Posted on 12/21/2015 at 07:57 AM by Liz Determan

This is a preview of the resources available to you on the following website:


For Preschool/Kindergarten:

Peep and the Big Wide World: Bilingual Activities & STEM Curriculum

Description: television producer WGBH has launched a bilingual website and preschool curriculum based on Peep and the Big Wide World, the Award-winning STEM series for 3-5 year olds.  It follows a newly hatched chicken named Peep and his friends Chirp and Quack (a robin and a duck) on their daily adventures. Each half-hour episode contains two stories that highlight specific science concepts, plus two live-action shorts presenting real kids playing and experimenting with these concepts in their own big, wide worlds.


The accompanying site includes bilingual gamesvideosapps, a 6-unit STEM curriculum, professional development video modules for early childhood educators, and science resources and activity ideas for families.  The website is also available in Spanish.



For Elementary:

An excerpt from “Tales of a Fourth Grade Slump: How to Help ELL Students Leap to Success” by Kristina Robertson


Practical Steps to Overcome "The Fourth Grade Slump"

So, what are some practical steps we can take to assist students in this quest? I've already identified two key contributors to the problem, vocabulary knowledge and background knowledge, so basically any educational activity that addresses these issues is a step in the right direction. Here are some activities that I recommend:

1. Increase background knowledge

Students work in small groups to share what they know about the reading topic. They fill in a K/W/L chart (What do I Know? What do I Want to know? What did I Learn?) or a simple "circle chart."

If the students are going to read a story about a tornado, they write "tornado" in a small circle and then draw a larger circle around it. In the larger circle they write everything they know about tornadoes — words like, "scary, fast, twirling, destroys houses, loud, Kansas, kills people." Then outside the circle they write "how they know" these things.

The information from the circle map is shared as a class and written on a large chart paper. The teacher gives the students a summary of the story they will read and see if it matches with some of the items they've shared.

2. Increase vocabulary skills

There are two main areas to focus on with vocabulary – increasing the amount and increasing the depth. As I mentioned earlier, ELL students are constantly learning new vocabulary, but the more a teacher can do to explicitly teach important vocabulary and to demonstrate vocabulary learning skills, the more the ELL student will benefit.

Some ideas for expanding vocabulary include helping students to identify synonyms for words, asking them to read a new vocabulary word in context and "describe it in their own words," and teaching them prefixes, suffixes and roots of words. For example, if a student reads the word, "disabled," the teacher helps the student break it down into parts to understand it — "dis" meaning "not," "able" meaning "can" or "having ability" and "ed," describing something. The student should be able to see from the context that "disabled" means, "not having the ability."

Helping students deepen their understanding of words involves demonstrating the different ways a word can be used and the different meanings it may take. For example, "The disabled person." means something different from, (yet similar to) "She disabled the bomb." Another word that can be found in a variety of contexts is the word, "mean." For example, "I mean it." "The mean of the numbers is 42." "This means I did well." "The family doesn't have the means to pay for a vacation." "That boy is mean!" A student can create their own dictionary and write example sentences in their own words to define new words and the variety of examples they encounter.

3. Increase the ability to predict

A fluent reader is often "predicting" text without even knowing it. If I read a recipe and part of it is smudged, I read, "Put 2 ___ of flour in the bowl." I know that we measure with cups and teaspoons and that a teaspoon is too little for the recipe, so I predict that the missing word is "cups."

Students can build this ability as well through analyzing text and "cloze passage" exercises. When a student comes across a word they are not sure of, instruct them to reflect on the sentence and what is happening in the story to see if they can "construct" a meaning. For example, if the student reads, "The girl held the delicate flower very carefully." and they are not sure what "delicate" means, they may be able to analyze the text and see that delicate is something special and probably breakable.

A cloze passage activity is basically a "fill in the blanks" exercise. I used to take excerpts from books, copy them, and white out every 7th word (more or less). The students would try to write in the correct word. I liked to use passages we had already read in class as reinforcement for the students' learning.




4. Teach a variety of texts

In the early grades, a lot of the text is fiction. Students are reading many entertaining stories written in simple language. One of the jumps at fourth grade is "reading to learn." This means students must take a non-fiction text and begin to make sense of it in order to teach themselves. Without experience in understanding how different text is organized, students struggle in comprehending an overwhelming amount of information.

If a teacher instructs students in how a science text is read effectively, the student will be more focused and more likely to understand what they are reading. The teacher demonstrates how every few paragraphs there is a heading that tells what information will be covered, or points out that words in bold are key vocabulary words. The teacher shows how he or she would read a science text to get the information they need. They may pose a question out loud, such as, "I wonder if frogs shiver?" Then looking in the chapter, the teacher says, "Hmmm. I guess if I want to know if they shiver I need to know more about their body and how they stay warm. I see this section heading says, 'Frogs are cold-blooded creatures.' That may be a good place to look." The teacher can practice this type of text exploration out loud and then ask the students to practice it as well.

5. Develop oral language skills

Okay, this is getting simpler. Just talk. Give the ELL students lots of opportunities to interact in meaningful ways — in pairs or small groups, and with native English speakers if possible. Increase wait time when asking questions and listen carefully while the student responds. Paraphrase what you heard if you are not sure what they meant. Make sure the student knows that what they think and say is important and valued. The more they talk, the more English language skills they develop, and the more they will be able to understand what they read.

6. Set up an audio books library

Many ELL students do not have the opportunity to have someone read to them in English at home. Part of developing a love of literature and increasing English skills is getting a lot of quality input. An audio book lending library can be very helpful. Students take the book and tape (or CD) home and may listen to it many times if they like. When I taught elementary ESL we also included mini-cassette players with headphones in the Ziploc so students would have the equipment they needed to make use of the materials. We did not have a lot of money for our library, so the teachers all took a few books and read the stories slowly and clearly into tape recorders to make our own materials.

7. Help them find that Home Run book!

Educational researcher, Stephen Krashen has done research regarding what motivates students to become better readers. The basic, very common sense premise is that we get better at things we do a lot, and we tend to do things we enjoy more than things we don't. A "Home Run" book is the first book that really excites a child. The book that makes them "want more." Students acquiring English may need more guidance to find this book because of unfamiliarity with the language and possibly with the types of books available. If your library has books in the student's first language this is a very good place to start.

ELL students get very excited when they see a book written in their language and know it is a story they will understand and can share with their family. It may also be useful to show beginning English speakers where they can find books with lots of pictures such as – comics, science books, or sports magazines. If the material is something the student finds interesting, they will spend more time deciphering what words they can while looking at the pictures. The bottom line is that if you can help a child discover the right kind of book and love reading, then they will do lots of it and eventually become an excellent reader.

I'm glad I found my "home run" book (The Boxcar Children) at an early age. I don't really remember much of the storyline, but I do know that it lead to many more home run books and a lifetime enjoyment of reading. It is my wish that every child finds a "home run" book, develops the love of reading and learning, and leaps beyond the "fourth grade slump" to become an academic success.



For Secondary:

An excerpt from “Phonics Instruction for Middle and High School ELLs” by Kristina Robertson




Basic Strategies: Build a Foundation

Enlist extra support: ELLs in 4th grade and above who need further instruction on phonics will be most helped by intensive intervention. Ideally, they should attend a reading remediation class or receive special support to continue phonics instruction from a reading specialist. If such support is unavailable for your students, ask your school's reading specialist and principal for help finding a research-based supplemental or intervention program that you can use with the student.

Use hands-on activities to help teach letter-sound relationships: This can include using manipulatives such as counters, sound boxes, magnetic letters, or Scrabble tiles. Students may also be interested in creating their own materials on the computer or through an art project. Month-by-Month Phonics for Upper Grades: A Second Chance for Struggling Readers and Students Learning English also offers a number of ideas for incorporating phonics activities into the curriculum.

Provide targeted support for students whose native language is non-alphabetic: Language skills transfer from one language to another; students literate in their native language will already have background knowledge of how reading works.

If their native language is non-alphabetic, however, students may need extra practice in the following areas:

  • Direction: Students may not be accustomed to reading from left to right and top to bottom.
  • Letter-sound recognition: Students may need extra practice on matching sounds and letters, particularly if they are used to a system of characters that symbolize words rather than sounds.
  • Use an alphabet chant: If older students need to review their alphabetic skills, look for a jazz or hip-hop alphabet chant that students will find entertaining and engaging. There are many examples online and on YouTube.
  • Have students write for sound: Say a short sentence that includes one or more words that include the target phonics feature(s). Ask students to listen carefully and then write what they heard. This activity trains students to listen for the individual sounds in words and represent them phonetically in their writing.
  • Work in small groups: If students are past the age at which phonemic awareness and phonological skill-building have been addressed (typically kindergarten through first or second grade), attend to these skills one-on-one or in small groups with developmentally appropriate and engaging activities. Ask your school's reading specialist for help finding appropriate activities and materials.

Intermediate Strategies: Make It Relevant and Fun!

Help students make a connection between their first language and English: For students with stronger native language literacy skills (especially in languages related to English like Spanish), help them understand that the process of sounding out words is the same across languages. Explain some letters may make the same or similar sounds in both languages. Knowing this can help Spanish-dominant students, for example, as they learn to decode words in English. Make sure they are aware of cognates as well!

Teach phonics in context: Use authentic text and/or vocabulary words that are known to the ELLs. Using relevant literature and content material you can introduce and reinforce:

  • letter recognition
  • beginning and ending sounds
  • blends
  • rhyming words
  • silent letters
  • homonyms

Integrate phonics and content instruction: When possible, collaborate with the reading specialist and content-area teachers to integrate phonics instruction into content and classroom lessons and texts, as well as into academic vocabulary instruction.

Make it a game: Try activities as simple as looking for a particular sound on the page, or reciting words and having students hold up a sign with the correct sound on it after each word. You may also want to try short games of Scrabble, Hangman, and Memory. These are quick activities but they can effectively reinforce the targeted phonetic concept.

Look for high-low reading materials: "High interest/low readability" texts are books that are written on a first to third grade reading level but treat themes and topics that are of interest to students of middle school or high school age. You can find a number of suggestions in the following resources; many of the books listed may be available in your school's library or in your local public library.

Motivating ELL Student Readers: This article from Colorín Colorado offers strategies for engaging reluctant readers, as well as recommended booklists and publishers that offer "high-low" books and materials.

Leveled Books for Readers Grades 3-6, by Fountas and Pinnell: This book lists over 6,000 books and gives the author, reading level, publisher, and genre of each. The genres that are included are: "traditional literature," "realistic fiction," "historical fiction," "science fiction," "fantasy," "biography," and "information book."

Use poetry, jazz chants, and songs: Find poems, chants, and songs that relate to students' interests, or ask them to bring some of their favorites in that can be included in the lesson. Recite the text aloud, and then give students time to practice reading aloud as well.

Integrate phonics instruction with word study: Teach students how to identify word parts, break words down into syllables, and use word families. Use content-area words for this exercise that students are likely to find in their academic work.

Please visit this website for many other EL resources!

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