Tips for Educators of ELLs: Reading in Grades 4-6

The tips below offer some great ways to help your English language learners (ELLs) become confident and successful readers. Add a new language strategy each week, and watch your students' reading improve!

Note: These tips can be used with both newcomer and long-term ELLs. Newcomer ELLs are ELL students who have just arrived to the United States. Long-term ELLs are ELL students who have been in the U.S. for a longer period of time.

Increase exposure to language by reading to students every day

Choose texts with lots of illustrations and high-frequency vocabulary. Choose books with simple sentence structure, repetitive phrases, and predictable plot to provide extra scaffolding.

Re-read familiar texts

Re-reading familiar texts is one of the best ways to improve reading accuracy and fluency. Re-reading also helps ELLs develop vocabulary by providing repeated exposure to the same words in context.

Provide explicit, systematic instruction in phonics

Students need explicit instruction in sound-symbol correspondences in order to become successful readers in English. Make phonics instruction part of a balanced program that includes reading meaningful texts that are aligned to the content being taught in the classroom.

Help students recognize the structure of expository text

Introduce the various parts of the text, such as the table of contents and the glossary. Show students how the text is organized, pointing out bold print, chapter headings, and chapter summaries.

Build or access prior knowledge before reading

Set the stage for reading by helping ELLs build background knowledge and make connections to their own experiences.

Ask open-ended questions

Answering questions that require more than a "yes/no" answer gives students practice with organizing their thoughts in English and fosters English language proficiency. It's also a great way to check reading comprehension. Ask students for evidence of the answer, and ask other students if they agree or disagree.

Provide opportunities for group and pair work

Working with peers during classroom activities supports both language development and content learning. Like native English speakers, ELLs must continue to expand and extend their English vocabulary as they "read to learn" in the upper elementary grades.

Assign reading buddies to develop more oral fluency

Have student pairs practice choral reading or echo reading. This will also encourage students to feel more comfortable with their classmates.

Practice makes perfect for fluency

Activities such as reader's theater and poetry or speech reading allow students to practice their parts before performing them with a partner or in a small group. This builds both reading and oral language fluency.

Provide models of fluent reading

Listening to fluent reading by a teacher or another student helps newcomers improve their own fluency, both in reading and in oral language.

Use physical responses as one way of checking comprehension

Techniques such as Total Physical Response (TPR) give students an opportunity to show what they know by acting it out in skits and by playing games.

Make reading hands-on!

Use manipulatives, props, puppets, games, drawing activities, and even skits to bring the text to life.

Consider books on tape and captioned movies

Providing textbooks on audiotape and films with captions are effective alternatives for some English language learners who struggle with the increased language demands posed by content area textbooks.

Make use of multicultural texts

Including texts that feature multicultural themes and settings not only validates English language learners' home cultures, but it also allows students to draw upon existing background knowledge to support comprehension.

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These tips are available as a one-page handout to download and print.

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