What strategies work best for Pre-Production ELLs?


  Wondering how to include your Newcomer?

IMG_1905 Most importantly you want your student to feel comfortable so he or she does not shut down.        Yes, stress is proven to have a negative effect on language acquisition because it heightens    the  “affective filter”.  The lower the stress, the lower the affective filter.  Think of the affective  filter as a screen that filters input as it enters the brain.  This filter is ineffective when  our ELL  students are anxious or stressed.  It lowers or works when we make our students comfortable.

 So how do you make your student comfortable?

Start by finding out what your student “can do”.  “Can do descriptors” can be obtained from your  ELL specialist.  They will explain what your student is able to do in listening, speaking, reading and writing.  This data is obtained from the WIDA ACCESS test students are give in in January of the prior school year.  If your student is new to the district chances are they were given the test in their last school.  If not, your ELL specialist can provide you with results of an English language pre-screen assessment that will help you evaluate your student’s strengths.

Let’s think about this a little more.  Put yourself in the student’s shoes for just a minute.  Assume you are given a task that you have yet to learn or suppose you know it but you can not find the words to explain yourself in a comprehensible way.  How would you respond?   Responses could vary but chances are there will be stress.

Eliminate stress by giving your students alternate ways of accessing the content.

Not all assignments or tasks need be applied in a whole group or traditional teacher- directed method.  Do not be afraid to experiment with Cooperative Learning structures or assigning project- based assignments.   Don’t worry about rigor and relevance.  Allowing your class to participate in new teaching and learning structures can still be measured with high expectations.  What you will find is that as you begin to use these new strategies, your students will gradually take responsibility for their own learning leaving you time to observe their progress.  It is interesting that their learning grows as your effort lightens.

I must warn you though, you will need to spend time planning engaging lessons.  

Once you do, I promise, you will get a break for while your students are applying their learning, you are getting formative assessments off your to do list!

Why is a Cooperative learning structure right for ELL students? 

Cooperative learning takes the spotlight off your ELL student and allows the student to observe others, share in decision making and take on a meaningful role that will heighten his or her motivation.  It offers all students the chance to participate equally. Similarly, kinesthetic response modes can be easily integrated into structures such as RoundTable, RallyTable, and others so students can demonstrate concepts through manipulatives or drawing structures could prove to be your number one essential tool for ELL success.

Try these Kagan Strategies with Newcomers or students in the Pre-production level of proficiency:

Kagan Structures:

  • Line-Ups
  •  Formations,
  • Mix-Freeze-Group,
  • Similarity Groups
  • Corners


Welcome to the ESOL Link

Navigating the ESOL Link

Do you have awesome students who seem competent in the classroom, so confident that they don’t seem to need help?  They communicate to you and others with minimal difficulty.  This is because they have mastered BICS.  BICS stands for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, the vocabulary all ELLs learn first. The most challenging language comes next.  Academic vocabulary or CALPS is the hardest to acquire and is known to take up to 5-7 years to use with the accuracy of their peers .  CALPS is your next challenge. You can read more about BICS and CALPS when you click on the corresponding page listed on this blog.

Newcomers can be time consuming for teachers.  Differentiating instruction is easier when you consider the WIDA Can Do descriptors, click link here in the right hand column.  They align to  DOK levels.  For instance, If you have a beginning student, you could use levels 1-2 of Blooms with your lessons.

Nervous about your newcomers?  Don’t be!  New students are likely to be more nervous than you are.  Take time to explore the animated link on culture shock and the posting How to Provide a Welcoming Environment for your Newcomers.

I hope you visit frequently to keep up with all postings.

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 you 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

My Students are here. Now what do I do?

chalk board for blogSo you read about creating a welcoming environment for your beginning level English Language Learners (ELLs) and now you need to go to the next step.        Did you remember to:

  • Write key words on the white board?
  • Plan lessons with  pictures, gestures and realia?  If not, its not too late- find a photo from Google Image, clip art, or Flickr to display while you are teaching.
  • You could give your ELL a graphic organizer to sort or classify vocabulary.
  • When modeling and teaching safety vocabulary, don’t be too concerned if you need to offer translation in their native language.  It will not hurt the acquisition progress.  Go to http://translate.google.com/ or purchase the google translate app for free on your I phone.  It will even say the word in the student’s native language.
  • Did you speak when facing the students, not the board?  Sounds odd, but it happens.
  • Avoid colloquialisms and idioms?
  • Provide explicit directions for homework?  Including writing the homework assignment on the board.  The beginning ESOL student can copy if allowed time.
  • So far, so good.
  • We are still smiling, right?  Trying to?  Don’t give up… it will get better!

How to provide a welcoming environment to your newcomer



Congratulations,  You have a multi- cultural student in your classroom!

Beginning school can be stressful to all students, especially a non-native speaker.  Here’s what you should know about creating a welcoming environment for your incoming English Language Learner (ELL) students.

Key points to creating a welcoming environment:

  • Assign a well- intentioned peer buddy that can provide assistance when needed. Provide plenty of picture books, or better yet, books in your students native language in your classroom library.
  • Learn to properly pronounce your newcomers name.
  • Prepare the class for your newcomer’s arrival, if possible (see me for ideas or invite me to address the class).
  • Physically show the new student how to manage the daily routines, including the lunch room and procedures.
  • Ascertain your newcomers language proficiency level.  The levels range from No English Spoken to 6, similar to native-like proficiency.  Your ESOL teacher will inform you of assessment results early in the year.  Then see the WIDA Can Do descriptors link to see what your new student is able to do.
  • Keep in mind that learning a language is a process.  It happens over a period of time (a beginner could take five to seven years to reach grade proficiency).
  • If your newcomer is in the “silent stage”, a beginner with no spoken English, alert any school personnel, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and specialists of the fact.  A comfortable environment will enhance your newcomer’s transition.
  • When speaking to your new student it is not necessary to speak loudly- they can hear you, but they may not understand you.  It is important to speak at an appropriate pace, not too fast or too slow, and to enunciate clearly.
  • Use of gestures and body language when appropriate will help your new student better understand what you are saying.
  • Use pictures whenever possible, clip photos or use clip art then post pictures with key words and phrases on the wall.
  • Write key words for all lessons,  especially directions, on the white board.  You could  draw a picture!
  • Encourage parent participation and sharing of cultural holidays and celebrations.  Maybe your newcomer can teach the class some new words in their native language.
  • And remember to smile.  Your newcomer may not know what you are saying, but they can read your expressions.