March 2009

Spring has finally arrived! It's the perfect time to get outside and do some hands-on activities with students, and so we are very excited this month to be featuring a variety of resources related to content-area instruction for ELLs.

Type of Newsletter: TELLEGRAM
Date: March, 2009

Dear Subscribers,

Spring has finally arrived! It's the perfect time to get outside and do some hands-on activities with students, and so we are very excited this month to be featuring a variety of resources related to content-area instruction for ELLs. These resources offer all kinds of strategies, activities, and recommended websites. If you find something particularly helpful, we'd love to hear from you!

Also, don't forget to share these resources with your other colleagues who are working with ELLs in content and mainstream classrooms.

We also are highlighting a number of March celebrations, from Farmworkers Awareness Week to the 40th Anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar! You'll find related booklists and activities that can be used in celebration of these events on Colorín Colorado and our sister sites.

As always, please keep in touch with questions, concerns or suggestions.


The Colorín Colorado Team

This month's highlights

Monthly Celebrations

Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month! For children's books about inspirational women, check out Reading Rockets' Women's History Month booklist.

Happy Birthday to The Very Hungry Caterpillar!

Eric Carle's classic picture book is celebrating 40 years of delighting young children and adults with its simple concepts and colorful illustrations. Reading Rockets has a new Hungry Caterpillar inspired family literacy bag for parents and kids to explore the book's themes together. The book and packet are also available in Spanish.

The following materials offer numerous resources and activities related to this classic as well:

Brain Awareness Month

March is Brain Awareness Month, a yearly effort to raise awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research. Understanding the basics of TBI is crucial, especially since the symptoms can be invisible even to close friends and teachers. Read Susan's story on our sister site,, for more information. This article is also available in Spanish.

National Farmworker Awareness Week

This month, communities around the country will celebrate Cesar Chavez's birthday on March 31st. Many will also observe National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 29-April 4), a nationally recognized campaign to increase awareness about issues affecting farmworkers and their families. Be sure to take a look at our new booklist, Migrant Stories: Books for Children, featuring a selection of titles for children of all ages that explore the life of migrant farmworkers in a way that children can understand and relate to. Some of these titles are also available in Spanish.

Featured Articles

Updated Resource: Content Instruction for ELLs

Our updated section on content instruction for ELLs features a number of strategies and tips for specific areas such as math and science. It also includes more general strategies that can be applied across all content areas, such as vocabulary instruction, improving non-fiction reading comprehension, and using graphic organizers.

In Contexts for Engagement and Motivation in Reading, John Guthrie describes engaged reading as a merger between motivation and thoughtfulness. Engaged readers actively try to make meaning from what they are reading, and they feel confident in their ability to do so. Teachers can help their students, both English language learners and native English speakers, to become engaged readers by providing clear goals for reading, helping students connect what they're reading to their own experience, and providing access to interesting and stimulating texts. See Guthrie's article for some excellent strategies that can be built into any lesson.

Strong reading comprehension skills support learning across the curriculum and can also help English language learners develop the confidence that leads to becoming engaged readers. See Reading Comprehension Strategies for Content Learning for tips on teaching such strategies as summarizing, comparing and contrasting, problem solving, and finding the main idea.

Rick Fry of the Pew Hispanic Center used scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to compare fourth- and eighth-grade English language learners' achievement in math and reading to that of native English speakers. His findings identify a gap between the achievement of these two groups, as well as a decline in achievement for ELL students from fourth to eighth grade. Fry attributes this decline to the fact of many high achieving students no longer being classified as ELL by eighth grade, as well as new ELL students coming into the population during that period. For more information, read the full report, How Far Behind in Math and Reading are English Language Learners?

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Research and Reports

Essential Elements of Effective Science Instruction for English Learners, written by Fred Dobb and published by the California Science Project, identifies 10 elements crucial to good science instruction for ELLs: academic language through science instruction, affective factors, classroom talk, vocabulary development, the science textbook, science textbook teachers' guides, professional development, the Sheltered Science Instruction Observation Protocol, lesson study, and assessment. Dobb discusses each of these elements is in detail, with a particular eye toward providing practical information that teachers can use to support their ELLs' learning in the science classroom.

In Getting at the Content, Yu Ren Dong proposes that by teaching language learning strategies, content area teachers can accelerate content mastery for their English language learners. Dong recommends actively teaching content-specific language while providing ample opportunities for students to use that language both in meaningful class discussion and in writing. The article includes vignettes from science and social studies classrooms that demonstrate how language instruction can be interwoven with content instruction.

The Indiana Department of Education has published an excellent guide called Helping English Language Learners Understand Content Area Texts, which provides clear, detailed instructions for making content area text accessible to ELLs. The guide begins with a description of how teachers can survey textbooks in advance to identify potential areas of difficulty for ELLs. Also included are sections on building background knowledge, pre-teaching vocabulary and concepts, pre-reading strategies to increase comprehension, introducing the text, reading the text, demonstrating comprehension through speaking, and demonstrating comprehension through writing.

Book Review

Teaching English Language Learners: Content and Language in Middle and Secondary Mainstream Classrooms
By Michaela Wyman Colombo and Dana Furbush

This comprehensive discussion of content instruction for English language learners provides detailed information on planning and implementing effective instruction in math, science, social studies, and language arts. The authors include a thorough treatment of topics that middle and secondary teachers are often not exposed to in their teacher training, including second language acquisition, academic literacy, and building academic language, all discussed in the context of the content area classroom. The second part of the text devotes a separate chapter to each of the four content areas discussed, complete with lesson plans prepared by master teachers and mini-lessons for language development. The entire book is filled with practical ideas for making content area information accessible to English language learners. This is a resource that content area teachers will come back to again and again.

Colombo, M. W. & Furbush, D. (2009). Teaching English language learners: Content and language in middle and secondary mainstream classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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In the Classroom

Bright Ideas that Work

Math Instruction for English Language Learners

Language plays an important part in math instruction, particularly for ELLs. This Bright Ideas article offers some strategies for making language an integral part of math instruction, and for ensuring that ELLs have the tools and language they need to master mathematical concepts and problem-solving skills.

Achieving Success: From the Heart

Maria Feist is an ESL teacher in Pennsylvania's Downington Area School District. She started her teaching career in a mainstream classroom, but after working with her first English language learner, she slowly gravitated towards the ELL classroom. Maria recently completed her ESL certification, and in this essay for Colorín Colorado, she describes how her upbringing shaped her interest in other cultures, and how she made the move into the ELL classroom.

Frequently Asked Questions

Teachers of English language learners are faced with the dual challenge of teaching content material while also helping students develop their English language skills. An important part of this challenge is knowing how to set appropriate instructional goals in each area. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, explore the following FAQ:

Find the answers to these and many other Frequently Asked Questions about teaching ELLs on Colorín Colorado.

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Beyond the Classroom

Book of the Month

La Mariposa
By Francisco Jiménez

This beautiful story opens as young Francisco is preparing to go to school for the first time. His excitement gives way to shame and frustration, however, as he realizes that he doesn't fit in and he can't understand what is happening around him in English. The story explores Francisco's isolation in the classroom, as well as his daydreams about the only thing he feels connected to at his school — a caterpillar in a jar on the shelf. Yet, as the caterpillar transforms little by little, so does Francisco.

This story, as well as the short stories from The Circuit, is based on the experiences of the author as the child of migrant farmworkers, and is highly recommended for ELL classrooms. Both English and Spanish versions available.

Special Feature: Cajas de cartón

One of Francisco Jiménez's short stories has been recommended to us as an excellent story for exploring the issues that affect the children in migrant families. "Cajas de cartón," or "Cardboard Boxes," offers a glimpse of how constant transition affects children and students. The story is available online in English and Spanish.

In a Word: Comprehension Strategy Instruction

This month's glossary term to the explicit teaching of techniques that are particularly effective for comprehending text. The steps of explicit instruction include direct explanation, teacher modeling ("think aloud"), guided practice, and application. See the glossary for further explanation of such comprehension strategies as direct explanation, modeling, guided practice, and application.

River of Words: Hands-On Nature Exploration

River of Words is a California-based non-profit organization that helps teachers, park naturalists, grassroots groups, state resource agencies, librarians, and others incorporate observation-based nature exploration and the arts into their work with young people. Each year, in affiliation with The Library of Congress Center for the Book, River of Words conducts a free international poetry and art contest for youth on the theme of "Watersheds." While the deadline for the 2009 contest has passed, the organization keeps an archive of poetry and artwork from students on the website. Content-area teachers in science, social studies, ecology, and art classrooms may find these student works valuable in the classroom. Poems are accepted in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language, so consider participating next year!

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