Small Group Activities for ELL Students

Can you imagine sitting in a classroom all day listening to a language you do not understand? This would be so hard to do! Sadly, this is often the case for ELL students as they learn English. Since teachers do not want students to feel like this, they get creative in teaching reading to ELL students. This is essential as students are learning grammar and language at the same time. So, let’s explore six small group activities for ELL students. All of these activities are excellent ways to help students understand the meaning of words and comprehension of stories. 

ELL Small Group Activities

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Activity 1: Word Surgery 

This is the perfect activity to go along with a very short text! The lesson focuses on the different words throughout the text and the overall basic comprehension of the paragraph. During this activity, you will present your students with a basic text that has a few new words. Then, you will conduct the surgery by breaking the word apart. Essentially, this means cutting the word apart into bits and pieces to show how the word goes back together. This includes the prefix, suffix, and root or base word. Additionally, you can look at the part of speech. This is a fantastic activity to build an understanding of the meaning of the word, which builds comprehension at the same time! 

Activity 2: Mystery Reading 

When planning small group activities for ELL students, this is a great one to help with listening and oral comprehension. To do this, you will give two students the same exact text. You will label different sections, such as paragraph numbers. Then, you will remove a few words or phrases throughout the story for each text. Students will then read the story back and forth. As they listen, they will fill in their missing pieces. 

Activity 3:  Synchronized Sequencing

To get started on this activity, give all your students in the small group a bunch of Post-it notes. Then, tell them to draw a picture of the story’s beginning, middle, and end as they read. After students do this, combine all the Post-its together. You will start with all the beginning Post-it notes and have students explain what their drawing represents. If students draw the same thing, just put the Post-it notes on each other. Then, students will put these in sequential order. After sorting the beginning, repeat the same process for the middle and end. After finishing, discuss what important events are missing. 

Activity 4: Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt 

It is essential to plan engaging small group activities for ELL students, and this one absolutely is! Students will have a passage of some sort. However, it will have individual words missing throughout the story. You will hang up these words throughout the room or in your small group area. Students will then walk around to see which words fit where in the story. Honestly, this is a fantastic activity to focus on context clues, comprehension, and vocabulary at the same time! 

Activity 5: Scribble Reading 

During this activity, you will read a text. After reading once, the small group will go back and focus on key vocabulary. Students will then illustrate the words in single pictures. In the end, they will visually represent the important parts of the story. After students finish, reread the story one more time. Students will then use their pictures to explain the story’s events by pointing to the pictures and retelling them. 

Activity 6: Book Sentence Scramble 

After reading a book or story with pictures, provide students with copies of sentences cut apart. Additionally, photocopy the pictures in the book. You can also present the book to them and cover up the sentences. Students will then go through each picture and recall what’s happening in the story by matching the sentences with the picture. Basically, they are recreating the book. 

Planning small group activities for ELL students is essential to building their understanding of words and comprehension. Luckily, these 6 activities are all engaging, hands-on, and amazing ways to help students learn about words! 

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ELL Small Group Activities


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I’m a wife, a mommy of 3, blogger, and a full time teacher author and presenter. I love to read, shop, and spend time with my family! My hands are always busy, but my heart is so full!

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