Literacy Beginnings Chapter 9

I’m back today to continue our Literacy Beginnings book study blog party with Chapter 9: Supporting English Language Learners in the Prekindergarten Classroom.

Vanessa in S Korea
Disclosure: Amazon links included below

I used to teach in South Korea, which explains my passion for working with second language learners. That’s me in the picture above circa 19 none-of-your-business! While I was in S. Korea I became a second language learner and discovered firsthand how difficult learning another language can be. During my year in S. Korea I learned a few simple phrases and could go to a grocery store or restaurant and get by with my basic skills, but that was the extent of my language acquisition. So why is it that my students often learn so much more than I did in only one year? The difference is summed up perfectly in this quote from the authors of Literacy Beginnings:

english language learners

Young children are like sponges when it comes to learning a new language; they absorb it with lightning speed! In this chapter the authors provide 20 suggestions for working with English Language Learners and explain each step in detail. You’ll be happy to know that some of these suggestions are ones we have already covered in our book study. We explored a few oral language activities that support second language learners and engaging children in conversation in Chapter 6. Scott also offered authentic ways to engage young children in conversation in his review of Chapter 7.

dramatic play
I think the most important thing to glean from these suggestions is that all of the best practices in early childhood education will benefit students who are learning a second language. Using props, pictures, and demonstrations to convey meaning and infusing your day with opportunities for conversation is something all good teachers of young children do, but it is especially important for teachers of students learning a second language.

Do you have English Language Learners in your classroom?

Here are 3 of my favorite tips from the book for working with young English Language Learners:

  • When working with young English Language Learners keep your language clear and simple; remember shouting won’t help them understand what you are trying to say.
  • Validate children’s attempts at using their new language and rephrase their mistakes without correcting. For example, Min Jung says “Me home now?” and the teacher says “Yes Min Jung, we are going home now.”
  • Provide extra time for your second language learners to respond to questions.
  • New vocabulary can be introduced through the use of interactive read alouds. For example, if you are reading a book about chicks you might say something like this; “The chick is using his beak to peck his way out of his shell. Show me how you use your beak and peck your shell.” Act out the scenario with the students by using your hand to make a beak and pretend to peck while you say the word aloud.

What are some specific activities you do to support second language learners in your classroom?

school bear
Another area I am very passionate about is working with parents who are English Language Learners. Above you can see our class mascot dressed in our school uniform. I use School Bear as a prop at our parent orientation to explain what a uniform is and to show the types and colors of the clothing. If I’ve learned anything about working with non-native speakers it’s that the terms “khaki” and “polo shirt” don’t translate well in most languages!

The authors also recommend learning about the children’s home languages and cultures to create a strong home-school connection. One of the ways this can be done is through home visits. We discussed ways to make your weekly newsletter or electronic communications more reader friendly for parents who are not native English speakers in Chapter 5. The authors also encourage teachers to carefully select books to read aloud and create classroom environments that reflect the varied cultures of their students.

What tips do you have for working with parents who are non-native English speakers?

A pervasive theme throughout this book and also mentioned in this chapter is the importance of hands-on literacy learning. Leslie also addressed this in Chapter 8. We’re going to discuss this topic in more depth in future chapters.

What are your thoughts on Chapter 9? Leave a comment below! If you write a response on your blog, be sure to link up to the Linky party below.

Are you tuning in late? No worries! Matt from Look at My Happy Rainbow has graciously started a guide with links to all the chapters! Not sure what’s going on? Check out the Literacy Beginnings FAQ for answers.

Read the fantastic responses to each chapter listed in the linky below.

Chapters 10 and 11 will be hosted by Matt from Look at My Happy Rainbow so stay tuned!

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About Vanessa Levin

Vanessa is the creator of Pre-K Pages and author of the book A Fabulous First Year and Beyond: A Practical Guide for Pre-K and Kindergarten Teachers. She has more than two decades of teaching experience and enjoys helping kids and teachers through her professional development sessions. Follow Vanessa on Facebook, Google +, Twitter and Pinterest.


  1. Great summary, Vanessa. I have volunteered in a ELL kindergarten class this past year. It was amazing how the kids grew from saying little to me at the beginning of the year to talking nonstop at the end of the year. They absorbed the language so fast.

    My favorite moment: the day I came in and they said, “We read a book about your name–Scott.” The teacher said, “What did he have?” Kids: “A pot!” Teacher: “What happened?” Kids: “It was hot!”

    The most effective teaching for ELLs is the same as for all young children–play, repetition, context, intentional teaching.

  2. Arlina Wicker says:

    Thank you so much for the vital information. It’s nice to know that I am doing everything I can to help my 2nd language learners. I became a little concerned last year with one of my students. I know that some students go through a “silent period” that normally can last up to 3 mos., but one of my students’ lasted 4 full mos. Then after Christmas break he came back talking and participating in all activities. Needless to say I was relieved. Thanks again!

  3. Years ago I found myself teaching in an international school with children from eight nations in my room. Some spoke English quite well, some a little bit, and two had no English background. Yet, in three months, the profeciency level of each child was remarkable as they were emersed in English instruction. They also had a pull-out class for intensive language building each day. It was remarkable. They learned so much from each other: English was the vehicle everyone used, so to make friends, it was necessary. In friendship, it was easier than a formal lesson.

    This year I had a child in pre-k with limited English, and becoming comfortable at school was key. Once she relaxed, she played happily with friends. Like the older students I taught, conversation via PLAY brought out her confidence and increased her opportunity to learn the language.

Printables for Pre-K and Kindergarten Teachers


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