With the increasing numbers of English language learners (ELLs) in regular education classrooms, it is important to balance practicing a new skill or new knowledge with differentiated assignments to fit ELL students’ readiness.
When students range in their stages of second language acquisition, their practice and classroom assignments can and should look different.
Differentiating lessons doesn’t have to be a hassle. Here are 3 simple steps to adapt lessons for your ELL students!
Step 1: Know the Stages of Second-Language Acquisition
It is essential that we have a common understanding of the stages of language learning.
Most of us have been around children who were learning to talk and remember how the process began with one-word utterances, followed by two-word phrases, full sentences, and eventually, complex grammar. Similarly, students learning a second language move through five predictable stages: Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency.
Think about your ELLs and which stage they represent, and then record their names in this chart.
Source: Adapted from Krashen and Terrell (1983).
Step 2: Tier Student Thinking Across the Stages of Second-Language Acquisition
We recommend teachers use a matrix to “tier” homework and even classroom assignments, as demonstrated in Classroom Instruction That Works with English Language Learners Participant Workbook and the Facilitator Guide.
Now that you know your students’ stage of language development, you can align that information with a taxonomy of learning such as Bloom’s Taxonomy and the levels of thinking noted in this chart, which you can use for Step 2.
© 2008 McREL. To request permission to reprint, contact McREL at info.mcrel.org.
Practice at the “remember” and “understand” levels may be a prerequisite for working at the higher levels of “evaluate” and “create.” Just remember, ELLs can and should work at all levels of higher order thinking.
Step 3: Set Expectations at the “Remember” Level of Learning
The next step is putting steps 1 and 2 into action. The following chart shows an example of how a secondary science teacher “levels” assignments/practice for “remembering” based on students who are in the process of acquiring English.
All the students engage in the hands-on action of labeling and ordering the steps of the plant cycle. Circulating around the room, the teacher asks a student in the Preproduction stage to demonstrate his or her learning by pointing to, gesturing, drawing, or matching icons for steps of the plant cycle. Because a student at the Early Production stage possesses more English for verbal expression, the teacher asks those students to name the steps using one word, such as “seed,” “sprout,” or “stem.”
The task in the example is to label and order the steps of the plant cycle.
By knowing your students’ stages of language acquisition, you will be able to tier classroom assignments and homework so practice becomes meaningful and strengthens their language learning at the same time.
After all, one of the reasons for assignments and homework is to practice what’s been learned. You can be confident you are extending opportunities for practice to your ELLs by being cognizant of the stages of second-language acquisition and by intentionally providing both high-level thinking opportunities and appropriate language learning tasks to help them increase their academic language.
When you take these three steps, you’re doing what comes naturally to you as a teacher–thinking about curricular adaptations for your students, this time with English-acquisition levels as a marker.
How do you adapt lessons for English language learners? Share in the comments section!
References & Further Reading on ELL Instruction
by L.W. Anderson and D.R. Krathwohl
by B.S. Bloom, M.D. Engelhart, E.J. Furst, W.H. Hill and D.R. Krathwohl
by S.D. Krashen and T. Terrell
by J.D. Hill and C.L. Bjork
by J.D. Hill and C.L. Bjork