Teachers of ELLs have long faced a dilemma: “How can we teach challenging curriculum content to students whose knowledge of the language of instruction is still quite limited?” Typically, ELLs in any classroom come from many different linguistic backgrounds and are at different stages in their acquisition of conversational and academic English. Too often, these students have not been exposed to intellectually challenging grade-level content because teachers have assumed they will not be able to understand it. Promoting higher-order thinking in the classroom is often postponed until students have acquired sufficient English language skills to participate independently in such activities. Big Idea books and support materials reject this confounding of language and intellectual skills. Our starting point is that many ELLs have the intellectual ability and the educational right to engage fully with challenging curriculum content at their grade level.
At this point, there is general agreement among educators and researchers that ELLs will acquire academic language most successfully when we teach language and academic content together. Teachers can use a variety of strategies or “scaffolds” to make the content comprehensible and help students “get the message.” These instructional strategies include making use of graphic organizers and other visual supports; speaking clearly and saying things in different ways; using gestures, body language, and concrete demonstrations to support the language; writing down key ideas and words for students to see; and encouraging students to use their first language for research or discussion with peers when feasible.
As is the case for native-speakers of English who are learning Science and Social Studies content, ELLs and striving readers will also encounter many new and unfamiliar words in these texts. There are technical words that describe specific concepts or processes (e.g., structures and predicting in Science, communities and connections in Social Studies). There are also more general academic words that are found in many kinds of academic texts (e.g., predict, analyze, reflect, etc.). Using the instructional strategies offered in this guide, teachers will explain