Effective Teaching Strategies for English Language Learners

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Harvard College]On: 19 September 2013, At: 01:18Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Bilingual Research Journal: The Journal of the NationalAssociation for Bilingual EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ubrj20

    Effective Teaching Strategies for English LanguageLearnersMelissa A. Facella a , Kristen M. Rampino a & Elizabeth K. Shea aa Lesley UniversityPublished online: 22 Nov 2010.

    To cite this article: Melissa A. Facella , Kristen M. Rampino & Elizabeth K. Shea (2005) Effective Teaching Strategies forEnglish Language Learners, Bilingual Research Journal: The Journal of the National Association for Bilingual Education, 29:1,209-221, DOI: 10.1080/15235882.2005.10162832

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15235882.2005.10162832

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  • 209Effective Teaching Strategies for ELLs

    Effective Teaching Strategies forEnglish Language Learners

    Melissa A. Facella, Kristen M. Rampino,and Elizabeth K. Shea

    Lesley University

    Abstract

    This paper provides effective strategies for early childhood teachersto use with children who are English language learners (ELLs). Thestrategies were compiled from interviews with 20 early childhoodeducators from two culturally and linguistically diversecommunities in Massachusetts. Emphasis was placed on thestrategies that the greatest number of teachers from both schooldistricts identified as effective. These teaching strategies seek tohelp ELL students make connections between content and language,and support their communication and social interactions.

    IntroductionIn todays classrooms, academic and social success often hinges on a

    childs language abilities. Due to recent changes in bilingual education law,children who need extra support in second language acquisition have beenmainstreamed into classrooms where the teachers do not necessarily have theresources or the support to meet their needs. Without this support, the childrenwho are struggling to acquire even basic skills in their second language beginto fall behind academically, creating an achievement gap that only widensover time (Harris, 2003). Providing teachers with adequate tools and techniquesto support these learners is essential. To that end, we interviewed earlychildhood teachers in two communities with large English language learner(ELL) populations to see what strategies they found to be effective in workingwith ELL students.

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    The Present StudyIn April 2004, we contacted and interviewed early childhood educators

    from public school systems in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and Brookline,Massachusetts. We wanted to find out what strategies were being used bypractitioners working with ELLs from two school districts with very differentdemographics, and which strategies they found to be most effective. Weinterviewed 10 teachers from each district and asked them two open-endedquestions about their teaching practice. The first question asked what strategiesthey found to be effective in promoting language acquisition with their ELLstudents. The second question asked why they felt these strategies worked.In order to identify whether successful strategies had a developmentalcomponent, we spoke to teachers of different grades, from prekindergartenthrough second grade (see Tables 2, 3 & 4).

    These school districts were selected because they are typical of Americansociety in being culturally and linguistically diverse. For example, a kindergartenteacher from Chelsea stated that in my classroom, at least 90% of the studentshave come from a different country and speak a first language other thanEnglish. I am constantly modifying my lessons to meet the needs of thosestudents. I also create lessons that are meaningful to them by finding outabout their culture and background. Research indicates, Language diversityis a fact in US schools. Approximately twenty percent of students speak alanguage other than English in the home (Lira, Serpa, & Stokes, 1998).Massachusetts Department of Education (1996) statistics stated that in 1995,66% of the Chelsea student population spoke a language other than Englishat home. In contrast, Brookline reported 31%. Another difference between thetwo districts is that in Chelsea 80.3% of its residents are indicated as low-income while Brookline consists of 9.6% low-income residents. For the 20022003 school year, the Chelsea public school district reported 15.4% of itsstudents as limited English proficient. The citys enrollment is 6.9% AfricanAmerican, 5.2% Asian, 72% Hispanic, 0.2% Native American, and 15.8% non-Hispanic White (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2003b). Brookline,on the other hand, reported 8.7% of its students as limited English proficient,while its enrollment is 9.7% African American, 18.9% Asian, 5.7% Hispanic,0.2% Native American, and 65.5% White (Massachusetts Department ofEducation, 2003a). Both school systems are striving to meet the needs of theirlarge populations of ELLs. Considering the diversity of these two districts, acommon challenge for the teachers is finding ways to support the emerginglanguage of the children in their classroom.

    One way to support a childs emergent language is to choose a strategythat is developmentally appropriate for the childs language acquisition stage.It is necessary for teachers to have some knowledge as to how children typicallyacquire language. One teacher from Chelsea told us her view on language

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  • 211Effective Teaching Strategies for ELLs

    acquisition. She said, I have been teaching ELL students for 20 years. Ipreviously taught kindergarten for many years but have now settled intoprekindergarten. I notice that with the prekindergarten children who are justentering school for the first time, those who are coming from homes whereEnglish is never spoken are often silent for long periods of time. Some of themare quiet for a few days, while others go through a silent period for months.During these times, I do most of the talking. At the early level, their languageskills are being acquired through mostly listening. This is why understandingthe stages of emergent language is crucial for todays early childhood teachers.Regardless of the grade level they teach, educators often have students indifferent stages of language development. There are many strategies availableto them, and by understanding what stage of second language acquisitioneach child is in, a teacher is able to choose the strategies he or she will usewith students more effectively.

    Although there are many different theories about second languageacquisition, one theory, the natural approach (Krashen & Terrell, 1983, ascited in Lake & Pappamihiel, 2003), provides a practical structure for teachersjuggling the needs of native speakers of English and multilevel ELLs. This isa framework for children who are ELLs. The natural approach divides thestages of second language acquisition into preproduction, early production,speech emergence, and intermediate fluency (see Table 1). Although learnersmove through these stages at different rates, they do so in essentiallysequential order. By understanding learner characteristics and teachingstrategies appropriate for each stage, teachers can easily integrate supportand activities for ELLs into regular instruction.

    The teachers interviewed used many of the strategies mentioned byKrashen and Terrell (1983, as cited in Lake & Pappamihiel, 2003), as well asmany they did not mention. In fact, the 20 teachers in the sample mentioned 28different strategies that they found effective in working with the ELLs in theirclassrooms. On average, teachers mentioned approximately 10 strategies eachduring their interviews. Our data showed that some strategies wereoverwhelmingly used by all of the teachers, while others varied depending onthe grade level, specific community, or individual practitioner. The teacherscollectively pointed out that they found the most success in working withELLs when they varied their strategies. Different strategies were used thatwould best meet the needs of each child as an individual. The strategies fellinto three main categories: strategies for engaging learners emotionally (seeTable 2), strategies for teaching language specifically (see Table 3), andstrategies for teaching in general (see Table 4).

    Four strategies were named by the majority of the teachers as beingeffective in general: gestures and visual cues; repetition and opportunities forpracticing skills; use of objects, real props, and hands-on materials; andmultisensory approaches. A Chelsea teacher talked about how she uses these

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    A: Preproduction

    Characteristics1. Listening2. Student responds nonverbally3. Ten hours to 6 months of exposure to EnglishTeaching strategies1. Ninety percent teacher talk2. Total Physical Response (TPR)3. Modeling4. Active student involvement5. Yes/no questions6. Use of pictures7. Use of props and hands-on activities

    B: Early production

    Characteristics1. Continued listening2. Student responds with one or two words, and nonverbally3. Three to 6 months to 1 year of exposure to EnglishTeaching strategies1. Fifty percent to 60% teacher talk2. TPR with responsesverbal and nonverbal3. Answering who, what, where, and either/or questions with one-word answers4. Role-playing5. Completing sentences6. Questions to be answered with phrases (e.g., Where. . . ? In the house.)7. Labeling (older learners)

    C: Speech emergence

    Characteristics1. Sight vocabulary (older learners)2. Students speak in phrases and sentences3. One to 3 years of exposure to EnglishTeaching strategies1. Forty percent teacher talk2. Scaffolding and expansion3. Poetry, songs, and chants4. Predicting5. Comparing6. Describing7. Social interaction (cooperative learning with information gaps)8. How and why questions9. Language experience approach10. Problem solving11. Group discussion12. Labeling13. Listing, charting, graphing

    D: Intermediate fluency

    Characteristics1. May seem fluent, but needs to expand vocabulary and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency2. Engages in dialogue3. Three to 4 years of exposure to EnglishTeaching strategies1. Ten percent teacher talk2. Essay writing3. Analyzing charts and graphs4. More complex problem solving and evaluating5. Continuing with how and why questions; students must research and support their answers6. Pre-writing activitieswriting process, peer critiquing, etc.7. Literacy analysis

    Table 1Strategies of Second Language Acquisition

    Note. Adapted from Krashen and Terrell (1983) by Lake and Pappamihiel (2003).

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    strategies with all of her students: At the prekindergarten grade level, I findthat having real concrete objects benefits all of the children. Some really goodconversations have begun just by my bringing in something that the childrenrecognize. The stories will begin! I encourage the students to talk and tell mestories about their lives. This usually opens the door for me to ask questionsand keep the discussion going. And I always use multisensory approaches.All of the children love to get messy when I put out shaving cream or hair gelfor them to practice drawing letters in. Even when we go outside, Ill have thechildren form letters and numbers with their bodies. They always connect it tolater lessons when I say, Do you remember when we made the Number 5outside with our bodies? In my experiences, the strategies I use with my ELLkids are beneficial to my English speakers as well.

    All of the teachers interviewed mentioned that gestures and visual cueswere effective enough to mention. One prekindergarten teacher in Chelseasaid, When asking the children to line up to go to the playground, I find thatpointing to a picture of the playground while saying the word reinforces thatit is time to go outside. This same teacher also praised the thumbs-up orthumbs-down gesture as a successful way to indicate to the child whether heor she was acting appropriately. One of the prekindergarten teachers fromBrookline there said that she paired physical gestures with language throughsongs, poems, and chants to teach vocabulary, including body parts andpositional concepts. She felt that this helped children make the connectionbetween the language and the concrete actions or objects.

    Research supports these teachers positive experiences with theincorporation of physical gestures:

    Total physical response (TPR), a well-known technique in the field ofteaching English as a Second Language, involves active participationof students who learn new action words by watching and imitating asthe teacher says and physically demonstrates each word; this facilitatesmore rapid comprehension and better retention of vocabulary. Richards(1975) asserted that it is clearly better to use actions paired withpictures than merely to translate English words. (Schunk, 1999, p. 113)

    With frequent use of movement and repetition of new words, children will bemotivated and eventually begin to use t...

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