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Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: Building Background and Comprehensible Input, Two SIOP Components to Effective Teaching

Hello Esteemed and Prospective Teachers:

I am writing some key content instructions on Chapter 3 (Building Background) and Chapter 4 (Comprehensible Input) teaching components of the Sheltered Instruction for English Learners (ELs) in this post.  I trust that the SIOP Features written below are good accountability measures teachers can use as a teaching tool to self assess, and to communicate to administrators/educators about the teaching effectiveness on content and language objectives to ELs.

Building Background:

This SIOP component defines teaching ELs academic content and language objectives by requiring building ELs’ background experience.  Since many ELs may come from different countries with various language proficiencies and living experiences, I would like to add a feature of my own – a student Language/School Background Evaluation, in addition to the textbook Building Background features.  The Language/School Background Evaluation sheet can be in the form of a survey questionnaire with some sample questions shown below:

  • Student’s parents native language: _________
  • L1 (Student’s first language in addition to the native language): ___________
  • L2 (Student’s second language in addition to L1): ___________
  • Home Language: __________
  • School Grades attended from home country: __________
  • Home country’s community: __ Urban    __ Rural    __ Military    __ Other (explain __________)

As a teacher, remember to obtain approval from your school principal/district when a survey containing students’ personal information is requested.  As you can see, the evaluation questions can be expanded to add questions regarding the student culture, language production levels, etc.  Once the survey is collected, the teacher will have an assessment of each EL’s personal culture/language background to which to begin planning content and language objectives on a given lesson plan.

Now, to start a lesson plan, consider the three numbered  SIOP Features from Building Background component:  (1) Concepts Explicitly Linked to Students Background Experience, (2) Links Made Between Past Learning and New Concepts, and (3) Key Vocabulary Emphasized are well researched featured observations in the studies on teaching ELs within the Sheltered Instructions .

To some of us, it seems obvious that most everyone will have an opinion of something s/he can relate if the discussion topic is one that the participant can tap into her/his own experience.  In preparing content and language objectives in a lesson plan, teachers must make explicit content information to link students background knowledge  a frequent factor.  Writing your lesson plan by including background experience recall cues or questionnaires connected to past content will bridge students’ engagement to the new concept content.  Lastly, I want to emphasize the importance of Key Vocabulary teaching – this feature is imperative and most basic teaching activity that should be used frequently and consistently as a routine in the classroom with ELs.  The use of Key Vocabulary in a day’s classroom discourse allows ELs to practice listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.  The emphasis on practicing Key Vocabularies to be an everyday academic language will eventually become second nature for ELs to use English as their thinking skills in the academic and conversational communication.

Comprehensible Input

The Comprehensible Input studies how teachers shall use:  (1) Speech Appropriate for Students’ Proficient Level, (2) Clear Explanation of Academic Tasks, and (3) A Variety of Techniques Used to Make Content Concepts Clear, as they relate to the ELs’  English language comprehension proficiency.  These three components are numbered SIOP Features in Comprehensible Input.

What is teaching with Comprehensible Input¿  The teacher makes use of “language” communication needed to convey content, thus  communication strategies such as speaking slower, enunciating words phonemes clearly and  succinctly, using straight forward diction (speech or writing style) are all good practices of appropriate speech.  To aid to this speech strategy, written shortcuts such as mneumonics can help students memorize certain concepts by recalling abbreviated written labels or speech forms.  Also, the teacher must give clear instructions for assignments and activities: instructions should be presented in a step by step manner, in written language or graphical form, and speak by pointing to the written and graphical format during instruction.  Establishing an order of explanation is also keeping instructions in a clear and traceable manner.  Using the step by step instruction in conjunction with speech, written and orderly method is in essence an exerted effort to develop academic and linguistic language acquisition.  Further teaching to enhance Comprehensive Input of content and language will be to use a variety of techniques such as application of facial gestures, body language, pictures, model a process with visuals or acting out, preview material before intro to new concepts, use multimedia as tutorials or comprehension reinforcement, and provide activities for repetition on speech, listening, writing and comprehension skills.

In closing, I appreciate the level of detail description on three SIOP Features each for Building Background and Comprehensive Input the scientific studies have defined in the sheltered instructions.  I believe that in order to show the teaching accountability to meet regulated content standards, the use of the SIOP Features is a great tool the teachers have to assess the teaching effectiveness on content and language objectives vital to the ELs’ academic progress.

PLNU colleagues, please feel free to comment on how accurately I have extracted both chapters’ contents from the textbook, and where you agree or not on opinions presented here.  Also, a good critique on the English writing conventions on my writing is most welcome.

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