ESL Intervention Strategies for Literacy in the Primary Years

Intervention Programs that are provided for ESL students:
1. Before ESL students attend mainstream school they are given the option to attend the Blackburn English Language School (as part of the New Arrivals Program that is funded by the Victorian government) for at least one semester before entering mainstream schooling. Blackburn English Language School is a government school established in 1979 for the teaching of English to newly arrived primary and secondary students.

2. ESL Index funding is provided to schools with significant numbers of ESL students through the Student Resource Package (SRP). The ESL Index funding line in the SRP also includes funding for Multicultural Education Aides.

3. A whole-school approach to ESL programming and provision, including ESL policy development and its implementation at the whole school level.

Methods in teaching ESL:
1. Full English immersion – ESL children are placed in an environment where interactions and information are solely in English. This includes all lessons and instructions in English, and all support materials for classes and information in classrooms are in English. This is thought to be an effective means for teaching English to young children as they are particularly efficient at acquiring new languages when given full immersion.

2. Bilingual education – the use of both the native language and English language to instruct ad encourage English acquisition. Studies have shown that, “bilingual education actually enhances the understanding and knowledge of the first language,” (Hill S, 2006, p. 345).

There are three approaches to this bilingual education method:

· Transitional approach – This begins by teaching classes in both the native language and English, with the eventual withdrawal of the native language.
· Maintenance approach – The children learn English while maintaining their own language. Each language is seen to be of equal importance and therefore, English does not replace the children’s native language.
· Two-way bilingualism approach – All the children in the class learn both English and the native language, with approximately half of all lessons being taught in English and the other half taught with the native language.

3. Primary language – the development of literacy in the native language before moving to either the full English immersion approach or one of the three bilingual approaches. Key concepts, knowledge and important skills are taught in the child’s native language, and as time progresses English is slowly integrated. Unlike bilingualism, this approach helps maintain and develop the children’s native language as well as using their greater knowledge of their native language to assist their understanding and capabilities in learning English.

A series of steps to ensure a smooth transition for the ESL student into the classroom:
1. Hold an interview with the ESL student and their family. Find out about the student’s home life, their background, culture, interests, academic transcripts (if any) from previous schooling and knowledge and exposure to the English language.

2. If possible, provide additional support teachers who will assist the ESL student one on one.

3. Nominate a buddy or a rotating roster of reliable and friendly classmates to look after and provide support to the ESL student.

4. Keep in regular contact with the ESL student’s parents. If communication is problematic due to language barriers, involving a relevant interpreter would ensure clear communication for both parties.

5. Be aware of the ESL requirements and assessments within the VELS curriculum, ESL Companion to the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2006). As a result, design an individual learning program for the student that allows for inclusion and differentiation in the classroom.

6. The inclusion of an array of visuals, manipulatives, graphic organisers and ICT will greatly assist the ESL student to make connections in acquiring and mastering the English language.

7. The overall aim is to equip the ESL student with English language proficiency. There are three dimensions of language proficiency, “conversational fluency, discrete language skills and academic language proficiency and they develop concurrently, not entirely independent of each other,” (Hill S, 2006, p. 342).

Literacy strategies to use within the primary classroom for ESL students:
· Develop activities that incorporate the ESL student’s interests, background and culture. This will clearly exhibit respect for the ESL student and engage them in learning the English language.

· High exposure and immersion in a variety of English texts. Susan Hill (2006) suggests concept books, as they are not culturally specific, and high-interest picture books are very useful for ESL children. As well as, “Books with predictable patterns of text, repetition, short rhythmic text encourage reading and enjoyment,” (Hill S, 2006, p. 349).

· Incorporating ICT into the literacy curriculum will help ESL students to establish key learning links in exploring and comprehending the English language. Software programs such as Clicker, Inspiration and Photostory provide a highly visual and interactive medium which assists in making connections to the English language.

· Using word and picture cards are instrumental in helping ESL students to remember the context and meaning of the word as they match a picture and a word together. It is beneficial to group the picture and word cards into categories and/or topics such as school-related vocabulary, high-usage words, animals, clothing etc.

· Singing English songs is an effective method for teaching English as it incorporates active learning, repetition of key phrases, can include associated actions with the lyrics and choruses and natural phonological features such as linking. Songs could be further broken down and used to further study the language features and/or talk about the ideas embedded in the song.

· ESL students creating their own English story books. ESL students can write and illustrate their own books and then read them back to their classmates using their memory and pictures for cues. “It is easier for children to read their own books with confidence as the story is familiar and does not have any unknown vocabulary, syntax or cultural references,” (Hill S, 2006, p. 350).

· Reading aloud activities should be structured into the classroom as, “they are vital to the development and learning of language in children, whether it is a second or first language... ESL students should be encouraged to respond to the story and ask questions about what is happening in the story, depending on the age and level of language development for ESL children,” (Hill S, 2006, p. 351).

· Recounts about familiar events or routines are useful, as they maintain children’s interest and provide some structures to help understand the story. Additionally, language play or manipulation of language through rhymes, jokes, riddles and tongue twisters are very useful to develop and enhance oral language skills. “These forms of language manipulation are often used in other cultures and so are familiar to young children,” (Hill S, 2006, p. 351).

· Classifying and comparing activities such as ‘odd one out’. Sue Bremner (2004) explains that this activity can be undertaken on a very basic level with commercial publications where students pick the thing that does not belong and justify their reasons. It can also be done with written words, so students have to choose the word that is different in meaning and explain what the difference is.

· Story maps and timelines assists ESL students to link sequential events, retell it, and demonstrate that they have read and understood a series of events presented in a clear visual representation.

· Structured overviews and graphic organisers helps ESL students to understand some of the information in texts, to order and bundle related information as well as being useful reference guides. “The putting together and taking apart of overviews are useful pedagogical tools for ESL learners,” (Bremner S, 2004, p. 6).

· Dictogloss is a type of dictation, where students listen to a text, record keywords, then reconstruct the text. The emphasis is on meaning rather than word-for-word accuracy. ESL students usually understand a lot more than they can produce, therefore allowing them to use/draw pictures should be optional.

· Overall, “the value placed on participation, inclusiveness, cognitive challenge and being part of a learning community should be features of school activities that aim to support ESL learners in learning English and accessing the mainstream curriculum,” (Bremner S, 2004, p. 8).

Bremner, S (2004) Talking and listening activities for ESL students, Primary English Teaching Association, PEN143, Sydney.

Hill S, (2006) Developing early literacy: assessment and teaching, Eleanor Curtain Publishing, Melbourne.