Sheltered Instruction for ELLs: Focus on the Language - Down River Resources

Sheltered Instruction for ELLs: Focus on the Language

"The limits of my language are the limits of my world." -Lugwig Wittgenstein
Howdy, friends.
I greatly appreciate you joining me again as I continue to share my knowledge on the components of sheltered instruction. This is another installment in my new blog series. In the event, you missed last week's blog on supporting meaning with realia, click here.
Have you ever heard of the distinguished Robert J. Marzano, PhD? If so, you know he is a guru in education. If not, he is a leading researcher in modern education and has written over 30 books and 150 articles. (I only have 148 articles left to tie this accomplishment!) Marzano and fellow researcher, Isabel L. Beck has helped us understand direct vocabulary instruction better (2002).
The biggest question is...
First, let's look at how these educational researchers classify words. Vocabulary words are designated into three tiers of as shown below. The higher the tier, the more complex the words become. I think of my one year old nephew versus my college-bound cousin, Tier 1 to Tier 3 respectively.
In their research, they found that Tier 1 words are easily acquired for most native speakers, but our English language learners have difficulty. It is suggested that these basic words need to be taught directly to the students. 
When planning our lessons, it becomes essential that we are aware of our students and their backgrounds to make sure that they have all of the vocabulary necessary to learn the content. I look at three things specifically: the language function (often found in the content objective--in Texas, this is my TEKS and most elsewhere, the CCSS), the content vocabulary, and the language structure. See the example below as I focus on the language as I plan for a subunit of Force and Motion in my kindergarten classroom:
Now that I have a plan as to how I will focus on language during my science instruction, I can make sure that my students have the language necessary to master the content. I need to be mindful that many of the objects we will use to explore this concept will not be known the students, these will be my Tier 1 words. I can include realia as we discussed last week, in my lesson so the students can tie the meaning of the word to an object, photograph, or illustration.
When we FOCUS ON LANGUAGE, we must consider how we are going to approach this during the instructional day. Two of my favorite ways to focus on the language include word walls and sentence stems/frames. Both of these strategies are seen often in the research of best instructional practices, but are often underutilized.
I think of a sweet colleague of mine, whose words were faded on her word wall as she built it the first year it was a requirement (let's just say 2010, for practical purposes) and she never took it down after that year, you know, 2010. The word wall was not built with the students, nor was it used a scaffold for learning. I completely get it, it HAS to be up on the wall....but it is not serving a purpose, just meeting a requirement!
I prefer an easily accessible word wall, including the word and a picture (added to and referred to often), and oral and written sentence frames/stems to help them generate responses to question prompts. At the bottom of this chart, I wrote the sentence frame that we would be using to share our conclusions after an outdoor investigation on texture. I highlighted our sight words: the and is. I also wrote the four texture words, we were learning including: rough, hard, soft, and smooth. Notice my illustrations under the words for additional support.
These are just a few of the ways that I plan for language. Whether or not you are big into the research or you just want to improve the learning in your classroom, we must focus on language if we expect students to have mastery of the content we are teaching. What are some ways you focus on language?
Happy Planning!
For more on sheltered instruction, please check out my other posts.
Background Knowledge
Meaning with Realia

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