Questions & Authors: Setting up an ELL classroom – Part II

November 3rd, 2008

“Classroom space impacts everything: Instruction, behavior, and our sense of well-being,” writes Debbie Diller in her new book, Spaces & Places. Creating a classroom environment that supports instruction and allows students to be comfortable and take risks without stress, is not an easy task. Mix in even just a few ELL students into that classroom, and the task becomes even more difficult.

To support ELL students in their learning, Debbie suggests including specific literacy stations in the classroom, adding books that especially support ELL students to your library, and finding a quiet place where second language learners can take a break from the commotion of a busy classroom.

Read more of Debbie’s ideas in Part II of our Questions & Authors installment focused on ELL classrooms.

  • “Be sure to plan for a comfortable, well-organized whole group instruction area where the whole class can gather for meetings and instruction. I often invite ELL students to sit near the front and have native English speakers all around them. I’ve found this creates a “surround sound” type of setting. Sometimes I’ve noticed ELL students choosing to sit near the outside of the group, but bringing them in helps them be more included in the group. Place the whole group teaching area near a bulletin board/wall/dry erase or chalkboard, so you can post anchor charts and refer to them while teaching. Use cooperative learning and group goals to increase interaction across students of different cultures.
  • Have music materials (CD player or tape recorder and music) readily accessible in the whole group teaching area, especially if you work with young children. Use these for transition times and to allow students to move and use their bodies. ELL students can use their bodies to interpret stories and songs even if they don’t know all the English words yet.
  • Create anchor charts with students, being sure to elicit ideas from your ELL students. Use their language, so they understand what you’re teaching. Pay close attention to language complexity. Use concise and deliberate vocabulary. Remember to include pictures on your anchor charts. This helps all students remember, and can be especially helpful for ELL students.
  • Create charts that show connections between English and students’ native languages. For example, make connections to cognates, grammar, punctuation, expressions, and word order.
  • Make “I Can” lists with your class, too. Again, get ideas for what kids can practice at literacy work stations and use their language on these lists. Be clear and concise. Don’t be too wordy. Add digital photos to the list that illustrate students doing these activities at the station. A picture is worth a thousand words and will help all children understand what to do for independent practice.
  • When teaching new vocabulary words related to literature or content areas, include a digital photo whenever possible to help illustrate the word and anchor it in students’ memory. I like to use Google images to find these pictures. Post a chart with this week’s words on it, and include kid-friendly definitions (as suggested by Isabel Beck in Bringing Words to Life as she writes about Tier II words) as well as a picture beside each new word. Refer to the chart constantly as you teach with it. Teach related words from ELL children’s first language to help them make connections.
  • I always include the following literacy stations in an ELL classroom, and sometimes even have multiples of these to give students more opportunities to hear and use English as they practice: listening station; computer station; drama or retelling station; science or nonfiction reading station; creation station. Have a space for each, so students know where to find and work with the materials. Include students in showing the rest of the class how to use each station as you introduce them to the whole class.
  • In the classroom library, have a few special baskets that will especially support ELL students. Include the following kinds of baskets: books by student authors; wordless books (for telling stories); books we love (from read aloud that are familiar); books written in two languages; as well as other categories of fiction and nonfiction books and magazines. Always label the baskets and have students help you sort the books to put into these. Fasten a label on the front of each basket that includes the type of book along with a picture representing this genre or group of books to help students find and return books. Also, be sure to include books representing the cultures and heritage of all students in your classroom.
  • Be sure to include a small group teaching area. All students will grow when provided with differentiated small group instruction that meets their needs. ELL students will benefit from this type of teaching and sitting around a table together will help to facilitate discussion which builds oral language and vocabulary.
  • Have a space in the classroom (perhaps the classroom library) where students new to U.S. can take a short break during the day. It can be tiring trying to listen most of the day to a language you don’t understand. Let them sit quietly and look at books.
  • For classrooms with limited space, use wall space outside of the classroom (or in the school lobby) to communicate to parents what students are learning. Use pictures and text (perhaps in English and multiple languages for parents) created by students in displays. Include an accordion folder with take-home sheets for parents explaining what students are studying with suggestions of things to try at home related to the learning displayed.)”

How do you accommodate ELL students in your classroom?

Entry Filed under: Differentiation & ELLs,Questions & Authors

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shahin  |  November 27th, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    It’s so soothing to be able to talk to somebody and probably ask for help.
    I am an ESL teacher in a bilingual classroom. There are a few periods a week that I take these students by myself so probably I can have some arrangements in these peiods but I have to change the arrangements back once I am finished with those peiods. One of these classes is a 5th grade one and the other is a combined 3rd and 4th.
    I’ll apprecite it if you could give me any advice in preparing anything that could be packed away at the end of these classes but can be used again.

  • 2. Miki Wells  |  March 26th, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    How about having the child make their own flash cards as they learn the English language. This might help them to remember the words. You could make a set as well by what they learn and keep it for use later. I know this is simple but it might make learning for the student easier. Good Luck!

  • 3. Connie Christian  |  May 21st, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    My questions concern a classroom library for middle school and high school ELL’s, some of whom are 19-20 years old. What titles are there that are simple yet not juvenile? What are good books that the class could read together? There are many different languages and cultures in the same class. Many are preliterate. Last year I used “A Fly Went By” with my 6th graders. They loved it, but it was a little long for them.

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