Ideas from “English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking” by Pauline Gibson

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By: Mari Contreras

With contributions by: Laura García, and Chris Mayne

We are elementary teachers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and we have learned and implemented many of the ideas and activities mentioned in the professional book, English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking by Pauline Gibbons.  This book discusses the challenges teachers have to find ways of teaching that will help everyone, especially English language learners (ELLs), and to reach high expectations for each student.  In English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking, Gibbons presents an action-oriented approach that gives English learners high-level support to match high expectations.  Focusing on the middle grades of school, she shows how to plan rigorous, literacy oriented, content based instruction and illustrates what a high challenge, high support curriculum looks like in practice.

Some of the engaging academic literacy classroom activities giving by Gibbons are:

  • Progressive Brainstorm
  • Wallpapering
  • Semantic Web / Concept Map
  • Dictogloss
  • Shared Writing
  • Split Dictation
  • Barrier Crossword
  • Vanishing Cloze
  • Word Walls
  • Sentence Matching
  • Bilingual Dictionaries
  • Many more…

Teachers might be familiar with some of the activities mentioned above; however, there are also new activities which are great to use in classrooms with ELLs.  For example, the dictogloss was a new activity to me and a perfect way to integrate content and language.  Even though most of my students are monolingual and half of the class is titled Limited English Proficient (LEP) these exercises were great especially in supporting the students with engaging academic literacy in all curriculum areas.  To implement the dictogloss I made sure that my students had gained the background knowledge and vocabulary appropriate for the content.  I chose to read a short text from the students textbook and asked students to “just listen” as I read the text aloud at a normal speed.  I then read the text again aloud and asked the students for the second time to just listen to the text.  By this time most students were familiar with the text and by the third reading of the text students were asked to write down as much of the key points and phrases from the text that they could remember.  I needed to stop the activity and remind students that it would be hard to record everything that they heard me read aloud, they simply needed to record key points and isolated words.  The next step my students did was to get with their partner and share what they had written down.  Then together they would have to write down a new version of what they both had written individually.  At this point, some students found this difficult to do and they needed assistance in combining each other’s notes.  I then asked the partners to get with another pair and combine their notes and construct a new version of the whole text which would be their final version.  As a group, students were to use their background knowledge of English, check for grammar, noun and verb agreement, and spelling revision.  We then compared the original text to their own.  Students discussed differences and if meanings were the same or if there were any differences.  I really enjoyed implementing this activity with my students because it was an excellent practice for integrating content and language, and for integrating listening, speaking, reading, and writing all at the same time.

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