Young English Language Learners: The Need for an Inclusive Reading Program

Posted in Reading Matters on by Ooka Island

Increasing numbers of children in Canada and the United States come from homes in which English is not the primary language spoken. In fact, projections suggest that, in the United States, “English language learners (ELLs) will comprise over 40 percent of elementary and secondary students by 2030.”

The methodology behind the Ooka Island Adventure was carefully developed so that it would benefit all students learning to read in English – not just those with an English speaking background. Co-founder and reading researcher, Dr. Kay MacPhee, created the Ooka Island Adventure to start at a point that assumes the student is a non-reader. The adventure begins with acquiring English sounds and basic language, making it a natural introduction for an ELL child with minimal English skills. As the child progresses through the adventure, the reading program adapts to their skill level, ensuring mastery and readiness to move forward in each area of phonemic, phonetic, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension development.

The following are key components of the Ooka Island Adventure that not only remove barriers for ELLs and create a more inclusive program for the classroom, but also enable an ELL student to gain essential foundational reading skills:

  • Intensive work on the 44 sounds of English is ideal for English language learners, as they must become very familiar with these sounds to enable them to recognize the letters and immediately recall the corresponding sounds, to be able to segment words into sounds, and to blend sounds into words. This guided process in the Ooka Island program prepares the child to effortlessly decode when reading.
  • The Ooka Island program introduces the 44 sounds of English in a carefully designed hierarchy, starting with the sounds that are the easiest to hear and blend together. This is ideal for children with beginning English skills, particularly as the child first works at the individual sound level before having to put the sounds together.
  • Due to the order in which the sounds of English are presented, children are well prepared to work with the sounds that are more difficult to hear by the time they reach them in the program.
  • To ensure that a particular skill is truly mastered, the child is taken through the activities at each level three times, before moving on to the next level. If necessary, the child is directed to additional activities that will bring that particular skill to mastery. English language learners may require this extra practice to reach the level where the skill is automatic.
  • Though a child with beginning English skills may not understand the directions for the various activities, once they have been explained for the early levels of the program, the child should be able to do the remaining levels with little if any further explanation.
  • The books included in the program use natural language, familiar situations, recurring characters, and a story line right from the beginning.
  • The stories are read to the children as the words in the e-book are highlighted, giving them exposure to fluent English as they follow the print on the page. A narrator also provides a brief introduction to each story and some discussion of the events as the story is read.
  • The program is set up so that it is easy for children to reread the stories until they become fluent in using the every day language.




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