Teaching Literacy in English to K-5 English Learners
Explore the five recommended practices for teaching literacy in English to English language learners: (1) Screen and monitor progress, (2) Provide reading interventions, (3) Teach vocabulary, (4) Develop academic English, and (5) Schedule peer learning.
This visual diagram illustrates the "big picture" for the interrelated practices recommended for teaching K-5 English learners to read in English. Use this diagram to engage teachers in discussion about how to implement the practices and use benchmarks, staff collaboration, and other supporting conditions to build a core reading program for all students.
Get the full Practice Guide: Effective Literacy and English Language Instruction for English Learners in the Elementary Grades (PDF).
Screen and monitor progress
Conduct formative assessments to screen for reading problems and monitor progress.
English learners can learn to read at the same rate as their native English-speaking peers but may need extra support. A comprehensive core reading program includes well-developed assessment systems for identifying student needs. The field of beginning reading has a well-known set of instruments to assess phonological processing, letter knowledge, and word and text reading which give teachers solid information about their students' reading development. The same English language instruments that are used with native English speakers can also be used with English learners.
Teachers can use these measures to determine which students need support and what kind of support they need. By the middle of kindergarten, after students have received some instruction, these formative assessments are a valid indicator of whether or not a student is at risk for reading problems. Students at a higher risk will require frequent monitoring — as often as several times per month.
Provide reading interventions
Provide intensive, small group reading interventions for English learners at risk for reading problems.
- Daily small group instruction of 30-50 minutes
- Direct, explicit instruction that is fast-paced and engaging and offers frequent opportunities for students to respond and participate in short practice activities
- Frequent review of skills
- Clear, corrective feedback to student errors
- Adequate wait time for student response
- Attention to the five core reading elements (phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency)
Provide extensive and varied vocabulary instruction throughout the day.
Students must be taught vocabulary through formal instruction and also provided opportunities to acquire vocabulary through use in language-rich settings in and out of the classroom. Teachers should go beyond the words in reading texts and address the meaning of common words, phrases, and expressions that English learners have not yet learned.
- focuses on a limited number (8-10) of target words each week;
- provides multiple exposures of target words in varied contexts;
- uses student-friendly definitions;
- makes active use of words in meaningful contexts; and
- includes regular review.
Develop academic English
Develop academic English competence beginning in the primary grades.
Academic English is the language of school-based learning and entails understanding the structure of language and the precise way that words and phrases are used, including content-specific vocabulary. More nuanced and de-contextualized than conversational English, it requires a high degree of precision in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
Starting in kindergarten, academic English should be taught explicitly in specific blocks of time throughout the day - during content area instruction, reading instruction, and English language development. Students should learn the structure of the language, grammar, how words and phrases are used. They need to learn the technical vocabulary in content areas (e.g., "perimeter" in math) as well as general academic words like "compare and contrast." Teaching strategies include daily instruction, supplemental curricula to accompany core reading and mathematics series, and professional development.
Schedule peer learning
Schedule regular peer-assisted learning opportunities, including structured language practice.
At least 90 minutes a week should be spent on instructional activities where student pairs work together. Students at different ability levels and/or different English language proficiency levels should be assigned to work together on structured academic tasks. These activities should provide practice and extension to reading and language skills already taught.
- Clear instructional activities planned in advance and based on material that has been taught
- Procedures and routines for working in pairs taught by the teacher in advance of peer work
- Members of pairs who differ in reading ability or English proficiency
- Peers working together approximately 90 minutes per week in reading and language practice