Friday, 26 July 2013

Preparing a Secondary Classroom

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Supporting English Language Learners (ELLs) in the Secondary Classroom


The upcoming school year is nearly upon us. Here are some valuable ideas to think about as you prepare for the new ELLs that will arrive and thrive under your instructional guidance.

 Helping new ELLs navigate the School and their Class Schedule:

Beginning English language learners may have difficulty getting from classroom to classroom. The idea of changing classrooms may be unfamiliar to many students. To help them navigate the school and the hallways, provide a map of the school and take a digital picture of the principal, the nurse, the librarian, and each of the student’s teachers to go along with the room, class period and classroom number. Students will see a familiar face as they enter the room. If they need directions, beginners can point to the picture of the teacher if they need directions.


 Designing your classroom:


  1. Add visual clues and labels to your classroom walls. Try to find pictures/posters that reflect the upcoming lesson content. Label all elements of the classroom; consider bilingual or multilingual labels.
  2. Set up a “Tier 3” word wall. These are content- and subject-specific words students will be working with for each concept.
  3. Find space for a “Tier 2” word bank. Include high frequency words, words used in giving directions and sequencing words. (Since I often call these terms “support vocabulary” for ELLs, we need to address them because of the enormous role they play in the language user’s repertoire.)
  4. Post a world map and have the students place their names around the nap using index cards. Then attach a piece of yarn to each name card and pin the end of the yarn to the city or country where each student was born. You might consider taking a picture of each student as well. Students can then introduce themselves to the class who they are and something interesting positive about where they are from.
  5. Post sentence strips around the room that model academic language (example: I agree./I have a different opinion. I think ___________.). These sentence strips will help all students frame their responses and classroom exchanges. Refer to these sentence strips in your daily routine.
  6. Look for pictures/posters that reflect different cultures. Allow your students to see themselves in your content!


Things to add to your daily routine:

  1. Establish a routine of posting a daily agenda that includes a content objective and language objective for each lesson (based on your state’s academic and English language proficiency standards). Make sure that the content and language objectives are written in “student friendly,” simple, easy-to-comprehend language.
  2. Along with the daily agenda, post a list of key vocabulary important to the lesson of the day. These “key” words should be drawn from a vocabulary list from a section of a “word wall” in the classroom.
  3. Contextualize your lessons. That is to say, provide visual support for concepts and key vocabulary. These visuals need to be woven into lectures, presentations and directions, and provided whenever direct instruction is involved. Graphic organizers and visuals are helpful additions.
  4. Keep in mind the statement “Language out, not language in”. Teachers need to provide opportunities for multiple students to speak, express their opinions, and answer questions such as using strategies like “Think Pair Share” or “Numbered Heads Together” to maximize language output from students.
  5. Teachers need to establish strategies to increase feedback about their students’ progress from their lessons and activities. Strategies like “Word mapping” or “White Boards” will provide teachers with information about what the students comprehend and at the same time what strategies are affective in delivering content to their students.

 Plan your lessons by following a routine. Use illustrations and graphics. Graphics should be designed to maximize context clues that support ELLs’ comprehension content and language. Use the context of your content to connect to the CCSS elements and provide meaningful comprehensible input.

 You may find the lessons, strategies, and activities I developed for ELLs in my secondary content classes, and which are now available through our Teaching English Learners’ membership, helpful. Please take a look and join us:

All the best, 

Ron Rohac

Summer 2013

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