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English Language Development / English as a Second Language

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Principles and Tips

Instructional Principles to Implement Quality English-language Learning Programs:

  • Employ teaching structures and formats that elicit frequent, extended student responses.

  • Use extensive modeling and think-alouds. Teachers can swerve as important models for students by "thinking aloud" to demonstrate problem solving, thinking processes, learning strategies, and attitudes and feelings. This also shows students that it is ok to stumble or to retrace one's thoughts in order to approach a solution. These "think alouds" are particularly helpful for English language learners who are learning reading, writing, and the academic language associated with content (Chamot, 1993).

  • Engage students in conversation about content lessons. Include student and teacher talk, specifically "academic talk," rather than just sharing or conversational talk. Academic talk includes discussion of concepts, reinforces students' understanding of content lessons, and provides them with the language for expressing these concepts.

  • Share learning strategies with students. Tell the students why you have chosen to use a particular learning strategy, label the strategy, and tell students why the strategy might be helpful. Instructional conversations can be a technique/strategy for having students talk about important concepts in the content area.

  • English Language Development programs should include a balance of three components: 1) development of natural, conversational, language, oral and written proficiency, 2) the development of Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency [CALP] basic conversational English, and 3) systematic proactive teaching of conventions and grammar.

  • Simplify language and use scaffolding during content lessons to increase conceptual understanding, but keep lesson content at a challenging and intellectually stimulating level. Avoid oversimplifying during English Language Development with contrived, intellectually insulting material during the course of teaching English.

  • In content subjects such as science, native language instructors should have adequate knowledge of technical vocabulary.

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  • Use visuals and extensive use of written language to reinforce verbal content when teaching in English.

  • Employ strategic use of synonyms. Teachers' word choice and sentence structure needs to be consistent and concise during second language learning. Teachers also need to pay attention to their use of metaphors and similes and other highly culture-specific phrases and expressions.

  • During the early phases of language learning, it's important for a teacher to modulate and be sensitive with providing feedback and focused correction on language usage (don't try to correct all errors); however, during later stages of language learning, it is important that the teacher identify errors and provide specific feedback to students.

  • Native language use during English language development must be strategic. At times, it might be useful to use native language to reinforce English instruction; however, teachers need to be aware of the risk of over-reliance on simultaneous translations. Do not switch back and forth between languages or translate, as this encourages students' reliance on their stronger language.

  • The most effective teachers tend to use a "hybrid" of classic effective teaching and newer cognitive or constructivist approaches that characterize concepts such as "dynamic structured teaching." For example combining "the 'best' of both direct instruction and communicatively-based classroom interaction seems to be the most powerful vehicle towards accomplishing effective and optimal instruction."

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  • Tailor feedback to student weaknesses that have been identified by means of a pre-test.

  • Read aloud to students and make use of repeated readings of the same story before having students read independently.
  • Broad principles of effective teaching apply to English-language learners, but principles may need to be regulated or adjusted according to classroom needs.

  • It is important that English-language learners be provided with high quality, challenging materials. This material needs to be coordinated with key goals for standards of learning, within the school and state goals.

  • A key indicator of a quality program is that students are talking, speaking, writing, and reading. These indicators should be observable in every area.

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When teaching vocabulary:

  • Spend time defining, discussing, and clarifying unfamiliar vocabulary prior to reading a passage.

  • Focus on approximately 4-7 core vocabulary words per lesson.

  • Some strategies include: careful selection of words (evocative, key words stimulate the student); linking words or concepts to words known in native language; showing new words in print; or using visuals (e.g., concept maps) to depict concepts or word meanings.

  • Use short, explicit segments of class time in which to directly teach key vocabulary. A five minute segment would consist of the teacher saying the vocabulary word, writing it on the board, asking students to say it and write it and defining the term with pictures, demonstrations, and examples familiar to students.

  • Tie vocabulary to relevant experiences in the students' lives.

  • Provide ample opportunities for children to speak frequently and at length (more than 1-2 word utterances).

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