Reading Between the Lines in Another Language

My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:


ELL Teaching Tip #11: Inferring is Different For English Language Learners


Making inferences can be one of the hardest parts of literacy for English speaking students because it requires students to think the same way as the person who is speaking.  Now, take students who often are of a different culture, giving them different background knowledge (see Tip #10 on How Culture Affects English Language Learning) and who don’t have the same understanding of words, and inferring is now 3 times as hard!!


Here’s a simple example:  If the text says “She grabbed her umbrella and her bag before she headed for the door.”  We expect students to understand that it’s probably raining outside.  However, for my students, in an area where rain is rare, it could be just as likely that she’s headed for the beach to sit under a parasol, which is where you will ALWAYS find umbrellas!  Remember that this carries over to pictures too!  My students recently saw a picture of carrot sticks (something you’ll never find in Morocco) and told me they were French Fries.  They also don’t have public libraries here, so whenever we see the picture of the library in the “What’s in your Neighborhood?” books, they tell me it’s a bookstore.


Multiple meaning words, homophones and idioms also make it difficult for English Language Learners to make inferences.  (A lesson or project on each of these is very beneficial for English Language Learners.  See last Monday’s post on the homophone books I making with some of my students.) Another simple example: If the text says “The mother asked her son to draw a bath.”  We expect students to know that he will be going into the bathtub to turn on the water.  However, English Language Learners might just as well expect him to get a piece of paper and start drawing a picture.  Amelia Bedelia books are a great way to talk about these types of things with your students, but be prepared to explain every page!



So, how do we help our English Language Learners make inferences? 

  1.  Never assume they know what a word means – direct instruct as much vocabulary as possible!

2.  Work on multiple meaning words, homophones and idioms in the same way you work on vocabulary.

3.  Know and understand your student’s background knowledge as much as possible, it’s a major contributor to how they think.

Check out Tips 1 – 10 here




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About rakisradresources

teacher mother of 3 wife

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  1. Twenty Tips for Teaching ELL Students « - 04/11/2012

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