Jennifer has taught ELL classes more than 10 years and has her Master's of Education in ESL.
Teaching American history to ELL students presents unique challenges. Students will experience difficulty both with understanding the language and relating to the content. However, this lesson presents several strategies you can use to help students have an easier time understanding topics in American history.
Create Background Knowledge
ELL students have a variety of perspectives when it comes to American history. Students who have attended school outside the US will have a completely different viewpoint and may have limited exposure to the subject. Students who have attended school in the US still will have different cultural perspectives. Let's look at some ways you can create background knowledge similar to what native speakers bring to a subject to help ELLs make connections to the subject.
Decorate your classroom walls with relevant images. For example, a map of the United States provides a quick reference for students. ELL students might not know the names of states and major cities. When discussing locations, have students find the place on the map.
When introducing new material, display visuals whenever possible. When students actually see what you are discussing, they have a better chance of understanding because they don't have overcome any language barriers. Additionally, word walls are great strategy to help students remember important vocabulary or concepts.
Teach Concepts Using Themes and T-Charts
Whenever possible, try to group common events together. This helps ELL students make connections between events. Examples of common themes are globalization, religion and wars.
American historical themes are full of facts to remember and for a student struggling with the language, memorizing lists of facts will seem meaningless. T-Chart notes are great for helping ELL students learn the content. When taking notes, students draw a T on their paper. In one column students will write the main ideas and in the other the important details. Students are more likely to remember content when they summarize it in a concise manner. For beginning level ELL students it would be appropriate to provide these notes for the student.
Use Engaging Activities
Don't rely exclusively on textbooks and lectures to teach the content. Textbooks offer an immense amount of information that can be hard for ELL students to process. They can struggle with recognizing what is important versus what is not and with understanding academic vocabulary. You can help by highlighting the most important information for the students. Tell students what to focus on while reading.
The use of varied learning tools when teaching new concepts will help the material come alive for students with different learning styles and levels of language proficiency. Students may be able to develop a better understanding of the material and make new connections. Multimedia also helps to keep students engaged. Examples of engaging learning tools are:
- Video clips
- Audio files
- Animated flashcards
Overcome Challenges With Document Based Questions
Document Based Questions (DBQs) are widely used when teaching history. DBQs require students to analyze primary source documents. There are a multitude of challenges an ELL student might face when completing this task. One way you can help students is by providing context for the document. Use who, where and why questions to discuss the background of the document (who wrote it, where did they write it and why did they write it). Also, make sure to directly teach any challenging vocabulary, especially slang or words that aren't commonly used anymore.
You can modify DBQs by highlighting the most important sentences that the student should focus on. Other modifications are to allow students to write a shorter response or to explain their answer orally instead of in writing.
American history can be a challenging subject for ELL students to master. Their lack of background knowledge and different perspectives can make it difficult to understand the material. Create an engaging and language-rich environment by using a variety of learning tools and decorating your classroom walls with relevant images. Focus on main ideas when teaching and have students use T-Chart notes to reinforce the concepts. When using DBQs, help your ELL students by teaching context and vocabulary as well as making modifications when appropriate.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack
Resources created by teachers for teachers
I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.