What are good resources for teaching ELLs to learn to read English?


Mat Cusick, Teacher, Writer, Founder of Q Arts Foundation, Research & Develop

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I have experience teaching English to Spanish-speakers in Mexico, and have collected some of the resources I have found useful on the blog for my classes: mazunteglish.tumblr.com.

Comic books, as others have noted, are a great resource. There are many that can be found online in various languages, which is especially helpful—for instance, the anime series, One Piece.

Children's picture books are great, too, especially the new phenomenon of bilingual picture books. Monica Brown's bilingual English-Spanish books are great, as are the books of Juan Felipe Herrera, and the poetry books of Francisco X. Alarcón. (Here's a list of Spanish-English bilingual books.) Infinity Auto Insurance created a website with free Spanish-English bilingual books and app downloads, called Read Conmigo.

Movies, television, and other videos with subtitles are a great resource. Most TED talks on the TED.com website not only have subtitles in a variety of languages, but also an interactive transcript. Kinetic typography, which animates a spoken text, is an interesting new way to make reading more engaging (as in these videos featuring portions of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr.) Reading along to the lyrics of a song can be a very engaging way to learn to read English, and there are many resources to make that experience an even richer learning opportunity, including lyricstranslate.com, for finding song translations, and lyricstraining.com, which turns music videos into a game of textual karaoke.

There are also some very interesting online resources that can help students learn while they surf the web, through Chrome Extensions: Instant Translate, which provides word translation on any page just by double-clicking; Language Immersion for Chrome, which works in reverse, randomly translating words on a page into a target language for reading practice, then translating it back with a mouse-click; and Lingua.ly, which provides online articles in a target language, translates unfamiliar words into a native language, and allows readers to save words to a database for later vocabulary practice.

Maryann Aita, Writer and Individualized Education Specialist

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A good ELL reading resource, for any age, should put grammar and vocabulary into context and be simple enough to keep struggling readers from giving up. Illustrated children's books can be a great place to start, even for older students. They can always work their way up to young adult novels. Books with pictures are a great way to help with deciphering new words and providing context. Pictures can also help keep struggling readers engaged. Of course, it's important that teachers work with students to make sure they are actually reading. Taking turns reading out loud (with a teacher or student partner) is a good way to do this. Reading out loud, especially from a young age, can also build confidence.

As students progress, it's important to add variety to the resources you use. I would suggest news articles, comics, simple nonfiction books or textbooks (like Eyewitness books) and even movies with English subtitles as solid resources. Movies help students hear the words as they read them, which can help with pronunciation. And what student doesn't love watching movies in class?

Keep in mind that, while having the right resources can make a big difference in student success, ELLs need guidance to ensure they are getting the most from these texts. Teachers should give background for nonfiction texts, point out challenging or unfamiliar vocabulary before having a student read, and ask analytical questions as the student reads to make sure they are understanding.

Barbara Bellesi, Writer, Editor, and Educator

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Have you considered comic books and graphic novels? I was recently in Paris for vacation and wandered into a comic book store. I was surprised to see how many of the comic books and graphic novels were in English - I actually had to ask where the French language books were! I then realized that many French children likely learn English by reading about Batman, The Avengers, and more.

You didn't mention the age of your students, but comic books do have a wide audience. They may seem like child's play, but comic books are actually an excellent way to pick up on basic language, especially verbs. The pictures tell the story, so there's something visual to follow for beginning ELL students as they pick up more vocabulary and learn to better understand English grammar.

Best of luck to you in your teaching career!

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When it comes to English Language Learners, it is important to remember that they respond best if there was an initial mastery of their first language. If that is the case, then I would recommend looking into Culturally Responsive Teaching and Sheltered Instruction.

Culturally Responsive Teaching works well when learning another language in that students, such as those learning English, are better able to make connections between languages based on prior knowledge, or things they are familiar with. You can find more information about using this method here: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/111022/chapters/Culturally-Responsive-Instruction.aspx

Sheltered Instruction is, simply put, just good teaching. It's a strategy teachers may utilize when they have English Language Learners in their classroom and involves content area teaching along with strategies that make that content more accessible. The following site can increase your awareness on this crucial method and give some easy strategies to aid those in your classroom: http://ed491.weebly.com/uploads/8/4/6/1/8461140/siop_strategies_flyer.pdf

In the end, the best educational tool is the one that works! Due to the fact that each learner varies, so will their instruction. Differentiation is not an exact science, but it does afford each student a wonderful opportunity to increase their knowledge a little at a time until they reach their ultimate goal.

Good luck to you in your teaching endeavor!

Susan E. Coryat, Secondary Ed. English, M.Ed., Reading Specialist, and Parent!

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ELL students will have a more positive learning experience if they can relate to the text they are trying to read. With the internet being an amazing resource, there are many ways to reach students at their comfort level as well as within their culture. It is understood that literacy development in one's native language helps to promote literacy in foreign languages, so English Language Learners should be encouraged to continue their literacy development in their native language. That is a great jumping off point for them to expand into English texts. Regardless of the level, learners should find texts which are connected to their literacy and comprehension levels in their native language. Just because a text is simple (sentence structure and vocabulary) doesn't mean it will be a good learning tool. I wouldn't want to read something that was far below my intellect just because I didn't necessarily understand every word of the text. That being said, there must be supports in place. Again, there are many digital options for ELLs to utilize. Look for apps which will read aloud and show the text and/or texts which have many illustrations and context clues. Keeping up with current events can be the perfect starting point, since many ELLs are keeping track of news both here and back wherever home is. Breaking News English is a great example of a digital resource which reads aloud to ELLs, adjusts the article content to different levels, and offers a variety of topical stories and lessons. Any text in which a student has interest can be modified for ESL instruction through guided reading. Offering pre-reading vocabulary lessons, scaffolding the text and chunking it into relevant and essential pieces, and providing context and illustration can make a text more accessible for the student. Mostly, as with any other student, it is imperative to meet a student where he or she is, both in ability and interest.

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