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Lifting a Fourth-Grade Language Learner

By Fred Gamble

According to Pellino (2012, para. 1), “Students with English as a second language (ESL) constitute a significant percentage of the population of our nation’s schools. This population continues to increase more rapidly than that of native English-speaking students. The language minority population has a high drop-out rate. These students are also among the lowest ranking in academic achievement and expectations. They represent an at-risk population faced with a wide range of challenges.”


This article describes the world of an ESOL student, “Ana”, a ten-year-old student who has lived in the United States for three years and is presently enrolled in the fourth grade. As her story is told and the challenges are identified, best practices, strategies and accommodations are outlined to improve the school experience for this learner and create a successful bridge from the language barriers which hinder this student.

Her story

Before immigrating to the United States, Ana did not have any formal schooling. She is responsible for caring for her younger sister at night because of the employment demands of her parents. Because of this, Ana has lost interest in her studies, however; she does maintain a friendly relationship with her peers during lunch and on the playground. Ana’s life is full of many adversities which make it difficult for her to succeed in school. According to the text from which this story is taken, Freeman and Freeman (2011), Ana is faced with the dilemma of learning to develop conversational English, becoming literate in English, and learning the academic skills necessary to compete with other students who are native English speakers (p. 23-26).

From Ana’s biography, it states that she is failing or below average in most of her courses in school. Her speaking skills are poor and she is most afraid to speak in front of other students in class because of the lack of understanding of the English language. She is unmotivated about her studies and leads a life of great responsibility for a ten-year-old child. Because of the lack of interest in school, she is not attaining the necessary information to be a successful English Language Learner. Her family cannot provide academic assistance to her because they do not speak English themselves. Ana needs instruction which will provide an environment for her to feel secure and provide motivation for her victories in class.

Teaching and Learning Strategies

Utilizing cooperative learning within a classroom always promotes a camaraderie among the students. Ana should be placed in a group of her peers in which she feels most comfortable speaking, listening, and working with her fellow students. This would provide the stable environment Ana needs to feel comfortable while in class. Opportunities for role-play and use of technology, stories, videos, games, and songs to teach different topics will hopefully make Ana become more engaged in her learning and more confident in her content skills. As an educator, if I can get the student to feel comfortable, then that student will not be afraid to take chances and therefore learn.

Because Ana is fragile now in her life, it is very important that as the educator I am praising her for even the smallest of victories. With that said, her triumphs or mistakes should be carefully monitored in a way that she will not become introverted again. In order for a student to develop his/her language, one must “acquire” the language first (Freeman & Freeman, 2011, p. 113). When she can acquire the language, then her speaking, comprehension, and writing will all improve. It is important to give her the environment in which she would be able to express herself freely so that the acquisition of English would be improved. If this environment is not provided adequately for Ana, her natural order process of the language acquisition will be hindered (Freeman & Freeman, 2011, p. 113).

Ana is in the fourth grade. With limited English opportunities, a home life that is greatly stressful, no academic support from her parents and limited speaking abilities within her peers, I would place her acquisition level to be a 3.0 or Developing. The state of Maryland utilized WIDA English Proficiency Standards and this is where I would base her level at this time. There is a Leveled Literacy Intervention tool in which Prince George’s County Public Schools utilizes for ELLs and this would be most beneficial for a student like Ana because it reinforces vocabulary, comprehension, phonics, grammar, and is presented for full discussion all during the story. Visuals inside the classroom would also be a great help to her. Word and Sentence Walls, visuals with descriptions and picture books would all assist Ana to be successful. This would benefit Ana greatly to be exposed to this type of learning and in an environment in which she feels secure and not afraid to take chances in her learning.

To create a positive environment for testing, it would be most beneficial for her to work only with the peers she is comfortable with for lessons in which speaking would be involved. It is not required that a student present to a certain number of students or even a specific class. Ana should be given the opportunity to orally present to students she most feels comfortable with. Her anxiety is affecting her school work in every area of the curriculum, so this is paramount for her to do her best. Accommodations would be provided for Ana’s tests to include ability level, extra time, and possibly small group testing.

Positive surroundings

Students such as Ana come from varying environments and situations, as an ESOL teacher, the best educational plan should provided specifically for the students who need the most help. Every school has a student like Ana who is full of anxiety and possibly afraid to take chances in the regular education classroom. Ana is a child who is unsure of her surroundings while at school and afraid to speak orally in class because of her lack of understanding of the English language. Opportunities should be provided for her to feel secure, work in small groups or even in a pair, and this will help to lower her affective filter. Krashen’s language acquisition theory allows for differentiating instruction, assignments and tests along with pre-teaching vocabulary and concepts. If these enhancements are in place, Ana will slowly succeed and be provided with opportunities to acquire the English language properly. How can you as a teacher increase a successful school experience for students like Ana?


  • Freeman, D. E. & Freeman, Y. S. (2011). Between worlds: Access to second language
  • Acquisition (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Pellino, K. (2012). Retrieved December 9, 2017 from

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