John Steinbeck is known for writing about deeply complex themes of social justice and equity. His vivid descriptions of the landscape draw the reader to a particular place and connect that place to its people and their story. Yet in spite of, and perhaps because of his attention to such deep, universal themes, Steinbeck is an accessible author for English Language Learners.
When reading an English language text, ELLs face more than the challenge of reading in a new language. Often forgotten is the challenge of learning and understanding a new culture, its history, and its values. Steinbeck's works address themes that are universal in nature while set in a particularly American setting. English Language Learners can relate to many of Steinbeck's themes and, with effective strategies, the teacher can help the student to understand the broader cultural world in which those themes are played out.
The straight-forward language Steinbeck employs makes his works accessible for students as well. His writing is both appropriate for its time and modern enough for most young readers. English Language Learners will encounter social and historical idioms in a meaningful context; teachers can use this context to help students make sense of the idioms rather than being overwhelmed by them.
The following guide includes approaches to the lesson plans on this site which are central to helping students at varying language/literacy levels (particularly ELLs) develop content, language and critical thinking skills.
Begin with the content and language objectives of the lesson and consider the necessary knowledge, skills, and understandings students will need to successfully achieve the lesson’s outcomes. Consider how you will assess, access, and build the knowledge and skills of students who are at varying proficiency levels and how you can make the lesson activities culturally relevant for students of diverse backgrounds. For example, you may:
Consider how you can create, modify, or extend instructional activities to ensure they are responsive to the diversity represented in your classroom. Take into account the need to provide structured opportunities for students of differing skill levels to develop, practice, and extend content/language knowledge and skills in ways that are relevant and engaging. The in-depth lesson plans on this site for Of Mice and Men and The Red Pony provide many strategies to differentiate and adapt activities to fit your needs. Keep in mind that an important goal of every lesson is to promote the development of critical thinking and metacognitive/metalinguistic skills among students as they become more autonomous in their learning.
Ongoing, informal means of assessment should be utilized in every lesson to check for levels of understanding and skill development among students, including ELLs. In other words, assessment should be used to inform instruction and learning, not simply to measure it. The following are important “rules of thumb” in the assessment of ELL students:
For information on ELL proficiency levels and related strategies/applications, please see the following:
by Dr. Katya Karathanos, Associate Professor, Secondary Education, San José State University