Article #45
Teaching ESOL Students in the 4-Blocks
Cheryl M. Sigmon
So many teachers have been experimenting with the 4-Blocks Model in classes where there are students who are second language learners. Many of these teachers are beginning to share their successes, having found that 4-Blocks so easily helps to address the learning styles of these students and offers them the support they need.

This week I have asked one such school district, Hall County School System, in Gainesville, Georgia to share why they feel they have been successful with their population of ESOL students. Hope you'll enjoy what they have to say.

We would love to hear your response to this article and about your successes with ESOL. Let us hear from you on the 4-Blocks Mailring.


By: Ann Murphey, Sandra Perry, and Patty Robinson

The Hall County School System in Georgia has begun to experience a change in the demographics of our schools. Over the past ten years our ESOL population has increased yearly. As we began to consider how to meet the needs of second language learners, we realized that good ESOL strategies were also good reading strategies for all of our students. In our search for a program to reach all of our students, we found the 4-Blocks. We piloted the 4-Blocks with great success in a school that was 40% Hispanic. Most of the activities in the blocks match activities recommended for ESOL students.

In the following article, we have considered each block and how each segment addresses the needs of our ESOL students.


The complex task of learning to read is compounded for second language learners. Readers use their background and experiences to make sense of verbal and written language. When the experiences of first and second language learners are limited or different, teachers must spend extra time building background knowledge and vocabulary in order to provide a common basis for language development and reading comprehension.

Segment I

This segment is one of the most crucial segments for ESOL students. The benefits of spending time in this segment will be realized later. This is the opportunity to make connections between text and prior knowledge, while building vocabulary and language skills. Visuals and realia are crucial components that help students build understanding and make personal connections. Graphic organizers provide a visual aid to understanding vocabulary and text. Shared, echo and choral reading are examples of the "Audio Lingual Approach," a strategy used with LEP students that helps them to hear the rhythm of the language and develop vocabulary.

Segment II

Assigning a purpose for reading assists the student in focusing on key information needed to develop understanding. Limiting the focus eliminates the feeling of being overwhelmed that many second language learners experience when faced with reading a text in a second language. Partner readings and playschool groups are activities that lower the affective filter for ESOL students and provide English language models. Books-on-tape might be appropriately used on occasion for students just beginning to hear and use the English language.

Segment III

During the closure activity, students are given the opportunity to share at their individual language proficiency level. Graphic organizers used during this time provide reinforcement of newly learned information and help "pull it all together" for the ESOL students. Ask students to retell, pantomime, or draw pictures so that they can demonstrate their comprehension.


Segment I

This is an opportunity for the ESOL child to hear modeled reading of the English language. This is also a good time for the teacher to integrate by theme/topic. By choosing books related to a theme being taught, the teacher creates opportunities to reinforce vocabulary, build on prior knowledge and create common experiences. Book selections should often connect to various student cultures. Many cultures share the same fairy tales, which can help provide a scaffold from prior knowledge to new language.

Segment II

The different ways to read (picture walk, retelling, reading the words) offer second language learners opportunities to "read" at their individual language proficiency level. Emergent readers with predictable and patterned text provide the support needed to insure success for the beginner ESOL student. Through reading conferences the teacher can monitor student gaps in language and adjust teaching strategies to meet these individual needs.

Segment III

This opportunity to share what was read again allows the student to participate at his/her individual language proficiency level. Beginner ESOL students might be provided with a cloze sentence to complete during share time. (Ex. My favorite character in the book is _________________.)


When words are presented in families, the ESOL student hears the chunks of the language repetitively. Repetition is important in second language acquisition. The ability to recognize words almost instantly is a powerful strategy that they can combine with meaning and grammatical cues to make sense of text. The teacher should employ gestures, facial expressions and acting to convey meaning. Caution needs to be taken when determining the extent of a child's phonemic knowledge. A student can know "sounds" but not be able to sound-out a word due to lack of background knowledge.

Segment I

Teachers need to explain to second language learners that English is often confusing because it does not follow the one letter, one sound pattern that many other languages follow. The Words Block provides opportunities to teach about different sound combinations using real words with visual cues rather than phonics rules. Word patterns are more easily remembered than individual sounds. Adding words gradually, only a few a week, and practicing them in different ways facilitates language learning for ESOL students. Having words accessible on word walls provides a reference for students. Teachers may want to consider adding a small picture next to the words. (Ex. cut up workbooks, stickers, drawings, etc.)

Segment II

Recommended strategies for ESOL students match 4-block strategies of teaching onsets and rimes. Rounding up the rhymes, making words, reading/writing rhymes, and using words you know are examples of activities that help students make associations between words with the same rime. They provide auditory and visual practice along with a strategy for decoding words.


Research has shown that process-writing instruction used with first language students is also appropriate for second language learners. For this reason the workshop approach used in the 4-Block Model is ideal for the second language student. During the writing block, students are allowed to write on their own level of ability. Students with varying language proficiencies can participate equally in the writing experience.

Segment I

Modeled writing lessons allow second language learners to hear the writing thought process verbalized in English as the teacher "thinks aloud" while writing. Mini-lessons help students focus on particular aspects of the writing process

Segment II

Bilingual students should be allowed to write in their native language until they are ready to transition into English. Many students learn to read through their own writing. Individuals can bring meaning to text that deals with their own personal experiences and background. Students should be allowed to choose a topic that relates to individual knowledge, interest, and background experiences.

Beginners often need extra support from the teacher and peers. Provided assistance with individual topic selection and vocabulary support can help ESOL students. For example, if a student wants to write about family, the teacher can provide specialized vocabulary support.

Segment III

Sharing allows students a time to listen to what their peers have written and to share what they have written. This special time reinforces the fact that all have different backgrounds and experiences. This time provides students real experiences using language. There are dual benefits for ESOL students during sharing time. Listening skills are developed during this time and every student's writing is valued.

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