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Researchers Give Advice for Teaching Social Studies to ELLs

A research center that specializes in instruction for English-language learners has published a framework recommended for teaching social studies lessons for ELLs in the middle grades. In a brief released this week by the Center for Research on the Educational Achievement and Teaching of English-Language Learners, or CREATE, Colleen Klein Reutebuch, of the University of Texas, Austin, has outlined how teachers can effectively teach social studies to adolescents while also developing their language and literacy. The outline includes centering the unit around a "big idea" in social studies. It recommends giving an overview of the big idea, explicitly teaching vocabulary, watching and discussing a video about the big idea, having students read a text about the topic being discussed, and following up with an activity that uses graphic organizers or writing.

Reutebuch illustrates how the unit could be taught for the social studies concept of what people fought for during the Texas Resolution and an exploration of whether their cause was just. She spells out various strategies that work well with ELLs, such as teacher read-alouds and pairing of students for reading.

The research brief, by the way, does not include a report of the findings of any specific studies that have found that the recommended social studies lessons are effective. Rather, the brief simply makes reference to research about how to develop literacy in regular academic content classes for adolescents. It notes that research is lacking on how best to teach literacy to ELLs in content classes.

But, in fact, Reutebuch was a presenter at a conference in March about a study conducted by CREATE that tested the lesson plans that she is recommending. Page 29 of the Power Point presentation on the study relays findings that students in the treatment group made more progress from pretest to post-test than students in the control group did in both vocabulary and comprehension. The findings also say that positive effects didn't differ for ELLs and non-ELLs. Both groups benefited from the model lessons.

The study was funded by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.

So if readers want to know more about why the social studies lessons recommended in the brief are effective, they can refer to that Power Point presentation.

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