The English Language Learner in Your Classroom

SIOP – An English Language Learner Methodology

English Language LearnerTeachers today are responsible for differentiating their instruction to meet the needs of all learners, which includes being prepared to meet the explicitly unique and critical needs of English language learners.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), all teachers will likely have at least one ELL in their classroom each year regardless of where they live. Current research reflects the unprecedented growth of this linguistically and culturally diverse group over the last 30 years.  The total population of school-age students who speak a language other than English in the home has nearly tripled, from 3.8 million in 1979 to 10.8 million in 2006, and currently comprises over 20% of the entire student population in U.S. public schools.

Although we are responsible for teaching the same content to ELLs as we are to Native speakers, it is not effective to use the same methods between populations. We must train carefully in order to provide effective instruction for ELLs. Enter sheltered instruction.

Don’t miss Part 2 of this blog post! Click Here!

Sheltered Instruction is a methodology that allows content area teachers make their content comprehensible for English Language Learners – making it possible to teach Language and Content at the same time.

The nationally funded Institute of Education Sciences (formerly Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence) conducted a seven-year research project to study the impact of Sheltered Instruction on ELL achievement.  As a result of this overwhelmingly successful study, the SIOP model was developed. Content area teachers now have a research-proven, highly effective methodology to follow when working with ELL’s.

The SIOP model is organized by eight main components. I will be covering the first four in this blog post today; I’ll cover the remaining four in a my next post two weeks from now. Both of these blog posts are in advance our of upcoming webinar on May 15th, Supporting Your ELL’s.

First is Lesson Preparation. When writing lesson plans for ELLs, I first write both content and language objectives.  For example, if planning to teach a math concept I would write a the content objective to reflect the math concept, but I would also write an additional objective for learning vocabulary or perhaps reading the math problem out loud to a partner.

The second component is Building Background.  When introducing new content to ELLs it is critical that we teach vocabulary as a distinct lesson.  I prefer letting children choose some of their own vocabulary words from the text or reading assignment.  In my experience, this method increases both engagement and content learning.  In addition, I make an effort to connect students’ backgrounds, past experience, and prior learning to the new learning.  One of my favorite ways to make connections is with a simple KWL Chart.   The students create a three-column table and complete the K (what they already know) and W (what they want to know) columns prior to the start of the lesson.  When the lesson is over the students complete the L (what they’ve learned).  This strategy includes a built-in formative assessment!

The third component is Comprehensible Input.  Teachers can create comprehensible lessons by adapting texts, using vocabulary the students understand, giving directions out loud and in writing, and providing samples and demonstrations.

Strategies is the fourth component.  When working with ELLs, SIOP suggests using explicit instructional strategies.  I try to incorporate diverse questioning techniques, activities that encourage higher order thinking, involving the students in scaffolding techniques and using graphic organizers to assist my students with visually organizing their learning.

I hope that you have found this introduction to the first half of the SIOP useful.  Try some of the active links in the blog, and practice some of the strategies in your classroom to figure out which engage your students and increase the overall achievement of your classroom.

If you are interested in learning more about increasing achievement and engagement for your English Language Learners, register for the webinar Supporting Your ELLs scheduled for Wednesday, May 15th at 2:00 PM EDT  Additionally, the second half of the methodology will be introduced in a follow up blog over the next few weeks.  Hope to “see” you on the 15th!


  1. Wayne Godbout May 13, 2013 Reply

    Can you tell me how long the webinar this Wednesday will be?

    • John Fergus May 13, 2013 Reply

      Hi Wayne, the webinar on Wednesday will last 50-60 minutes. Thanks for your interest…hope you can make it!

  2. Pamela Robison May 15, 2013 Reply

    John Fergus: Sorry I missed this information, but my Rackspace was down twice this last month for an extended time. I have just completed the 300 hr ESOL courses required for all teachers here in the state of Florida to receive either an endorsement, to take the exam and add it to the teaching certificate, or to use it for re-certification. Thanks so much this is valuable for us here in Florida especially.

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