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
Keywords: English language learners, strategies, content,
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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DR. LAURA TISSINGTON
University of West Florida
College of Professional Studies
School of Education
DR. MISTY LACOUR
Southern Arkansas University
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
Reader's Theatre Read and dramatize a
Games Play movement games
to mimic actions,
Math Basic concepts Measure with body
Rhythms Clap to poems or
Patterns Kinesthetic movement
Music Culture Motivate and
Home Language Word play, chants,
Instrumentation Drums or Orff
Vocabulary Hand signs or
Science Environment Experiences with
Social Studies Navigation Role play, Four
Shared Field trips, guest
Graphic Venn diagrams,
series of events
Organizers compare and contrast
Collaboration Small peer groups,
Storybook Reading Vocabulary Storybooks,
Comprehension Explicit print
Overall Literacy Scaffolding
development Dialogic reading
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.
Sample Rubric for Inquiry-Based Science Lesson on Magnets
English Language Ability
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,
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.