Teaching Tuesday: Approaches to Support English Learners

By Mirta Ramirez-Espinola, Ed.D, and Dr. Tracy Vasquez

Diverse students holding national flags to support English learners

Most educators work in an environment rich with diverse learners. No two students learn in the exact way. It is a rewarding experience for us as educators to help students attain the “aha” moments. Let’s review three approaches that can support all students to make learning gains and expressions of what they have learned through writing and speaking.

1. The Gradual Release Method

The gradual release method refers to the “I do, we do, you do” approach. Modeling and guiding instruction in this way supports all learners. In whole group instruction we can project a screen to the class and talk through instructional steps. In small group instruction we can use tangible materials and facilitate smaller discussions.

We can use Small Group Guided Instruction (SGGI) to support students in any grade level or content area. Students can be heterogeneously or homogenously grouped based on intervention or enrichment needs. With these student groups in mind, it is important to consider we may have to model instructional steps more than once. Modeling can include visual aids like graphic organizers, audio or media aids, or one-to-one conversation with a student or group where a process is modeled slowly or with scaffolded language.

2. The Guided Note-taking Method

We can model note-taking techniques explicitly for students with the intention they will develop these skills to use independently in the future. While some students are able to develop their own shorthand or use of images or symbols to remember content, these skills do not always come naturally or work well for students without support. For English learners in particular, it is crucial we teach a method of taking notes that can help students begin their own system of note-taking or highlighting.

Often, teachers can support students by providing a graphic organizer, such as a T-chart. Other approaches for note-taking can develop from using strategies like Stop and Jot or Stop and Think. This process is useful when students are expected to read and understand a larger amount of text. Students will read text, stop and think, and write their notes in a margin, on a graphic organizer, or journal.

3. The Socratic Seminar Method

A Socratic Seminar, or guided group discussion, is designed to provide opportunities for students to engage in thoughtful dialogue around a designated primary source document related to the content. Before using this method, we need to explicitly teach thinking approaches and procedures around this process. When implemented successfully, students have opportunities to discuss and activate prior knowledge as well as practice critical thinking skills. Students confirm and reaffirm their assertions and practice critical thinking with others.

Meaningful discussion is most important for all students, but especially for English learners whose first language is not English. When students “talk” they are also listening and translating words from English to their home language and back again. This process allows the students, to begin to connect words to concrete concepts and grasp their second language more readily. All students need to practice speaking and listening.

As educators we continually strive to support students in reaching the “aha” moment. How often do we pause and reflect on the instructional approaches or methods of supporting them with differentiation in mind? Consider these methods discussed and read more about the philosophy of these approaches.

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Retrieved From:

1 Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction (Vol. 59). Harvard University Press.

2 Bruner, J. (2004). A short history of psychological theories of learning. Daedalus, 133(1), 13-20.

3 Cortazzi, M., & Hall, B. (1998). Vygotsky and learning. Education Libraries Journal, 41(3), 17.

4 Vygotsky, L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society: Development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.

5 Vygotsky, L., & Cole, M. (2018). Lev Vygotsky: learning and social constructivism. Learning Theories for Early Years Practice, 58.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.