Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction

Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction

by Judith O'Loughlin, Judie Haynes

Discover how the standards movement currently sweeping the US will have a positive impact on the education of ESL students, while also presenting instructional challenges to ESL and mainstream professionals.

The standards movement which is sweeping the United States has directly impacted on the curriculum and methodology of K-8 ESL programs. Second language learners, as well mainstream students, will now be required to learn state-prescribed content curriculum and often demonstrate this knowledge through performance on state-mandated tests. In addition, TESOL's ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students has focused attention on the learning needs of ESL students by bridging the gap between the traditional ESL curriculum and the development of academic proficiencies. Although these mandates will have a positive impact on the education of ESL students, they will present instructional challenges to ESL and mainstream professionals who work with second language learners.

The role of today's ESL teacher is expanding. The TESOL Pre-K-12 Standards help to facilitate the incorporation of content-based instruction into ESL curriculum. However, content materials used by ESL students in subject area classes must be adapted to provide comprehensible input in science, mathematics, social studies, and language arts. ESL teachers will need to provide inservice for mainstream teachers, helping them learn how to adapt their content area curriculum to the language needs of their ESL population.

How can this be done? Where do you start? Inservicing mainstream faculty in some of the basic tenets of second language acquisition, methodology, and terminology is a necessary first step. Then, ESL teachers need to demonstrate techniques for adapting content area instruction. The following areas should be addressed:

  1. What advance preparation is necessary before instruction?
  2. What teaching techniques best serve second language learners?
  3. What learning strategies do ESL students need to develop?
  4. How can teachers accurately monitor the comprehension of English language learners?
  5. How can a classroom be more effectively organized for content instruction ?
  6. How can teachers design realistic assessment for ESL students to match their developing comprehension?

Advanced Preparation is essential

Before a mainstream teacher stands in front of the classroom, advance preparation is essential in order to provide necessary adaptations in content area instruction and materials for second language learners. Teachers must consider what they should do to make the content information accessible to their ESL students. They need to determine the language level of instruction appropriate for the ESL students in their class. Teachers should:

One of our roles as ESL and bilingual specialists is to encourage mainstream teachers to employ teaching techniques which make content area information more accessible to our students. Here are some ways this can be accomplished:

Getting Mainstream Teachers Involved

Simplify the language of abstract concepts by retelling content information in easier English. Use simple sentence structure (verb-subject-object) and high frequency words. Avoid the passive tense and compound and/or complex sentences. In questions, avoid negative phrasing, such as "all...but," "except," or "which answer is not?" In this type of questioning students are required to first comprehend all the information, match the correct facts to the question, and finally weed out the one incorrect item.

Actively help students build connections and associations in order to access background knowledge or previously taught information. This can be accomplished through teacher-prepared outlines and study guides.

Provide students with written as well as aural messages. Outline what you are saying on the chalkboard or have a classmate take notes for second language learners.

Always write assignments on the chalkboard. This will ensure that your ESL students know what the homework is.

Modify the assignments for newcomers. Choose one question or a few key vocabulary words for them to learn. This technique allows students to participate, but doesn't overwhelm them.

Allow more advanced English language learners to tape your content lessons so that they can listen to what you have said as many times as necessary.

Provide concrete examples of vocabulary words through the use of visuals, such as flash cards, games, and puzzles.

Model "Think-Alouds" to increase student comprehension. "Think-Alouds," are orally or physically demonstrated by the teacher. They show ESL students what strategies they should use to determine the correct 2:51 PM; locate information within a text; or to organize study materials.

Directly teach learning strategies. Teachers should demonstrate how to organize information in outline form, how to select the main idea and supporting details, and how to sequence and summarize. Techniques such as marking essential concepts and vocabulary with a highlighter, labeling diagrams, using word banks, and organizing information on various types of graphic organizers, maps, graphs, time lines. and flow charts, are important skills for second language learners to acquire. Learning strategies empower our students to become active learners rather than passive recipients of information to be memorized.

This article originally appeared in the print edition of TESOL Matters (April, 1999).

Related Links

Challenges for ELLs in Content Area Learning
Do you want to help classroom teachers in your school with their English language learners? Begin by understanding the challenges ELLs face in their content area learning.

Understanding Second Language Terminology
Do you need to teach ESL methodology to your mainstream teachers and administrators? There are some essential terms that they need to know in order to understand basic second language acquisition theory.

Teach to Students' Learning Styles
It is especially crucial to take your students' learning styles into account when you are teaching English language learners. This articles gives a brief description of each style and how you can teach to it.

Graphic Organizers for Content Instruction
Graphic organizers make content area information more accessible to second language learners. They convert complex information into manageable chunks. Download graphic organizers from this page.

How to Develop Questioning Strategies
Involving English language learners in the discussions in their content area classes can be frustrating if teachers do not develop strategies for asking questions.

Tips on Communicating
Show your school's mainstream teachers and students how to communicate with your newcomers from the very first day.

Organizing and Assessing in the Content Area Class
How do you help mainstream teachers accurately monitor for student comprehension, organize the content class, and design realisitic assesments? These questions will be addressed in this article, which is the second part of "Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction."

SIOP: Making Content Comprehensible for ELLs
The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) was developed to make content material comprehensible to English Language Learners. This model is the result of the work of Jana Echevarria, MaryEllen Vogt and Deborah J. Short.

Resource Picks

Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners
Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners is a book about the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). This book is by Jana Echevarria, MaryEllen Vogt and Deborah J. Short. It is an important reference if you want to teach classroom teachers to use content-based ESL instruction methods.

About the Authors

Judith O'Loughlin recently retired as a K-8 ESL teacher in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J. She is a Past President of NJTESOL/NJBE and an e-list monitor for the Elementary Interest Secection of TESOL. Judy has presented numerous workshops in New Jersey and at TESOL.

Judie Haynes is a former ESL teacher, author and professional development provider.