Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What Differentiation Looks Like in an ESL Class (with a freebie!)

Without a doubt, the hardest part of my job is meeting the needs of all my diverse learners in the short time I have with them. How do I challenge the advanced students without leaving the rest behind? How do I teach the basic vocabulary and sentence structure my newest students so desperately need without boring the rest of my class?

Obviously, differentiation is the answer, but differentiating well day in and day out is tricky and I'll be the first to admit that I don't always do it well. One of the simplest ways I have found to differentiate naturally is to use sentence frames for speaking and writing.

Here's an example. This week, we're learning about parts of the body, and today we compared and contrasted the body parts of humans and animals. We took our vocabulary cards (words and pictures, which you can download for free here) and sorted them onto a Venn Diagram as a group.

Sorry for the blurry photo!

We then used the sentence frames underneath to make sentences together, which I wrote on the board. So far, everyone is doing the same activities and I am modeling what I expect of students.

But then I ask them to write three sentences on their own. And without even having to create different assignments, I am able to differentiate their writing expectations.

My newest students will use the sentence frames to write three sentences, possibly the same three sentences I wrote on the board again. That's all I expect from them. They just need more exposure to these words and text in English with some pictures attached.

My middle students will likely ask if they can write more than three sentences. That's great! That gives them more fluency with the sentence structure and practice writing, reading, and seeing even more parts of the body.

My most advanced students usually ask if they can write different kinds of sentences. They'll write things like, "Humans have hands and most animals do not, except gorillas also do." I expect more than the sentence frames from them, and they usually give it to me. If they don't, after the three sentences I assigned, I ask if they can think of anything else to say from the Venn Diagram that uses a different kind of sentence, and if necessary model a different sentence.

How do you differentiate for different English proficiency levels in your classes?

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