There are several strategies to improve understanding. Applying these strategies requires patience and ongoing guidance. When working with children, remember to model strategies and provide guided practice. Slowly reduce your lead as their skills improve. The goal is for the child to use these strategies automatically.
When you face the challenge of working with English Language Learners (ELs), start with an empathetic approach. These students often feel neglected, excluded, and confused in the school setting. Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice can let them know you care. Creating a welcoming environment sets the learning stage, and once you’ve created that environment, you can use some simple strategies to help these students learn the language.
4 Simple Ways to Support English Learners’ Comprehension
1. A picture speaks a thousand words: A picture can be understood in any language. For English learners who may not be able to understand everything, the teacher is saying, pictures will help clarify meaning and facilitate comprehension.
As you introduce new vocabulary, associate each important word with a picture. For example, when I taught Romeo and Juliet, I handed out five or six words to my ELs that they would encounter in every scene we study. Handouts include English words, a picture, and a space for students to translate the words into their language. I also projected text and pictures onto the blackboard and explained them one by one. After we read the scene, I posted a printout of each word along with a picture of it and added it to the word wall.
Long or dense text can overwhelm EL. Inserting pictures can improve comprehension and perseverance. Consider adding images to comments or printed event descriptions.
2. Always check for understanding: ELs usually won’t tell you when they don’t understand something because they don’t want their classmates to know. Using rapid formative assessments can help identify where more guidance is needed.
Turning to talk is a useful strategy because it reduces the anxiety ELs often feel when asked to speak in front of the class. Turn and Talk can be modified for ELs by providing sentence openings or asking them to write down their answers before sharing them with friends. Observing students during Turn and Talk activities helps assess students’ understanding.
Exit tickets are short written activities, usually given at the end of the course, to check students’ understanding. Including sentence openings or image support on exit, tickets are an easy way to make EL easier to learn.
When assessing students’ understanding, it is important to ask questions frequently. After providing activity guidance, contact the EL and reiterate expectations if necessary. Model tasks when the instructions seem insufficient for language practice for students who are still improving their English.
3. Use Sentence and Paragraph Framing: Many ELs in my class, especially less proficient learners, shy away from speaking in class. They also found it difficult to form grammatically correct answers to questions. To address this, I provide sentence framing in class discussions.
For example, when asking students to make a statement, you could use the sentence box “I know this because the text says _____.”
If you wanted students to talk about the causes of a historical event, a sentence frame might look like this: “(The event) was due to _____” or (the event) occurred because _____.
Sentence boxes also help with writing activities. Because of the high language expectations for academic writing, English learners often find writing intimidating. Providing syntactic models can reduce anxiety.
I recently used the causality paragraph framework in my 5th grade EL. Students must use signal words to infer whether to write a cause or an effect. We emphasized signal words as framing, but students must correctly identify the causes and effects of destroyed homes. For students who cannot write cause and effect paragraphs themselves, this paragraph framework provides the support they need to communicate cause and effect.
4. Large chunks of text: Reading academic texts is a challenge for ELs due to complex academic vocabulary, complex syntax, and text density. One strategy is to break paragraphs into short, manageable chunks.
For each paragraph, choose two to three keywords and provide images of those elements. If ELs are unfamiliar with these terms, please allow them to translate these words into their native language. After each lesson, ask the ELs to make a one-sentence summary of the lesson using the vocabulary from their sentences. Then move on to the next paragraph of the text.
When I taught high school EL Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, they found it challenging. I divided the presentation into five parts, each with a lesson focused on vocabulary and information. Every day we work together to find the most important quotes from the section, rewrite them in simpler language, and explain them.
Five days later, I gave students a card with our five quotes, five paraphrase quotes, and five pictures and asked them to match the items. Then they have to write a summary of the entire speech. Decomposing larger texts makes it easier for EL to build substantive knowledge.
About the article
There are several strategies to improve understanding. Applying these strategies requires patience and ongoing guidance. When working with children, remember to model strategies and provide guided practice.
Slowly reduce your lead as their skills improve. The goal is for the child to use these strategies automatically. In this article, we’ve discussed 4 Simple Ways to Support English Learners’ Comprehension.