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Tips for teaching ELLs at the Pre- Reading stage


 Tips for the Pre- Reading stage of Teaching Reading

I want to focus on what we do during the pre-reading phase of teaching reading to English language learners (ELLs) today. This follows on from my last post on the first and second language reading process. Culture may have an impact on reading comprehension therefore teaching from a culturally responsive perspective is especially important.  Next week I will continue this topic by sharing some suitable pre-reading strategies. 

1.       Know your learners - Some ELLs will be literate in their first language and can bring that knowledge to new texts while others may not be literate in their first language and may also have no prior schooling experiences.  The more you can find out about their prior experiences the better you will be able to choose appropriate texts and provide appropriate scaffolding for successful learning.  What may appear to be poor comprehension and memory skills may in fact be students’ lack of experience or background knowledge assumed by a text or message.

New to New Zealand (issued to schools who have ELLs) will provide some background information on their country and culture. You can ask the students or their parents about prior and home literacy experiences or use a survey.

Knowing the main differences between the student’s first language/s and English is also helpful in order to understand some of the errors you might expect to see. A simple google search will provide you with this information. 

2.       Text selection- This will depend upon your reading purpose. The text you select should allow you to focus on the reading skill that you are teaching. The level of the text selected will depend upon whether you are introducing the skill or practicing using the skill.

It is also helpful if the students can see themselves in the text either through cultural experiences, common themes that are universal or shared experiences.

Text complexity is also important in order to know what makes a text easy or difficult for a particular learner.  There are many aspects of complexity to consider for ELLs – topic choice, vocabulary, sentence length and construction, cohesion devices used, layout, length and support from illustrations. To learn more about this see the reading section in The English Language learning Progressions that is in the booklet for your year level. 

3.    Activate and link to the student’s prior knowledge and prior literacy experiences– Students need to be able to make connections with the text if they are to gain understanding from it. This is very important for migrant and refugee ELLs who often have very different experiences from native New Zealanders. “When a student has limited prior experience of a context or lacks specific knowledge of a concept they may have difficulty in reading texts on some topics. They may also rely heavily on one source of information (for example grapho- phonic knowledge or their prior experiences” (ELLP Introduction booklet, page 29).

Linking can be done through text selection and through careful scaffolding particularly prior to reading the text.  This is why it is so important to take a little more time at the pre-reading stage rather than rushing into the text.  If this happens you risk very little actual learning happening no matter how good you think your lesson plan is.  

Ask questions at the planning stage to help yourself plan for this. For example:

·         What universal themes are in this text that my students can relate to?

·         How will I introduce this theme prior to reading the text so all students can connect to it?

·         Are there any cultural connections in this text to my students’ lives?

·         Can they share what they already know I some way?

·         If my students have no real connections with this text then how can I build their background knowledge so they can make connections? (E.g. showing artefacts, watching a video clip, sharing an experience, showing a picture, demonstrations, having other children sharing what they know etc.)

·         What literacy/reading knowledge do my students already have that will help them in reading this text/ how can I activate that knowledge prior to reading?  (E.g. making predictions, reminder about similar texts they have read, prompts, a scaffold or graphic organiser etc.)

Remember what might look like a lack of prior knowledge actually may be a lack of accessibility in prior lessons that were taught and that were not learned meaningfully.

4.       Allow students to use their first language to discuss difficult concepts and ideas before being expected them to share their opinion with the class/group). It allows the students to activate what they know and to think deeply in the language they feel strongest in without having to think about how to say it in English. Once they know what they want to say they can then try and express it in English and combine their knowledge of English to do that. 

5.       Frequently use small group and paired activities and tasks- this helps all students to be more actively involved in the learning and provide greater opportunities to use English and their own first language. 

6.       Pre-teach some vocabulary words: Which words you pre-teach will depend upon the age and reading stage of the student and how important the word is, frequency of use.  This is usually the academic words and the first 3,000 most commonly used words in English. Or use the three tier system as described in Choosing words to teach by Beck , McKeown and Kucan on Reading Rockets website . They say that: “In evaluating words as possible candidates for instruction, here are three things to keep in mind:

o   How generally useful is the word? Is it a word that students are likely to meet often in other texts? Will it be of use to students in describing their own experiences?

o   How does the word relate to other words, to ideas that students know or have been learning? Does it directly relate to some topic of study in the classroom? Or might it add a dimension to ideas that have been developed?

o   What does the word bring to a text or situation? What role does the word play in communicating the meaning of the context in which it is used? A word's meaning might be necessary for understanding a text. Or understanding its meaning might allow an enriched insight about the situation being presented.” 

7.       Develop motivation for reading the text- Motivation plays a big part in learning success and in language learning success. Keep the students excited and interested in wanting to read the text. How will reading the text benefit them in some way? What motivation do they have for reading it? E.g. making predictions about text , generating questions about the text and student choice can help develop motivation and purpose for reading.

 8.       Maintain and make explicit the same learning outcomes for all the students (ESOL principle 3) To know more about this principle see esolonline principles’ section Before reading the text share the learning outcomes/objectives with the students. This will help them to focus on their own learning pre, during and post reading and to develop their level of metacognition. For ELLs visual clues/prompts and checklists can help to do this. You should have both curriculum and language objectives for every lesson. Language objectives will include: vocabulary; language skills and functions; language structures and language learning strategy, objectives.  Get the students involved in thinking about the objectives e.g. SIOP suggest “asking the students to pick out important words from the objective and highlight them. Or, ask students to paraphrase the objectives with a partner each taking a turn, using the frame: We are going to learn …..”. Or do a timed pair-share, asking the students to predict some of the things they think they will be doing for the lesson that day.” Or a simple show of thumbs to show their understanding.   

9.       Explicitly pre-teach skills, strategies and language that may be problematic – sometimes teachers will need to pre-teach a skill, strategy or problematic language that the students will need for reading. If this is the situation then be very clear and explicit and provide good models of the skill or what is required. Set clear expectations and provide visual prompts/ written instructions as well. It is good to have something that ELLs can refer back to whenever they need to or can listen to as often as they need to.  E.g. use of idioms and ellipses can be difficult for ELLs. 

10.   Allow sufficient wait time for students to respond or answer – wait time varies with cultures. ELLs need sufficient time to process information in a new language and to formulate the answers back into English.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these ideas on these tips.

Do you agree or not? Is anything missing from this list of tips? If so, please share it with us. 

What do you consider to be important at the pre-reading stage?  

How could you improve your teaching of reading practice for ELLs? 


MOE ESOL News Update

The latest ESOL News update has just been sent to schools, if you haven’t received a copy you can access it here. As usual it is packed with great information.  This issue has:

·         The latest funding statistics, 34,377 students in 1,342 schools. These students represent 157 ethnic groups speaking 126 different languages.  It was interesting to see that almost half (46.4%) of schools with funded students have fewer than ten students. There are 215 schools with just one or two funded students. Forty-two of them are in Otago/Southland, and 32 are in the Waikato. 

·         The ESOL Principles- Principle 1 Know your learners

·         Module 6 - Using ELLP to Support Funding Applications added to ESOL Online. The newsletter illustrates an example matrix from the module which illustrates an important difference between which stage a student is working at and the stage used for funding purposes which is an achieved stage.  

·          ACCELL programme - a new online accelerated ESOL programme available to intermediate and secondary schools with students who are new learners of English. There is a link in the update to learn more about the programme and how it works. This would be particularly suitable for schools with just a few ELLs.

·         Change of website for the MOE- ESOL information is no longer available on the old www.minedu.govt.nz site and has been moved to the new Ministry site: www.education.govt.nz. You can read more about this move.