Tuesday, July 29, 2008

ESL Teacher Resources: Readability Tools on the Web

I've been working on developing reading passages that provide fluency practice for readers that are 4th grade to adult that are low-readability and high interest. In trying to ensure low-readability, I've found a couple websites that have proven to be great tools.
One website that helps determine the Grade Level Equivalency (GLE) of a passage is called STORYtoolz. You simply copy and paste your text into the box, and it averages several different GLE programs to provide an overall GLE score.
The other website provides information about the percentage of words in a passage that are high frequency words. This vocabulary profiler website looks daunting, but it's really quite easy to use. You simply copy and paste your text into the box and click the submit window. You will then be shown the percentage of words in the text that fall within the 1,000 most high frequency words and the 2,000 most high frequency words.
Use these websites to check readability levels of passages your ESOL students read to ensure that you're providing students with readings that are level appropriate. As a rule of thumb, ESOL students should know 90% to 95% of the words in a passage to be level-appropriate.

(See also my post about obtaining Lexile scores here.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Decoding Strategies for ESL Students: Is the Vowel Long or Short?

How do you know if a vowel in English is long or short? Here are five simple decoding strategies for ESL students. Although these reading strategies apply to only one-syllable words, these strategies can be applied on the syllable-level in multi-syllabic words. (See my blog post on decoding multi-syllabic words here.)

1) If there is one consonant after the vowel, the vowel will be short. (Examples: an, pet, big, hot, cup)
2) If two consonants follow the vowel, the vowel will be short. (Examples: ant, rent, mist, cost, crust)
3) If the vowel stands alone, the vowel is long. (Examples: me, hi, go)
4) If an E is at the end of the word and it is preceded by another vowel, the E at the end of the word is silent and the first vowel is long. Silent E makes the first vowel long. (Examples: name, Pete, fine, home, cute or dune)
5) If two vowels are adjacent (next to each other), the second vowel is silent, making the first vowel long. (Examples: main, dream, lied, road, fruit)

NOTE: It is important to clarify that the terms "long" vowel and "short" vowel do not indicte the length of the vowel, but rather the sound of the vowel. In linguistic contexts, the terms "long" and "short" are referred to as "tense" and "lax" vowels, respectively. Clarify this point to your ESOL students as you deem necessary.

Ideas are taken from the Reading Horizons methodology and are used with permission.

For more spelling tips, visit the Online ESL Workshop at ReadingHorizons.com.

For a free resource that shows how to produce vowel sounds, visit my post entitled "Free Online Pronunciation Tool".

Friday, July 18, 2008

ESL Spelling Tip: One-Syllable Words that End in S, F, and Z

Look at these words:

buzz - miss - fluff
jazz - fuss - cuff
fizz - bless - muff

What do you notice about the spelling of these words?

Here is a spelling tip: In single-syllable words that contain a short-vowel sound and end in the letters S, F, or Z, the ending consonant is usually doubled. Look at a few more words:

razz - kiss - puff

There are only 20 exceptions: is, as, his, has, was, gas, bus, yes, us, plus, pus, this, goes, does, says, if, of, clef, whiz, and quiz. Most of these words, however, are high-frequency words that have to be memorized anyway because they are used so often.

Look for one-syllable words that end in double S, F, and Z in your reading and you'll be surprised at how important this spelling rule is because it's so common!

For additional ESL teaching tips:
Click here to read about the pronunciation of -ed.
Click here to read about pronouncing plurals.
Click here to read about voiced and voiceless sounds.
Click here to read about rising and falling intonation in questions.
Click here to read about syllable stress and the schwa.
Click here to read about adding the suffixes -ing, -ed, -er, and -est.
Click here to read about teaching common suffixes. 
Click here to read about teaching common prefixes. 
Click here to read about other sounds for c and g.

For other great teaching tips, visit the Online Workshop.

Spelling tip adapted from the Discover Intensive Phonics for Yourself method found in the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual published by Reading Horizons.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Free ESL Resources - ESL Activity Worksheets

Continuing the theme of my last post regarding free online resources, I want to share a link that I came across when perusing the website previously mentioned in my last post. Reading Horizons offers several worksheets from the ESL Student Workbook that can be downloaded for free. The worksheets include culture lessons, practice pages, and pronunciation guides that correlate with the software and methodology. These are great resources to keep in your teaching files!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

ESL Reading Programs - Computer-assisted Language Learning

As research has diverted from a principal focus on the teacher to an expanded focus on the learner, the quest to discover what generates effective language learners’ success is under investigation. Research and theory indicate that successful language learners are highly motivated, self-directed, and use language learning strategies. While each of these tenets characterize successful learners, the latter, using language learning strategies, is of particular importance, not only because strategies play a key role in improving learners’ academic accomplishments, but because successful application of these strategies act as the propelling force behind learners’ motivation and self-direction.

Research suggests that an effective method to employ in accomplishing these objectives is the use of Computer-assisted Language Learning (CALL) software. CALL refers to the use of computer technology in the instruction and learning of a second or foreign language. The nature of individualized student-to-computer interaction promotes self-directed learning while providing an effective learning environment that increases learners' motivation to use strategies.

Because the teaching and learning of language learning strategies receives much attention in ESL/EFL classrooms, the use of CALL to promote strategy instruction in such environments has become quite popular. The internet is a commonly-used resource to locate CALL programs to teach and learn ESL/EFL. Other online resources have abundantly surfaced as well which offer free media and other materials to teach or learn English.

One such website recently launched by Reading Horizons provides free resources to learn strategies that improve reading, spelling, and pronouncing English. The company specializes in literacy development, including ESL reading programs. Some of the free ESL teaching resources offered on their website include workbook pages, computer lessons, online teacher training, and learning activities. 

Technology provides a world of opportunities for teaching and learning ESOL. We just have to be willing to access the resources available to us!