Teaching Social Studies to ELL Students

You can help the ELL students develop greater proficiency in English while learning key terms in Social Studies.

Remember, you are the guide.  Trust your own understanding of cultural values, intercultural communications and learning styles.  It will serve as a base in assisting you as you maintain high expectations for all students while carefully deciding specific content topics that are motivating and pertinent to the overall lesson.

Guide your students to specific vocabulary or bold words.  Allow the students to define the words in their native language.  This enables them to “transfer” previous knowledge to the English term.

You may want to modify your spoken language to meet the needs of your ELL students at various levels.  Some simple but essential strategies are:

  • to paraphrase main ideas consistently
  • repeat key points often
  • check for comprehension frequently
  • use media and realia (real prop)

As a Social Studies teacher, you are teaching a subject with high cognitive demand and high context.  The content requires a high level of literacy and more cognitively demanding tasks.  In order to be successful teaching ELL’s it important to know the basic premise of language acquisition.

Other resources to help you support your ELL student are:

  • maps
  • visuals
  • gestures
  • clues
  • charts and graphs
  • worksheets that include a word box with fill in the blanks responses

Remember, you are familiar with international cultures; it is possible that you understand the ELL student better than most.

If you need additional resources, contact your ESOL specialist.

Adapted from Cruz, Nutta, O’Brien, Feyten and Govoni Passport to Learning, Teaching Social Studies to ESL Students, NCSS, 2003

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