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Differentiated Instruction for ELL Students

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, you will learn strategies for differentiating your instruction for English Language Learners in the areas of writing, reading, speaking, and listening.

Supporting English Language Learners

If you go out to eat at an authentic French restaurant without understanding a word of French, hopefully your waiter won't just hand you the menu and walk away. With any luck, he will go over the menu with you, help you with pronunciation and let you know which meals are suitable for your preferences. English Language Learners need similar support in the classroom. You can't just tell them to write a paragraph and go back to your desk to grade papers. Teachers must act as guides for English Language Learners in order to level the playing field for these students and make second language acquisition less overwhelming. Let's discuss some differentiated strategies to use with your English Language Learners in the classroom.

Differentiated Writing Strategies

One strategy to help English Language Learners build their confidence in writing is to give them sentence frames to use for written assignments. A sentence frame is a sentence with missing words that the student can fill in, often using a word bank. For example, if students are writing about the differences between an apple and an orange, the teacher might provide students with a sentence starter, such as An apple is _____, but an orange is _____. This takes pressure off of English learners to produce an original sentence in a new language while also modeling how to write a complete sentence. This is a scaffolding technique, giving the student lots of instructional support in the beginning and then slowly removing the support as the learner acquires the skills to write independently.

Differentiated Reading Strategies

At the earlier stages of English proficiency, allow English learners to access reading materials in their native language. This may seem counter-intuitive, but literacy in the native language is a huge predictor of success in second language acquisition. Other options are bilingual books, graphic novels, and picture books.

Read aloud to English Language Learners as much as possible, or provide audio resources to supplement the text. This accomplishes many things. It makes comprehension more likely because students are receiving language input in multiple ways. It also demonstrates reading fluency, allowing students to hear the proper pace, tone, and pronunciation of the English language. Try incorporating think-alouds into your reading, speaking your thoughts about the text aloud so students become familiar with the process of interacting with the text to increase comprehension. Although you may not always be available to read aloud to your students, you can utilize other methods, such as partner reading and choral reading, where all students read aloud in unison along with the teacher. Use a variety of resources during reading instruction, including picture dictionaries and other graphics, to help reinforce the text.

Finally, try to make reading less overwhelming by breaking down reading assignments into smaller portions. English learners are not prepared to read War and Peace in its entirety without any instructional support. Neither are most people, for that matter.

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