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Literacy development, science curriculum, and the adolescent English language learner: modifying instruction for the English-only classroom.


Several years ago while teaching my high school physical science class, I was interrupted with a knock at my classroom door. One of my school's administrators was standing in the hall with two new students. They were introduced to me as sisters from Columbia. I quickly found them seats and returned to the hall at the administrator's beckoning. The administrator then told me that the girls had just moved to the United States and could speak no English. I asked the administrator what I should do. She hesitated and then replied, "If you are fortunate, they will be quiet and you can ignore them." From that point on, I searched for resources and information that could be used to help the girls succeed in school and learn science. There was little available then and the literature today is still lacking information regarding the teaching of science and literacy development to English language learners. (S. Watson, personal communication, May 18, 2004)

The number of English Language Learners (ELLs) in the United States increased 72% between 1992 and 2002 (Zehler, Hopstock & Fleischman, 2003). According to this same study 3,997,819 Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students were enrolled in K-12 public schools in 2001-02. During the same year 357,325 of these students were receiving some type of special education services. ELL students comprise approximately two percent of the total school population (, retrieved 2003).

Most of these students receive their educational services in the general education classroom. However, ELL students who qualify do receive some services in the area of special education. An ELL teacher provides some of these services. The majority of ELL students continue to receive services within the general education classroom.

Therefore, it is important for the general education teacher to be aware of both cultural and linguistic differences and the effect these have on performance in academics, classroom conduct, and social interaction (Lewis & Doorlag, 2003). For successful implementation of any instructional model for ELL students the importance of collaboration among teachers is essential. The ELL students must have their unique education needs addressed if they are to be successful.

Exemplary instruction for ELL students requires basic principles that foster equity and excellence in academically diverse learners. These principles are detailed in the following statements: (1) Good curriculum comes first; (2) All tasks should respect each learner; (3) When in doubt teach up; (4) Become an assessment junkie; and (5) Grade to reflect growth (Tomlinson, 2003).
 Teaching academic content requires attention
 to both information and skills. While
 content teachers are not reading teachers,
 time spent previewing and engaging in
 pre-study activities provides an opportunity
 to teach valuable skills that will
 serve students in all areas of studies. For
 ESL/ELL students, time spent in previewing
 will assure greater comprehension and
 retention. It will prepare them not only
 for reading, but also for participation in
 class discussions, collaborative work, and
 individual group projects.
 retrieved, May 19, 2004)

Teachers now look for new and better ways to address areas of need for ELL students in all content areas. Specifically, ELL teachers must have the skills to teach reading within an academic content area.

One of the broad goals from the "ESL Standards for PreK-12 Students" as designed by TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) is for ELLs to "use English to achieve academically in all content areas" (p. 12). More specific standards suggest that "students will use English to obtain, process, construct, and provide subject matter information in spoken and written form" (Goal 2, Standard 2, p. 12), and that "students will use appropriate learning strategies to construct and apply academic knowledge" (Goal 2, Standard 3, p. 16).

That these standards are being applied to the English language learner, who may be required to learn cultural, social, educational, and perhaps political norms while simultaneously learning the complexities of a new linguistic system, makes even greater demands of the ELLs and the teachers charged with their instruction. We have examined the recent literature in second-language learning, and the teaching of reading in both mainstream and bilingual content settings, in our attempt to uncover common themes that suggest "best practices" in meeting the academic standards as detailed above.

Our research herein is based on certain underlying assumptions about second language development:

* Literacy in a second language develops much as in the first--globally, not linearly, and in a variety of rich contexts (Rigg & Allen, 1989). As with native language learners, ELLs learn to read by reading, and learn to write by writing (Smith, 1997).

* Second-language learning takes place best in risk-free environments where students' experiences and contributions are validated (Law & Eckes, 1990; Au, 1998). When students feel good about themselves and their relationships with their peers, the target language will more likely be supported (Rigg & Hudelson, 1986). It is the collaborative social environment that supports language development (Vygotsky, 1978; Au, 1998).

* Language is best learned when it is "whole"--that is, when it is used for real and meaningful purposes (Edelsky, Altwerger, & Flores, 1991; Fitzgerald, 1993).

* Reading and writing are literacy processes through which children construct meaning, using prior knowledge and a variety of strategies that promote and regulate comprehension (Peregoy & Boyle, 2000).

We would agree with the research that suggests that a bilingual environment, in which instruction is delivered in both the students' native and the target language, would be the best classroom scenario for the second language learner (Barratt-Pugh & Rohl, 2001; International Reading Association, 2001). However, because of a dearth of bilingual teachers as compared to the general population of certified teachers in the United States (International Reading Association, 2001), we ascribe to the approach of "sheltered instruction," as conceptualized from Stephen Krashen's research by Echevarria and Graves (1998), which integrates our assumptions outlined above.

Sheltered instruction embraces the practices of: (1) comprehensible input (language at the level of understanding of the learner); (2) a warm, affective environment; (3) intense student involvement in small groups and collaborative environments; (4) student-focused curriculum; (5) hands-on tasks; and (6) standards-based planning with careful selection of key concepts to be attained by the ELLs. Because the typical teacher of an ELL in the U.S. is a monolingual English-speaking classroom teacher, we will direct the suggestions in this article to the teacher working within an English-only instructional setting.

Why a Science and Literacy Connection in General? Why for the ELL?

This article will focus on teaching the ELL in the content area of science. Notwithstanding the fact that one of us is a science educator with recent experience in teaching ELLs in her high school classroom, we believe that science in particular offers the complex content area information, social support, and contextualized language use that best supports the language learner in meeting the print literacy standards of TESOL.

* Children have a natural curiosity about the world around them; they want to know the "why's and how's" of phenomena and systems at work around them. The natural attraction to hands-on science experiences can authentically extend into the print literacies of reading and writing.

* Background knowledge, the backbone of reading comprehension, can support ELLs when they participate in concrete experiences (an experiment, sampling procedure, simulation, design task, field trip, etc.), then progress to the more abstract nature of reading print.

* Rigg & Hudelson (1986) suggest that the target language develops when ELLs work with native language speakers to accomplish a concrete, hands-on task as a group. In addition to the Vygotskian notion that knowledge is socially constructed (Vygotsky, 1978), best practices in science teaching and learning suggest experimentation in a small group, an ideal scenario for language learning (Fu, 2004).

Challenges of the ELL

The ELL faces a number of significant cultural, educational, social, and emotional challenges in adjusting to the U.S. academic setting. Even if the ELL were born in the U.S., s/he may have been a part of a closely knit immigrant community that has maintained its native language use. Some of the many challenges that the ELL might face are detailed below:

* Previous schooling has a major impact on the ELL's success in the English academic setting. Migrant children born in the United States may have experienced a transient lifestyle during their early school years, and their school attendance may have been sporadic. If students have immigrated from a politically volatile country, their opportunities to attend school may have been severely compromised. The learners' literacy status in their first language will certainly influence their understandings of print in the target language, as print experiences in the first language inform the development of subsequent language(s) (International Reading Association, 2001).

* Parental attitudes may reflect cultural stances that may not co-exist easily with the U. S. emphasis on secondary and higher education. For example, the family's attitudes about the educational needs of their female children may not be aligned with educational policy and practice in this country.

* Cultural knowledge held by the ELL may not be valued in the school setting (i.e., spider webs for cuts, medicinal characteristics of plants, etc.). The diversities of culture, politics, and religion could also contribute to severe disconnects between the ELL's home culture and the culture of the school (Au, 1998).

* Even when children are literate in their native language, if that written language is non-alphabetic, then they will have a more substantial challenge than the student who has at least some literacy experiences in an alphabet-based written language.

* Teachers may have lowered expectations of the ELL (Moll, 1992), and because of their language status may not be offered curriculum that is as intellectually stimulating as that which is offered to native speakers.

* ELLs may not be familiar with the jargon associated with a specific discipline, with the syntax of content-area writings (passive voice, complex-compound sentence structure, use of familiar words in a scientific context, etc.), or with the differing stances a reader must take with either narrative or expository text structure (Law & Eckes, 2000).

* Several possible explanations exist for the difficulty that students often seem to experience with expository text: (1) they are unfamiliar with exposition; (2) they lack knowledge concerning the content; and/or (3) the content of the text is poorly organized (Beck & McKeown, 1991).

* One of the greatest challenges that ELLs may face is that their "conversational language" and their "academic language" abilities may be significantly different (Cummins, 1981). Many ELLs develop competency in social conversations (basic interpersonal communication skills, or BICS) in the target language within one to three years. Competency in using the target language in academic tasks (cognitive academic language proficiency, or CALP), however, may require as long as five to seven years (Cummins, 1981).

These challenges suggest that teachers must be well informed about the ELL's experiences and understand strategies that will support the learning environment of this uniquely situated learner. As reading and writing are "two sides of the same coin" and provide the foundation for all academic learning, it is invaluable for the English-only classroom to incorporate many strategies to support both the typical learner and the ELL.

A "Top 10" List of Literacy Strategies to Support ELLs

Supporting second language development can be an overwhelmingly complex teaching task. There is no simple solution to the challenges faced by ELLs and their teachers, and there is no guarantee that one or a combination of strategies/methods/ approaches will guarantee the students' acquisition of the target language. Our "Top 10 List" should not oversimplify the daunting experience of language teaching and learning, but is intended to detail some of the recurring suggestions in the body of reading, ESL, and bilingual research. One important point to be made here is that the following strategies represent best practices in literacy for all learners, not just ELLs.

1. Trade the Texbooks for Tradebooks

We need to increase the use of tradebooks in the science classroom and decrease reliance on the textbook. Frequently the language of textbooks is bland, lifeless, and fails to pique the interest of a reader. The excessive coverage creates boring text, and it does not anticipate and provide for students' lack of prior knowledge and life experience. Perhaps one of the most important distinctions of the textbook is that it is often incoherent due to its formulaic writing style, format, and graphics.

Alternatively, tradebooks delve deeply and thoroughly into a subject, the result of an author's passion for the topic. These authors, who are writing both to inform and entertain, often present information with engaging style, in a meaningful context, and in discernible organizational patterns that support readers' understandings (classificatory, cause/effect, problem/solution, persuasive, etc.). In notable difference from textbooks, hundreds of tradebooks are published every month from a highly competitive publishing industry and therefore contain current knowledge, and the wide variety of publications allows for reader interest and reading ability. Well written picture books that focus on science can be appealing to adolescent learners due to outstanding photography and easy-to-read text. Hadaway, Vardell, and Young (2002) have found that "simple nonfiction picture books ... can be successful with older students who are unfamiliar with this particular topic. Even adults enjoy new information presented in this straightforward and visual way. Such books provide authentic language but present that language in a manageable but enticing form" (p. 217).

Excellent authors in science include Seymour Simon (1998), Bianca Lavies (1995), Gail Gibbons (2002), Sandra Markle (2003), Laurence Pringle (1995), Patricia Lauber (1995), Caroline Arnold (1997), Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (2003), Melvin Berger (1998), Joanna Cole (1997), Franklyn Branley (2005), Ken Robbins (2002), Bruce McMillan (1995), Steve Jenkins (2001), Martin Jenkins (2003), Margery Facklam (1990), Jim Arnosky (2004), and many more. Lists of outstanding nonfiction books in science can be found at the web site of the National Science Teachers Association at The National Council of Teachers of English has a list of outstanding general nonfiction books at its web site,

Perhaps one of the most critical points is that tradebooks are written at multiple levels of reading difficulty. Grade level textbooks are provided with the assumption that the consumers of these textbooks are native speakers and are reading on grade level. This is not a realistic expectation for the second-language learner or the struggling reader; therefore, utilizing tradebooks offers the teacher more opportunities to match the current reading levels of ELLs while still accomplishing the grade level standards. Using lower level texts that address the same content needs being addressed in the class will help reinforce concepts and help support ELLs' target language development (Gersten, 1996).

2. Modify Text Into Simplified Formats

We may need to modify even well-written texts into more simplified formats for ELLs. In addition to concrete demonstrations of ideas and processes, and offering tradebooks at multiple levels, Echevarria and Graves (1998) suggest four other ways to economize texts to create comprehensible input for the English language learner: (1) use graphic organizers; (2) outline the text; (3) rewrite the text; and (4) use audiotapes.

Graphic organizers: Creating a visual rerepresentation of information gained from the text supports both students' comprehension and their short and long-term memory of what was read (Pearson & Fielding, 1991). As part of a teacher's lesson plan, s/he could demonstrate to the entire class how to take information from the text and integrate it into one of three general organizers that will accommodate all six text structures: an outline of the hand will serve as an organizer for sequenced text, story structure, explanatory text, or descriptive text (see Figure 1). A semantic web would serve equally well (see Figure 2). The T-Chart will organize the thinking and note-taking of students reading cause/ effect or problem/solution text (see Figure 3). Finally, the Venn diagram helps organize the students' thinking during or after reading expository text that compares and contrasts objects or concepts (see Figure 4). (See strategy #8 for examples of text structure.)


Outline the text: The teacher could give rich demonstrations of the formal outlining procedure of finding main ideas and then supporting important details. The teacher could then scaffold students to providing more and more of the information, and eventually turn over the outlining responsibilities to pairs of learners.

Rewrite the text: After the teacher's numerous rich demonstrations of finding a topic sentence for the text and then determining supportive important details, the responsibilities of summarizing chunks of the text could be transferred to the students working in pairs. ELLs could be paired with native English speakers to complete this task collaboratively.

Audiotape the text: Carbo (1996) has suggested the value to struggling readers of following along in the text while listening to a competent reader on an audiotape. The reader should progress at a slow rate while still using natural phrasing, and should identify the point at which the reader moves to another section or page. Partial responsibility for creating the tapes could be assumed by volunteer readers so that the teacher is not wholly responsible for the process.

It is important for teachers to remember that although adolescent ELLs may have limited productive language skills in English, they nevertheless want and need to explore complex ideas and processes. It is unacceptable to share elementary-level informational texts with ELLs because of the simplified language they use. We want to simplify the text to be utilized, not the content to be taught.

3. "Front Load" the Reading Event

We must invest the time to prepare students for any reading event. We must determine what the ELLs' background knowledge is for a text, and if it is insufficient, we must build that knowledge prior to reading if we want them to understand the text. We can provide background knowledge in a number of ways, by

* showing videotape or film clips that address the topic;

* showing photographs or, even better, concrete objects (realia) associated with the topic and discussing their role;

* reading aloud a newspaper clipping, magazine article, or excerpt from a book;

* reading aloud a children's quality nonfiction text that provides information in a comprehensible format;

* inviting an expert in the field to talk with the class;

* sending students off in a "jigsaw" strategy to find a manageable "chunk" of information from a text or the Internet; when students share their individual "chunks" they gain collective background knowledge;

* simply talking about the topic or process; having a conversation about the concept and the text students will be reading can prepare them for the cognitive task ahead;

* providing a hands-on activity that allows students to experience the concept

Kessler & Quinn (1987) suggest that " a process oriented science class using an inquiry approach is among the optimal sources of social interaction and language input for facilitating acquisition of a second language" (p. 56). Therefore, providing hands-on activities that allow students to engage in a scientific concept are not only helpful avenues by which ELLs might grasp difficult science information, but they are also opportunities to further English language acquisition.

For example, it can be quite difficult to verbally or textually portray to any student the differences between physical and chemical properties and physical and chemical changes, but it can be particularly problematic for English language learners. Therefore, we suggest a teacher demonstration followed by a laboratory activity (see Appendix 1 for complete activity) for optimum comprehension.

According to Kessler and Quinn (1987), the teacher first demonstrates to ELLs (and others) the concept, giving students the "opportunity to listen and observe before producing any language" (p. 82). To demonstrate physical properties of calcium chloride for example, a teacher might ask students to describe that substance's physical appearance (white, granular, chalky, etc.); to demonstrate its chemical properties a teacher might show students the label attached to the chemical's container that identifies its flammability, etc.

To demonstrate a physical change, the teacher might tear a piece of paper in half, showing students that although the shape of the paper has changed, it is still paper. But when the paper is burned, the black ash that results is no longer considered to be paper; therefore, burning is a chemical change. As new vocabulary is introduced, it should be written on the board.

Gersten (1996) suggests that teachers can identify key words that are critical to understanding the science concept and likely to be unfamiliar to the ELL reader. The discussion surrounding these words, the exploration of them, is key. Students are then given precise oral and textual directions before completing various tasks and determining whether they result in physical or chemical changes. The teacher then acts as a guide or facilitator, moving from one group of students to another, asking appropriate questions and being certain ELLs are negotiating meanings. A simple chart with clear, concise headings is necessary for ELL students to record data as they proceed through the investigation.

At the completion of the activity, students are asked the most significant thing they learned and what they still do not understand about the concept. This approach, according to Martin (1989), provides feedback to the instructor as to what ELLs do and do not understand. The information provided can then be used to modify future lessons.

4. Don't Just Stand There: Guide Learners AS They Are Reading

We need to incorporate more guided silent reading in our teaching, in which a small group (or even the whole group) reads an excerpt silently, then talks about it; reads an excerpt silently, then talks about it, etc. The teacher guides the students in finding important details, creating a summarizing statement, clarifying any unknown words or unfamiliar concepts, and discussing what was interesting about the information.

Both first language learners and ELLs would likely benefit from the teacher reading a chunk aloud while the students follow along, then stopping to support conversation about the content of the chunk, and proceeding through the text in this manner. Students must not be asked to read the text aloud in a guided reading event; we must abandon all unrehearsed oral reading by the students, as reading is not the oral production of text, but the thinking process that is comprehension. If reading the text aloud is required for the students' comprehension of the text, then the teacher alone should do the oral reading.

5. Reading Aloud: It's Not Just for Kids Any More

We must read aloud every day, with students either listening to the oral text or following along with their own copy of the text. We are not reading aloud from their textbook (its appeal for a compelling print-related experience is questionable), but more appropriately from any number of genres including children's tradebooks, book chapters/excerpts, newspaper articles, Internet text, trade journals, environmental print (brochures, pamphlets, directions, labels, etc.), and more. We may not be reading an informational book from cover to cover; in fact, most informational books do not lend themselves to being read aloud in toto (Hadaway, Vardell, & Young, 2002).

Reading aloud to students offers them the opportunity to process the complex sentence structure of formal academic language, it offers concepts and ideas within the content that may be too complex to read independently, and it introduces the vocabulary of the content in an aural way before students encounter the words in print.

Consider this: if one hasn't heard the words empennage or exenterate in embedded context in oral language, then bringing meaning to these words when encountered in text is a substantial challenge. (An empennage is the tail-section of an airplane; to exenterate some poor soul is to disembowel him.) The vocabulary of academic, content-area language can be discussed during read alouds, and this in turn will better prepare ELLs to construct meaning when they are reading in a more independent scenario.

To enrich the read aloud experience, teachers need to "think aloud" (Davey, 1983) as they read aloud; that is, bring their thinking that is inspired by the text to oral language. This regular modeling of the thought processes of a successful reader can be invaluable for the listener, who then applies the various strategies to his or her own reading practice. Below are some general guidelines to follow:

(a) Begin by modeling making predictions and asking questions about the text from the title, photographs, table of contents, etc.

(b) Articulate what you are thinking as you move through the text section by section--any confusions, questions, connections, resolution of misunderstandings, etc.

(c) As you read each paragraph or chunk of text, share analogies or show how you are utilizing prior knowledge to understand the selection.

(d) Talk about any confusing points and show how to check for comprehension.

(e) Demonstrate "fix-up strategies" of reading ahead, re-reading, reconsidering previous understandings, etc.

Here's a brief example of how a "think aloud" might go using an excerpt from Elaine Landau's Rabies:

Teacher: I'm going to use a comprehension strategy today called a Think Aloud. I'm using this so that you can hear what I'm thinking as I'm reading. Our text today is entitled Rabies, by Elaine Landau. I haven't read anything else by this writer, so I don't know what to expect, and it's a pretty general title. I'm predicting that it will cover a lot of information about the disease, as in what animal species can get it, how they behave when they have rabies, how humans become infected, what the symptoms are and what doctors do for it. Since I've been a little kid I heard about animals being afraid of water if they have rabies, that their brains are so infected that they are crazy. From the picture on the cover, I see two dogs; one looks like its back legs don't work or its spine is paralyzed, and the other one looks very aggressive and ready to chew your arm off. Let's read and find out.

Text: Rabies is a deadly disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, usually by a bite, but it can be contracted in other ways as well. Rabies can be transmitted to people or other animals when saliva from an infected animal comes in contact with a cut, scrape, or other break in their skin. Any warm-blooded animal can contract rabies.

Teacher: Oh, the disease is in body fluids--well, at least in the saliva. That's why the bite can infect you; it causes a break in the skin and then the disease can get in the blood stream. At first this makes me think of AIDS, but the AIDS virus doesn't show up in saliva. Anyway, this paragraph says that you can get rabies in other ways. I think this next paragraph will say something about other ways to get rabies.

Text: Rabies can also be contracted by breathing the air in caves that house large numbers of rabid bats. In such instances, the cave's floor is usually filled with infected bat droppings.

Teacher: My prediction was right: this part tells us other ways to get rabies other than saliva. I guess that the air can carry the disease too, if there's enough of it around. Since this paragraph was about bats, I think the next paragraph might be about bats having rabies. I understand what I'm reading so far, so I'll keep going.

Text: Once inside the body, the rabies virus multiplies. It travels from its entry point to the spinal cord before reaching the brain. There are two forms of rabies. In the first, or furious, type, which largely affects the brain, the infected animal appears excited and aggressive. The word rabies means fury or rage in Latin. It describes the way these animals attack any person, animal, or object in their path.

In the second form--paralytic, or dumb, rabies--the infected animal does not display these symptoms. This form of rabies mainly affects the spinal cord, thus paralyzing the animal.

Teacher: Ah, I had to change my expectations. It wasn't more information about bats. I still think we'll hear more about them in coming pages. But this part was about what happens in humans. I understand this part of the book, that there are two ways that rabies affects an animal, either by going to the brain and making it vicious, or going to the spine and causing paralysis. Since the writer just gave the two general categories of the disease, I think she's going to go into more detail in the next few paragraphs.

A general "Think Aloud" proceeds in this way, either all the way through the text or for the beginning sections or chapters before sending students off to read independently or in pairs. All learners will benefit from hearing the thinking processes of an expert reader modeled, struggling readers in their first language who perhaps have focused more on decoding than comprehension will benefit, and the ELL will experience meaningful demonstrations of language and content necessary for their more independent efforts.

6. Support Students' Talk About Text

Fielding and Pearson (1994) examined 30 years of reading research and concluded that "learners' talk" about the text was the most critical factor in supporting comprehension. We must engage children in conversations about science content, and this instructional conversation will support language learning (IRA Position Statement, Second-Language Literacy Instruction, January 2001). We have all experienced an occasion when our brilliant explanation of a concept was "blown out of the water" by a student with an insightful metaphor or more learner-centered language that clarified the concept.

ELLs need to both hear rich contextualized language and have ample opportunities to use the target language in expressing their thinking. Fu (2004) suggests that each reading and writing even should offer opportunities to develop ELLs' oral language. We must create a supportive environment where students express themselves orally every day--in their home language, in limited English, or in a mixture of their home and target languages. The "think alouds" that we do (see #5 above) will provide a model for students in learning how to think and talk about the text.

7. Death to the Questions at the End of the Chapter and Other Worksheet-like Activities!

Answering the questions in writing at the end of a textbook chapter is of limited value when there are far more "real world," authentic writings that students could experience. For example, writing in a learning log, completing a graphic organizer, recording their thinking on sticky notes as they read through the text (Keene & Zimmermann, 1997), and writing a one sentence summary of each paragraph or chunk of text can all support students' processing of the text. As often as possible we need to get students back into the text to synthesize the information and inspire deeper thinking related to the subject; this rarely occurs with the types of close-ended, low level questions that appear at the ends of chapters.

To reiterate an earlier point, it is the talk about the text that has the proven record of supporting comprehension (Fielding & Pearson, 1994), so teachers should ask students questions like, "What is important to remember from this reading?" "What did the author do to help you understand the concept?" "How do you know the author is qualified to write about the subject?" "How would you explain what you read in 30 seconds to a stranger on a bus?" A list of quality open-ended questions for informational text can be found in Figure 5.

Additionally, we must reduce worksheets and increase authentic reading/writing tasks in which the learning objective is explicit. Even native language speakers frequently have challenges in transferring a skill practiced on a worksheet into their authentic reading and writing (Allington, 2001), and for ELLs the decontextualized nature of the worksheet may be of even less value. Perhaps most importantly, doing worksheets takes time away from the "real business" of reading and writing; if learners become better readers by reading, and better writers by writing (Smith, 1997), then we must prioritize authentic literacy behaviors for both the ELL and native speakers.

8. Time Is of the Essence

Time is crucial in several significant ways for the ELL in English-only classroom. As they are often involved in translating their thinking from their native language to English, students need extra time to formulate and then articulate their thinking in the target language. They need extra time to complete tasks, reading assignments, and tests.

Also critical for native speakers, as well as ELLs, is the opportunity to read in class. Students cannot become better readers without time spent on the task of reading (Allington, 2001). However, we also know that many adolescents because of after-school jobs, social priorities, or crowded living arrangements spend little time reading outside of school even when they understand the value of doing so. Therefore, time must be allocated for students to read during the school day (Allington, 2001). The amount of reading in school-aged children directly correlates with word recognition and reading comprehension (Cipielewski & Stanovich, 1992; McBride-Chang, Manis, Seidenberg, Custodio, & Doi, 1993). For the ELL time spent reading is more valuable than time spent listening to the target language (Krashen, 1991), so time spent reading in class is an invaluable addition to the teacher's schedule.

9. Name That Text Structure

Teachers must show students how to use text structure to help comprehend text. We need to teach kids how to identify text structure in well-written text: cause/effect, comparison/contrast, problem/solution, descriptive, explanatory, and chronological organizational patterns. Fielding and Pearson (1994) report a positive relationship between learners' awareness of informational text structure and their comprehension scores. Examples of the six text structures are presented in Figure 6.

When students can identify the structure of a paragraph or a piece of text, and then can select the appropriate graphic organizer for organizing their thinking about the text, they will be more likely to both comprehend and remember the text (Fielding & Pearson, 1994). (See #2 on "Graphic Organizers.")

10. The Comprehension Intervention

We need to demonstrate and use the language of reading comprehension skills with ELLs with the same high expectations we hold for native speakers. With all students we need discuss making "predictions," "connections," "visualizing," "questioning," "finding important details," "inferencing," "synthesizing," and "using fix-up strategies." These, of course, are not just reading comprehension strategies, but are the cognitive processes involved in scientific thinking.

By demonstrating how we use each one of these comprehension strategies as expert readers through thinking aloud as we read a text (see #5 above), readers can adopt what they've observed and can rehearse using these thinking strategies in their independent reading. One highly recommended text is Tovani's (2000) book, I Read It, But I Don't Get It, which details her challenges as a high school teacher of resistant and struggling readers. In this text Tovani demonstrates how her thinking evolves as she reads a text and how she gradually turns over responsibility to her students to use these thinking strategies on their own. She and the many other teachers who have embraced this model of teaching comprehension are helping to create independent readers who have been shown how to be good readers.


The language that teachers use when teaching and talking about ELLs must be the language of possibility. Biliteracy is a significant asset for any individual entering the work force, and it has the potential to open doors of employment otherwise closed to those who are literate in one language alone.

In writing this article it was our intent to share a "Top 10" list of literacy strategies that will help teachers not only scaffold the ELL to independence, but also enrich the print experiences of our mainstream students. When students understand how authors construct paragraphs, how words "work" in the English language, how graphic organizers help one understand content, and how to use systematic thinking strategies to support comprehension, they are more likely to be empowered as readers and thus participants in a complex print-focused society.

Teachers can and must advocate for all "learners of diverse backgrounds" (Au, 1998), helping them develop their academic and cultural resources so that they may become liberated from "instructional dependence" (Cummins, 1986).


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Barratt-Pugh, C., & Rohl, M. (2001). Learning two languages: A bilingual program in Western Australia. The Reading Teacher, 54(7), 664-676.

Beck, I.L.& McKeown, M.G. (1991). Social studies texts are hard to understand: Mediating some of the difficulties. Language Arts, 68(6), 882-90.

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Sarah Jo Sandefur, Sandy White Watson, and Linda B. Johnston are assistant professors in the Teacher Preparation Academy at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Appendix 1: Physical and Chemical Changes


Materials: Aluminum foil square (8cm x 8cm); Candle; Small quantity of
clay; Matches; Alkaseltzer tablet; Metal Spoon; Small square of wax
paper (8cm x 8cm); Water; 2 Cups or beakers; Rubber band; Vinegar;
Baking Soda; Dropper


1. Obtain and wear chemical splash goggles throughout this activity.

2. Shape your clay into a flattened ball and place it on the aluminum
foil square. Insert the candle into the clay. Observe the physical
properties of the candle before you light it and record in Data
Table 1.

3. Light the candle. Let the candle burn throughout the remainder of
the lab. Record your observations about the candle in the physical or
chemical change data table provided (Data Table 2).

4. Observe the alkaseltzer tablet and record its physical properties in
data table one.

5. Place the alkaseltzer tablet on the waxed paper and use the metal
spoon to crush it into a powder. Record your observations in Data
Table 2.

6. Fill a beaker or cup half full of water. Record the physical
properties of water in data table number one. Pour the crushed
alkaseltzer tablet into the water. Record your observations in Data
Table 2.

7. Observe the rubber band on the table in front of you. Record its
physical properties. Pick up the rubber band and stretch it. Record
your observations in Data Table 2.

8. Obtain a small piece of paper and record its physical properties
in table one. Tear the piece of paper in half. Record your observations
in Data Table 2.

9. Place a small amount (about one teaspoon) of baking soda in another
cup or beaker. Record the physical properties of the baking soda.
Observe the physical properties of the vinegar and record in table one.
Using the dropper, add several drops of vinegar to the baking soda.
Record your observations in Data Table 2.

Data Table 1: Physical Properties Data

Item Physical Properties

Alkaseltzer Tablet
Rubber Band
Baking Soda

Data Table 2: Observations

Event Observations Physical or Evidence for
 Chemical Physical or
 Change? Chemical Change

Candle Dripping Wax
Candle Burning
 Alkaseltzer Tablet
 Rubber Band
Paper Torn
Baker Soda
 and Vinegar

1. What is the most significant thing you learned today?

2. What question(s) do you have relating to this lesson, that have not
yet been answered?

Figure 3. T-Chart: example of graphic organizer for organizing the
thinking and note-taking of students reading cause/effect or
problem/solution text.

Volcanic Eruptions

Cause Effect

plates move apart rock breaks or melts, magma rises,
or collide volcano may erupt

volcano erupts loss of human life and animal life,
 loss of environmental habitat

volcano erupts adds helpful gases and juvenile water
 to air and land

volcano erupts builds land, mountains, islands

volcano erupts forms soil from ash, pumice,
 other lava

new soil mixes with plants grow from new soil
plant and animal parts and nourish other forms of life

Figure 5. Example of open-ended questions for informational books.

1. How were your questions answered about the subject?

2. What questions do you still need to find out about?

3. What did you learn that you didn't know before reading/listening
to the book?

4. What was the most surprising or interesting thing you learned?

5. What kind of knowledge did the writer need to know to write this

6. How do the illustrations work? How did they help you as a reader?

7. What does the writer think is important about this subject? Discuss
whether you agree or disagree.

8. If you were to revise the book, what would you change?

9. How does the writer show that s/he thinks like a scientist?

10. Does the writer use any incident, problem, conflict, or situation
to get the text started?

11. What does the writer do to create interest or excitement or
suspense, to make you want to read on to find out what happened?

12. Trace the main parts of the book. Could you change their order or
leave any of them out? Why or why not?

13. Did the text end the way you expected it to? What clues did the
writer offer to prepare you for the end?

14. What makes the writer an expert in this field? What does s/he know
that gives her/him expertise to write about the topic?

15. Did the text make you think about any story you've read or movie/
documentary that you've seen?

16. Does the text as a whole create a certain mood or feeling? What is
the mood? How was it created?

17. Does the writer tell you how s/he did the research? If not, how do
you think s/he gather information?

18. What in the text reminds you of something that has happened in your
own life or one of your friend's life?

19. What part was the most interesting to you? Why?

20. How was the book organized? How did this work for you?

21. Is this text like any other informational text you have read or
maybe a documentary that you've watched? Why?

22. What idea or ideas does this text make you think about? How does
the writer get you to think about this?

23. Did you have strong feelings as you read the text? What part of the
book gave you that reaction?

24. What are the main ideas behind the text? What makes you think of
them as you read the book?

25. Would you want to meet the author of this book? If so, why? If not,

26. Is there anything that seems to make this particular writer's work
unique and different? If so, what?

27. What questions would you ask if the writer were here? Which would
be the most important question? How do you think the writer might
answer it?

28. What is a piece of information from this book that you hope you
will remember five years from now?

29. Did you notice any particular patterns in the form of this book?
If you are reading this book in more than one sitting, are there
natural points at which to break off your reading? If so, what are

Adapted from Routman, R. 1994. Invitations: Changing as teachers and
learners K-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, and Fountas, I.C., & Pinnell,
G.S. 2001. Guiding readers and writers grades 3-6: Teaching
comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Figure 6: Examples of organizational patterns of text (text structure).

Cause/effect text

In 1988, about a third of Yellowstone's lodgepole pine forests were
between 250 and 350 years old. They were at their most burnable stage,
vulnerable to a major fire. Such fires are rare, but in 1988 nature
provided a key ingredient in the weather. It was unusually windy and
dry; in fact, it was the driest summer in 112 years of weather record
keeping at Yellowstone National Park." (Pringle, L. 1995. Fire in the
forest: A cycle of growth and renewal. New York: Atheneum, p. 10.)

Comparison/contrast text

There are climatological differences between hurricanes and typhoons.
In order for tropical cyclones to form, sea surface temperatures are
usually at least 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Farenheit). The warmer
the water, the greater the energy potentially available to the tropical
cyclone. Because the sea surface temperature is about 2 degrees Celsius
warmer in the western tropical Pacific than all other places tropical
cyclones form, and the layer of warm water is thicker and more
extensive there, typhoons tend to be more vigorous and numerous than
hurricanes. Whereas the hurricane season lasts from June to November,
the typhoon season lasts from May through December. In fact, typhoons
can occur every month of the year.

Problem/solution text

To reduce destruction in future quakes, residential buildings should be
strengthened by attaching plywood sheets to the exterior frames. New
homes constructed on soft ground should be anchored to solid rock below
the soil or designed with foundations that can float if the ground
turns to quicksand. Automatic shutoff valves should be installed on
natural gas lines leading to buildings. (Vogel, C.G. 1996. Shock waves
through Los Angeles: The Northridge earthquake. Boston: Little, Brown,
p. 26.)

Descriptive text

Plasmas consist of freely moving charged particles, i.e., electrons and
ions. Formed at high temperatures when electrons are stripped from
neutral atoms, plasmas are common in nature. For instance, stars are
predominantly plasma. Plasmas are the 'Fourth State of Matter' because
of their unique physical properties, distinct from solids, liquids, and
gases. Plasma densities and temperatures vary widely.

Explanatory text

The Curies, Marie and Pierre, revolutionized modern science and opened
wide the door to the study of the atom, ushering in the nuclear age.
Bu it was Marie's stubborn effort that changed the knowledge base of
science, leading to additional discoveries such as radon, a decayed
form of radium. As for radium itself, it is still a rare and precious
element that has been widely used in the cure of some forms of cancer
and skin disease. (Fisher, L.E. 1994. Marie Curie. New York: Macmillan;
unnumbered pages)

Chronological text

As they grow, tent caterpillars change their skin five times. After the
last molt, late in June, each caterpillar drops to the ground on a
strand of silk. Some of them leap off like tiny bungee jumpers. Their
last job is to spin their yellow silk cocoons, where the pupa will
change into a tiny brown moth that doesn't even have a name of its own.
The tent caterpillar moth has no mouth parts. It never eats. It lives
only long enough to mate and lay eggs that will hatch into more tent
caterpillars. (Facklam, M. Creepy, crawly caterpillars. 1996. Boston:
Little, Brown, p. 8)
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Title Annotation:Promising Practices
Author:Sandefur, Sarah Jo; Watson, Sandy White; Johnston, Linda B.
Publication:Multicultural Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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