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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.

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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.

It is critical to respond in a timely fashion to potential reading difficulties indicated in formative assessment results. Reading interventions that occur daily in a small group format and provide explicit, direct instruction in critical reading components in addition to the core reading program should be the primary means of instructional delivery. English learners and native speakers can be included in instructional groups as long as the groups share the same skill level. English learners at risk for reading problems benefit from the following additional instruction:

  • 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)

Teach vocabulary

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.

Core reading programs typically do not include adequate vocabulary instruction for English learners, so districts and schools need to develop a framework of essential words to be taught explicitly and in-depth. Vocabulary instruction should be emphasized in all parts of the curriculum and include common English words and phrases as well as content words. The panel recommends instruction that:

  • 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.

Partner work provides opportunities for students to practice what the teacher has taught and can be used to strengthen a wide range of skills, including word and text reading, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and writing. Effective partner work includes:

  • 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
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