Inspiring English Language Learners in the Library
An elementary school librarian uses a kid-friendly digital database to teach ELLs both language and research skills.
By Melanie Curl
Being a school librarian is about much more than just organizing and scanning books. The library is the central hub in the school, where students can gather to explore the world, research their interests, and be exposed to exciting new technologies and ideas. Librarians play a pivotal role in engaging students with their learning, beyond the confines of a single subject. Librarians interact with the entire student body, and as such they have a unique opportunity—and responsibility—to ensure all students have access to the information the library contains, regardless of their reading ability or native language.
At Bean Elementary, we have about 50-60% ELL students. We are a Title I school: about 90% of our students are eligible for free/reduced lunch. We are also a dual-language school where pre-K–5th grade have two classes that are taught in both English and Spanish. In these classes teachers conduct Monday, Wednesday, and Friday classes in Spanish; and Tuesday and Thursday classes in English.
To help support ESL/ELL students, we also have a designated Spanish section in the library, and we provide multiple technology resources to assist our ELLs. One of these resources is a kid-friendly digital database called PebbleGo, which has non-fiction articles in both English and Spanish. A read-aloud feature helps teachers looking to bridge the gap between Spanish and English. Even teachers who are not dual-language use this feature to support ELL/ESL students in their classrooms. Plus, the non-fiction content helps introduce academic vocabulary—words like “habitat”—that gives students the content knowledge they need, regardless of the language in which they have the most proficiency.
When it comes to reading, vocabulary is the biggest area in which I see ELL students struggle. Translating the nuances of meaning from one language to another can be difficult, particularly for younger students who simply don’t yet have the English vocabulary to read English fluently. PebbleGo helps by providing dictionary definitions for words that may be troublesome for students to understand the meaning of, and the read-aloud component helps them understand the proper pronunciation of these words. It allows them to learn new things, even if they have difficulty reading in English.
The simple visual layout of PebbleGo also creates a friendly reading experience for our ELLs (and native English speakers). Pictures, videos, and graphic organizers help support reading and comprehension skills, and the simplicity of the design allows our students to search and discover new things without feeling frustrated or hopeless. They learn information, whether in their native language or not. This, in turn, increases their enthusiasm for reading and research.
Teachers are always looking for multiple resources for research, and PebbleGo has helped them teach their students about finding reliable sources. In an age when “fake news” has become the latest buzzword, teaching students about finding credible sources of information is important, especially for ELL/ESL students. When English learners are reading nonfiction, their focus is on understanding the words, and it may not occur to them that what they’re reading may be opinion or fiction. Students are naturally trusting of the information provided to them. Teaching research skills at a young age is a great way to teach them about the difference between reliable and non-reliable sources. Students are now growing up in a very technology-based world, and information surrounds them daily. We teach them how to look for valid information and research topics deeply.
As the librarian at Bean Elementary, I believe it’s my job to enhance the knowledge of both the students and staff. I make sure a variety of types of resources are available, and introduce them to teachers and students. The library affords everyone in the school the opportunity to explore new interests and knowledge. PebbleGo has changed how I work with all students, but especially with our ELLs. It has helped me show them different databases and resources available to them, and helped them find information in a fun, engaging, and non-frustrating way.
Melanie Curl is a librarian at Bean Elementary in Lubbock, TX.