Showing posts with label science of reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science of reading. Show all posts

The Importance of Oral Language for ELL Students in Reading and Writing

As a special education teacher, I often see firsthand the critical role that oral language plays in the development of reading and writing skills, particularly for English Language Learner (ELL) students. Oral language, which encompasses listening and speaking skills, is foundational for literacy development. For ELL students, who are navigating the challenges of acquiring a new language, a strong base in oral language is essential for their success in reading and writing.

Understanding Oral Language

Oral language involves the ability to comprehend and produce spoken language. It includes phonology (the sounds of language), vocabulary (words and their meanings), syntax (sentence structure), semantics (meaning), and pragmatics (social language use). In essence, oral language is the bedrock upon which literacy is built. Without a firm grasp of oral language, students can struggle with decoding words, understanding texts, and expressing themselves in writing.
Scarborough's Rope
Scarborough's Rope

Oral Language and Scarborough’s Rope

Oral language is integral to Scarborough's Reading Rope, which intertwines language comprehension and word recognition strands for skilled reading. For non-English speakers, strong oral language skills support vocabulary development, syntax understanding, and listening comprehension, all critical for language comprehension. These skills enable ELL students to decode and make sense of written text in English. By enhancing phonological awareness and verbal interaction, educators can strengthen the oral language strand, thereby supporting ELL students in weaving together the elements necessary for proficient reading in English. This holistic approach is essential for their reading success.

The Link Between Oral Language and Literacy

Research consistently shows that oral language proficiency is a strong predictor of later reading comprehension and writing ability. For ELL students, developing oral language skills in English is particularly important. Here's why:
  • Phonological Awareness: ELL students need to become familiar with the sounds of English. Phonological awareness, which includes recognizing and manipulating sounds, is crucial for decoding words during reading. If a student cannot hear and produce the sounds in a word, reading that word becomes significantly more challenging.
  • Vocabulary Development: A robust vocabulary is essential for understanding and producing both spoken and written language. Oral language activities, such as storytelling and discussions, expose ELL students to new words and phrases in context, helping them to build their vocabulary. This, in turn, aids in reading comprehension and the ability to express ideas in writing.
  • Syntax and Grammar: Understanding the structure of English sentences is crucial for both reading and writing. Through oral language practice, ELL students learn how words and phrases are organized in English. This knowledge helps them decode complex sentences while reading and construct grammatically correct sentences when writing.
  • Listening Comprehension: Listening to spoken English helps ELL students develop an ear for the language, including intonation, rhythm, and stress patterns. Listening comprehension is directly related to reading comprehension; students who can understand spoken language are better equipped to understand written texts.
  • Cultural and Pragmatic Understanding: Oral language also involves understanding the social use of language, which includes cultural nuances and pragmatic rules. This understanding helps ELL students navigate different contexts, which is important for both reading (e.g., understanding characters’ intentions in a story) and writing (e.g., knowing how to address different audiences)

Strategies to Support Oral Language Development

Given its importance, it’s essential to incorporate strategies that promote oral language development in ELL students. Here are some effective approaches:
  • Interactive Read-Alouds: Reading books aloud to students and engaging them in discussions about the story helps build vocabulary and comprehension skills. Ask open-ended questions that encourage students to think and talk about the text.
  • Language-Rich Environments: Create a classroom environment that is rich in oral language opportunities. Label objects in the classroom, use word walls, and provide ample opportunities for students to engage in conversations, both with peers and adults.
  • Explicit Vocabulary Instruction: Teach new words explicitly, using visuals, gestures, and examples to reinforce understanding. Encourage students to use new vocabulary in their speech and writing.
  • Oral Language Activities: Incorporate activities such as storytelling, role-playing, and group discussions. These activities not only make learning fun but also provide meaningful contexts for using language.
  • Peer Interactions: Pair ELL students with peers who are proficient in English. Peer interactions can provide models of fluent speech and offer opportunities for ELL students to practice speaking in a less formal, more supportive environment.
  • Scaffolded Support: Provide scaffolded support by modeling correct language use, offering sentence starters, and gradually increasing the complexity of language tasks as students become more proficient.

Current Research

Current research underscores the importance of oral language and vocabulary development in second language learners, aligning closely with the principles outlined in Scarborough's Reading Rope. This framework, introduced by Hollis Scarborough, integrates multiple strands of literacy skills essential for proficient reading, categorized into two main areas: word recognition and language comprehension​ (Really Great Reading)​​ (Landmark Outreach)​.

For second language learners, the upper strands of the Reading Rope, which include background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge, are particularly crucial. These elements contribute significantly to language comprehension, one of the two main components necessary for skilled reading​ (Prentice Blog)​​ (Amplify)​.

Research emphasizes that robust vocabulary and oral language skills enable learners to decode and understand new words more effectively, which is particularly beneficial for second language learners. As these learners often need to build both their vocabulary and understanding of language structures, a focus on these areas helps improve overall reading comprehension and fluency​ (Landmark Outreach)​​ (Amplify)​.

Moreover, evidence from the field of the Science of Reading supports the integration of vocabulary and oral language instruction into literacy education. This approach helps second language learners develop the necessary skills to decode text and comprehend its meaning simultaneously, which is essential for reading proficiency​ (Amplify)​.

The current research aligns with Scarborough's Reading Rope in highlighting the integral role of oral language and vocabulary development in the reading proficiency of second language learners. Educators are encouraged to incorporate these components into their teaching strategies to support the holistic development of reading skills in these students.

Oral language is a critical component of literacy development, especially for ELL students. It serves as the foundation upon which reading and writing skills are built. By focusing on oral language development, educators can help ELL students achieve greater success in their literacy journey. As a special education teacher, I am committed to implementing strategies that support the oral language needs of ELL students, recognizing that these skills are key to unlocking their full academic potential. Through intentional and thoughtful instruction, we can empower our ELL students to become confident, competent readers and writers.


Jooda, B. (2023, June 29). The Reading Rope: Breaking it all down . Amplify.

Navigating Literacy Excellence: Unveiling the Significance of Scarborough’s Reading Rope. (n.d.). Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

Really Great Reading. (2015). Scarborough’s Reading Rope | Really Great Reading.

Scarborough’s Reading Rope. (2022, October 14). Landmark Outreach.

Chat Soon-

Why Unlocking Vocabulary is Key to Bridging the Gap for Students

The hard thing about waiting three months for iReady's classroom diagnostic data is not knowing how students will do after 10 weeks of intervention.

My state and building use iReady diagnostics three times a year for READ Plans and intervention data. (more on come on iReady-both loves and dislikes)

As a special education teacher, I only use this data to compare students to their peer group and see what kind of gains they had over the year. (I have a whole blog post coming on how my building uses iReady.)

My building relies on this information to make predictions about State testing outcomes and interventions.

For me, I look at the overall gains my students make on the five categories assessed each time. This year, I made a huge shift to building and creating a solid foundation in phonemic awareness and phonics. 

The macro data showed students made huge gains when using both Heggerty and Yoshimoto Orton-Gillingham. We lived in controlled decodable and built vocabulary through morphology. 

What didn’t improve???

Student’s vocabulary 

On iReady, students’ scores either dropped or maintained. 

I’m the first to tell you that you should never, ever make significant instructional decisions on a single piece of data. It could take you off a cliff.

But if you layer in IEP goal data and it shows everyone either made or is on target to meet their goals well within their IEP cycle …

Could layering in something, not a change continue that growth????

Could it support and build students’ vocabulary and not have all the growth drop off???

Why Focus on Vocabulary

When I explain the five reading components to parents, I use a pyramid. Phonemic awareness and phonics are the base of the pyramid. With vocabulary and comprehension coming after. Fluency is needed across all. 

To get to the top of the pyramid, word-level comprehension is needed before moving to sentence, paragraph, chapter, etc. You see where it goes. 

But what happens when you have weak word-level vocabulary????

What then? Let me explain how I landed here ...

All my phonics kiddos were placed in Orton-Gillingham. As the year progressed, the pacing of these groups slowed. In some cases stopping for a week or so on a concept, or phonogram or just working to get them unconfused. (English is so confusing.) 

As lessons got more complex and the more layers students had to work with the more, I noticed other holes. Looking back at my lesson notes and comments about student progress within lessons it became more obvious that vocabulary was one thing students were struggling with.

To be clear, I'm not talking about Tier 3 subject-specific words. I'm talking about Tier 1 words--like chair, boil, broil, etc. (here is my previous post on Vocabulary Tiers)

Yes, about half of those I pull for OG do receive pull-out language support from a Speech-Language Pathologist.

The funny (or head-banging) thing about all their iReady Vocabulary score was the “can dos” all said to teach 5 words and all through read-aloud. (This is a great idea for classroom teachers; not so much for specialists.)

What Does the Research Say

The Science of Reading (SoR) is an evidence-based approach to teaching reading that is grounded in research from cognitive psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. It emphasizes the importance of systematically teaching foundational skills to help students become proficient readers. One crucial aspect is phonemic awareness, which involves recognizing and manipulating individual sounds in spoken words. 

By explicitly teaching students to understand the connection between letters and sounds through phonics instruction, they can decode words and read fluently. It's essential to provide activities that engage students in segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words to strengthen their phonemic awareness and phonics skills.

Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. It is a critical skill that helps students understand the connection between letters and sounds. Phonics instruction teaches students the relationship between letters and sounds, enabling them to decode words and read fluently. Teachers should provide explicit instruction in these skills, using activities that involve segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words.

Scarbourough's Reading Rope Model of Reading
Fluency is the ability to read accurately, quickly, and with expression. It is developed through repeated practice and exposure to a wide range of texts. Teachers can support fluency by providing opportunities for independent reading, modeling fluent reading, and using strategies like echo reading or choral reading. Vocabulary instruction is also crucial for reading comprehension. Teachers should explicitly teach new words, provide context clues, and encourage students to use strategies like word analysis and context to understand unfamiliar words.

Comprehension involves understanding and making meaning from text. Teachers can support comprehension by explicitly teaching strategies such as predicting, questioning, summarizing, and making connections. These strategies help students engage with the text, monitor their understanding, and make inferences. It is also essential to promote metacognition, encouraging students to think about their thinking and monitor their comprehension. By incorporating these strategies into instruction, teachers can help students become active and proficient readers.

What Does this Mean

SoR and Scarborough's Rope Model of Reading bring a new light to an old question surrounding phonics and vocabulary. The question is how to layer something in that doesn’t take away from the gains students have made.

I don’t know why this group of students have a weak vocabulary. I could blame COVID–these students were remote and hybrid during COVID. It could be the lack of direct, explicit instruction surrounding Tier 1 and Tier 2 vocabulary. Or it could be the lack of helping students make connections to previously taught vocabulary to new words.

Coming this semester, I’ll share how I plan to attack this and build students’ Tier 1 and Tier 2 vocabulary. I hope to find actionable, tangible ways for students to make gains that don’t take tons of time to get the most bang for my buck as a special education teacher all while doing my job as their special education teacher. 

Chat soon-

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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