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How to Support Multilingual Language Learners in Reading Workshop

How to Support Multilingual Language Learners in Reading Workshop

The following is adapted from the Units of Study in Reading, Grades K–2.

Here are some tips to help you adapt your reading workshop to support multilingual language learners (MLLs) and ensure that all of your students have access to the richest possible instruction.

Follow a Consistent Structure

The structure of the reading workshop is deliberately kept simple and predictable. Through the minilesson, you’ll expose students to grade-level curriculum, then focus on helping individual students through conferences and in small groups during the work time. This structure allows both English language learners to be immersed in English instructional language and offers opportunities to cultivate non-English language practices. 

It is especially helpful for MLLs that your reading workshop is as predictable and consistent as possible. A child who is new to English might feel panicked when instructions, tasks, expectations, and use of materials aren’t clear. It is important for you to do everything you can to reduce fear and anxiety so that children can learn.

So it is very useful that the reading workshop always begins with a minilesson, and children are always asked to bring their materials to the meeting area, and to sit in the same spot. Then, after the minilesson, children know they will always have time to read independently while you confer and pull small groups. When reading time ends, children know to gather in the meeting area for a share. The predictability that results from following workshop routines consistently, day after day, provides confidence and a sense of comfort to multilingual learners, because it allows them to anticipate what will happen next. This decreases their cognitive load and their anxiety and allows them to focus on their reading. This positive effect will be even greater if you can adapt workshop structure to teach other subjects across the school day.

Use Consistent Teaching Language 

Just as the predictable routines and structures of the workshop can provide comfort to multilingual learners, so, too, can predictable, consistent language. Even children who are at the earliest stages of learning English can come to understand the predictable, repeated phrases that accompany concrete actions, and as they come to understand the familiar phrases—“Turn and talk,” “Let’s gather,” “Bring your books,” and “Off you go”—they develop a sense of belonging in the world of school.

When your reading workshop is characterized by consistent language, all children can anticipate the flow of the lesson and know what’s expected of them. For example, when partners take turns reading page by page, this is often called “see-saw” reading. Every time you refer to that sort of turn-taking, you return to that same word—and possibly also a gesture. It’s helpful if all of the adults a child interacts with use the same terminology. For example, if you refer to high-frequency words as snap words, it is helpful if the specialist teachers, next year’s teachers, and the kids in the class all use that lingo as well.

Use Consistent Visuals and Gestures

The K–2 Units of Study make regular use of visuals, especially through anchor charts
and one-day charts, as a way to provide comprehensible language input for multilingual learners. The units are filled with charts with headings that clearly state what the chart is about, as well as visuals that help children understand key terms that might otherwise feel abstract. To make these charts even higher leverage, you’ll create them together with your students, post them in a central and consistent location in your classroom, add your own illustrations and examples, and reference them often as you teach whole class and one on one. You’ll probably want to give children individual copies of some charts. Be sure that you don’t overwhelm children with too many personalized charts: be selective and give different charts to different children. Support instruction by drawing on charts from earlier grade levels, if you think those charts will help. Clear, colorful charts will allow all your students, and especially your multilingual learners, to work with more independence, since they’ll have a visual reference of what they’re working on as readers.

Foster Supportive Partnerships

Partnerships are the most important structure that you’ll provide to your multilingual language learners. Usually, children read with the same partner for at least four to six weeks. This will give them daily opportunities to talk with a peer in a low-stress, high-support way. Because partners often put a book between them and take turns reading pages, it is important that partners are matched by reading ability levels. If these children can also speak the same languages, that will provide additional support as they use translanguaging to comprehend both the instruction and the text.

It is very helpful to teach your proficient English speakers ways they can be good partners for English learners. You’ll want to emphasize that they need to use everything possiblesuch as gestures, drama, and pointingto communicate so that their English learner partner can understand. Waiting and nodding and gesturing are all ways that proficient English speakers can encourage their partners to respond. And, they might also learn to recast, saying back what they heard, correcting and adding to it a bit, and then helping the partner say yet more.

Research studies suggest that it can be helpful for multilingual students to first think out loud in a language they feel comfortable with when expressing themselves. If their partner speaks the same language, the partner can serve as a sounding board. If not, the partner can simply listen in. When the student is done thinking aloud and figuring out the content in their more proficient language, they can recast what they said in English.

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The Units of Study in Reading, Grades K–2 is inclusive, culturally responsive, and supportive of diverse learning communities. The Supporting All Readers book in each core Units of Study set helps teachers adapt instruction to meet the full span of their learners. In the guide to each series, the “Ensuring Access: Helping All Learners Across the Curriculum” and “Affirming and Supporting Multilingual Language Learners” chapters provide a wealth of additional support. Here are some of the supports that you will find throughout the units and accompanying resources:

  • In the Unit Essentials of every unit, you will find an overview of especially high-leverage ways you can support your English learners.
  • There are blue italics throughout the sessions that identify ways the teaching is already supportive of English learners, and suggest additional ways that you
    can make your teaching even more so.
  • Some work time sessions are specifically designed to support small-group work and conferring with multilingual learners.
  • Throughout the units, you’ll see support for children to use all their language
    resources to mull over complicated ideas, and clarify their understanding of
    instruction and texts. 
  • The reading workshop immerses children in complex oral language that is critical to MLLs’ language development.
  • Spanish translations of every anchor chart and teaching point.
  • For every mentor text, there is a suggested Spanish title. These are sometimes translations and sometimes original Spanish texts.
  • A brief preview video in Spanish that sets up Spanish-speaking multilingual learners to anticipate what they’ll be learning in the minilesson. Each video unpacks key vocabulary, provides learners with helpful background knowledge, and explains any important metaphors used in the minilesson. Learners also get a glimpse into what the work they do during work time might look like. The videos have been designed so that children can easily access them while you are orchestrating whole-class transitions to the minilesson.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦


Download the Units of Study in Reading, Grades K–2  Overview and Sampler


Topics: Units of Study, Lucy Calkins, English Learners, Literacy Instruction, Reading, Reading Instruction, Reading Workshop, RUOS, Access for English Learners, Comprehension, Comprehension and Collaboration, Conference, Literacy, Minilessons, Reading Conferences, Reading Strategies, Reading Units of Study, Supporting English Learners in the Reading Worksho, Reading Minilessons, Spanish, UOS, multilingual learners, Literacy challenges, K-2, Comprehension strategies, NCTE23

Date Published: 08/25/23

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