Reading Methods for Elementary ELLs

Collaborate Strategic Reading

By: Karina Santana

I pledge, on my honor, to uphold UT Arlington’s tradition of academic integrity, a tradition that values hard work and honest effort in the pursuit of academic excellence.

I promise that I will submit only work that I personally create or contribute to group collaborations, and I will appropriately reference any work from other sources. I will follow the highest standards of integrity and uphold the spirit of the Honor Code.

My name is Karina Santana and I will be teaching third grade bilingual at a Title 1 campus this fall. I'm going on my tenth year of being an educator, but I did start out as a paraprofessional for three years. So I've been working at Title 1 campuses for twelve years. I've seen and experienced lots in these twelve years. I'm certified in EC - 4th, ESL, bilingual, and gifted and talented. One thing that all these years have in common is the joy of watching students working together to solve a problem or to achieve the same goal. For this reason, I have decided to focus my newsletter on collaborative groups, cooperative groups, and group work. In a sense, they all sound the same, but they all have different methods for instruction. My goal with this newsletter is for anyone that reads it, to take something away that will help students be more engaged and grow as readers and life long learners.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” ― Helen Keller

TIP #1 Let's get motivated

We need to be advocates for giving students opportunities to discuss and learn from their peers in collaborative groups with gradual release to partner work and ultimately working independently. "What children can do together today, they can do alone tomorrow." - Lev Vygotsky, 1962

Understanding How Cooperative Groups Work

TIP #2 Why??

In cooperative learning situations, interactions are characterized by positive goal interdependence with individual accountability. Positive goal interdependence requires acceptance by a group that they "sink or swim". There needs to be an accepted common goal on which the group will be rewarded for their efforts. Cooperative groups have a sense of individual accountability that means that all students need to know the material for the group to be successful and it must be structured and managed by the teacher. (R. Johnson & D. Johnson, 1988)

Working in groups is a very important skill to acquire, as they will need this to become lifelong learners and be successful in society. Students learn to work together and problem solve with a diverse group of learners. They will respect each other and value everyone's responsibilities and opinions. Peer interactions will also increase language proficiency, content objectives, and academic language. However, expectations and classroom management is critical for collaborative groups to work successfully and efficiently.

Giving Our Classroom The Right Enviornment

TIP# 3 Does my classroom look like this?

The right environment in our classroom begins with fostering respect and friendship among a diverse group of students. The more diverse the teams are, the higher the benefits. Establishing classroom norms and protocols can guide students to stay on task, contribute, help and encourage each other, sharing, and giving proper feedback. Encourage discussion and participation by arranging your tables or desks to allow students to face each other. Teachers should have easy access to all the groups as they facilitate learning. Monitoring of groups is important to ensure that groups are functioning. Place a tote at each table with all the materials needed for any project or assignment. This reduces wasted time on passing out and cleaning up. Anchor on your walls any resources that will helps groups be more independent such as word walls, anchor charts, sentence stems, and content objectives. (

How To Structure Your Groups

TIP #4 Who And How Many?

Cooperative learning groups have shown to be especially effective where problem solving, conceptual learning, or divergent thinking are required. Select a group size according to the lesson and depending on the resources and the amount of time needed. Heterogeneous tend to be more powerful. Quick consensus without discussion doesn't enhance learning. (R. Johnson & D. Johnson, 1988)

It's important to assign different teams every so often to give students opportunities to work with different students. Working in small groups builds confidence and they can better express themselves. Rotate different roles within the group such as reporter, time keeper, recorder, and material manager. This rotation allows all students to practice jobs that they normally wouldn't want. (

Learning Structures For Groups

TIP #5 Partner Up And Problem Solve!

Here are six tips on some popular and beneficial strategies for ELLs working in small groups. A group of four is ideal so that they can partner up for other activities.

  1. Round Robin - have student go around the group naming important facts or reading
  2. Roundtable - give them a category and students take turns writing on at a time
  3. Writearound - give a sentence starter and they finish the sentence and take turns adding more sentences creating a summary or just creative writing
  4. Numbered Heads Together - Students number off 1 - 4 and announce a questions, students discuss the answer, then call on a number to answer the question and elaborate with rich discussion
  5. Team Jigsaw - assign each team a section of the text and have them create a product to present what they learned from their section to share with the class, this can also be broken up among the group
  6. Tea Party - students form two concentric circles facing each other, ask a question and students will discuss, then the outer circle moves one over to the right and they have a new partner

Debrief after any of these activities by asking students what they learned, how did you feel working with your teammates, and how could you improve working together.

Activities come from

Ideas For Reading

TIP #6 What Does This Look Like?

Here are strategies on how to start teams for your literature circles. Try these steps:

  1. have a set of four books available
  2. let students choose their own books
  3. form teams based on students' choices of books
  4. encourage readers to use notes, post-its, and discussion questions to analyze the book
  5. have teams conduct discussions about the books
  6. facilitate further discussion with the whole class on each of the books
  7. have teams share what they read with the whole class
  8. for the next literature circle, students will select new books

Strategies are from

TIP #7 Let's Facilitate Learning!

Here are 5 strategies to use to effectively facilitate collaborative groups:

  1. Think-Pair-Share
  2. Note-taking pairs - students take notes and summarize the text based on their notes, they share with their partner and reflect on gaps
  3. Group grid - student classify information on a graphic organizer or table
  4. Sequence chains - provide a visual representation of a series of events, actions, roles, or decisions
  5. Send a problem - students participate in a series of problem solving rounds, contributing to independently generated solution, students review solutions, evaluate, and develop a final solution

Tips come from

Motivation and Retention

TIP #8 Getting Them to Want To Stay!

One reason for improved academic achievement is that students who are learning cooperatively are more active participants in the learning process (

Lord, 2001

). They care about the class and the material and they are more personally engaged. Students are more likely to make friends and trust each other. You become family when you have this type of collaboration in your classroom. Children want to feel like they belong, and when they belong, they always want to keep coming back to your class, even if they're sick. I've heard students tell me that they can't wait till the weekend is over to do another project in class. Motivation is certainly key to keeping your kids coming to school every day.

research comes from

Inductive Teaching

TIP #9 Start The Lesson With A Challenge!

A better way to motivate students is inductive teaching, in which the instructor begins by presenting students with a specific challenge, such as experimental data to interpret, a case study to analyze, or a complex real-world problem to solve. Students grappling with these challenges quickly recognize the need for facts, skills, and conceptual understanding, at which point the teacher provides instruction or helps students learn on their own. Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) survey extensive neurological and psychological research that provides strong support for inductive teaching methods. The literature also demonstrates that inductive methods encourage students to adopt a deep approach to learning (Ramsden 2003; Norman and Schmidt 1992; Coles 1985) and that the challenges provided by inductive methods serve as precursors to intellectual development (Felder and Brent 2004).

Inductive teaching methods come in many forms, including discovery learning, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, case-based teaching, and just-in-time teaching. Few studies have examined these methods as a group. Prince and Felder (2006) provide an extensive analysis of the conceptual frameworks and research bases for inductive teaching, review applications of inductive methods in engineering education, and state the roles of other student-centered approaches, such as active and cooperative learning, in inductive teaching

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Ideas for Inductive Teaching Methods To Use With Groups

TIP #10 Try One Of These Methods

  • Inquiry Based - students presented with a challenge and accomplish desired learning in the process of responding to the challenge
  • Discovery Learning - students are confronted with a challenge and left to work out solution on their own
  • Problem Based Learning - open ended real world problem to solve, they formulate and evaluate solutions
  • Just In Time Teaching - students respond to a question before class and teacher adjust lesson to react to student misconceptions

Methods come from

Five Parent Tips

When parents and families are involved in their children's schools, the children do better and have better feelings about going to school. Here are five ways for parents to help their children at home.

  • Attend conferences and discuss issues that could be addressed at home (this helps with academic needs and social, emotional needs)
  • Make sure your child is doing homework (this ensures that your child is ready for class and ready to share during project learning activities)
  • Volunteer at your child's school (there may be times when teachers can use a helping hand during project learning)
  • Encourage your child to read and talk with your child (reading comprehension increases when you confer with your child at home and talk about what projects they're currently working on, this is also an opportunity to discuss social issues)
  • Encourage your child to be responsible and always put best effort (discussing with your child different ways to agree, disagree, and work with others is very beneficial for project learning)

These are just a few ways that parents can support their children's learning at home and throughout the school year. Help us, help your child to get them started towards a successful school year!


Johnson D. and R. Johnson, Circles of Learning, Washington, DC: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1984.

Johnson, D. and R. Johnson, Learning Together and Alone, New Jersey & Prentice Hall, 1983. (Barkely, Cross, and Major, 2005) (Davis, 1993, pg.63) (Slavn, 1996)

"School Partnerships." Home. Web. 12 May 2016.

"Promoting Student Success Through Collaboration." Wwwfacultyfocuscom. 2013. Web. 12 May 2016.

"The Difference in Cooperative Learning & Collaborative Learning." Teachers With Apps. Web. 12 May 2016.

"5 Key Strategies For ELL Instruction." Tchers Voice. 2013. Web. 12 May 2016.

"Books & Resources." NSTA News. Web. 12 May 2016.

"Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves." Edutopia. 2015. Web. 13 May 2016.

Click on the title above for more information and it's YOUR TURN TO TRY IT!

Take a moment to reflect....find an elbow partner and discuss what you've been doing in your classroom to support students working and learning together. What are some new ideas that you will implement in your classroom after reading this handout?
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