Do preschoolers learn English the same way new ESL adolescent learners do?

Well, the answer is no. But the difficulty is in identifying the overlap of skills, approaches and needs. Shahanan posted a powerpoint detailing some concepts that should be incorporated into a preschoolers program – Two things I have already incorporated into my programme for the new term ( 4 days from now) is the incorporation of skill development in phonological awareness and the development of deeper vocabulary. 


Video Example of Identifying ELL students

Click on the link below to view an interesting video that looks at how newly arrived students are screened for the esl programme. 

In my school’s context, students coming in are screened during similar interviews and given a written test to ascertain their levels. This interview focuses more on the screening based on the questioning of parents. 

The area of concern we have is the written tests. We still haven’t found the right tests ( those simple enough to administer at the initial stage) that can indicate where to place students. This video points out that students are placed in the teachers classroom for a 10 day period during which time the ESL teacher assesses the student. 

This is the reality of what happens in our situation too. Unfortunately, invariably, we have students have been placed in the wrong class. Personally, I don’t think it is good for newly arrived immigrants to go through this insecure period of not really being able to fit in. I’m looking at how we can make the assessments more reliable so that the students can be placed relatively accurately in the right class. This is important given that within the intensive learning programme students go through a 10 week programme. 10 days of trying to ascertain the ESL learners position and placing them correctly is too long.

Building Bridges - ESL

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Enabling deeper thinking

This post in Education Week about deeper thinking titled “Would You Know Deeper Learning If You Saw It?”got me reflecting on a lesson I conducted in class today. This week, my students have watched a video version of “The ant and grasshopper” as well as a text version. They successfully identified features that were seen in both texts yesterday. Today, it was good to listen to and facilitate the small group discussions as students strove to identify features that were only identified in the separate versions. During the animated discussion, students were using their newly acquired vocabulary to argue and justify details and plot lines. Many were extremely precise in their observations and justifications. really proud of their achievement today.

Teaching a new level yet again.

There is never a dull moment in teaching is there? I’ve begun teaching a new level of students this year. They are about 2 levels up from my previous level and approximately at a grade 4 standard.

The main difference I see at this level is that the students generally have more confidence in speaking. They can communicate in most social situations and can articulate their basic needs. In writing, most are able to express their thoughts in a few simple sentences with some quite capable of writing a short paragraph ( with basic inaccuracies still evident). A few of the students are still reading at grade 2 level but most have no problem working with grade 3 and 4 level texts when their learning experiences have been highly scaffolded. And best of all… They can listen and comprehend lessons quite well.

Here’s to a new 10 week cycle!

Grammar for the early esl classroom

I certainly do not advocate teaching grammar out of context. However, the esl learner must be made aware of the grammar that “native” speakers have naturally assimilated. This knowledge can bridge the gap between those who have the instinctive awareness of how their language functions, and those for whom the complexities of the language overshadow their ability to make meaning.

I have been teaching the basic level group this term. They had about 3 months or more of lessons in English before coming into my class for the 10 week programme. In such a short timeframe, it is impossible to address all their needs but I have found that there are some grammatical structures that must be addressed to enable quality writing, reading and speaking at this level to occur.

The following grammatical structures need to be addressed.
– nouns ( common, proper nouns )
– nouns ( people, place, things)
– nouns ( countable, uncountable)
-verbs (regular and irregular)
– subject verb agreement( when teaching the present tense)
– tenses (present, continuous, past)
-verbs – the structure of the infinitive ( at a very basic level in such an intensive course)
– pronouns ( possessive – addressed first because it ties in nicely to the use of nouns)
-pronouns ( subject and object)
– articles
– prepositions and prepositional phrases of place and time

Organising the classroom

It’s the start of the new year and the first challenge I have come to is the range of students I have in the class. Some of them have come into this Intensive English class at 13 years old, after 2 to 3 years in the primary school. Others are new arrivals with between 1 to 3 months experience learning in Australia.

The standard of English is so different. The majority have already developed good decoding skills; Only 2 will require intensive work on their basic sounds. Many have a strong basic math background. So some of the basic work that I used to have to cover intensively do not need such attention now.

My first focus is on how to differentiate in the classroom. This week I will be organising the students into ability groups so that they can develop their learning at their own pace. Step 1 will be the planning of the tables. Step 2 will be the organisation of learning activities and preparation of materials. Here’s to a busy week ahead.

Reader’s theatre

Implementing Readers Theatre as an Approach to Classroom Fluency Instruction by Chase Young and Timothy Rasinski in The ReadingTeacher 63(1) 2009, discusses the success seen through the use of reading theatre in a grade 2 class. “Accuracy, automaticity, and prosody lead to good comprehension”. Reading theatre encourages students to improve on their reading speed without adversely affecting their attention to meaning. It is in the nature of reading these scripts that students also work on discovering meaning, and how intonation and stress naturally develop that meaning for their audience. It is in the nature of readers theatre that no props or costumes are required. However, some of the scripts I have used do allow for the use of masks. This suits the needs of some of my less confident students.

I’ve just come across this website, “Readers theatre all year” offering reader’s theatre scripts. The scripts are interesting and of varying durations so that I can differentiate in the classroom. My students and I have enjoyed working on short scripts in class before but I haven’t until now found scripts that weren’t childish.

The challenge I have is in finding themes that can appeal to my mature 18 year olds as well as my younger 13 and 14 year olds all within the one class! On the whole I find I have to steer away from animal centred texts that don’t appeal to the teens.

Another website that offers reader theatre scripts is the super teacher site. Check out these others too. “The best class” at has a huge range directed at grade 2 level. Teaching has scripts that are slightly more difficult. I have modified a couple for use. And I love using the materials from “a-z learning”.

Last term I had students work on performance poetry for their assessment. This term I’ll be using readers theatre. I think the opportunity to work with peers and the culmination of a term’s word on decoding and phonics will be harnessed through these activities. And students do enjoy the creativity of working on these scripts.

Some tips to see the smooth running of the programme:
-choose a range of scripts and explore the texts in class before students actually choose their role.
-ensure the scripts have difficult words modified prior to students seeing the script. It can be frustrating finding huge chunks of unwieldy text to deal with.
– some scripts had long unnecessary segments that confuse students. Adapt the script when necessary.
– work on pronunciation throughout the preparation stage. When students are performing in front of an audience, you want the best from them.
– part of the value in using such scripts and allowing students to choose their own roles is that students develop a realistic perception of what they can and cannot do. Some of my students choose difficult scripts, sometimes with just difficult pronunciation being the issue, and then make up their own mind to look for something more suitable. I think this development of self awareness is healthy.