the future. Also, the more practice you get at creating sentence frames, the easier and quicker it becomes.