Highlighting for ESL

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November 8, 2011 by k. liz

 Teaching English as a Second Language is a full body experience. You need to be willing to hop around the room, demonstrate an infinity of verbs, play charades, and do all kinds of antics to get your students’ attention and cooperation.

And don’t forget your fingers. They serve a great purpose.

My first encounter with highlighting was when I was doing an internship in an inner-city public school. The teacher that I worked with was in the ELA program, and we would teach students according to the pull-out bilingual education model. This meant that we would go into the classroom, pull a group of students who were low in English to the back, and work with them for short periods of time to bolster their English learning.

My coordinating teacher used highlighting very frequently, and I must say that I didn’t jump on board with it. Highlighting is pointing to your fingers to either signify syllables, letters, or words. So, the teacher would point to one finger at a time, lining it up with syllables in a difficult word for the students. This gave the students a visual to follow and help them remember when they were trying to produce the word on their own. I wasn’t adverse to the exercise, I just didn’t see myself using it any time soon.

Fast forward to when I was receiving my CELTA training in Denver, CO. My teachers at the course once again brought up the subject of highlighting and spoke of it very positively. I just could not get myself to stand up in front of a room of adult students and count out syllables on my fingers (maybe this was due to the fact that I had first seen the practice in an elementary classroom.)

Trainers in my first teaching job at a University Prep School mentioned highlighting, and once again I wrote it off as a good practice, but not something I was going to utilize. It just didn’t fit my style.

Now I use it every day. I am teaching Kindergarten this year, and my students are not learning to read until next year. I had never really thought about the things that would go into teaching illiterate students before, so the first couple of weeks were an adventure. I realized early on that it was important to give my students a lot of usable vocabulary and a few usable grammar structures. So, for the first several weeks we worked on “This is a ___________.” I figured that this would give my students a great spectrum in which to use a complete sentence structure. In introducing the structure, I without thinking, held up my four fingers and pointed to them one at a time “This . . . is . . . a . . . library.”

Progressing through the first two months, now all I have to do to elicit a sentence from my students is hold up four fingers, and just like that they turn their vocabulary word into a declarative sentence. It is slowly becoming natural for me to use the highlighting method in the classroom.

Do you highlight? If not, give it a one week shot in the classroom . . . it just may work wonders for you!


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