6. What teaching strategies are effective for promoting language development?

There are many effective, research-based strategies that aid second language development. Several sources provide a wealth of information about this topic (see Chamot & O’Malley, 1994; Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000; Echevarria, Vogt & Short, 2004; Gibbons, 2002; Herrell & Jordan, 2004). For example, in Dual Language Instruction: A Handbook for Enriched Education (Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000 chaps 4, 5, 6), the authors highlight various effective strategies. These include Total Physical Response, shared story telling, songs, role play, simulations, demonstrations, experiments, cooperative learning, read alouds, shared reading, independent reading with leveled texts, learning logs and journals, interviews, literature response groups, use of charts and graphic organizers, group research projects, and student generated problems. Some strategies are designed to develop receptive skills and others are designed to provide language practice and promote expressive language. Teachers need to be well versed in all of these teaching strategies so that they can select the appropriate strategy for their purpose and vary instruction to make it interesting and enjoyable to learners.

A general principle of language teaching today is to provide students with language input they can understand and opportunities to use and practice that language. This principle implies that teachers must provide comprehensible input and provide authentic communicative tasks. Strategies for providing comprehensible input include modifying teacher language; using visuals, realia, and graphic organizers to provide nonverbal support; and building on students’ background knowledge and experiences. Strategies for encouraging communication include cooperative learning structures to increase peer interaction and extending student responses by asking clarification or expansion questions.

In addition, teachers need to identify language development objectives as an integral part of their content teaching. These goals may differ for native speakers and second language learners within a thematic unit or a particular level. Without such objectives, it is unlikely that students will acquire all aspects of social and academic language proficiency.

In the 50/50 immersion programs in School District 54 in Schaumburg, IL, teaching strategies such as the Total Physical Response method designed to create comprehensible input are used during the preproduction and early production stages because they are effective for building receptive language. In addition, the Language Experience Approach is used with students at this level because it allows them to build language as they participate in activities that they can understand and then recount. Teachers write down (usually on the blackboard) what students dictate, thus promoting literacy development in the second language as well.

Once students are able to answer questions, teachers find that sentence starters are an effective way to scaffold language production and encourage students to speak at length. Students who are beginning to speak and who have also developed basic literacy skills can benefit from vocabulary learning strategies such as instruction in prefixes, suffixes, word families, and cognates between languages. Students at higher levels of proficiency need to be exposed to language and texts that are understandable to them but that contain some new words and more complex structures so that they can continually build the vocabulary and fluency necessary to become proficient in the second language.

The following are some strategies that are used by immersion teachers in the 50/50 program at Key Elementary in Arlington, VA:

  • Identify the vocabulary that students will need to comprehend a lesson and pre-teach this vocabulary before the lesson.
  • Identify both content and language objectives for all lessons.
  • Slow down speech when necessary.
  • Generate questions that promote higher order thinking but use varying levels of linguistic complexity depending upon the proficiency level of each student.
  • Provide an environment that is rich in print. This includes word walls, labels for everyday items, and vocabulary lists that are tied to the content being studied in class.
  • Provide plenty of high-interest reading materials (fiction and nonfiction) at various reading levels.
  • Make sure the students have free time in which they can use the language of instruction to talk about their own interests.
  • Use plenty of songs. Use commercially produced songs, and have students compose their own.
  • Have students work in cooperative learning groups. Regroup when necessary.
  • Assign individual work with clear guidelines and expectations.
  • Plan activities that involve Total Physical Response.
  • Include role-playing activities not only during the language arts period, but also in the content areas.
  • Use drama and dance in class.