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Ten Ideas for Teaching SIFEs (students with interrupted formal education)

  1. Activate prior knowledge. Once you know what prior information they do have, then you want to link the new information to what students already understand. Not only can this stimulate student motivation, but it can also determine where to start instruction as well as lay out the next steps. Some strategies include: word associations, wordsplash relationships, KWL charts, and anticipation guides.
  2. Provide a print rich environment. Cover your walls with lots of visuals that correspond to text (maps, charts, signs, posters with motivational phrases, the alphabet in print and script, the pledge of allegiance). Seek out appropriate lower-grade texts or texts that are written for a lower reading level, high interest, low ability books, native language materials, and bilingual glossaries.
  3. Engage students in hands-on learning so students are physically involved. Have students write, illustrate, and record their own books, let them create their own picture dictionaries and flash cards, incorporate drama to act out events and stories, use interactive activities on a SMARTBoard, use manipulatives, reciprocal teaching, and teach to the multiple intelligences.
  4. Keep the amount of new vocabulary in control. When using new vocabulary or explaining new concepts, you may need to rephrase, define in context, and simplify your explanation so as not to confuse students. Limit your sentence length, but don’t patronize students by raising your voice as if they were hard of hearing. Instead, use intonation and pauses for emphasis.
  5. Give frequent checks for communication. Try to avoid Yes/No answers. Instead, ask that students summarize what they understood. Increase your wait time, because students will need extra time to process your question, think of the answer, they find the words they need in English.
  6. When assessing understanding, be open-minded. Provide multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding (instead of writing, explain, act out, discuss, defend, draw, compare, predict, etc.). Emphasize formative assessment versus evaluative assessment and individualize what you ask students to do.
  7. Allow students to work in cooperative groups. Remember to teach the necessary social skills they need to interact productively with one another. Forming skills such as getting into groups, taking turns, and encouraging one another provide the foundation for higher-order thinking in collaborative groups.
  8. If possible, build the native language content and literacy instruction in order to build on English. Otherwise, work on pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading strategies from current trends in literacy. Use of graphic organizers is very helpful to make learning visual and incorporate thinking skills, and can be done without any writing. Use reading logs and journals to incorporate reading and writing.
  9. Use teaching strategies that weave together language and content instruction, such as the SIOP model (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol). Start with the concrete then build to the abstract. Try to relate material to students’ prior knowledge and experience. What they don’t have you can try to create for them through visuals or by using technology.
  10. Keep your expectations realistic at the beginning of the year. Raise your expectations up as students reach them and keep them high enough that students will stretch to reach for them, but not too high that they give up. If you expect success from your students, supply them with the necessary tools, remain optimistic, and offer to help as they need it, they will gain the self-confidence to be successful.

Resources for SIFEs

Secondary Newcomer Programs: Helping Recent Immigrants Prepare for School Success

by Deborah Short