A Multimodal Approach to Push-in and Pull-out ESL Instruction

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My name is Mary Tomac and I have been an ESL teacher at a public elementary Brooklyn for the last 7 years. Each year, I strive to help my students grow as English language learners and do their very best work. Unfortunately, in this climate of high stakes testing, teacher and principal accountability, and the push for all students to achieve at the same rate, student’s personal best just aren’t enough.

There is pressure from politicians, superintendents, principals, and parents to accelerate the progress of some of our most struggling students and newly arrived English Language Learners. Schools must look for ways to help these students reach the same bar, the Common Core Standards, as their classmates; a task that presents significant instructional challenges. As part of my principal’s effort to meet this challenge, she invited me to join an Inquiry-to-Action Group at the Teachers College Inclusion Project.

During the 2011-2012 school year, I participated in the Multimodal Inquiry-to-Action group. We would meet once a month to discuss our students, explore resources, and plan our Inquiry Projects. At these meetings, we had an opportunity to work with many different modes or “methods” of instruction. We used video, collage, written and spoken word, audio, and art to present ideas and take in new information.

I developed the following inquiry question:

How can I integrate multimodal resources in my planning and instruction for both push-in and pull-out structures? How can these resources help struggling students to better access the mainstream curriculum?

First Attempt at Integrating Multimodal Resources in a Push-In Setting


Second-Grade Collaborative Team Teaching Class that meets four times a week; two push-in, two pull-out periods.

Area of Study

Social Studies

Mode of Presentation
  • Images, Text, Websites
  • Modes of Student Output
  • Writing, Sketching

Students were broken into five groups, based loosely on ability level. Each group was given a borough and 4-5 places (museums, famous restaurants, stadiums, or historic sites)  in each borough to research. We created note-taking sheets for each group. In the end, each student independently wrote a short persuasive piece attempting to convince the reader to visit their selected borough. Students were asked to cite their research in their persuasive pieces.


  • Collaborative groups allowed for more engagement and oral language
  • Use of technology increased student engagement
  • Note-taking graphic organizer kept students organized and on track
  • Persuasive final piece made a direct connection to writing units
Student Work Sample

See more of this student’s graphic organizer.

  • Some groups worked at a much slower pace due to ability level and behavior issues
  • Texts and websites were very difficult for many students to read and comprehend in a meaningful way
  • Note-taking became more of copying
  • The writing was difficult for struggling students.
  • The final project was not collaborative so it created a big gap between students who were able to write well and students who needed support.
  • Many students were pulled out for services during the period, causing groups to be short members
Suggestions for the Future
  • Conduct more research on the topic ahead of time and prepare multi-level texts that will be accessible to all students
  • Find more modes of presentation including video and field trips
  • Allow for more modes of student output( not just writing) including art, theater, and writing
  • Collaborate more with other service providers and ask them to push in during this period
  • Plan with collaborating teachers and check in more frequently to assess student progress and tweak lessons.
  • Model note-taking skills in a whole group setting so expectations are clear

Second Attempt at Integrating Multimodal Resources in a Push-In Setting


Second-Grade Push–In Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) class with five English Language Learners (ELLs), with two push-in periods per week

Area of Studies

Social Studies; Iroquois Indians

Modes of Presentation
  • Text (read aloud, independent reading books, websites)
  • Visual (sketches and photographs)
  • 1 field trip
Modes of Student Output
  • Written responses
  • 3D representation (sculptures, dioramas, scale models)
  • Digital presentation (PowerPoint, VoiceThread)
  • Dramatic presentation

Together with two ICT teachers and a push in Speech Pathologist, I planned a two-month thematic unit around the Iroquois in New York. During the first month, students would conduct research on 5-6 elements of Iroquois life (food, homes, gender roles, game, laws, etc.). In the second month, students would work in groups to “show what they know” by completing projects of their choosing on one element of daily Iroquois life. Groups were designed to have a mixture of abilities and learning styles.

For the first month, students received 15 minutes of whole group instruction where one of the ICT teachers or I presented material and explicitly modeled how to take notes and gather information. Then the students would work with group members to continue their research with texts or on the web. We provided graphic organizers to help students keep track of their notes.

At the end of the first months, groups were given a survey that asked them to choose an element of daily life they were most interested in presenting and a mode of presentation. Once group members were in agreement, they had to complete a project proposal and have it approved by one of the four teachers. Students could choose from a digital presentation, dramatic play, 3D representation, or written text. We chose these four modes based on the teacher’s strengths and comfort level and on available resources. For the second month, each of the four teachers worked with 1-2 groups. Projects were completed and presented at a celebration with parents at the end of the month.


  • All students gained an in-depth knowledge of the content
  • All students were able to participate in some way in the final project
  • Student choice and voice was driving our planning
  • Engagement remained high
  • Finding time to meet and plan
  • Meeting all learning objectives (ESL, Speech, Content)
  • Competing for management systems for difficult students
  • Limited resources

Teacher Created Resources:

Sample Student Work:







Multimodal Pullout


Second-Grade Pull-Out; four groups, 6-10 children in each group; meeting four times a week

Area of Study

Literacy: Informational Writing and Reading

Modes of Student Input and Output
  • Text (read aloud, independent reading books, websites)
  • Visual (sketches and photographs)
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Realia (actual frogs)

As a pull-out teacher, I try to align my instruction as closely as I can to the classroom teacher’s reading and writing units. This project was aligned with the second-grade non-fiction reading and writing units.

I wanted to purchase a class pet or something that students could watch grow. I had students choose from a list of topics including butterflies, hamsters, goldfish, and earthworms, and frogs. Frogs received the most votes. The project began by doing a lot of pre-thinking and prediction charts.

We utilized “stop and jot” and sticky notes to chart our work. We watched videos and listened to read aloud to build background knowledge. We practiced skills like listening for information, note-taking, and determining importance. Once the frogs were introduced, students would spend the first fifteen minutes of each class observing the frogs and jotting and sketching in their science journals. Students were asked to choose one type of frog from a list and needed to complete a final project. Almost all the students chose to write informational books. Some students created digital presentations.

  • All students gained an in-depth knowledge of the content
  • Engagement was high
  • Students of mixed ability were able to access information through video and audio recordings of books
  • Instruction mirrored classroom instruction
  • Students became more fluent with content vocabulary
  • The material seemed to engage students who have challenging behaviors and attention issues
  • Almost all students chose writing projects. Students who were less fluent writers had difficulty producing
  • Limited opportunity to share with classroom teachers- so students didn’t always make connections and transfer their knowledge
  • So many projects became difficult to manage
Suggestions for the Future
  • More planning time with classroom teachers
  • Have student work in partnerships or collaborative groups
  • Show more models of different methods of presentation

Some Texts:

DK Readers: Tale of a Tadpole (Level 1: Beginning to Read)

From Tadpole to Frog (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1) by Wendy Pfeffer

Frogs, Toads & Turtles: Take Along Guide (Take Along Guides) by Diane L. Burns

Websites and Videos:

More about the author: Mary Tomac