Success Through Academic Interventions in Language & Literacy

Language and Literacy

We have developed two research-based models, a structured English immersion model (ENG) and a transitional bilingual model (BE), that share a common goal—the acquisition of English skills and high levels of content knowledge in Spanish- speaking English language learners. In ENG, students receive all their instruction in English using a sheltered instruction approach. Our BE program promotes oral English language and literacy development in Kindergarten and Grade 1, and provides structured English literacy instruction in English in Grades 2 and 3, while maintaining some Spanish language and literacy instruction in these grades (2 and 3).

Teachers in treatment classrooms use researcher-enhanced versions of language and literacy curriculum, while teachers in control classrooms continue with their regular methods of instruction. During the 90 minute reading block we provide enhanced phonics instruction, reading and skills practice, and oral language development through read-alouds (Lectura), in either Spanish or English depending on the program model. Outside of the 90 minutes reading block, for students in the bilingual program we provide English language development and English reading and skills practice. For students in the English program, we provide English writing and grammar practice.

Results from the first grade assessments indicate the program is highly effective in developing word reading skills as well as vocabulary and listening comprehension. Students in the ‘enhanced’ classrooms significantly outperformed students in the regular classrooms in English oral vocabulary and English listening comprehension on standardized assessments. Both groups of students performed very well on standardized assessments of word reading, with no differences between the two groups, even though students in the enhanced versions of instruction spent half
as much time in reading skills instruction.

Reading practice

We use the basal reading materials as the basis for reading and skills practice as it is the curriculum selected by the district. For first and second grade students, the curriculum consists of six five-week modules.

In order to enhance the ease of using the materials each week of curriculum follows the same format. The week begins with a ‘Guided Reading of the Decodable Story’ that includes several components: students learn new vocabulary related to the story, practice reading high frequency words, listen to the story read orally by the teacher, respond to higher level questions, participate in echo reading, and read with their partner. Subsequent days have been organized for differentiated instruction so that teachers may use materials and instructional methods that best meet the needs of all the student sin the class. In addition, on one day of the week, students learn a reading and a study skill. Each skill mini-lesson includes four fundamental steps, introduction of the concept, group practice, individual practice, and review. The final day of the week the students have the opportunity to show what they have learned through the assessment.

In order to accommodate the needs of second-language learners we develop oral language proficiency in the context of teaching reading—we focus on developing students vocabulary and listening comprehension as well as their oral production skills and reading comprehension. For example, the SAILL Safari is designed to challenge and stimulate students in comprehension with unique activities and questions that get progressively more difficult and require higher order thinking skills. The My Phonics Word Book was developed so that students could create their own pictures and sentences to help them learn and practice new words. Glossaries of vocabulary and site words provide students with pictures of each word to help develop their vocabulary knowledge.

Writing and grammar practice

We use the basal grammar materials as the basis for our grammar lessons. As with reading, each grammar and mechanics lesson is taught using a mini-lesson that includes four fundamental steps: introduction of the concept, group practice, individual practice, and review. We teach five genres of writing--- personal narrative, persuasive, explanatory, comparison, expository and narrative story and use a sequence of activities to teach writing —group practice researching the genre, group practice writing using the genre, individual practice writing with two rounds of editing based on teacher feedback, and writing presentations. Students use graphic organizers for both genre elements and language elements related to the genre (e.g. first, second, for …) and are provided with rubrics that help them assess their writing.


Lectura is a read-aloud program designed to promote the English vocabulary development and oral proficiency of Spanish-speaking English Language Learners in Grades 1 and 2. Through the systematic instruction of vocabulary and carefully designed scaffolding of reading materials, Lectura makes the content of rich children’s literature and science texts accessible to ELLs. In Grade 1 only narrative texts are used in the program, and in Grade 2 the Lectura techniques are applied both to narrative and expository texts.

Each weekly lesson consists of a read-aloud book and vocabulary instruction using picture cards. Lectura teaches four types of words: key words (and key science words), basic words, and “other words and phrases.” These are described below.


Key words : Key words are words that appear in the text and are taught before the text is read. We have selected these words for pre-teaching because:

  • They are important for understanding the meaning of the story.

  • They are words that are multidimensional, or have depth of meaning, as opposed to words whose referents are more concrete.

Key words have been chosen in consultation with the Living Word Vocabulary, a reference that provides information about the grade levels at which a given word is known by most children. Following current research guidelines for vocabulary instruction of first and second graders (Biemiller & Slonin, 2001), we have selected key words that are known by most of the children who are in either fourth or sixth grade. In this way, we are confident that the difficulty of the key words corresponds to the conceptual level of development of children in Grades 1 and 2. Lectura key words are often new labels for known concepts: e.g., possess (have); leap (jump); joy (happiness), but they may also present important new concepts: e.g., honor, depend, unfortunate, hesitate, courage. A sample of key words picture cards.

Key science words : Science words are taught in Grade 2 lessons that present expository texts. They are taught in the same manner as key words are taught, but unlike other key words, they do not necessarily appear in the science text. These words are useful in discussing the scientific processes described in the expository texts. They include terms such as: observe, locate, measure, identify, etc.

Basic Words: The basic words from each week come from one category; the category is aligned with the theme of the read-aloud book, and with the ESOL Standards for the respective grade. Grouping words thematically in this way emphasizes the connections that exist among word meanings, and helps the students to develop semantic networks, or associations between a given word and other related words. To teach basic words, the teacher uses the text that accompanies images to talk about the meanings of the basic words. A sample of basic words picture cards.

Other Words and Phrases: The “Other Words and Phrasesactivity focuses on idioms and other expressions that may be difficult for second language learners.
The category “other words and phrases” comprises high frequency words. These
are the core words of the English language, words that are speakers use and hear often, and which appear in print over and over again. Word types in this category include words that express grammatical relationships, such as conjunctions and prepositions (e.g., because, among), adverbs of time and place (e.g., often, across), and idioms (e.g., I don’t believe my eyes!). A sample of other words picture cards.

In teaching ‘other words and phrases,’ the target word or phrase is first defined in English. Second, a picture that demonstrates the word or phrase is presented. The word is then defined in Spanish. Finally, children are invited to explore the word through dialogues with the teacher that deepen the children’s understanding of the word.

In Grade 1, a total of 200 key words, 250 basic words and 100 other words and phrases are taught. In Grade 2, 120 key words, 120 basic words and 48 other words and phrases are taught.

Other components of the read-alouds consist of interactive reading, glossary work, assessments, and review.

Interactive Reading: Interactive reading employs paraphrasing and questioning techniques designed to clarify the meaning of the overall text and expand word knowledge. More specifically, Interactive Reading comprises:

  • Explanations of key words and other words essential to understanding the text, either through brief explanations or reference to illustrations.

  • Building background knowledge important in understanding the story.

  • Questioning techniques that allow the teacher to model comprehension strategies. Such strategies will be important tools for students in making meaning of text as independent readers. The strategies include visualizing, drawing inferences, making connections from text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to- world, summarizing, and inferring word meaning.

  • Additional questions that alternate between questions for individuals and questions for partners.

  • Discussion questions that encourage students to infer, predict, evaluate or relate the book to their own experiences.

Glossary Work: Each week, students are given a glossary of the key vocabulary (and scientific vocabulary for expository text) for homework. In this glossary, students complete a fill-in-the-blank exercise, using a picture of the word and its definition as presented in the key word activities. In addition, Glossary I presents two comprehension questions related to the text.

Assessment: In Grade 2, only students in the bilingual classes are assessed on their vocabulary knowledge and comprehension of the story on Day 5. The assessment consists of:

  • Glossary work

  • Responding to comprehension questions

  • An optional game that provides additional encounters with the vocabulary words

Reviews: Each week consists of four lessons and an assessment and review activities on Day 5. Every fifth week, there is a three-day review of material taught in the previous four lessons. In addition, during some lessons in the review week, students engage in an activity to build their conversational ability. The topics that are covered in this activity are aligned with grade level ESOL standards.