Components for Reading Success

permission flickr ekelly89

permission flickr ekelly89

All of our ESL classes are “multilevel”, with some students excelling in literacy, and others in spoken language. Research generally proves that spoken language is more quickly acquired and written English takes much longer. So, with that said, what are some ways to improve reading and writing? What do we need to focus on in our classes? Is it just a matter of more reading? Explicit phonics instruction? Where do you begin with literacy instruction?

To work on reading, multiple experts agree that there are five things to address. They are:

  1. Phonological awareness-understanding that language can be broken into smaller units.
  2. Comprehension-the ability to understand text
  3. Vocabulary-new words to help in reading comprehension
  4. Fluency-ability to read/speak text
  5. Phonics-the relationship between sounds and letters

Differentiated Instruction in the Multilevel Classroom

As you well know, not all students are at the same level in any given class. Therefore, we have to do the best we can to differentiate our instruction and meet the needs of our students. The website has some wonderful examples of how to do that. It is geared toward elementary school, but the lessons and differentiation are applicable to our adult classes. Follow the prompts on the left side of the page! Florida Center for Reading Research is a wealth of information that includes not only assessment tools, but actual instruction and sequencing for reading instruction. There are step-by-step instructions on differentiated instruction.

 Here’s how to find it:

  1. Click on “How to Differentiate Instruction”.
  2. Next, select a “grade level”. You will be taken to a sample lesson, presented in step-by-step fashion. You can now customize for your class!


Using Stories in the ESL Classroom

Stories are a wonderful way for our students to practice the four skills. There are so many ways to use them in a class. They’re not just about reading.  Today’s post offers places to find stories, and then, how to use them in your classroom. What resources for stories do you use?

For all levels.  Each of these sites has readings of various levels. You can select the appropriate level for your class and go from there.

For lower level learners, complete with phonics instructions:

Stories for listening practice, complete with audio files:

How can you use stories in the classroom?

Besides reading and comprehension practice, what else can you do with a story? What are some other ways to use a story in the classroom? LEA, the Language Experience Approach, is a great way to incorporate story into the class. But, I am going to cover that in a separate post. Today is about both fiction and non-fiction stories.

Sequence the story. Depending on the length of the story, cut each sentence into strips. Give one set to each student/pair. Have them put them in correct story sequence.

Identify grammar structures.  For example, for the lower level students, have them find all the verbs. Or, identify the past tense verbs in the story.

Summarize the story. Have students retell the story to a partner.

Identify certain letter sounds. For beginner students, identify phonics you are working on, and have them identify them in the story. (A story can be a few simple sentences!)

Sequence sentences in the story.  Use some of the sentence strips from the “sequence the story” activity, and cut the words into individual words. Students sequence each individual sentence.

Rewrite the story. Rather than retelling the story to a partner, have the students rewrite the story in their own words.

Discussion. Use the story as a prompt for discussion about the issue.

Debate. If a story has two sides to it, have the students debate the issue. One group can be “for” the issue, and the other “against” the issue.

Identify sight words.

Illustrate the story. Students can draw a picture of the key parts of the story. Then, use the picture to tell the story to a partner.

Dramatize the story. Students in small groups can put on a skit to dramatize the story. Great speaking practice!

Practice asking/answering information questions.

Jigsaw. A jigsaw is when a group of students each gets a different part of the story to read and understand. Then, they are regrouped, to retell the story. Here is a link for how to use a jigsaw in the class.   Jigsaws are a little more challenging to do for the lower levels, but CAN be done. Just keep the story very simple.

Read aloud with a partner.

Audio recording. Students can record themselves if they have a smart phone. Students can use this for self-assessment, pronunciation practice, or even comprehension.

Story circle (more sequencing). Students rewrite the story one sentence at a time. Put students in a group. The first studens writes the first sentence. Then, the student passes the paper to the next student, who writes the next sentence, and so on, until the story is rewritten.


Activities for Teaching Emergent Readers

Patsy Vinogradov, PhD, from Hamline University, gave wonderful presentations during our professional development series on “Cracking the English Reading Code” and then, in a smaller breakout session about teaching emergent readers. I can’t possibly capture all the things she shared with us, but I would like to highlight some key ideas and provide you with some resources/links for further study. Links to some of her resources are at the bottom of this post, as well as a video demonstrating some of the principles discussed today.This information is published with permission from Patsy Vinogradov.

From the morning session, where she discussed the Orton-Gillingham based multi-sensory structured language approach, She highlighted some key points and principles in instruction of instruction.  These principles have been used effectively in ESL instruction as well, and the key principles are:

Simultaneous, Multisensory:  Use all learning pathways (visual/auditory, kinesthetic-tactile) simultaneously in order to enhance memory and learning.

Systematic and Cumulative: The sequence of instruction begins with the easiest and most basic information and progresses to more difficult material. Concepts previously taught must be reviewed in a systematic way.

Direct Instruction:  Concepts are not taught inferentially.

Diagnostic Teaching: Consistently assess and customize material based on the needs of the students.

Synthetic and Analytic Instruction: Use both top down and bottom up approaches.

From the afternoon presentation, The Double Challenge: Teaching ESL and the Emergent Reader, she shared many, many activities and ideas. Key points to remember are to start with the “whole”, break down the sounds, and then finish wih the “whole” again. Example of this is to start with your themed unit’s vocabulary, then pull out specific parts for phonics/phonemic awareness skills, and then finally, finish with the text to practice within the context of the unit.

Alphabetics (Phonemic Awareness and Phonics) Activities:

Blend the word Review theme vocabulary by sounding out the parts of a wordEx:  clothing unit (s-o-k-s) (p-a-n-t-s) What is it?Higher level:  some can write using inventive spelling (write the letters based on the sounds)
Same first letter sound Students can play hangman and then go through each letter and identify other words that begin with the same sound.Example:  hangman word:  SKIRT. Students then generate:  s (Somali, Sunday)  k (kid, kitchen)    I  (in, is) etc.Higher level learners can write some of the words.
Sound chain One student says a word that starts with the end sound of another.Ex:  sweater—-red—–dollar—–rest–etc
Where’s the sound? Cup game Give each team or student three cups to represent beginning, middle, end. Label the cups (b, m, e, or first, middle, last). Teach these terms first though.Teacher asks “Is the sounds I say at the beginning, middle, end of the word?”Students listen and drop a chip into the right cup for where the sound is in the word. The sound, not spelling, is important.Lower level:  only beginning and end sounds    Higher level:  use multiple letter sounds.  Also, say the sound, they listen and find the letter tiles, and then put them in the cup.
Does it rhyme? Emphasize that rhyme is at the end of the word. You can use your hands or write the words to have them understand they are listening for the ending part of the word.Different ways to do this activity:

  • Students listen to three words and identify the one that doesn’t belong. Write or circle the word.   (cash/shirt/trash)    (go/stop/no)
  • Give students pictures, say a word, and they find the picture that rhymes with the word.
  • Identify the rhymes in a chant or songword families activities also emphasize rhyming
Same Sounds Have students sort pictures by two sounds you’re working on.
Match pictures Use to sort by beginning, middle and ending sounds.
Large cards Put letters or letter combinations on cards. Have students use the cards to spell out the words, starting with those related to your context, at the front of the room. (B-o-o-k, now, B sit down, H come up. What word now? Now K sit down, D come up. What now?) Take time to point out similarities and differences amond the words you’re working with .

PHONICS:  Teaching Letters and Sounds

Fill in the missing sounds To review the vocabulary for a unit, give students a list of words that have one or more letters missing (try and choose ones that they could easily hear the sound of).  Students write the missing letters (without dictation).
Circle the word Students have a worksheet that has three word options. Call out a word. Students circle the word they hear.

  1. Sister son     student
  2. Mother married     male
Mixed up letters, tiles Using tiles (like from a Scrabble game), you or a student can call out words that the learners must spell with the tiles. They can work individually or in pairs/groups. You can make a game of it too, with points to the team who spells the word first.
BINGO Play BINGO with sounds (initial, final, vowels, blends), word families, rhyming words, or entire words.
Dictation New readers can write only the first sound they hear, or the final sound, and later the entire word if they are able. Encourage inventive spelling, and students will need a great deal of practice.
Sort words by sound/letter Sort pictures or words by the letter sounds. This works well to discriminate long and short vowel sounds. Also, you can give students a paper with boxes for each sound. They sort the pictures under the sound or words under the sound.

Ssock, sandals, sweater  AsAndalspAnts
SHShoes, shorts, shirt TTie, trousers
9 Patch Students make a 9 square grid. It is usedul in working with sight words and in phonics work. You can use letters only to practice sound/symbol correspondences, or use full words on slips of paper to practice sight words. You an model the listening activity first, then let students take turns calling out sounds/words. Once the grid is complete, students can pair up and practice reading it to each other. It’s also a great chart reading activity.

1   Name 2   Number 3   new
4   School 5   Street 6   State
7   Date 8   Drivers 9   dollars


This video demonstrates some of the principles discussed today. The video has four parts, which you can get on


More from Patsy Vinogradov (coming to Wake Tech Apri 11th!!)

Adult ESL and Kindergarten: An Unlikely Meeting to Improve Literacy Instruction

by Patsy Vinogradov, PhD      2013 Harold B. Allen Award Winner – Patsy Vinogradov

Enhancing literacy instruction for adult learners with limited literacy can begin by reaching out and learning from our K-2 teaching colleagues.

While adult ESL and K-2 are strikingly different contexts, there is much overlap. By asking ourselves, “Who knows more about teaching early reading than we do?” we formed a study circle to research connections between literacy instruction in K-2 and LESLLA.  Always keeping in mind that our students are adult learners, we observed K-2 instruction, worked individually with young learners, read research together, and engaged in discussions and reflective journaling over several weeks.

Wisdom gleaned from our K-2 colleagues  What did we learn that might be useful for an adult low-literate ESL classroom teacher?  Quite a bit!  Below is a list of the key take-aways from our collaborate inquiry.

  1. Establish strong routines and common language for regular classroom activities. Routines might include a morning message and sign in, calendar work, independent reading time, an ‘unfinished work basket,’ a ‘choice box’ when students arrive early, etc.  When students know what to expect from their day and know the names of activities, they are better able to participate without frequent teacher-direction.
  2. Offer a regular literacy-work period where learners choose from various literacy activities. Choices might include small group, partner, or individual tasks such as phonics and phonemic awareness activities, vocabulary matching within your topic, ‘reading the room’ or word wall, re-sequencing a familiar story, reading alone, reading to someone, etc. You can use this independent time to work with students who need extra attention.
  3. Begin a classroom library and make time for independent and peer-to-peer reading. Make a point to read to students and allow time for students to read to themselves and to peers often.  Fill your library will level-appropriate and adult-appropriate materials.  Use the public library to supplement your program’s texts and to bring in books within your current topic.
  4. Increase students’ comprehension and engagement with texts by eliciting and pointing out text connections. Text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections help learners experience stories more deeply and leads to higher order thinking skills.
  5. Find ways to integrate numeracy instruction into literacy focused time.  Take the time to write out number sentences when calculating attendance or doing calendar work.  Create charts and graphs together in response to mingles and surveys.  Count by 2s, 5s, 10s when handing out sheets or books.  Math is a work skill and an academic skill, and it need not be divorced from literacy instruction.
  6. Get literacy off the page. Learners who are new to print tire easily with pencil and paper activities, and often such activities do not mirror the language use students need outside of school.  Instead, appeal to a wider set of learning preferences and up the energy in your room by using manipulatives, getting learners up at the white board, using iPads and Smart Boards if you have them, and keeping students moving.
  7. Explain WHY you are doing what you are doing in the classroom.  Leave no mysteries in the classroom; regard your learners as partners in the process and let them in on your thinking.
  8. One step at a time. No need to change too much or too quickly.  No doubt much of what you are already doing is working well, but perhaps could be enhanced by some of our findings.  Incremental implementation of new practices is ideal for both teaching and learning.
  9. Reach out to colleagues. LESLLA teaching can be particularly isolating, but finding fellow teachers with whom to share your discoveries and puzzles can be incredibly rewarding.  Visit each others’ classrooms, reach out to other contexts that might inform your work, and keep communicating about your practice.  This information is directly quoated from the following website:

Resources for teaching students with lower literacy:  Low Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition, focuses on research about students with minimal to no formal education.  The journal for Minnesota Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages  An online resource center for teachers.   A resource for teachers of low literate learners.


Building Literacy in the ESL Classroom

Teaching literacy in a multi-level ESL classroom can be a big challenge! There is so much to think about when writing a lesson plan for this kind of class! How do you include the lower level literacy students in your lesson, yet keep the higher level students engaged? Is it possible to meet the needs of such a multilevel class?

If you want to learn some of the tricks of the trade, you MUST come to hear Patsy Vinogradov, PhD, on April 11th! If you are going to give up a Saturday to attend a professional development course, this is the one not to miss! Not only does she have stellar academic credentials, she has published many papers on literacy education, and provides actual suggestions for activities that you can immediately use in your class!

Look at these websites for implementing literacy education into your classroom.  These are not merely academic or learning theory. They include practical tools for classroom use.


2)  This site has short videos that demonstrate literacy teaching methods. There are downloadable worksheets, flashcards, pictures, and other teaching tools. They also have a great article about the LEA method and teaching top down and bottom up. If you have never used the LEA method in your classroom, take a look at Patsy’s video, and begin to implement it! It’s “magic”!

Teaching low-literacy adults. Great demonstration from Reading Horizons.

One of the more recent published articles by Patsy Vinogradov, and Martha Biegelow, is:

Using Oral Language Skills to Build on the Emerging Literacy of Adult English Learners University of Minnesota, August 2010

Key Points from (quoted from site):

  • Balance meaning-focused and form-focused instruction
  • Connect instruction to learners’ lives
  • Use both bottom up and top down instruction
  • Connect the curriculum to issues that adults care about in the outside world (e.g., children, work).
  • Use students’ native language(s) as needed for clarification in instruction (e.g., directions regarding tasks and activities).
  • Vary opportunities for use of language in interaction and practice of language forms (e.g., communicative pair activities and short grammar drills).
  • Create learner generated texts. One way to do that is through the Language Experience Approach (LEA). LEA is where students share an experience, and then describe the experience to the teacher. The teacher transcribes the story. These words can then be used as a text for reading and then for a multitude of activities. Have the students:
    • Write about shared experiences
    • Transcribe conversations or student stories
    • Share learner-generated texts in newsletters
    • Write about a photograph or other visual
    • Write in a journal or dialogue journal
    • Provide texts for wordless picture books
    • Create photo books with captions
    • Create class posters.

Sign up for the professional development classes on April 11, 2015.