Strategies and content areas for teaching English language learners.
Article Type:
English as a second language (Study and teaching)
Second languages (Study and teaching)
Second languages (Methods)
Education (Methods)
Education (Research)
Tissington, Laura
LaCour, Misty
Pub Date:
Name: Reading Improvement Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0034-0510
Date: Fall, 2010 Source Volume: 47 Source Issue: 3
Event Code: 310 Science & research
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Language and literacy education for students who are English language learners (ELLs) has become a topic of interest for many educators. However, educators often disagree on the best strategies for teaching ELLs. Six selected strategies and content areas for teaching ELLs are provided to include strategies for teaching specific skills, sample storybooks for building literacy skills, and so on. Assessment with a sample rubric to include language reduced proficiency is also provided.

Keywords: English language learners, strategies, content, assessment


Language and literacy education for students who are English language learners (ELLs) has been well cited in the research as a current hot topic (Anthony, 2008). However, educators and other school professionals often disagree on the best way to teach ELLs. Moreover, programs to address the needs of ELLs vary greatly. The child's first experience with school, both positive and negative, has shown to have a lasting effect. Therefore, in order to meet the needs of ELLs, educators must provide the most conducive environment for learning as possible.

Getting Started

English language learners (ELLs) are one of the largest groups to struggle with literacy (Hickman, Pollard-Durodola, & Vaughn, 2004). Because of this, focus of instruction should be placed on the learner's ability to comprehend the lesson content and not on the learner's language proficiency (Myburgh, Poggenpoel, & Rensburg, 2004). Moreover, research has indicated that ELLs benefit from the same explicit, systematic instruction proven to be effective for native English speakers (Mathes, Pollard-Durodola, Cardenas-Hagen, Linan-Thompson, and Vaughn, 2007). Teachers of ELLs should employ strategies in their classrooms to benefit all of their students. See Table 1 for six strategies and content areas for teaching English language learners.

The Six Strategies and Content Areas

Drama and Movement

Incorporating physical experiences such as drama and movement in reading instruction has shown to be fun for children. For ELLs especially, drama and movement has been shown to help with decoding, fluency, and vocabulary (Sun, 2003). Moreover, good teaching pedagogy should not be limited strictly to reading instruction. Early childhood teachers often use play and drama for learning experiences as appropriate for that stage and age of development for various content areas (Royka, 2002).

Reig & Paquette (2009) suggested the use of games to aid ELLs in classroom instruction. For example, We're Movement Machines was a game to mimic machines in motion. Falling Rain Dance to imitate weather in movement was another such teaching and learning game. Another game, Strike up the Gadget Band, to explore sounds and actions of ordinary kitchen gadgets, was also shown to benefit learners, especially ELLs.


Classroom teachers must employ strategies to help ELLs with basic mathematics concepts. Furthermore, mathematic concepts can be taught kinesthetically. An example would be for students to measure items using their body parts such as arms, legs, or hands. Math concepts such as rhythms and patterns can also be taught kinesthetically (Church, 2001). For example, teaching aides such as Counting 1 to 20 by Jack Hartman, Everything Has a Shape by Hap Palmer, and Shapes All Around Us by Music Movement & Magnetism were methods in which ELLs mastered mathematics concepts.


In addition to movement strategies, music can also be used to motivate and stimulate ELLs who are struggling with language development (Abril, 2003). Basic music concepts can be taught through games such as Musical Follow the Leader. Another strategy to help ELLs learn through music were activities which actively engaged them with instruments, such as drums or Orff instruments.

Vocabulary for basic music concepts, as with other content areas, can be taught with hand signs or gestures (Abril, 2003). Word play, chants, and songs are other examples for teaching music to ELLs. Another example of a teaching tool for ELLs was to use music with repetition, even silly songs (Abril, 2003).


Pray & Monhardt (2009) proposed a process for teaching science to ELLs as follows: a) determine appropriate skills and concepts, b) determine specific activities, c) include students' background knowledge, and d) appropriately assess student learning. Other teaching strategies, such as providing stimulating environments such as oceans, swamps, or parks in science instruction, provided necessary shared learning experiences (Rillero, 2005). In addition, taking "I Spy" walks (Rosenow, 2008) and using science experiments (Rivkin, 2005) to promote vocabulary were also important strategies for teaching ELLs.

Social Studies

Role play and the Four Corners game for navigational words and skills have been suggested by Rieg & Paquette (2009) to teach social studies. Tompkins (2009) cautioned to include shared language experiences to read, talk, listen, or write about social studies content for ELLs. Further, content related field trips and invited guest speakers were ways to include shared language experiences. Another strategy was the use of graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams, series of events chains, compare and contrast matrices, and T-charts to reinforce the language (Weisman, E.M. & Hansen, L.E., 2007).

An example of peer collaboration in social studies classrooms to include ELLs was to make charts to compare and contrast geographic regions throughout the United States. Further, students may work in small groups for rich discussion, and then write graphic organizers to summarize main points to reduce language (Weisman, E.M. & Hansen, L.E., 2007).

Storybook Reading

Research argued that vocabulary which affected reading fluency as well as comprehension for ELLs can be predicted by a student's level of vocabulary knowledge (Grabe, 1991; McLaughlin, 1987). Moreover, vocabulary can be enhanced by learning words in context and providing opportunities for oral response (Hickman, Pollard-Durodola, & Vaughn, 2004). In addition, differentiating between important and non-important text, and engaging in peer conversations about the text were shown to be important indicators of success in comprehension strategies. See Table 2 for suggested storybooks aligned specifically to suggested strategies for effective teaching to ELLs.


As with any assessment, the primary purpose has been to evaluate whether the student has met the desired learning objectives. When creating assessments, teachers should include accommodations for language ability (Pray & Monhardt, 2009). For example, the use of one or two word descriptors to describe concepts after the vocabulary has been taught has shown to be useful for ELLs. Further, assignments as well as assessments should include language reduced proficiency. See Table 3 for a sample rubric for an inquiry-based science lesson on magnets.


Strategies employed to aide any struggling learners were shown to be equally, if not more, effective for teaching ELLs. Several classroom strategies and content area suggestions were made in this article, but it is certainly not an exhaustive list. Good teaching strategies for all students have been proven as good teaching strategies for ELLs. Good strategies that work for any struggling learners may also benefit ELLs. Because of this, all students, including English language learners, will have a better chance at proficiency when presented with these strategies.


Abril, C.R. (2003). No hablo ingles: Breaking the language barrier in music instruction. Music Educator's Journal, 89(5), 38-43.

Anthony, A.R. (2008). Output strategies for English-language learners: Theory to practice. The Reading Teacher, 61(6), 472-482.

Church, E.B. (2001). The math in music and movement. Early Childhood Today, 15(4), 38-45.

Hickman, P., Pollard-Durodola, S., & Vaughn, S. (2004). Storybook reading: Improving vocabulary and comprehension for English-language learners. The Reading Teacher, 57(8), 720-730.

Mathes, P.G., Pollard-Durodola, S.D., Cardenas-Hagen, E., Linan-Thompson, S., and Vaughn, S. (2007). Teaching struggling readers who are native-Spanish speakers: What do we know? Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 38(3), 260-271.

Myburgh, O., Poggenpoel, M., & Van Rensburg, W. (2004). Learners' experience of teaching and learning in a second and third language. Education, 124(3), 573-84.

Pray, L., & Monhardt, R. (2009). Sheltered instruction techniques for ELLs. Science and Children, 46(7), 34-38.

Rillero, P. (2005). Exploring science with young children. Early Childhood Today, 19(6), 8-11.

Reig & Paquette (2009). Using drama and movement to enhance English language learners' literacy development. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 36(2), 148-154.

Rivkin, J.G. (2005). Building teamwork through science. Early Childhood today (19)6, 36-42.

Rosenow, N. (2008). Teaching and learning about the natural world: Learning to love the earth and each other. Young Children, 63(1),10-14.

Royka, J.G. (2002). Overcoming the fear of using drama in English language teaching. The Internet TESL Journal, (8)6.

Sun, P. (2003). Using drama and theatre to promote literacy development: Some basic classroom applications. The Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication Digest (187).

Tompkins, G. (2009). Language Arts Patterns of Practice (7 Ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Weisman, E.M. & Hansen, L.E. (2007). Strategies for teaching social studies to English-language learners at the elementary level. The Social Studies, 98(5), 180-184.


University of West Florida

College of Professional Studies

School of Education


Assistant Professor

Southern Arkansas University

Magnolia, Arkansas
Table 1
Six Selected Strategies and Content for Teaching
English Language Learners

Strategy/Content       Description        Examples

Drama and Movement     Vocabulary         Acting out a story
                                          which includes new
                                          vocabulary words.

                       Reader's Theatre   Read and dramatize a
                                          short script

                       Games              Play movement games
                                          to mimic actions,
                                          sounds, and

Math                   Basic concepts     Measure with body

                       Rhythms            Clap to poems or

                       Patterns           Kinesthetic movement

Music                  Culture            Motivate and

                       Home Language      Word play, chants,
                                          songs, repetition

                       Instrumentation    Drums or Orff

                       Vocabulary         Hand signs or

Science                Environment        Experiences with
                                          various environments

                       Vocabulary         Experiments

                       Involvement        "ISpywalks

Social Studies         Navigation         Role play, Four
                                          Corners game

                       Shared             Field trips, guest

                       Graphic            Venn diagrams,
                                          series of events

                       Organizers         compare and contrast
                                          matrices, T-chants

                       Collaboration      Small peer groups,
                                          lively discussion

Storybook Reading      Vocabulary         Storybooks,
                                          experience with

                       Comprehension      Explicit print

                       Overall Literacy   Scaffolding

                       development        Dialogic reading

                                          Word elaboration

                                          Scripted lessons

                                          Initial sounds

Table 2

Suggested Storybooks and Strategies for Teaching ELLs

Strategy/Content Area  Storybook              Author

Vocabulary             A Letter to Amy        Keats, E.J.
                       The Wind Blew          Hutchins, P.
                       The Ugly Vegetables    Lin, G.

Comprehension          Jump, Frog, Jump!      Kalan, R.
                       Good Night, Gorilla    Rathmann, P.
                       Chugga-Chugga,         Lewis, K.

Scaffolding/           Corduroy               Freeman, D.
Dialogue: building     Big Red Barn           Brown, M.W.
overall early          Jesse Bear,            Carlstrom, N.W.
literacy               What Will You Wear?
development            Noisy Nora             Wells, R.
                       One Dark Night         Wheeler, L.

Table 3
Sample Rubric for Inquiry-Based Science Lesson on Magnets

English Language Ability

               Excellent                   Revise

Beginning      Demonstrates or presents    Demonstrates findings
               findings with one or two    with one or two word
               word descriptors and/or     descriptors and/or
               pictures with the use of    pictures. However, the
               "helper sentence            presentation omits one or
               starters." Each             more key features and
               presentation contains a     does not thoroughly
               question, a plan for        describe the key
               investigation, a            features.
               description of the data,
               and conclusions.

Intermediate   Presents findings using     Presents findings using
               sentence descriptors        Sentence descriptors
               and/or pictures. Each       and/or pictures. However,
               presentation contains a     the presentation omits
               question, a plan for        one or more of the key
               investigation,              features and does not
               description of the data,    thoroughly describe the
               and conclusions.            key feature.

Advanced       Presents findings using     Presents findings using
               paragraph descriptors       paragraph findings and/or
               and/ or pictures. Each      pictures. However, the
               presentation contains a     presentation omits one or
               question, a plan for        more of the key features
               investigation, a            and does not thoroughly
               description of the data,    Describe the key
               and conclusions.            features.

Note: National Research Council (1996). National science education
standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
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