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Teaching Tip: Melvin's Story

Michele Dufresne

Over the years I have learned many different things about teaching and learning from students I have worked with. One English language learner, Melvin, taught me several important lessons as I worked with him to help him learn to read.

In January of first grade, Melvin was struggling. He was significantly behind the other children in his classroom and this made him sad and withdrawn. It was at this point that I began working with him in Reading Recovery. 

At the time, Melvin's first-grade class had been doing a unit on folk tales. There was not a single folk tale or fairy tale in the school that Melvin could come close to reading. In order to help him along, I decided to retell The Three Little Pigs. I illustrated my book with pig stickers and gave it to Melvin. Melvin loved that book and carried it everywhere. The story was similar to what he was hearing in the classroom and after a lot of practice he could handle unfamiliar phrases like "And he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down." My retelling of The Three Little Pigs is now published by Pioneer Valley Books.

Gaining the ability to read a book meant so much to Melvin. He proudly read The Three Little Pigs to his teacher and class. As I worked with Melvin, he continued to teach me things that have influenced my teaching with other ELL and other students with language difficulties. Here are some of the important lessons that Melvin taught me:

  1. Use books that have rich language and delightful stories. Include a range of genres. Give the students many opportunities to become familiar with traditional stories, such as folk tales and Mother Goose rhymes.
  2. Before introducing a book, review it and look for unusual language. Have the students repeat after you and practice saying the "tricky" language.
  3. Look for idioms that may be unfamiliar to ELL students such as "a piece of cake" or "a drop in the bucket." Explain what these sayings mean.
  4. Look for new and unusual words the students may not have heard before. Say the word and explain what the word means.
  5. Encourage lots of conversation. ELL students need loads of opportunities to talk and share ideas!

Best wishes for fun teaching with all your students,
Michèle Dufresne


Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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