Teaching Improves
ELLs’ Literacy Skills
Presented by Dr. Eugenia Krimmel
Today we will discuss…
• The differences between teaching ELLs to read as
opposed to teaching native English speakers
• The levels involved in learning both the bottom-up
and top-down aspects of language
• Connect oral language skills to print
• Phonemic awareness linked to decoding and
encoding (spelling)
• Teaching and practicing syllable rules, spelling
patterns, and mental imagery for good ELL readers
• The sequence of teaching bottom-up towards topdown strategies within our daily or weekly lessons.
Why is teaching an English
Language Learner (ELL)
different in some respects to
how we teach native English
What needs do the ELLs
Different Sounds System
• /th/ does not exist in most languages
• ELL substitute /th/ with /d/, /t/, /z/
• /b/ and /v/ are not distinguished in
• No vowel teams in other languages
• Many languages have only a vowelconsonant-vowel pattern: no
digraphs or clusters
Different Written Systems
Beautiful : Roman script
Arabic script: ‫جميل‬
Chinese: 完美的
Hiragani Japanese:
Different Word Patterns
• Plural –s suffix does not exist in many
Asian languages
• Two dollars = two dollar (the 2 indicates
plural) in Chinese
• Pronouns are added to words not
standalone words
• I go = gidiyorum (indicates “I”) in
• Monosyllabic languages (Chinese,
Hawaiian, South Eastern languages)
• Multisyllabic languages (German,
English, Spanish, Turkish)
Different Sentence Structures
• Sentence Order: Subject-Verb-Object
Object –Verb+Subject (Turkish)
Subject + Object + Verb (Hindi)
• Many languages do not have verb “to
be” (Turkish, Arabic, Tagalog…)
• I am a teacher = Ben bir öğretmenim
(Turkish – “ I one teacher/1st person
• Preposition attached to the noun vs.
preposition a separate word before the
Different Discourse Patterns
• English/German
linear: beginning, middle, end
• Semitic languages (Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew):
Redundant, parallelism, repetition of thoughts
with new words
• Slavic languages (Russian, Czech, Polish):
Zigzag pattern with added facts (related to
historical facts)
• Romance languages (Spanish, French, Romanian):
Zigzag pattern with added tangents or side
• Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean,
Indirect, and recursive
Do you know?
• How many phonemes we have in
Between 37-41 depending on the dialect of English
Dr. Bruce Hayes, Dept. of Linguistics, UCLA
• How many syllable types there are
in English?
6 types
- Louis Moats and Carol Tolman, Reading Rockets: Six Syllable Types
Do you know?
• How many ways we spell long /a/
- a – Consonant –e
-ei (vein)
-eigh (weight)
-ea (break, steak, great)
a- as an open syllable (apricot)
-ey (they, hey)
Why are ELLs confused?
• Sounds do NOT match the graphemes
or symbols 1 –to- 1
• English is a low correspondence
• Recognizing phonemes in words and
sentences is a struggle if certain
phonemes are totally unfamiliar
• Word construction and sentence
construction patterns are unfamiliar
• English has many exceptions
(“red words”)
Connecting oral language with
literacy skill development:
What should we teach? :
Phoneme awareness and discrimination
Sound to letter correspondence
Word formation patterns
Syllable patterns and divisions
Spelling system rules (encoding)
Short phrase decoding
When foundation is formed, fluency and comprehension
can begin.
Phoneme awareness and
“The ability to perceive individual
speech sounds in spoken words is
crucial for students who are learning
to read. If teachers do not possess
this knowledge, how can they
recognize and treat students whose
basic difficulty in learning to read is
the inability to perceive speech
sounds in spoken words?”
- Suzanne Carreker, Vice President of Research and Program
Development at Neuhaus Education center, Houston, Texas.
Know your phonemes.
A teacher can stat by reviewing lists of
phonemes like:
Or try an interactive website using the IPA
(International Phonetic Alphabet) for English
Now that you know what all those pesky
phonemes are, let’s look at ways to teach ELLs
those sounds…
ESL Strategies for teaching
listening phonemic awareness
• Minimal pairs activity: 2
words with one phoneme
• Identify the same sound in
words (bit, bat, ball)
• Odd sound out – (bit, bat,
More ESL phonemic awareness
• Combo Phones – give separate
phonemes and have students put them
together (c-a-t)
• Tap out sounds – students tap one
finger per sound as they hear the word
(b-a-ck= 3 taps)
• Add or Subtract Sounds – can ELLs
recognize what word is made by
adding or subtracting a sound = (“thin”
plus /k/ =“ think”; “black” minus /l/ =
More phonemic awareness for ELLs
• Position of the phoneme within a
word can also cause difficulties for
ELLs when discriminating sounds or
while pronouncing words.
Strategy: Teach students :
 Tell them to listen for the /th/ sound in bath.
Final sound
 Listen for /th/ in birthday. – Middle sound
Why are these strategies
important for ELLs?
• Native English speakers have these
sound referents in their heads already
• ELLs need to build a phonemic
• ELLs do NOT have all these sounds and
combinations in their head
With these sounds going into
their heads, their phonemic
inventory, ELLs can now develop
oral to written correspondence.
Sound to letter teaching
Encoding is for
Decoding is for
In order to become good
decoders and spellers
(encoders), learners need
to first develop
understandings about
writing and how it relates
to spoken English.
-Anna Gillingham , The Gillingham Manual
Spelling or encoding is the
system of rules governing
how spoken words are
represented in writing (in
These rules the basis of
the alphabetic principle of
a given language
All readers and writers of a
language must know the
alphabetic principle.
Try this:
Copy this word on a piece of paper.
• Did you write it left to right or right
to left?
• Which letters are consonants?
• Which are vowels? Are there
• Do you recognize the root of this
• Which sounds are represented in this
Knowing the alphabetic
principle of a written
language is essential to the
higher skills of reading and
writing. Without this in
English, ELLs struggle.
Not all ELLs use the Roman
alphabet, so sound to letter
teaching is essential!
The major flaw of
reading programs is the
teaching of letter-to-sound
rather than sound-toletter, hence the alphabetic
principle is not well learned
by the [ELL] reader.
- Marcia K. Henry, Unlocking Literacy: Effective Decoding and
Spelling Instruction.
Decoding and Encoding together
• Connect sound to letter for both decoding
and encoding skill development.
• If a phoneme has more than 1 spelling, focus
on one spelling pattern at a time.
• Sequencing that order is best, but not always
ELLs may need to learn /ā/ is spelled “ei” before
learning “ay” because in math or science they
are learning Weights and Measures.
Strategies linking oral sounds to
Either by order of frequency (found in OrtonGillingham materials) OR by necessity in the
text, teach 2-3 phonemes in isolation orally,
through phonemic awareness activities
Put those sounds into writing!
The sound/ŭ/is in these words :
“umbrella, bug and cut”
on the board while underlining the /u/. Connect
the sound to the symbol.
More Strategies…
Total Physical Response (TPR) type
 Point to pictures of words with a specific sound i.e.
- ice, pig, egg (point to which word/picture do you
hear /ī/ in?)
 Sort picture cards or word cards by sound
 Match oral sound to letter, letter combination or
word containing that sound
 Write the letter(s) for the sound you hear
 List all the words beginning with the sound …
Word level teaching for
decoding and encoding
• Spelling patterns
• Syllable rules
• Stress patterns
Spelling patterns
• There are numerous spelling patterns in
English. Teachers can present 1 or 2 patterns
per week such as:
• The “FLOSS” pattern: words of 1 syllable ending
in f, l, or s after 1 vowel usually end in ff, ll, or ss.
• Final /k/ sound is spelled –k after a long vowel or
vowel team (take, week, book) OR after a
consonant (milk, talk, think)
/k/ is spelled –ck at the end of a short vowel
syllable (duck, clock or jacket, tickle)
• /s/ can be spelled with soft “c” + e or I
(cent, city)
Syllable Patterns
1. Closed syllables – has 1 short vowel
(at, bin, ad-, egg, speck, scratch…)
2. Open syllables - has 1 long vowel
(me, hi, co-, tri-, pre-, de-, no…)
3. Vowel team or combination - 2 vowels
together make 1 vowel sound
(ee, ea, oi, ou, au, aw, ow, etc.)
(bee, ouch, now, boy, soil, saw…)
Syllable patterns con’t
1.Vowel-consonant-e – 1st vowel
has the long sound, “e” is silent
(-ate, -ene, -ine, -oke, ute)
(late, scene, nine, poke, cute)
2.Consonant –le: syllables ending
in –ble, -cle, dle, ckle, fle, gle, ple,
tle) (able, uncle, puddle, rifle, giggle)
3. -r controlled: vowels + r in
(third, cart, purse, doctor, her, solar)
Syllable division or word patterns
• C-V-C (consonant-vowel-consonant)
(c-a-t, p-e-n)
• V-C-C-V
(rab-bit, but-ton, mer-chant, compare)
V-C-V (pi-lot, mu-sic, po-lite OR cab-in, lev-el)
V-C-CC-V (mon-ster, pil-grim)
V-CC-C-V (pump-kin, dish-rag, a-part-ment)
Prefix + root word + suffix
mis-spell-ing, en-rich-ment
• Schwa syllable is sometimes added to this list – in
polysyllabic words, the soft /ŭ/ sound of the
unstressed syllable = schwa (a,e,i,o, or u)
Self-Reflection: Planning
• What daily lesson sequence do you
have for teaching the bottom-up
skills through to the top-down
comprehension skills?
• Do you teach that range of
reading/writing skills on a weekly
basis rather than a daily one? Why?
• When planning the scope and
sequence of your reading skills
lessons, what do you use to guide
your thought process? Student
assessment, book materials, scripted
How do I teach my ELLs all these?
Smaller to larger chunks
Single to combinations
Start with Sounds and letters
• Flash cards with letters and
letter combinations – show to
students, they tell you the sound those letter(s)
• Blending Drill
(yes I said DRILL! We want
automaticity at this stage for fluency and better
Put phoneme flash cards in 3 piles by Initial-MiddleFinal positions possible in English.
- Middle
b,ch, p, y, j, sl
a,i,o, oi, ou, u, oo s, p, -ch, -ng
Possible combinations: boop, choich, slous….
*note this syllable game is practice decoding only
Teach ELLs how to
mark the words by
vowel type
Reading Horizons example
1. met
Reading Horizons example
* *
Reading Horizons example #1
How do you decode this word?
Reading Horizons example #1
How do you decode this word?
Example #2
How do you decode this word?
example #2
How do you decode this word?
Reading Horizons v5
How do you read or decode these nonsense
Suggested Lesson Routine
25 mins
Total time of routine
2 mins.
Listening phonemic awareness activity
5 mins.
Blending drill with flash cards in 3 piles (add silent e as 4th pile)
individual or small group
2 mins.
Present spelling or syllable pattern- teach markings
5 mins.
Sound-to-letter activity – tapping or blending
2 mins.
Student air-write or write on board spelling words
2 mins.
Choral read list of focused words, red words
2 mins.
Word dictation – review, new, and red words 10-12
5 mins.
Practice activities of phonemes, spellings, syllables
Move to vocabulary, fluency and comprehension strategies
Isn’t that a long time?
• In that 25 minutes you have
taught essential skills necessary for
ELLs to move forward in language
• The bottom-up strategies are the
foundations to vocabulary and
larger text reading.
• The total time – 25 minutes- will
lessen as skills are mastered.
A word about nonsense words for
• Always indicate they are
• Should never appear on tests
(other than testing decoding skills)
• Practice blending and reading
nonsense words is important for
future unfamiliar word decoding
Quick review
• Teaching ELLs to read and spell in English requires
purposeful, effective strategies that may not be
necessary or practical for native English speakers
• Planning a routine of sequential daily strategies to
teach the phonemic awareness skills will improve
their literacy skills at all levels
• Knowing, as teachers, the nature of English
phonemes, rules of syllables and segmentation,
and spelling patterns is key to effectively teaching
ELLs to read and write.
• A program like Reading Horizons can help you
plan, deliver, and assess focused skill
development for ELLs at all levels and ages.
Self-Reflection: Strategies
• What strategies/activities do you use
to teach oral introduction and/or
discrimination of sounds?
• What strategies do you use to teach
vowel teams, clusters, diagraphs, and
• What activities do you find best for
teaching the types of syllables?
• What activities do you find effective
for teaching spelling patterns?
Sharing Ideas
• Please share a brief list and
short description of strategies
you have found to be effective
in the aspects of teaching
reading to ELLs mentioned
• What resources do you use to
make these activities a reality
in your class to save you as a
teacher time and/or money?
Questions and Answers
• Do you have any questions regarding
the oral to written teaching sequence
or strategies geared towards ELLs’
skill development?
• Do you have any questions regarding
the timing or sequencing of
• Do you have any questions about the
information presented to today?
Birch, B. M, (2002). English L2 Reading: Getting to the
Bottom. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Carreker, S. (2010). Professional Development presentation.
Retrieved from:
English phonemes, spellings, example words, and meaningful
names . (n.d.). Retrieved from
Heidi Hyte, (2006). An Interactive Approach to Teaching L2 Reading:
From the Bottom-Up Webinar. Reading Horizons.com.
Henry, M. (2010). Unlocking literacy: Effective decoding and
spelling instruction. Paul H Brookes Pub Co; 2 edition.
Moats, L. & Tolman, C. (2008). Six syllable types. Reading
Rockets, Retrieved from:
Reading Horizons, (2007). Scientifically Based Research
Underpinning the Rationales of the Discover Intensive
Phonics for Yourself Reading System. Retrieved from:
Sholes, D. (2011). Activities for teaching phonemes:
Lesson plan for teaching sounds. Retrieved from
Te Arapiki Ako. (n.d.). Decoding for reading; spelling
(encoding) for writing. Retrieved from
• UsingEnglish.com (2006). Here are the ipa
(international phonetic alphabet) symbols for
the common sounds of english. Retrieved from