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Working with Struggling ELLs (English Language Learners) with Differentiated Reading

written by: Doritsas•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 9/21/2009

Reading lessons for ELLs should focus on using vocabulary practice and building reading skills. In a general education classroom, teachers should differentiate instruction to ensure that all groups of ELLs including those struggling ELLs are consistently engaged.

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    Providing Differentiated Reading Instruction

    Differentiated instruction reinforces vocabulary and early reading skills. ELLs need to recognize both oral and written forms of vocabulary in order to fully understand their meaning. One way teachers can do this is to provide meaningful activities that engage students. In a mixed ability class, teachers need to differentiate instruction for all groups of ELLs; the emphasis should be on using both oral and written forms meaningfully.

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    A Sample Reading Lesson

    The problems the teacher faces when teaching differentiated classes (ranging from mixed ability to ELLs) include how to plan lessons that can meet the needs of all the students from getting bored and the lower performing students from feeling that they are lost.

    Reading Tasks for Lower Performing Students

    1.ELLs extract and list all names of people/places/numbers. Classify them into groups.

    2.ELLs work only with a specific paragraph, looking for specific information.

    3.Have ELLs underline all the words that they know. Ask them to look up the difficult words. These students become the experts.

    4. True/False type questions

    Reading Tasks for Middle ELLs

    1.ELLs answer questions that relate to general ideas.

    2.Multiple choice type questions.

    3.True/False questions but ELLs correct the false questions and/or give evidence from the text.

    Reading Tasks for Higher Performing ELLs

    1.Oral reports on a text.

    2.Questions for reading between the lines.

    3.Answer detailed questions on the text. Make up questions and swap with partner.

    In a differentiated reading lesson, the teacher can adapt the task to two or three different levels, thereby enabling the student to choose the level that s/he can function with.You should first provide students with main input before assigning different tasks.

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    Pre-Assessment Drives Instruction

    One way to effectively cater to the ranges of your struggling ELLs is to actually find out what students know and can do. If you are under time and curriculum constraints, then try to use mini-oral assessments (10 minutes) where ELLs read a targeted list of words (to test decoding skills). You can also assess their ability to match the word to the picture (for deeper recognition). Complete ongoing assessments that help you acquire a class profile. Doing this consistently will help you custom design differentiated lessons for those struggling ELLs in your mixed ability classes.