Reading & Writing for Academic Purposes

It was less than two weeks before the start of the school year when I received a call from the district office. The district-level supervisor for my department wanted to see me, and the ESL program head, in her office. I was nervous, but since I didn’t really have a choice, I went. Turns out I was right to be nervous, not because I was in trouble, but because I was about to be asked to do the seemingly impossible. 

My wonderful supervisor had, without consulting anyone in the department, applied for a grant to help improve long-term English language learner’s academic reading and writing skills. The grant had been approved, and now it was time to put the program into place. The problem was, no program actually existed. ​​I was handed a blank sheet of paper and told to develop a program that would improve student scores in reading and writing, specifically on the WIDA, NWEA, and P-SAT tests. The target student was a long-term, high intermediate to advanced EL. You know the students, we all have them, those who have an excellent grasp of English, but always miss exiting the program just just a few points, usually in one or two skill areas. The types of data needing to be tracked was listed out, counselor cooperation to redo student schedules was promised, and I was told to keep everyone in the loop.

With no idea of where to start, I headed to school and started digging through our supply closet, looking for inspiration. In the back, unopened, and just waiting to be discovered, I found Fountas and Pinnell’s LLI Teal System, and inspiration struck. I moved the boxes to my classroom, pulled out all of the nonfiction texts, and started trying to find the titles I thought would most interest students. I continued pulling in resources from places such as Reading A-Z, NewsELA, my own library at home, and our primary curriculum series, National Geographic Inside. I spent the year planning out units, staying one step ahead of students, and trying to explain the hoped for benefits of the class to administrators, parents, and students.

By the end of the year, the students and I had had a lot of fun. Since there was no set curriculum, we were able to explore topics and themes that we were interested in. Each unit was themed around a book from the LLI series, supplemented with other resources, and culminated in a written paper of some kind. We learned about bionics, artificial intelligence, chocolate, and even famous April Fool’s Day pranks. The final data was better than we had hoped for, with students achieving their highest scores ever on the WIDA reading and writing sections. My sixth and seventh graders improved an average of 209% on their NWEA reading test, and the eighth graders all passed their P-SAT (average score of 410). Many of the students were finally able to exit the ESL program, which made everyone very happy.

Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to teach the class for one year. My position with the district was originally part time, but in January of that school year became full time. Full time work was not something I wanted to continue with, so at the end of the year I left the district. My successor did continue to use the materials, but I wanted to share them with a wider audience. The button above will link you to my Teachers Pay Teachers store, where you can download a zip file for free. In the file you will find a materials list with links for the various commercial resources (such as the LLI system) and a folder for each unit. Each unit’s folder contains a lesson plan and the materials I am able to disseminate for free. In the lesson plan I provide Word documents and links to other materials I used (most are free) and Google doc templates of the Word files. I’ve tried to be as clear as I can in the plans, but please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Happy teaching, everyone.