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.

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. 

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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Sentence Frames 101: Supporting ELLs

This week, I want to focus on one of the simplest strategies you can use to support your ELLs- sentence frames. Sentence frames are designed to encourage the use of academic, content and technical vocabulary, to increase the linguistic complexity (how detailed and connected the ideas are) and to help develop fluency in language forms and conventions. 

In my opinion, when working with ELLs, sentence frames should be provided for every speaking and writing activity. They provide students with quality language models, which can be assimilated into the student's own lexicon. 

Using Sentence Frames 
It is best to consider the target language- the language you want students to be understanding and using to read, discuss, and write about a topic- and to prepare your frames when planning your lesson. Follow these steps:
  • Plan your questions/tasks
  • Anticipate the content and complexity of the student response
  • Create your frames based on responses students might give
  • Differentiate your frames by proficiency level
  • Add supports (visuals, word walls)
  • Model sentence frames every time
For more advanced students, you may be able to work together to create appropriate sentence frames. The last item on the list may be the most important- be sure to model the frames for students every time you introduce a set. Just putting them up isn't enough- students 
need to see and hear them modeled by fluent speakers.

Creating your frames
The truth is, this is not as hard as it seems. For example, say we are reading the story Cinderella and talking about character traits. I might ask students "What kind of person is Cinderella?". Students might give some of the following answers:
  • Cinderella is hardworking.
  • Cinderella is hardworking because her stepmother makes her do all the housework.
  • The text says that Cinderella does everything for her stepmother and sisters, so I think she is hardworking.
From that, I can get some basic frames:
  • Cinderella is _____.
  • Cinderella is _____ because _____.
  • The text says _____, so I think _____.

Does it make it too easy?
This is often a concern I hear from teachers. They feel that providing sentence frames and other supports "dumb down" the task or activity. I assure you, this is not the case! Remember that our ELLs are learning both the language and the content at the same time. Providing sentence frames still requires the student to plug in the key content ideas (the "meat"), but it also reduces the language demand so the student can focus on content skills. 

Often times, I see sentence frames provided for lower proficiency students, but not for higher proficiency ELLs. We don't want to take away this scaffold entirely as students acquire more English, instead, the scaffold should evolve along with the proficiency level. That's where differentiation comes in!

Next week, we'll talk a little about differentiating sentence frames based on proficiency levels.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Four Ways to USE Your Word Wall

So, in my previous post, I talked about how to create an effective, high-quality word wall. BUT- it's not enough to just have an awesome word wall. What's the point in going through that effort to put it up, keep it relevant, and change it out.....if you're not going to actually actively use it as part of instruction? If you're not using it, it's just decoration, friends!

There are a number of word wall activities that you can do to get students actively using the word wall. Here are a few suggestions:

This strategy can be used for building or organizing your word wall. Select a topic- for example, plant reproduction.

  • List: Have students brainstorm all the words they think relate to the topic.Visually display student responses.
  • Group: Divide your class into small groups. Each group will work to cluster the class list of words into subcategories. As groups of words emerge, challenge your students to explain their reasoning for grouping words as they have.
  • Label: Invite students to suggest a title or label for the groups of words they have formed. These labels should relate to their reasoning for the grouping.

Mystery Word 
  1. Divide students into groups of 3-4 and give each group a whiteboard. One person in the group is the word wall runner, one is the recorder and these roles should switch each round. 
  2. The teacher gives clues to a word wall word. 
  3. Students discuss and try to determine which word the clues are about. The word wall runner makes trips to the word wall as necessary and the recorder writes the group's answer on the whiteboard. 
  4. The team to identify the mystery word first gets a point, the team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Flip It
Have students work individually or in pairs to create a short video on Flipgrid for each vocabulary word. Videos can include explanations, examples, definitions, and more- possibilities are endless! Add the FlipGrid QR codes to your word wall to make an engaging, student-created word wall.  

Word Wall Information Gap 
Create a table of information or a graphic organizer based on your word wall. Fill in some of the information, but leave other information out, so that students must use the word wall to complete the organizer. See an example below:

How do you USE your word wall in your classroom? What strategies do you incorporate to ensure students use the word wall during learning?

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Word Walls 101: Supporting ELLs

I love my job, and I really love helping the teachers I coach improve the way they scaffold instruction for English language learners. In the past, I've worked with a few of my schools on improving their word walls.

Word walls can be an amazing tool for supporting ELL language growth- if used correctly! They're also one of the most basic changes you can make to support ELLs. Often, when I visit classes, I find word walls, but they fall short in a few basic ways.

For a word wall to be effective, it needs to have a few basic qualities. It should be:

  • Highly visible
    • In an area of the classroom where students frequently look
    • Not hidden behind other items (easels, anchor charts, etc)
    • Reachable to students so they can interact with it
  • Highly visual
    • Visuals or realia included for each (or most) words
    • Organized in a way that is both visual and visually appealing
  • Relevant
    • Contains the current words students need to know
    • Related to the current unit/topic/focus
  • Interactive (choose one or more):
    • Students generate or organize key terms
    • Organized as a graphic organizer
    • Includes QR codes for additional info
    • Includes REAL objects students can view, touch or interact with
    • Words are removable or have flaps to lift for additional information 
Can you provide an example?
While working with one school in particular, I decided it might be a good idea to create a live, working model that teachers could see and interact with. Something concrete to hopefully inspire them!

Therefore, I created this word wall based on our county curriculum for 3rd grade mathematics- Area and Perimeter. There are several interactive elements included:
  • QR codes leading to additional information
  • The ability for students to organize it in a way that makes sense to them
  • Hands-on option to measure a piece of paper and calculate area and perimeter (with an option to self-check their answer!)
Many schools are requiring word walls now, so if you're going to take the time to put one up anyway, you might as well get some academic bang for your buck as well. Be sure to grab the free Word Walls for ELLs: Planning Sheet and Checklist from my TpT store. These documents can help you ensure you're following the tips discussed above. 

I hope these tips help you to construct effective word walls for your own students. Tune in next week when I talk about activities you can do with your word wall. 

Also, check out the post about Digital Word Walls on my technology blog!