Teaching Race and Catto to English Language Learners: Creating Quality Social Studies Lessons for English Learners (ELs)

Presentation by Dr. Donna Sharer, Philadelphia School District, ElS Specialist

Social Studies instruction and curriculum for English Leaners (ELs) should be: (1) culturally responsive; (2) relevant; and (3) inclusive of the students’ experiences and diverse knowledge base (Yoder, Kibler, Hover, 2016).

Instruction should also be founded on sociocultural principles (Vygotsky, 1978). We must simultaneously be “linguistically responsive” (Lucas & Villegas, 2010; Taylor, 2013, Yoder, 2013). This includes being aware of students’ English language acquisition levels, building on their proficiency, and scaffolding instruction. If your school has an English as a Second Language teacher, he or she should be able to provide you with disaggregated English proficiency level information (e.g. ACCESS scores) and how to interpret them. This is one source of information helpful in planning your lessons for ELs.

An approach adopted in the School District of Philadelphia for adolescent / secondary instruction is Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL).

Walqui, Al. & van Lier, L. (2010). Scaffolding the Academic Success of Adolescent English Language Learners, A Pedagogy of Promise. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

When planning a lesson or unit: Focus on

  1. “Amplifying” versus ‘simplifying” instruction – “give rich and varied examples, looking at difficult concepts from several angles” versus content simplification
  2. Integrating content and language instruction
  3. Providing ample opportunities for student to collaboratively interact – speaking / discussion is essential for language acquisition
  4. Holding high expectations with high supports (see scaffolds)
  5. Co-constructing learning (teacher/students; students/students)
  6. Building on students’ prior lives and experiences by drawing on the “funds of knowledge” from their communities, cultures and languages.


Preparing the learners

  • Focus attention on concepts to be developed
  • Activate / build on prior knowledge and experiences
  • Introduce essential new vocabulary in context
  • Connect lessons to students’ experiences


Interacting with Text / Concepts / Content

  • Deconstruct text / concepts / content; focus on understanding a chunk and reconnect a chunk to the whole
  • Establish connections between ideas within text / concepts / content
  • Work collaboratively to discuss, evaluate, predict, check for understanding, summarize, etc.


Extending understanding

  • Re-create text in a new genre or create new text to represent new understanding
  • Apply newly gained knowledge to novel situations or use to problem-solve
  • Connect ideas learned to other ideas and experiences outside the text / class – compare, synthesize, evaluate, create, critique, problem solve, etc.


Pedagogical Scaffolds:

  • Modeling – Give students clear examples, walk through the process, model appropriate language for the academic task
  • Bridging – Build on previous knowledge and understandings / activate prior knowledge; establish personal links between the students and subject matter / concept
  • Contextualizing – Embed the academic language within a “sensory context” (manipulatives, pictures, video clip, realia, etc.) to increase the accessibility of the language
  • Schema building – Make connections through a variety of activities
  • Re-presenting text: Transforming a text into another genre, poster, etc.
  • Metacognition: Explicit teaching of strategies (introduce each step, practice each step, explain each step) to enable learners to meet academic tasks

Walqui, A. (2006). Scaffolding Instruction for English Language Learners: A Conceptual Framework. The International Journal for Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 9(2), 159 – 180.

Scaffolds for Els:

(adapted from WIDA )

Sensory Supports

  • Real life objects (Realia) / concrete objects
  • Physical activities
  • Manipulatives
  • Illustrations, diagrams
  • Podcasts / audio books
  • Diagrams / drawings / cartoons
  • Models, figures
  • Magazines, newspapers
  • Posters / displays
  • Videos, films, broadcasts
  • Music, chants
  • Gestures
  • Audio books

    Graphic Supports

    • Charts / Tables
    • Graphic organizers
    • Photos, pictures, maps, graphs
    • Graphing paper
    • Timelines / Numbers Lines

      Interactive Supports

      • L1 (1st language)
      • Pairs / partners
      • Triads or small groups
      • Whole group
      • Cooperative groups
      • Interactive website / software
      • Teacher mentor / coach / modeling

        Verbal / Textual Supports

        • Labeling
        • Repetition
        • Paraphrasing / Summarizing
        • Modeling
        • Wait Time
        • Guiding, clarifying, probing questions
        • Leveled questions (5Ws, H) / Question prompts / cues
        • Word Banks
        • Sentence frames / Sentence starters / Formulaic Expressions
        • Discussion Frames
        • Talk Moves (structured academic conversations – re-voicing/clarifying, restating, reasoning, adding on, wait time)

          Supplemental Materials: (PDFs attached)

          About the Author

          Donna Sharer has taught English as a Second Language, developmental reading and social studies including Advanced Placement US History, Advanced Placement US Government and other history and social science courses, as well as designed social studies courses for high school age new immigrant students.

          She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Millersville University of Pennsylvania in history and social studies education, has three Masters degrees: Creative Writing / Poetry (Temple University), Psychology of Reading (Temple University) and History (LaSalle University). She holds a Doctorate of Education degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum.

          Sharer has served as the Curriculum Development Specialist in the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs in the School District of Philadelphia since September, 2014. She is a James Madison Fellow, has earned National Board Certification in History/Social Studies, Adolescent/Young Adult, and was the University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Writing Project Scholar for 2006-2007.