Quick Tip Tuesday: Helping ELLs work independently

June 22nd, 2010

In “The Words Came Down!” English Language Learners Read, Write, and Talk Across the Curriculum, Emelie Parker and Tess Pardini detail workshop formats for reading, writing, and content-area studies. In this Quick Tip, they talk about ways to help ELLs read independently during reading workshop. This is especially a challenge for teachers when some of their students speak little or no English. But strategies like Buddy Reading ensure that all students can work independently.

Independent Reading Time

A favorite lesson for some primary teachers at Bailey’s to introduce children to the expectations of independent reading is a reading response to a Big Book called Bubble Gum by Gail Jorgensen. The children in the book learn to blow a bubble bigger and bigger and bigger. The last page has a great illustration of a popped bubble all over the children. The class enjoys acting out an innovation on the text of Bubble Gum. Without speaking, they pretend to unwrap gum, stick it in their mouth, and blow and blow. As they blow, they spread their arms out wider and wider. They carefully walk with their arms spread out to a place in the room where no one can pop their bubble.

If a child steps into or sits too close to someone’s “bubble space” then the balloon pops. Loud words can also pop a bubble. After the children can do this without fuss, the teacher explains that they will now take books inside their bubble to read alone. Later, after children learn to read independently in a bubble space, we show them how to let a friend come in and sit shoulder to shoulder in their bubble for buddy reading.

Buddy Reading
At the beginning of the year, teachers might find that there is a natural flow into this time of joyful book sharing and choose to establish the routines of buddy reading before those of independent reading. Buddy reading is an important option for reading work when students are not able to sustain independent reading for more than a short time. Buddy reading is important for many reasons.

  • It is fun!
  • Book discussions between students provide another opportunity for language development.
  • It allows students alternative ways to engage with a variety of levels of text in a peer-coaching situation. For instance, ELLs can look at pictures and join in conversations about content even if they cannot read it
    themselves. (See Figure 5.2.)
  • ELLs can talk in their home language to reach a deeper understanding of the book from the pictures.
  • ELLs can practice reading books in pairs.
  • Advanced readers can support each other in challenging text or content.

In order to establish a calm working atmosphere for buddy reading time, Tess clearly models her expectations in a “fishbowl.” She demonstrates the procedure with one child as the others watch from the circle. She asks the students to comment on what they notice. They watch as Tess and her buddy discuss their choice of books at the bookshelf and then sit side by side with the books they have chosen, deciding which one to look at first. As Tess and her buddy talk quietly about the pictures or as one of them reads to the other, the students listen and hear them decide that they are ready to change books and then discuss what their next choices should be. Because the students have noticed all this, Tess knows that they are ready to practice this procedure themselves.

Then Tess joins the circle and asks two other students to model the procedure, again inviting brief comments from the class. She wants to move on quickly so that the whole class can practice the procedure. Tess names the ELLs, one by one, and tells them to pick a partner. She wants this first experience to be with a child with whom they feel comfortable interacting. Then Tess moves around the room, gently refocusing students on the expectations if necessary. After about ten minutes, the class meets back in the circle to reflect on how the experience went and discuss any modifications that might be necessary.

When it is time to practice this routine again the next day, the class helps to create a list of expectations first. For example:
1. Choose two books.
2. Sit side by side.
3. Sit at the same level.
4. Listen to the speaker.
It is simple to add pictures to this list so that the expectations are just as clear to the second language learners. The list is a reminder that can be revisited at any time.

The fishbowl technique can provide invaluable guided practice in many situations. It clarifies expectations for all students, but it is also a helpful way of making sure our ELLs see and experience the expectations with the group. There is then less chance of them misunderstanding directions, doing something the wrong way, or embarrassing themselves in front of their peers.

Our buddy reading expectations usually begin with pairs of children going to the library corner and choosing two books each. We talk about suitable spots for reading and places to avoid (like behind the door), and then the children are free to take their books anywhere in the room within the teacher’s sight to read, to look at illustrations, and to talk. Therefore, you will find children under the tables, squeezed into nooks and crannies, or sitting on our feet under the reading table as we work with other students (a great spot for ELLs to be absorbing reading behaviors!).

There are many ways to structure this time that depend on teaching style, schedules, class size, and makeup. But for us, the nonnegotiables are the elements of book choice and the opportunity for talk. Thus, we might modify our framework to involve more or less structure, depending on the needs of each year’s class. We might ask them to read the books in their book boxes to each other, or let them choose to do this if they wish. If necessary, we will pair up our ELLs with students who will be good language or behavior role models.

Sometimes we want to designate the partners for a particular learning or social purpose, but more often than not, we want the ELLs to have an opportunity to enjoy books with a friend, perhaps being able to talk in their home language about the text. Having an opportunity to discuss concepts or content in their home language is going to give the ELLs a chance to expand their understandings. These understandings provide the knowledge around which they can begin to build their English vocabulary and control of sentence structure.

Entry Filed under: Differentiation & ELLs,Quick Tip Tuesday,Uncategorized

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