According to Echevarria et al. (2005), "Each year, the United States becomes more ethnically and linguistically diverse, with more than 90% of recent immigrants coming from non-English speaking countries." The dramatic influx of English language learners has led to changes in instructional practices within classrooms and to changes in how ELL instruction is delivered to students. There are a wide range of programs that are being used to teach ELL learners, such as dual-language instruction, transitional bilingual education and sheltered English immersion (Echevarria et al., 2005). Regardless of the program that is being utilized, five important components will make language transition easier for ELL learners. Delivering comprehensible input, providing ongoing feedback, utilizing grouping techniques and strategies, building background, and facilitating student engagement will all help to make instruction more meaningful for students.
In the ELL classroom, the term 'comprehensible input' refers to instruction that can be understood by a student with a limited English vocabulary. ELL teachers must demonstrate sensitivity towards students' linguistic and learning needs by making verbal instruction more understandable. There are several ways that teachers can clarify their communication with students. Teachers can make adjustments to their speech and can clarify information by using images, text or physical objects. They can also use hands-on activities, small grouping strategies and real-life activities to facilitate understanding.
To help ELL students understand information, the teacher can begin by adjusting his or her rate and style of speech. For students who have limited English proficiency, the teacher can accommodate the needs of the student by using simple subject-verb-object (Echevarria et al., 2004) sentences and by speaking slowly and clearly. For beginning students, the instruction may need to be repeated several times before they can understand what is being conveyed and what is expected of them. Idioms and colloquial speech patterns should be avoided to lessen confusion. Instead, clear and concise language should be used when providing instruction or directions, most preferably accompanied by a visual image. It is also important to define unknown vocabulary terms within a meaningful context. The use of real objects, graphic organizers, pictures, and body language can help clarify instruction as well. Finally, teachers should supplement verbal directions with written ones so that students have a source of reference (Echevarria et al., 2004).
Teachers can use hands-on activities to develop language growth in their students. Teachers can begin lessons by modeling the activity and by demonstrating concepts or techniques to students. Task analysis is also beneficial in the ELL classroom. The use of step-by-step instructions will help students to better understand the concepts being presented. Hands-on manipulatives can be used to clarify information, as well as pictures, real objects, and multimedia presentations (Echevarria & Graves, 2007). Lastly, every opportunity to facilitate reading, writing, listening and speaking should be actively utilized. Therefore, real-life and small-group activities are invaluable to building comprehension in ELL learners.
Ongoing, Specific, and Immediate Feedback
Feedback is important to any classroom. Feedback will show children what their strengths are and how they can improve. It helps students to set goals, and it helps parents to understand how their children are performing (Gillet et al., 2008). In the ELL classroom, feedback can be provided by reviewing the child's language, their vocabulary growth, and the content being studied. Immediate feedback can be provided by a smile or a pat on the back, by a simple clarification of a misunderstood concept, or by a paraphrased restatement of the child's words. Ongoing feedback can be given through journaling activities, through portfolio development or by holding individual conferences. Specific feedback is often provided through grading. By offering feedback about a child's strengths and providing opportunities for improvement, teachers can encourage a child's academic and language growth (Diaz-Rico and Weed, 2010).
Grouping Structures and Techniques
The seating arrangement in an ELL classroom is important. Students need to be able to exchange ideas and share thoughts. Arranging desks into groups of between four and six learners will encourage oral language skills. If the students can see one another and can see the teacher, and do not need to rearrange their seating to alternate between instruction and small group activities, the seating arrangement is acceptable for the ELL classroom (Vacca and Vacca, 2005).
Since students need to be able to exchange ideas, there are a number of grouping strategies that help students to comprehend information. For instance, cooperative learning groups allow students to collaborate on a learning assignment. One type of cooperative learning format is jigsaw grouping, where students contribute to a literacy task by dividing the information and becoming an 'expert' on one component of the material. The members verbally share the information they have learned with other members of the group. STAD, or Student Teams Achievement Divisions, accomplishes a similar purpose. The teacher presents the information to the students and then assigns students to groups, monitoring the grouping to ensure that there are high, medium and low students in each group. The team then works together to ensure that each team member knows the material (Vacca and Vacca, 2005). This technique works especially well for students who are not ready for independent learning or who need additional assistance. By using cooperative grouping, teachers can encourage reading, writing, listening, and thinking skills in their ELL students.
Building Background and Vocabulary Development
For a student to comprehend information, he or she needs to have some background knowledge of the topic being presented. Studies have shown that when a student is lacking in background knowledge, three major interventions need to occur. First, the teacher needs to teach vocabulary terms before beginning the lesson. Second, the teacher needs to provide experiences to facilitate understanding. Finally, the teacher needs to use context to provide a framework for understanding the information (Echevarria et al., 2005).
Before being successful in academic studies, students must have a firm understanding of the terminology related to the concept that is being presented. For these students, a dictionary definition is not going to help them because they are unfamiliar with the words and the sentence structure. Teachers can provide vocabulary instruction by introducing the terms and by showing how the term is used within the lesson that is being presented. To provide opportunities for practice, personal dictionaries, word walls, and concept definition maps can be used (Echevarria et al., 2005). Providing a print-rich and concept-rich environment for English language learners will help them not only to learn the information, but to retain and to use it.
If a student has no background knowledge in a subject area, the teacher needs to provide background experiences to help that student to comprehend material. Teachers can help students to retrieve relevant background knowledge by having them brainstorm before a lesson. Other methods that can be used to provide background information are by having the students conduct web searches, by showing videos, such as showing a movie made from a book before reading that piece of literature, and by going on field trips to gain first hand experience (Echevarria and Graves, 2007).
Lastly, the teacher needs to use context to provide a framework for understanding the information. For students to learn, the new information must be integrated with the student's background (Echevarria et al., 2005). Students do not always automatically make connections between new learning and past learning, so discussions that link former knowledge to new information can be useful, as well as graphic organizers, maps and charts that link the new information to previously-taught concepts.
Student engagement can be broken into three aspects: allocated time, engaged time, and academic time (Echevarria et al., 2005). First, allocated time refers to how much time a teacher spends on a particular…