31.  What is the best approach in teaching ESOL students (English Language Learners / ELL’s or Limited English Proficient / LEP students) how to read? Phonics? Sight?

The question assumes that the ELL’s do not know how, and have not been taught, to read in their primary language (L1).

The key to successful reading instruction is and has always been MEANING. No child will learn to read in a language that has no meaning to (h)im/er. That would be like reading nonsense words. So ALL students should learn to read in the language that is most meaningful to them, that is, their primary language.

If ELL’s cannot be provided reading instruction through their most meaningful language, their primary language (L1), then the first step in learning to read through another language, through a second language (L2), is NOT deciphering or decoding MEANINGLESS words in L2, it is building MEANING through lots of visuals, manipulatives, realia, accompanied by lots of oral language activities in L2, meaningful listening activities through L2, active learning during the silent period of second language acquisition , speaking in L2, and developing fluency in oral language skills in L2.

After the ELL understands some L2 through observation, listening and speaking, and provides evidence of understanding in L2 by performing certain observable actions that verify understanding, reading instruction by SIGHT can begin. Anything and everything a student understands and can say in L2, the student can now read in L2 as complete sentences, whole, entire words. Learning to read by sight implies learning to read entire units of print, whether entire words, entire phrases or entire sentences.

Phonics is a totally inappropriate method to teach ELL’s to read. As I have explained in other questions in the web sites:

"ESLQuestions.com" and

it is very difficult for ELL’s to HEAR some of the sounds of English. It is totally impossible to hear unfamiliar sounds in isolation or in unheard combinations in different positions within a word –initial, medial or final positions.

In learning to read in a second language (L2), for example, in learning to read in English, MEANING MUST BE BUILT FIRST through extensive use of visuals, manipulatives, realia, listening and speaking activities.

In learning to read in a second language (L2), it is very important for the teacher to pay very close attention to the visuals displayed around the classroom. For example, if the L1 of the ELL’s is Spanish, visuals will be read by the students in Spanish, their L1. The reading of the visuals is silent, totally within the head of the students. But all pictures, visuals, realia in the classroom will trigger thoughts inside the student’s mind and those thoughts will be expressed within the student’s mind in the primary language.

To illustrate, let’s say that the teacher displays an alphabet set of pictures around the room. A Spanish speaking child, looking at these posters or pictures showing a letter and a drawing or picture of an object that, in print, is written using that letter ("A" [picture of an] "APPLE") probably would think in Spanish: "íMANZANA empieza con A!" The visuals, in this case, have probably totally confused the child because neither the teacher nor the child can control the child’s thinking language. The confusion brought about by visuals occurs regardless of the students’ L1. Whether the student speaks Cambodian or Swahili, Haitian Creole or Italian, pictures, posters, visuals are "read" by students silently using their primary language. And in the primary language, initial sounds of words may not match in English and in the students’ L1.

Thus, phonics is NOT a recommended method for teaching initial reading to ELL’s.   The recommended method is building meaning in English FIRST. Teach children to read only what they fully understand through listening and appropriate use in speech. Sight vocabulary building in English is very effective. Teach and apply Phonics rules for spelling purposes, NOT for learning to read.




For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


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