Differentiated Instruction for ELLs


In the coming weeks, I will be teaching a 6th grade ESL unit on “A Trip I Want to Take,” also known as vacations. This unit will focus on future tense and planning for a hypothetical trip. There are nine students in the class, but I will focus on four at different stages of language acquisition. I’ll start with level three, Speech Emergent, and work my way up.

Isaac is a quiet student who fits into the Speech Emergent level of language acquisition. He appears to be slightly uncomfortable when asked to speak, and he relies on a relatively small cluster of words and phrases when he is nervous. Isaac relies heavily on familiar context clues and familiar topics, so it is not reasonable to ask him to think creatively about an unfamiliar topic without a lot of help.  To maximize my time and effort with Isaac, I seat him next to the highest level boy (Korean students rarely feel comfortable talking to the opposite sex in middle school), who also happens to be his friend. While I don’t rely on Justin to teach Isaac, it helps to have someone he’s comfortable asking questions to. In addition, I make sure to clearly explain my instructions both verbally and written. I’ll always either make a PowerPoint, write on the board, or make handouts so he can have written and/or visual clues.

Jean is also a quiet student, but falls more into the Beginning Fluency stage. When she’s excited about something, she communicates extremely well. As I’ve gotten to know her better, I found that her range of interests is actually much broader than I initially thought. When Jean isn’t interested in a topic, feels nervous, or is confronted with something entirely new, she almost shuts down and uses the bare minimum to communicate. I’ve found that keeping the spotlight off her is very beneficial. For example, her writing is excellent and continues to improve, and putting her in small groups to practice speaking is better than in front of the whole class.

Sally is a very confident student and fits into Intermediate Fluency. She spent 6 months abroad in Australia, and it really shows in her pronunciation and overall ability. She doesn’t hesitate to offer her opinion on new subjects, although she still makes occasional mistakes. In the upcoming unit, I will push her to creatively plan her trip as if she were leading it. She often helps lower level students in the class and needs extra challenges to grow.

Justin is the highest level student in the class and definitely fits into advanced fluency. He spent large parts of his childhood in Hawaii and speaks English quite naturally. He sometimes uses idioms incorrectly or gets lost/a bit incoherent on complex topics, but overall my biggest problem is keeping him challenged in a class that has several Speech Emergent students. I’ll sometimes have to give the most difficult questions or activities to him, so I try not to make it seem like I’m favoring him more than the other students. I also give extra credit opportunities on creative topics, and he has done excellent work on these in the past.


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