Facilitate Discussion After Reading
The word cards provide ELL students with a little bit of structure to help facilitate academic conversation about the text. This conversation helps to provide some built-in redundancy to the lesson and helps ELL students understand and retain new concepts and information. Students are using new vocabulary terms in multiple language domains (first reading, then speaking and listening). This is valuable academic language practice for your ELL students.
Once all small groups are finished, generally one person from each group will explain their group’s categories and how they sorted the word cards. The groups can then compare their decisions to other groups in the class. This explanation to the class also provides even more repetition for ELL students. They are able to hear the same thing in a different way several times before the end of class. If you want to take this one step further, you could have the students also write an explanation for how they sorted the word cards. Or this may be a nice exit slip for formative assessment.
The tactile word cards give students a goal so that off-task behavior tends to be limited. The teacher can also easily check progress by scanning the classroom. If students are unsure of the meaning of a word, this small-group time is perfect for asking a teacher, paraprofessional, or another more knowledgeable student.
The following pictures show sorts that graduate students in an ESL Methodology class completed after reading an article on Jim Cummins' ideas of BICS, CALP, and CUP. The photo quality is not ideal, but you get the idea. See how they are all the same and different at the same time?