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Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop

Supporting the English Language Learner Examine the Topic | Supporting the English Language Learner

Examine Cueing Strategies

In this section you will explore an activity to better understand reading as an English Language Learner.

Reading is a complex activity that involves interactions between the reader and the text. A reader’s prior knowledge and experiences play a significant role in effective reading and comprehension of text. The more we know about a topic, situation, or event before we read, the better our comprehension will be during and after reading. Readers use their “schema” in conjunction with the text features to construct meaning. These text features include three cueing systems: graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic. Reading may be difficult for English Language Learners because they need to develop the skills and knowledge in one or more of these areas of the reading process.

The interactive activity Examine Cueing Strategies allows you to understand the strategies readers use to comprehend text, and the difficulties English Language Learners face when reading English. A non-interactive version of this activity is available as a PDF document.

Activity: Examine Cueing Strategies

After completing the activity, consider these questions:

  • What strategies did you use to make sense of the passage?
  • What text clues were most helpful to you?
  • What vocabulary and background knowledge did you need to know to complete the passage?

Assignment: Submit your written response to the questions.

Extend Your Knowledge

In this section, you will expand your understanding of how to support English Language Learners by comparing the ideas from the workshop video with passages from various publications. Read and respond to the ideas presented as they relate to your own teaching practices.

Most researchers agree that English Language Learners benefit from the same quality reading instruction that all beginning readers receive. However, they also acknowledge that teachers must consider the different abilities in language proficiency and the diverse background knowledge that English Language Learners bring to the task of reading. How might instruction for English Language Learners differ from instruction for all students with regard to type and intensity of instruction?

Read these two passages to refine your understanding of the instructional strategies that promote reading proficiency in English Language Learners.

After I give a talk or workshop, one of the comments I often hear goes something like this:

Kathy, you’ve made a lot of points about effective literacy instruction for children of diverse backgrounds. But I think that everything you’ve said is just plain good teaching that would help all children.

This same thought may have entered your mind as you read this chapter. I do agree with this sentiment. I think it is fair to say that all the instructional practices described in this chapter would also be effective in many classrooms with mainstream students. The point I would like to emphasize is that these practices may be critical to the literacy development of children of diverse backgrounds, who often need more school support for learning to read and write in conventional ways than children of mainstream backgrounds. In fact, it may be the tendency of schools to provide children of diverse backgrounds with less rich, less complex forms of instruction that contributes to the literacy achievement gap…. There is often a tendency in schools with many children of diverse backgrounds to overemphasize basic skills rather than higher-level thinking with text (Darling-Hammond, 1995). Furthermore, children of diverse backgrounds generally attend schools in less affluent districts, which may not have the funds to provide teachers with professional development centered on newer forms of instruction. We must be vigilant, then, in seeing that children of diverse backgrounds receive opportunities both for systematic skill instruction and for high-level thinking with text.

Au, Kathryn. “Literacy Instruction for Young Children of Diverse Backgrounds.” In Strickland, D. S., and L. M. Morrow, eds. Beginning Reading and Writing, 42. New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press, 2000. *

Now read the following passage on how teachers differentiate instruction to address the needs of English Language Learners.

There are many ways to facilitate reading instruction for English Language Learners. Begin with the premise that language and literacy skills are learned through socially interactive settings that allow children to play with language and take risks. Focus on comprehension and meaning, even when teaching phonics and decoding strategies. Help students decode words that they already know, or teach them the meanings of words as they learn to sound them out. Classroom instruction that draws on oral and written skills from the student’s home language provides a bridge to English language proficiency.

Researchers recommend that teachers show their students how to transfer reading knowledge and strategies from the home language to English. You might also model similarities in reading in the two languages. For example, students need to know that they can transfer concepts about print, phonological awareness, and comprehension strategies (such as making inferences, or asking questions as they read) from one language to the other. Students also need to know that they can use comprehension repair strategies from one language — such as reading, reading ahead, or using context — to resolve a comprehension problem in the other. Several researchers have recommended that teachers explicitly teach Spanish-speaking English Language Learners how to use cognates to figure out new English vocabulary.

Just as teachers need to point out similarities in reading in the two languages, they also need to point out the differences. Researchers have speculated that it may be useful to teach English Language Learners about differences in language structure, vocabulary, and grammar. You may also need to monitor differences in content knowledge and text organization, which can affect comprehension and recall. For example, English Language Learners may encounter difficulties in reading unfamiliar English text because of limited knowledge of word meanings and of English-specific narrative or expository structures.

Rueda, R. and G. E. Garcia. “How Do I Teach Reading to English Language Learners?” In CIERA, ed. Teaching Every Child To Read: Frequently Asked Questions, 1-6. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, 2002.

Here are some instructional practices for teaching English Language Learners:

Activity time. English Language Learners benefit from hands-on experiences that introduce them to new materials, concepts, and vocabulary. As you work with them, provide a running commentary as the activity unfolds. (“I’m going to put these peanuts in the blender to make peanut butter.” Since your words are directly connected to concrete objects, the children can learn vocabulary and syntax at the same time. By repeating key words (such as “peanuts”) in context, children learn to associate the name with the object. In addition to providing good models, these activities can also be excellent opportunities for students to practice their own vocabulary and oral language skills. It is important that students have such opportunities to use language for a variety of purposes.

Book reading. No other activity is quite as important as reading to children. However, book reading can be challenging with second-language learners. Try following these guidelines:

  • Keep the book reading session short. Be sure to give a clear preview before reading.
  • Consider giving small-group readings. Children often feel more comfortable asking questions and responding carefully in a small group.
  • Consider the genre. Predictable books are particularly useful for English Language Learners. Repetition of words and phrases provides children with opportunities to actively participate in the story through chiming and oral cloze procedures.
  • Choose books with illustrations that clearly match the print.
  • Read books more than once. Children get more information about a story each time they hear it.

Build connections between home and school. Include parents in classroom activities. You can invite them to visit the classroom just to observe, or to help out in a variety of ways. You might also invite them to share a favorite activity with the class. Ask them to use their home language to describe the activity, so that native English speakers may experience what it feels like to be a second-language learner. Bringing a home language into the classroom affirms the language and culture of the children who speak that language. Sometimes just the very presence of these visitors increases children’s comfort and confidence. Ask parents and family members to read to their children in the home language. This practice illustrates the value of the home language and provides parents with an opportunity to foster important reading and literacy skills that can later be transferred to English reading.

Bilingual tutors. Bilingual tutors can sometimes help bridge the gap between home and school. Children may feel especially comfortable with someone who can speak their native language, whether it is a fellow student, classroom aide, or relative. Family members have the added advantage of familiarity with the child’s history, which may enable them to facilitate the transfer of concepts from the native tongue into English.

Children benefit from strong connections between languages. Bilingual tutors are able to scaffold student participation in ongoing classroom activities and help children understand challenging materials. Researchers have reported that English Language Learners who used their home language to help each other participate in all-English classrooms performed higher on academic measures in English than those who did not use their home language.

Environmental print. Put up posters, bulletin boards, and other materials with parallel text in English and the children’s home language. These materials will help orient children to the classroom, and aid them in moving back and forth between languages. In the process, children will enhance their vocabulary in both languages.

Keep students engaged. Provide English Language Learners with opportunities to read books in their home language and culturally relevant books. This helps to increase engagement. Engagement can also be promoted by allowing students to choose activities and reading materials, by providing challenging and interesting activities, by establishing connections between reading and out-of-school experiences, and by nurturing students’ developing sense of themselves as readers and authors.

Rueda, R., and G. E. Garcia. “How Do I Teach Reading to English Language Learners?” In CIERA, ed. Teaching Every Child To Read: Frequently Asked Questions, 1-6. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, 2002.

After reading the passages, consider these questions:

  • What do teachers need to know when planning instruction for English Language Learners?
  • How did the workshop participants in the video address these ideas about teaching English Language Learners?
  • Which teaching strategies would you plan to address the strengths and needs of English Language Learners?

Assignment: Submit your written response to the questions.

* Used with permission of Teacher’s College Press. Permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center.

Series Directory

Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2003.
  • ISBN: 1-57680-681-2