Strategies & Resources for Teaching ELLS

Being an ELL teacher can be so overwhelming, but I LOVE it!!!!!

I say it is overwhelming because we are acclimating little people to a new culture, while also making sure they feel safe and secure. We are trying to teach them the same content that their peers are learning, while facilitating the acquisition of an entire LANGUAGE! Some days it feels like there is too much to focus on with our students, but some days we see students making connections and we feel on top of the world.

In an effort to learn as much as I can about best practices for working with ELL students, I have found some amazing articles and resources from Edutopia (Apparently George Lucas has an Educational Foundation… Who knew?! It’s awesome too!) By browsing Edutopia, I stumbled upon four beneficial posts:

(1) In Do’s and Don’ts For Teaching English-Language Learners, Larry Ferlazzo emphasizes the importance of modeling, increasing wait time, using non-linguistic cues, providing written and verbal instructions, checking for understanding throughout the lesson and encouraging the development of L1. These are good practices for all students, but are especially important for our ELLs.

(2) Another insightful post is Strategies and Resources for Supporting English Language Learners by Todd Finley. This article discusses how critical vocabulary instruction is and how teaching grammar out of context (through drills) is ineffective (for ANY student). Like the Do’s and Don’ts article (see #1 above), it reinforces how banning students’ native language is actually a negative thing because it limits cognitive connections. Another important part of this article explains how because many ELLs are quiet and compliant (because of cultural differences and/or low language levels), this can cause them to be overlooked in class. Finley also includes links for ELL websites and other articles.

(3) Check out 50 Incredibly Useful Links for Learning and Teaching the English Language for tons of great resources (reference materials, professional organizations, articles, learning resources and teaching resources.)

(4) Because our district is training teachers in SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) and plans to roll out SIOP district-wide over the next three years, I wanted to learn more about it (I will be trained at some point, but not yet.) I knew that SIOP was a way to intentionally and systematically plan all of the best practices teachers know to do in their classrooms and that SIOP is extremely beneficial to ELLs. I discovered this AMAZING resource by Heidi Messbarger called Effective Strategies for Content Teachers of ELLS (Using SIOP)This virtual flyer is great because it not only provides an overview of the 8 components and 30 features of SIOP, but she includes resources and links within each section.




Teacher Collaboration EDU583 Linguistics

This video shows how I collaborated with a 4th grade teacher to discuss one of her ELL students from Honduras. In the video, we discuss the students’ writing and speaking samples, her WAPT and ACCESS scores including the can-do descriptors. I also share several strategies to support the student in her classroom.

Using Comic Strips with ELLs

Comic strips are fun for people of all ages and backgrounds! Why not use them with our ELL students as well? There are many digital and print resources readily available for teachers to use. Comic strips are engaging ways to retell stories, create narrative stories and to use practicing new dialogue. If you check out ESL Adventures, they have a great article for dubbing and using comic strips with ELL students. Try using comics to step up your students’ listening and speaking!



Frontloading Vocabulary & Concepts

Although ELL students can acquire basic communication skills in one to two years, it takes five or more years to acquire academic language, because it is more cognitively demanding, it is used less frequently and they are learning new concepts while simultaneously learning the language. There are things that teachers can do to support academic language acquisition:

  • Teach cognates
  • Teach Greek/Latin root words
  • Use comprehensible language
  • Build background knowledge and connections
  • Preview texts and use graphic organizers
  • Teach structural analysis of texts (text organizational patterns, purposes)
  • Frontloading information

Although general academic vocabulary (words like therefore, contrast, examples) is less technical than content-specific vocabulary (hypothesis, equation, amendment), general academic vocabulary is harder for students to learn. This is because the focus is usually on content-specific words, the new content usually is connected to content-specific words and these words are often bold/italicized in texts. Teachers must point out and teach general academic vocabulary.

Frontloading is an effective strategy for teaching new concepts and vocabulary to all students, especially ELLs. Frontloading involves learning about something, talking about it, wondering about it then reading/writing about it. This helps students see/hear/use vocabularly in context and in multiple ways and helps students make connections. I used to think it was cheating to provide students with support like pictures walks, gist statements about books and giving them all of the vocabulary up front, but this was foolish to think. I now realize how critical it is to give students this support to activate their prior knowledge and help them to make connections as they learn and as they read!

Here are three great resources that I want to share. The first is an article on frontloading and the other two resources are resources to share with classroom teachers for strategies for working with ELLs in general.

1. This article from We Are Teachers Frontloading Article offers additional information on the benefits of frontloading.

2. Another great resource that I want to point out is a brochure that Parkland School District in Pennsylvania made for their teachers as a collaboration tool. Here is the link to their website and brochure.

3. I found a wonderful blog my Ms. Houser, who has created a free printable to share with teachers with 8 main strategies to use for scaffolding instruction for ELLs. You can check out her blog at Ms. Houser’s Blog.

8 Strategies for Scaffolding Instruction, Ms. Houser, Retrieved Sept. 2016


Making Progress in Learning English

Learning English is extremely difficult! There are outdated spellings, irregular words, silent letters, irregular phonics rules, borrowed words, homonyms and multiple meaning words. It’s amazing that people are able to learn it as a second language at all! However, people successfully learn English all the time. Through listening and speaking practice over time, English language learners can be successful. At times, as they learn new grammar rules, they may appear to be doing worse rather than better. As this video shows, there are stages to language acquisition and what we see happening is not always indicative of true understanding. Check out this video for more.


Printable Flashcards and Grammar Games

I am always on the lookout for resources to collect and share for teaching ELL students. There is a great website that has SAT vocabulary (at various levels of difficulty) printable flashcards WITH pictures! Picture flashcards are wonderful for teaching/reinforcing vocabulary to ELLs. Check out Inside Story Flashcards for printable resources. Another great resource for classroom teachers and ELL teachers is the BBC website. It has tons of engaging games for practicing word study and grammar skills. Check it out at BBC Skillwise.

To Reach English Proficiency, ELL Students Must Have Opportunities to Speak

All of the schools I’ve had the privilege of working in have generally had students with low vocabulary and language skills. Whether this fact is due to socioeconomic status, cultural differences and/or language differences, many students often struggle to comprehend and engage in academic discourse. Because of this, these students cannot always access grade-level content. Writing suffers when students are unable to formulate their thoughts orally. Too often as educators, we become focused on compliance in the classroom and are just happy when our students are quiet and focused. Are we really engaging our students and making them actively think when they’re quiet? There are many strategies that teachers can use to engage students in meaningful discourse that will benefit all students, but are especially important to those students with low language skills and English language learners. If teachers have strong classroom management and teach discourse skills, these suggestions will prove effective:

  • Using Rally Coach to practice math skills (This is a Kagan structure that requires student A to ask how a problem will be solved, student B explains then solves, student A checks and provides feedback.)
  • Using Think-Pair-Share, Timed-Pair-Share or any vesions of Round/Rally Robin to discuss ideas or review content.
  • Using Talking Chips to encourage discussion from all members in a small group. I especially love to have prompts/sentence starters that students can use when doing this activity.
  • Teaching students through the “Habits of Discussion” how to be good listeners and to engage in higher-order discussions (elaborating on a peer’s response, critiquing a response, agreeing/disagreeing with a response.)

This article at Edutopia In Language Classrooms, Students Should be Talking explains the importance of discussions and shares other strategies. Encourage your students to speak!

2015-01-22 10.23.18.jpgTalking chips + Habits of Discussion! Works wonderfully when taught explicitly how to do it!

Example from Pinterest

Frontloading Vocabulary Lesson

Frontloading and preteaching key vocabulary are critical for ELL students! These strategies provide the prior knowledge and background information they need to be successful with all content. This post has an awesome video with examples of frontloading vocabulary.


I really enjoyed this code of frontloading for English Language Learners. This follows a preschool teacher who teaches many ELL students. She focused a lot on using props and visuals to teach vocabulary in the beginning of the lesson so that she can have students get a better grasp of the concept and vocabulary. It is definitely worth the watch!

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