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  • Alison Davis

How to enhance the ESL literacy experience for learners of the English language?


Educators provide multiple opportunities everyday for English Language Learners to use English, not just learn it.

Supportive learning environments build student confidence to use language by speaking and writing (productive language) through a variety of exposures to receptive language (listening and reading). Teachers should provide multiple opportunities in every lesson for students to “be right” with their responses and provide more success opportunities within each lesson. This positive learning environment – both physical and emotional – will support learners to try new things without fear of failure.

Model what you want to see. Teachers should model the correct form of language clearly and concisely throughout the lesson. This will provide scaffolds of support to build learner confidence in the use of English language. Read aloud to the students every day. Immerse the learners with the rich language of stories, poems, informational text and explanations. Model the use of vocabulary, both academic and everyday, structure of sentences and use of language across the curriculum. Word walls with vocabulary, images and definitions will bridge first language into the English language. Write for the students in every curriculum area. Model quick-writes using academic vocabulary. Create sentence frames for academic language that will support learners to say and write the specific language of the curriculum, not just learn it. If teachers want learners to talk, draw, write and think like mathematicians, scientists and engineers, then they should provide written models to support that academic language with spoken and written sentence models and stems.

Teach by doing. Model the behaviors you are looking for throughout the lesson. Teach both the skill and the language used for that skill. Show the students how to process the information or complete the task. Demonstrate with visuals, actions and diagrams what is expected. Model what you are doing with think-alouds to show how you are processing information. Teach the same concept using multiple modes such as actions, games, songs and demonstrations. Teach the students how to think to solve problems and create solutions rather than just learn the facts.

Make it Visual. Educators need to use visuals in every lesson so that students can construct their own meaning. Diagrams, realia, photos, graphic organisers, or other media provide the support students need to understand what you are saying or writing. English language learners need more time to process spoken language. Show your students what you want them to do with actions and diagrams to support verbal instructions. Non-linguistic representations such as quick-draws and hand signals improves comprehension. Make expectations explicit using routines, models and visuals.

Students use English language by talking and writing. Productive language is the key to success in every classroom. Partner interactions through Turn and Talk or Think-Pair-Share, supports the learner in multiple, low-risk engagements. Quick -draws give students the opportunity to think critically, record their own ideas and solutions and prepares them to talk and share their ideas with a partner. These interactions can lead to a quick-write as a record of their shared understanding. These strategies encourage the use of language and more opportunities to deepen their understanding – not just learn it.

Hands-on, real-world learning helps students learn and use language as they actively engage with a task. Many educators are developing language skills through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and maths). STEAM increases critical thinking skills by giving learners the opportunity to explain solutions, conduct experiments in science, build things and adjust designs in engineering, develop creative pieces in art, or using manipulatives in mathematics, Thinking, interacting, explaining and describing are critical skills for all learners and need to be included in every classroom.

Time for practice is crucial in the classroom every day. Games can be used to practice specific language such as vocabulary, skills and structures, Focus on games that reinforce STEAM concepts and help improve deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills as well as productive language. Students might use target language to creatively solve open-ended problems or to create a report, a poster, or a video. Drawing, talking, interacting and writing support the transition from receptive to productive language.

Think Time is critical for all students but some students need more time to process their thinking, translate it and be confident to respond. Ask questions and give students a chance to think before they respond or answer the questions. Increase the wait-time for maximum benefit.

Correct errors with compassion by responding to the content of the student response. Model the correct form of language without judgement and conclude with a question that will give the learner the confidence to use the language correctly next time.

Fill your classroom with expert models of quality books and written materials. Your classroom library will be the point of reference for your lessons; an expert models for the learners to use the library as they think, talk, read and write across the curriculum.

In every classroom, we want learners to use English, not just learn it. A supportive learning environment will provide multiple opportunities for students to be successful with the support of educators who model the language they want the learner to use successfully.

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