Maximize Your Time: Building Background and Literacy Together

Angela Goetz
Angela Goetz
10 Apr
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My first years as an EL teacher were challenging to say the least! I was spread across buildings and grade levels, working with students in pull-out settings for 30 minutes or less, sometimes only 2–3 times per week. It quickly became evident that I needed to maximize my time in order to meet my students’ needs. Maybe you can relate?

SIOP® teaches us that building background is key to set students up for success while they engage with the content. I decided early on in my career that I would focus many of my efforts on this component of the SIOP Model. However, I also knew I needed to support students’ literacy skills and work on listening and speaking. Thankfully, I discovered the Language Experience Approach!

The premise of this technique is simple: share an experience, talk about it, participate in shared writing, and extend the shared writing into any number of reading/writing activities. It was the perfect approach to maintain my focus on building background while working on literacy!  

Let me illustrate…picture a group kindergartners, beginning to emerging in English proficiency, preparing for an upcoming unit on transportation. I chose five types of transportation to focus on and we watched videos, looked at images, and spoke in English and Spanish about each type of transportation (this was the shared experience). Throughout these background-building activities, we worked on developing the English vocabulary the students needed to participate in a class discussion about the topic.  

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Next, we participated in shared writing, meaning the students told me what to write about each type of transportation and I wrote it on our chart paper. While writing, the students helped me sound out words and we identified certain letters and sounds. Each time we completed a sentence, we read it together before rereading all the previous sentences. This type of shared writing with multiple opportunities to reread allowed the students to internalize the words in a meaningful way. I’m not exaggerating when I say that by the time we were done, these students could identify by sight the words for car, boat, airplane, bicycle, and truck, among others! They were reading sentences like, “The car goes fast on the road. The boat is on the water.”

Finally, to extend our shared writing, each student created a Transportation Book (I typed our sentences on separate pages and stapled them into book form which they illustrated). We practiced reading our books to each other and they practiced in class and at home.

All of this happened in three 30-minute class periods! It was truly amazing how much students retained. Not only had I found a way to maximize my time by building background and literacy together, but I also discovered that I was hitting nearly all of the SIOP components during these lessons! Talk about a high-impact technique!

More information on the Language Experience Approach

About the author: Angela Goetz, SIOP® Advisory Panel member, has been educating English Learners for over 10 years.  She graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Multilingual / Multicultural Elementary Education and Aurora University with a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. In her current role as Director of English Learner programs for Oak Lawn-Hometown SD 123 in south suburban Chicago, she is leading a full-district training and implementation of the SIOP Model, and continuously advocating for effective education and high expectations for all English learners.

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