Tackling a unit on the novel that engages every student in a meaningful way is a huge undertaking in any classroom. It is particularly challenging in a heterogeneous classroom of English language learners where students’ language levels range from “entering” all the way to “commanding.” Students who are still new to the language often struggle with class texts, while students who are already proficient find themselves bored with the work and finish too quickly.
Here are a few practices I implement in my classroom to ensure that all students are engaged, challenged and able to facilitate meaningful discussions with one another.
Offer students a choice of novels: I am a big proponent of giving students a choice. Offering students three to four novels with a similar theme gives them the freedom to pick what interests them the most. Having a choice promotes buy-in and a sense of responsibility in students. It’s important to offer novels at different reading levels. Give students a class period to explore the books and encourage them to choose one based on their comfort reading it as well as their interest in the book.
Provide adapted versions: For Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) and entering-level English language learners, providing an adapted version of a text is useful. You can adapt a text by simplifying the vocabulary, shortening the length, chunking it into more-manageable sections and incorporating guiding questions, vocabulary activities and literacy activities when necessary. Simplifying vocabulary will help students who are new to English build a stronger foundation in sight words and basic words. Shortening the length of the novel will allow these students the extra time to absorb the content, as well as focus on increasing their literacy skills.
Close-reading activities: For students whose skills fall in the middle (emerging to transitioning), an adapted version of the text might be too simple, while an entire novel can be too overwhelming. In this case, providing close-reading activities of important parts of the novel can be helpful. Close-reading activities are great because students can focus on one part of the text and build confidence in their reading and comprehension skills. Students can answer guiding questions about the text, as well as highlight and define vocabulary words that are new to them. If your students are working on analyzing literary elements in the novel, they can do that analysis during a close reading. For more-advanced students, these kinds of close-reading activities can be in addition to reading the entire novel and can act as an anchor for student comprehension.
One-pagers: Rather than giving students quizzes on the content of their novel, asking students to create a one-pager can be a more creative, authentic way of assessing student comprehension. You can give students, working either independently or in groups, a prompt about the novel they are reading. For example, you can ask them to identify a conflict or a theme in their novel. From there, they must create an illustration with quotes from the novel, explanations and an analysis of your prompt.
It is important to give students multiple points of access into your curriculum, especially when working with students who range widely in skill level. These strategies will help set you on your way.
Cindy Wang is an 11th-grade ESL teacher at International HS at Lafayette in Brooklyn and a 2022 Big Apple Award recipient.