May 2002 • Volume 33 • Number 5 • Pages 47-51
Research Into Practice
Karen D. Wood & Josefina Tinajero
Using Pictures to Teach Content to Second Language Learners
According to a review by Tinajero and Hurley (2000), the number of students in our classrooms who speak a native language other than English has been increasing dramatically over the past decade and is expected to continue increasing in the years to come (Census Bureau, 1993; Nieto, 1993). Today, nearly one of every five American students (2.5-3.5 million) entering school knows a language other than English. This number will increase to over 5 million by 2020, and by the 2030s, language minority students are predicted to account for about 40% of the school-age population (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). The LEP (Limited English Proficiency) student population is present in over 42% of all school districts nationwide, and 15% of all public school teachers have at least one LEP student who is not fluent enough in English to complete most of the assigned work in their classrooms (Development Associates, 1993). The most common languages as reflected by enrollments in bilingual education programs are Spanish (73%), Vietnamese (4%), Hmong (2%), and Cantonese (2%) (Thomma & Cannon, 1995).
According to McLeod (1996), "Educating LEP and other minority students to the same high standards that are now expected of all students will be a major challenge for the nation in the next few decades" (p. 2). The challenges are exacerbated at the intermediate and middle school levels where (a) the curriculum is much more cognitively demanding than in the primary grades, requiring high levels of academic language competence and understanding of highly de-contextualized concepts and ideas; and (b) teachers must also grapple with the unique needs of young adolescents.
In a recent study of exemplary schooling for LEP students conducted by the National Clearinghouse on Bilingual Education (McLeod, 1996), a student's native language was viewed and used as a resource for learning rather than as an obstacle. Students were allowed to complete assignments and participate in discussions in either English or their native language. The school's language goal for students was focused on full mastery of English rather than transition from native language to English (McLeod, 1996, p. 9). Some of the characteristics of the instruction in these exemplary programs include the following:
- Providing students with a rich-language and highly interactive environment;
- Using grade-level content as the vehicle for language development and literacy;
- Using authentic literature that is connected to grade-level content as the basis for reading and writing activities;
- Integrating multilevel teaching strategies to make instruction appropriate and understandable to all students;
- Focusing on building academic language proficiency and literacy, not the basic interpersonal communication skills only;
- Developing language skills in context;
- Using a wide array of materials for hands-on interactive learning; and
- Integrating strategies and techniques proven to be effective such as cognitive mapping, Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DR-TA) and literature response journals.
In addition to the above-mentioned characteristics of exemplary instruction is the value of using pictures in the classroom as a way to bridge the language gap in today's classrooms. As Curtis and Bailey (2001) have stated, "Pictures provide something to talk about. They take the focus off the language learner during oral practice and turn it to the picture" (p. 11). A picture can evoke mental images to help second language learners recall a term or concept. Pictures can be used with any and all languages, are easily accessible, and can be used to reinforce literal, critical, and creative thinking.
This column will illustrate a strategy called the Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM) (Calhoun, 1999; Joyce & Calhoun, 1998; Joyce, Hrycauk & Calhoun, 2001) that can be used by teachers of all subject areas to assist second language learners develop content knowledge and English language usage simultaneously.
The Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM)
Joyce and Calhoun (1998) have developed the Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM), which uses pictures containing familiar objects and actions to elicit words from children's listening and speaking vocabularies. Essentially, students study various pictures and then "shake out" the words they see, while the teacher draws a line to the corresponding word or phrase, spelling it and having the students repeat the pronunciation and spelling. With practice, experience, and modeling, students develop a greater understanding of the conventions of English as they classify the words according to common letter patterns and begin to internalize phonetic and structural principles (Joyce, Hrycauk, & Calhoun, 2001,p. 43).
The strategy can be used with a whole class, small groups, pairs, or individually to lead students into inquiring about words and adding them to their vocabularies, discovering phonetic and structural principles, and engaging in other reading and writing activities. While some skills can be taught explicitly, PWIM is designed to capitalize on a student's ability to think inductively.
The PWIM strategy has been used successfully by the developers with beginning readers in the primary grades and readers of all ability levels through the middle grades (Calhoun, 1999; Joyce & Calhoun, 1998; Joyce, Hrycauk, & Calhoun, 2001). Because it uses pictures as a stimulus for reading, writing, and word study activities, it has much potential for use with second language learners. The strategy can be particularly beneficial for students entering the upper grades who are in the initial stages of reading and language learning and who are faced with several different subject areas and classes each day.
The PWIM strategy should be used in addition to other strategies that permit ESL learners to have numerous successful experiences with spoken and written English. Therefore, it is suggested that it be used approximately 15 to 30 minutes per class period. Because it uses pictures as the visual stimulus, it is appropriate for all subject areas including English, literature, science, social studies, health, art, music, and physical education.
The instructional sequence of the PWIM requires that "students study a picture selected by the teacher; identify what they see in the picture for the teacher to label; read and review the words generated; use the picture word chart to read their own sets of words; classify words according to properties they can identify; and develop titles, sentences, and paragraphs about their picture" (Joyce & Calhoun, 1998, p. 22). When adapted for use with ESL students, the procedure may take several days, weeks, or even months and may involve several pictures and photos from varied sources on a related topic serving as the stimulus material.
Representative Picture Word Chart for a Middle School Second Language Learne
Procedures for using the PWIM with second language learners
- Select a picture that coordinates with the topic under study. Pictures from a subject area textbook are excellent for this purpose and are easily acquired. Figure 1 shows the PWIM used with a middle school social studies unit dealing with the topic of pyramids in Egypt.
- For a typical middle school classroom setting in which the teacher's time is limited, it may be necessary to pair a non-English speaking student with a peer or parent tutor.
- With the aid of the tutor, have the student identify what is in the picture, using his/her native language, if necessary. Notice in Figure 1 how the tutee has written down the Spanish equivalent to assist in making the match with the English equivalent, written by the tutor.
- Together the tutor and tutee label the picture parts identified in English and in the native language as needed. (Draw a line from the identified object or area, say the word, write the word; ask students to spell the word aloud and pronounce it.) Additional pictures may be used to help deepen the student's understanding of the content area concept. For example, the tutor referred to other textbook pictures of rulers (a king and a queen) and a mummy to help the tutee understand the concept in English.
- Have the student read and review the picture word chart aloud, with the aid of the tutor. Depending upon the English proficiency level of the tutee, have the student read the words (using the lines on the chart if necessary) and classify the words into a variety of groups, based upon similar elements. Identify common features such as beginning consonants, rhyming words, middle consonants. (For example, the similar initial sounds in desert, dry, and down could be grouped together.)
- With the aid of the tutor, have the student read and review the picture word chart (say the word, spell it, say it again) on a daily basis. For additional practice, a word bank may be developed consisting of index cards to practice the words in isolation. On one side of the card would be the English word and, on the other side, the equivalent in the learner's native language.
- Assist the pairs by suggesting that they add words to the picture word chart and to the word banks.
- An option to assist in the skill of learning the overall concept or main idea is to have the pairs create a title for the picture word chart. Ask students to think about the information on the chart and what they want to say about it.
- Again, with the aid of the tutor, have the student generate a sentence, sentences, or a paragraph about the picture word chart. As the tutee becomes more confident and skilled, the tutor may assist in the process of classifying sentences, modeling and putting the sentences into coherent paragraphs. (Figure 2 illustrates some sentences generated from this picture after several weeks of "shaking out the words." The student pairs used a map (showing the location of Egypt and its bordering countries) to further deepen the second language learner's understanding of the new language and the topic under study.
Sample Paragraph Based on Responses to Picture
(After several sessions)
Egypt is in northeast (noreste) Africa. It is bordered by Sudan and Libya. It is surrounded (rodeado) by(por) the (el) Red (rojo) Sea (mar) and the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt has a hot (caliente), dry (seco) desert. People (el pueblo) ride (transporta) camels on the desert. Many (muchas) pyramids are in Egypt. The pyramids are tombs for mummies. Mummies were once the kings (reyes) and (y) queens (reinas) who (que) ruled (reinaron) Egypt.
Egipto se encuentra en el noreste de Africa. Colinda con el Sudan y Libia. Esta (accent on the a) rodeado por el Mar Rojo y el Mediteraneo. El desierto de Egipto es seco y caliente. El pueblo se transporta en camello en el disierto. Hay muchas piramides (accent on a) en Egipto. Las piramides (accent on a ) sirven como tumbas para las momias. Las momias fueron reyes y reinas que en el pasado reinaron en Egipto.
- Have the students read and review the sentences and paragraphs.
- The teacher may also assess the students by presenting the words out of context (using the word bank cards, for example) and recording how many words the students can recall and retain.
- Include the non-English speaking student in class activities by asking for contributions related to the pictures and by sharing some of the concepts in his or her native language to broaden the experiences of all of the students.
Advantages of the PWIM for use with ESL students
The following list of advantages of the PWIM is drawn from Calhoun (1999) as well as from the authors of this column.
- The strategy emphasizes phonics, grammar, mechanics, and usage of Standard English, while enabling second language learners to begin the new learning in their native language.
- Pictures provide concrete referents for the learning of new words, phrases, and sentences.
- Because students are using pictures related to content material under study, they feel a part of the classroom community and can participate in class activities.
- Key content area words are heard and pronounced correctly numerous times.
- Second language learners are paired with class tutors who assist with the identification and writing of the English equivalent to the word.
- The picture word chart serves as an immediate reference to enable students to add these words to their sight vocabulary. The teacher can choose to emphasize almost any sound and symbol relationship (introduced or taken to mastery).
- Students are assisted in seeing the patterns and relationships of the English language, enabling them to apply this learning to newly encountered words.
- Students hear and see words spelled correctly and participate in the correct spelling and writing.
- Second language learners benefit from the peer, parent, or teacher modeling of the key words and concepts. With extensive practice, they can begin to learn how to create sentences and paragraphs related to the subject under study.
Pictures are universal stimuli to aid learning that provide a starting point for language sharing in the classroom. As described here, the Picture Word Inductive Model (Joyce & Calhoun, 1998) incorporates collaborative learning, writing, vocabulary, and concept development as a means of assisting second language learners develop an understanding of the content knowledge necessary to be successful in all subject areas.
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Tinajero, J. V., & Hurley, S. (2000). Exemplary schooling for intermediate and middle school students acquiring English (pp. 172-190). In K. D. Wood and T. S. Dickinson, (Eds.), Promoting literacy in grades 4-9: A handbook for teachers and administrators. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Karen D. Wood is a Professor of Reading and Elementary Education at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Josefina Tinajero is the Associate Dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at El Paso. E-mail: email@example.com
Copyright © 2002 by National Middle School Association