June 14, 2013

Reading is Thinking: Explaining Reading Comprehension to Families of ELLs

A school's expectations of its students varies depending on where it is located in the world.  In many countries, a good student memorizes, recites, and amasses knowledge.  Students are expected to absorb as much information as possible from the teacher.  In the United States, we tend to value critical thinking over rote responses.  Students are expected to work with the teacher to construct new learning, building on what they know from their own lives.

May 7, 2013

ELL Family Resources

Your voices were heard!  Thanks to all of you who have commented and let us know what you want to see more of on ESL Amplified.  The overwhelming majority of our readers have expressed the desire to have more resources about involving families.  We are thrilled to be able to take this idea and turn it into our theme for the coming month's posts.  We also welcome you to email any helpful resources or websites you may have to us at eslamplified@gmail.com.

Many times family members of ELLs feel that they can't help their children at home because they may not know English or be literate themselves.  This is NOT the case!  There are many ways to empower our families to be involved in their children's education.

Ten Powerful Ways to Involve Families of ELLs

1) Invite them into your classroom to borrow books and resources, creating an open, inviting classroom.  Food and drink are always a way to make families feel welcome!

2) Start an after-school program for family members to learn English alongside their children.  (We will dedicate a post to this idea, and also give suggestions for funding, such as Title III federal funds!)

3) Model for families how to use movies/ TV/music to identify themes, characters, problem/solution, sequence, etc.  This is powerful for family members who may be worried that because they aren't literate in English they can't help their children become stronger students.  Point out the ways they can teach important concepts that students use in school.  Note that many immigrant families are literate, many are not.  Reassure them that they can be highly involved in their children's educations regardless.

4) Use their first language in any and all ways possible (written communications, translators, having books available in their first language).

5) Don't reinvent the wheel.  There are tons of schools already successfully engaging families.  Exchange ideas!  You don't have to start from scratch. Let's use this website to share!  Get started by checking out this post for a simple, printable list of questions for parents to ask their children to encourage reading comprehension.

6) Listen, listen, listen!  Our families know their students best.  They want to feel valued and affirmed.

7) Ask questions. This can help you better understand where your students are coming from and how they learn best.  It also helps you show your genuine care and interest in knowing the family.

8) Create a welcome guide and/or welcome committee for new families to help them better understand the school community.

9) Work with other staff members and community-based organizations to provide workshops for parents on academic and non-academic subjects (education rights, helping with homework, parent-teacher conferences, adult ESL, health fairs, literacy, technology).

10) Explore great websites to get more tips and resources.  Below are two of our favorites to get you started.


Want more parent resources?  Our post about parent communication offers printable forms to help parents navigate their children's first months of school in an unfamiliar language environment.

April 8, 2013

Student Record Sheets

In many schools, the ESL teacher is the go-to person for information about an ELL's background, history, and home life.  With the ELL population in a school constantly changing as new students arrive, move away, or test out of services, it can be  challenging to keep track of everything you need to know about a student.

March 31, 2013

Your Voice Heard on ESL Amplified

Welcome back from spring break, teachers!  We care deeply about having multiple voices heard on this blog.  We'd love to hear from you about topics that interest you, and how we can get more educators sharing ideas through this blog.

Please take a few moments to post a comment here about what you'd like to see discussed.  Or, feel free to email eslamplified@gmail.com.

Feel free to post questions, ideas, and other topics, too!  Here are a few that our colleagues have been talking about lately:


March 17, 2013

Thematic Instruction for ELLs

Contrary to common belief is the fact that ELLs actually learn speaking, listening, reading and writing in an interdependent way and NOT in a linear or sequential way.  Try planning lessons that only focus on one and you will quickly see how challenging it can be!  Students learning English need ample opportunities to practice and apply language by engaging in all four modalities.  Envision a student who has ESL class once a day and learns only basic survival English, but no academic language.  Now envision that same student going to a school where the ESL teacher works closely with any other teachers that educate that child.  They are all on the same page in terms of content, providing that child opportunities every single period of the day to try out the language learned and reinforce content.

Choosing a Theme:  

  • Should be able to be explored through multidisciplinary material
  • Should capture students' imaginations to motivate them to apply learning across multiple content areas
  • Should focus on a universal experience so that all students can connect, regardless of their background (new arrival, refugee, SIFE, and so on) 
  • Should be able to integrate language, mathematics, science, and social studies when possible   

Sample Thematic Unit: Hair 

Have fun with vocabulary!  See how many words you can come up with in the following categories related to hair: 
  • Hair Styles (bangs, highlights, mullet) 
  • Adjectives/ Descriptive words (tangled, curly, wispy) 
  • Verbs (shave, spray, braid)
  • Hair Products/ Nouns (comb, brush, dye) 
  • Prepositions (on top, on the sides) 

Sandra Cisneros's Hairs/Pelitos book is a beautiful English-Spanish bilingual book.  Have your students write their own HAIR stories or poems using figurative language like in this book.  For example, "My mother's hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles..."  

Stephanie's Ponytail, by Robert Munsch, will have your students rolling with laughter.  When we did a HAIR unit with our 2nd and 3rd grade students, we adapted this read-aloud into a play so that students could develop their fluency as well as vocabulary and comprehension.  

I Love My Hair, by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, explores Keyana's heritage while her mother brushes her hair.  Connect the theme of HAIR to social studies by exploring the many different hair styles, products, and experiences people  have with their hair.  The possibilities are endless in terms of content, and in the end students will also be affirmed and feel valued!  


March 10, 2013

Anchor Charts for ELLs

English Language Learners are very resourceful students.  You may notice your ELLs checking the name plate that's hanging outside your door to spell your name correctly, or referring back to a read-aloud you did last week because they've forgotten what a carved pumpkin is called.  Developing this ability to independently retrieve information is critical for ELLs.  As teachers, we can help them become more proficient with this skill by creating and posting quality anchor charts in our classrooms.

March 5, 2013

How Graphic Organizers Amplify Content for ELLs

We hear it all the time from administrators and colleagues, consultants and professors..."More graphic organizers!"  But what exactly does that mean for our ELLs?  How do G.O.s help amplify the lessons we teach?

February 24, 2013

Amplifying Your Instruction with Hands-On Activities

AMPLIFYING your ESL instruction is all about increasing comprehensible input for your students. In other words, ELLs learn best when you use instructional strategies that make your teaching (input) as easy to understand as possible (comprehensible).

January 31, 2013


A list of important words, abbreviations, and acronyms you'll see used on this site.

January 20, 2013

January 13, 2013

About Us!

Read on to learn more about the authors of this blog!

Do You Amplify?

Take these quick self-assessments to help you reflect on practical things you can do every day to amplify your instruction for ELLs.