Powered by Blogger.

10 Ways to Support English Language Learners in Your Classroom


My career in teaching started in a less traditional way as after I collected by degree, I immediately set off from my very small town to Beijing China to teach at a Canadian international school.  Although many educators who go abroad to teach focus on language instruction, I was teaching regular language arts curriculum, but with the unique challenge of all of my students' language abilities being vastly different.  Some students were native English speakers, for some English was their fourth or fifth language, and for others, they were relatively new to the language. With students being from different countries and possessing varying abilities, I quickly had to develop and implement strategies that would accommodate that complex dynamic. 

Upon returning to Canada, I continued teaching a language support class for ELL students, and also worked in conjunction with classroom teachers to support ELL instruction of their regular curriculum. Although my experience teaching in China was vastly different from my experience in Canada, it provided valuable insight on how to address the frustrations some of the teachers I worked with felt. They would come to me stressed and overwhelmed by the task of teaching English, science, or math to those who lacked foundational English language skills. Having navigated these waters before, I was able to empathize and also share the strategies that had been successful for me. 

An added benefit is that many of these strategies are not only beneficial to English language learners, but for all your students. 

1. Classroom Environment / Positive Outlook

One of the most important things for teachers to do is to approach having ELL students in your classroom with a positive attitude.  While experiencing that feeling of, "How am I going to get this student to meet all the outcomes?" is totally normal, it's better to focus on how you can support this student, learn about them, and help them improve in your subject and develop the skills they need to be successful in your domain at their level.  Half the battle is remaining optimistic about the students' growth, but also realistic that the student isn't going to learn the English language in a semester.  You need to focus on helping that student learn, grow, and improve.  Accept that the learning of students with less advanced English language skills is going to be commensurate with where they are, and that’s ok. 

2. Trust Factor

English learners in the classroom need to feel safe.  Whether or not an ELL student will be successful in your classroom is dependent on whether or not they feel safe to take risks and make mistakes.  If you have ever been in a country where you don’t speak the language (or even just amongst a group of people) you might know how uncomfortable, vulnerable and uneasy this scenario can make you feel. Draw upon this feeling if you need to, and try to have empathy for your students who are working hard at developing their skills. Make an intentional effort to build relationships with your students, and those relationships will in turn build trust. 

You'll also want to build trust between the ELL student and other students in your class as well. One way to do this is to use team-builders in your classroom that allow students to work with small groups.  I've bundled by favorite team builders together that work really well with ELL students (classroom escape rooms, sports mash-up, wonder day, maker activity, and mystery).  You can grab them here: CLASSROOM TEAM-BUILDERS

3. Learn About and Respect the Students’ Culture

Make an effort to get to know where the student is from and learn about their background.  When you find out where they are from, make sure you know where it is and have at least a basic understanding of the country. You may also want to consider the students' cultural or religious background and make informed decisions about what you are celebrating in your classroom.  Celebrating holidays can have their place, but being inclusive is important.  Find out what holidays your ELL students celebrate, and use it as an opportunity to have the class learn about the traditions that come with those celebrations as well.

Although it seems like a simple task, you'll also want to learn how to say the students' name properly (before they arrive if you can).  Some students will have an English name that has been given to them.  You may want to ask the student if they would prefer to be called their real name and put the effort into learning how to say it properly even if it takes some time (but, of course, use whatever name they prefer).   

4. Use Predictable Routines

In the same way that children excel at home when there are routines in place and established boundaries, so do students in the classroom. With predictable routines, ELL students know exactly what to expect, which in turn helps them thrive. Something as simple as using bell-ringers at the start of each class gives students something to look forward to and channel their energy into the moment they walk in the door (you can try a free week of bell-ringers here and read about how I implement this daily routine here) .  They will be more calm, more focused, and less stressed knowing what is expected of them.   If you think the bell-ringers might be too hard for your ELL student to complete independently, allow them to work with a partner.   Whatever routines you choose to implement, be sure to explain the process in detail from beginning to end, and repeat as often as is necessary until it becomes second nature for everyone in the class.

5. Engaging and Compelling Activities and Content

Although it seems obvious, when you deliver content that is compelling, students tend to be intrinsically motivated to learn and participate. Try to avoid over-lecturing as ELL students will tune out and instead incorporate as many unique activities to appeal to as many different learning styles as you can. Use group work and paired work as often as possible, as it tends to incite more engagement with ELL students, as they know they might be called upon to share.

6. Check in with your Students and Foster a Question-Asking Environment

Some cultures do not see asking authority figures questions as appropriate - so make sure you make a specific effort to check in with those students. Without your encouragement, they might never speak up, even if they are falling behind.  They may even say that they do understand something when they do not because they don’t want to bother you or openly admit that they are lost. If they do say they understand something, have them explain it back to you.  If you continue to encourage them to speak up and ask questions, it will eventually become commonplace within the walls of your classroom.

7. Watch your Language (Idioms)

For many of us, idiomatic expressions are a piece of cake, but ELL students often can't make heads of tails of them (do you think a language learner would have understood that sentence? 😉).  Idioms are such a part of our daily communication that we aren’t even aware that we are using them. However, for someone learning the English language, idioms can be extremely confusing. While “he has a chip on his shoulder”, “she really went the extra mile”, “it’s a toss up”, or “back to the drawing board” might be expressions we often use without giving a second thought, consider how perplexing these might be to someone unfamiliar with the English language. Watch your language, and when you use an expression, take the time to explain its meaning.  Rather than avoiding using idioms,  include resources for teaching idioms, as sometimes even first-language English speakers struggle with them.  Use idiom discussion or writing prompts, share an idiom of the week, or even give students idiom awards

Try a free sample of my idiom discussion prompts by clicking here.

8. Preview Resources and Give Context

Let your English language learners in on what is coming up in your classroom.  Give students the texts/short stories/videos that you will be reading or watching in class the day before. This will allow them to go home, read over the material and get a head start, which will make them feel far more comfortable. Also consider what background information students may need for the lesson at hand. Not everyone comes to the table with the same experiences, and there are many factors to consider from nationality and religion to culture, and economics. 

9. Scaffold and Repeat

Get comfortable with repeating yourself in a variety of ways.  When issuing an assignment, give clear instructions, use visuals, and provide student samples of work. Explain it clearly and use gestures, pictures, or written directions to make it clear for the students.  You will also want the student to explain it back to you prior to starting. It is important to remember that nodding, does not necessarily mean understanding. 

You might also want to schedule time at the end of each class to review and repeat important information from that day, and answer any questions. Have students turn to each other to share the content they learned that day and share any instructions they need going forward.

It is also important to break tasks down into manageable chunks for ELL students.  Instead of giving them the entire assignment like the rest of the class, give them one task at a time to focus their attention on one part at a time.  

10. Use TONS of Visuals

Most people are visual learners, so incorporating more visual elements into your classroom will help all of your students.  Here are a few ways that you can incorporate more visual aspects to support ELL students: 

- You can have word walls set up to provide vocabulary support; figurative language walls set up for quick reference; essay words and their definitions posted to help with research essays. 

- Write all directions on the board in clear language.

- Share examples of other students’ work as a model of a strong response. 

- If you are lecturing, use and refer to the related visuals in your presentations and print out the presentation slides for ELL students so they can follow along and also look at the slides later. 

- Use sentence frames to ignite conversations like: “I agree with so and so because…” or “I disagree with so and so because…” 

- Use graphic novels or comic book representations.  For example, the short story The Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury has a comic interpretation that is nearly identical in text to the original dialogue.  This is an can be an excellent way to stimulate the senses and bridge the language gap. 

- Use diagrams or visual representations to help explain complicated ideas. If you are reading a story or a novel, you could do this to show how the characters are related or connected.  You could also look up a setting that is similar to the story to show the student.

Having an ELL student in your class is a privilege.   You will often get to learn about a new culture or country, you will use strategies that will benefit all of your students, and you will get to see measurable growth in their language and understanding of your content. 

Tips for Teaching Research Skills

As an English teacher and school librarian, I am passionate about teaching students how to access information, how to evaluate their information and how to correctly source their information when researching.  Here are five of my top tips for helping students write a research paper or complete a research project.

One of the first steps in doing a research project is to develop a focus or main research question.  I want students to ask a question that cannot be answered by a simple online search or that does not require deeper thinking.  In order to help my students develop a deep thinking question, I teach students to think of questions that require them to evaluate the information that they read and then synthesis the information.  Rather than searching for facts and quick answers, they need to search using deeper thinking questions.  I teach students the four different types of questions that they can ask and encourage them to work towards Evaluative Questions.  The main focus of their research project /essay/assignment should be an EVALUATE QUESTION.

FACTUAL QUESTIONS (lowest level)
 - Who is the Prime Minister of Canada?
 - What did soldiers wear during WWI?

- Who should be the Prime Minister of Canada?
What could the soldiers have worn to better serve them in WW1?

- Why does Canada elect a new Prime Minister every four years?
- How did the soldiers combat lice in their uniforms in WW1?

- How could you be the Prime Minister of Canada?
- How will soldiers’ uniforms change in the future?

For more help with generating questions and working towards higher-level thinking, check out my full Research & Inquiry Resource.

The second step in the research process is to brainstorm - prior knowledge, what they wonder, what they need to know and where they can look for the answers. Too often, my students want to jump right into their research without a clear idea of what they are looking for.  Students need to put their brainstorming down on paper too - the process of writing it all out seems to help them generate more ideas. Grab this FREE RESEARCH PLANNING PAGE HERE

A helpful step in the planning process is to generate a list of keywords that relate to their topic.  Brainstorming keywords will help students narrow their focus and result in better search returns when they are online.  There are many websites that offer free downloads of search tips on Google. (Search, "Google search tips".)  Our school library has several posters on the wall to help students learn tips that help narrow down a search on Google and students refer to them often.

I would encourage you to enlist the help of your school librarian with sources.  A big part of my librarian job is to match teachers and students with the appropriate resources! You may be surprised by what your school librarian has access to or knowledge of that could be helpful for your project.  I encourage all students/teachers to use print resources as a starting place. Depending on the topic, print resources may not be the best place to look, but if it works, it is where I like to start.  If you know your students will be working on a specific topic or subject, let your school librarian know ahead of time.  I often order new books that specifically target an upcoming project, or look for articles online ahead of time that I know students might need.  

I generally do not let students get started with an online search before they have had a chat with me or their teacher about their topic, their keywords, and their plan.  Students can easily waste so much time searching aimlessly without a focus.  A discussion and a clear plan can often eliminate "internet wandering" and get students started on the right track.

I am lucky enough to work in a district that supports the purchase of online databases like EBSCO and GALE.  I encourage you to find out if your district has access as they are valuable sources of information for our students.  Designed for students, they are user-friendly, appropriate resources and they eliminate the extra results that show up on a regular internet search.

Another helpful tip is to collect and list websites that students may find helpful in their research.  If you have your own website or a library website you can have a list of hyperlinks for students to use as a starting point.

Once students have their topics, have developed their research questions and have found some great resources I have them take notes as they research.  Too often students want to cut and paste information online into a "patchwork of snippets" to create an essay or project.  Students have been told to "put things in their own words" so they copy and paste and then change a few words.  In their mind, they have put it into their own words.  Teaching students to look for the key idea in what they are reading and then put that idea into their own words in the form of notes will reduce the amount of "cut and paste" you see in a project.  I make the process part of the assessment, so I have a note-taking rubric I use with students.  My note-taking graphic organizers and rubric can be found in my complete Research & Inquiry Resource.

Lastly, I need to teach my students how to correctly cite their sources. I use MLA with students and teach them how to do in-text citations as well as a Works Cited page.  This process can be the most frustrating to teach as I think it is the step that students struggle with the most.  I encourage students to keep track of their sources as they work.  Too often, students are in a panic at the end of their project to look back for the books, online sites and research databases that they used.  Here are a few helpful resources from the ladies of the Secondary English Coffee Shop that you can use to help students with citations and MLA format:

To read how I incorporate Research & Inquiry into Novel Study be sure to check out this blog post!

Happy Researching!

9 Fun & Creative Halloween Activities for English Language Arts (Espresso Shot)

October is in full swing and we are sharing our favorite October/Halloween resources. It's hard to keep your students engaged, so here are a few ideas to keep the attention of your English Language Arts classes before all that sugar kicks in from the candy they will receive on October 31st!

If you know me, you know that I LOVE to incorporate the holidays into my teaching. I do my best to create practical resources for my students; if they happen to fall around a particular holiday, then I usually find a way to sneak in some elements of that particular season. I created this Halloween Career Project as a fun way for students to learn basic skills and requirements for a job or career. This is also a great way to bring the Halloween spirit into a class while completing the course requirements in a creative way. Students will randomly select a Halloween-related career, then complete a variety of tasks highlighting skills for that particular job. - The Classroom Sparrow

In today's stressful world, offering a calming activity like coloring can be very effective in class--especially for teenagers. Studies have shown that students who are given the opportunity to color and doodle during a lecture or while listening to audiobooks are more academically motivated. I love having holiday-themed coloring pages readily available for students for those moments in class when they need a stress reliever or brain break. Click HERE to check out my Halloween Coloring Pages. - Tracee Orman

Students are pretty excited on Halloween, and one way to reign them in is to focus on content. These Halloween Grammar Worksheets work great as a Halloween station activity. Or, if needed, they also work great as an emergency sub plan. - The Daring English Teacher

The one autumn activity that I look forward to EVERY year is the scary story my students write using these Spooky Story Learning Stations. Not only are these stations highly engaging, but they help the kids learn about literacy elements AND the importance of the revision process. The students love the activities, the end results are always spooktacular! - Room 213

My students love all things spooky and scary, so it is easy to motivate them to write these spooky Halloween mystery stories! Using a unique "Dial-A-Mystery" technique to generate ideas, all students should have something to write about and be creatively inspired. Click HERE to check out my Halloween Writing Activity. - Addie Williams

 It is always fun and engaging when we tie in seasonal holidays with meaningful learning opportunities. That's why I created these Halloween-themed figurative language activities. From writing horror movie tag lines, to analyzing figurative language in frightening fiction, students will have fun, while also deepening their knowledge of key figurative language techniques; think metaphors, similes, hyperbole, personification and more! - Stacey Lloyd

 I absolutely adore teaching spooky, creepy and scary short stories. The suspense, the twists and turns in the plot lines, and the sinister characters always seem to draw students in. This is why I use Halloween as an excuse to spend Octobers studying my favorite eerie and freaky short stories. Whether you are inside the mind of a demented protagonist in the Tell-Tal Heart, avoiding a dinosaur attack in A Sound of Thunder, or suffering the consequences of wishes gone wrong in The Monkey's Paw, these plot lines and characters are sure to hold your students' attention. I've bundled all of my favorites together which you can find in my Spooky Short Story Unit. - Presto Plans

In this Pre-Reading Inferences Challenge, students play a young detective investigating the mystery of the black cat. The events follow Poe's classic story, but without the first-person narrator, it becomes a mystery that students solve using clues and evidence that they find along the way. At each step, students share their inferences with me (The Police Chief) and I make sure they're on track before they proceed. Afterwards, we read the story and they confirm whether they were correct. This is a fun collaborative activity to practice inferencing! - Nouvelle ELA

I love "The Raven", but since it's such a complex poem, my students need help understanding its intricacies. We break it down with this stations activity so that students can rotate and annotate for one element at a time: symbolism, allusion and so on. It's been a hit in my classroom! - Secondary Sara

We hope you enjoyed reading about some of our BEST Halloween lessons to use this October! Happy Halloween from all of us at The Secondary English Coffee Shop!

Synthesis Writing in the English Classroom

One of the most fundamental skills students in middle school ELA and high school English classes need to learn is how to evaluate sources and synthesize information. This skill is so vital for students because it is a skill that students will continue to use long after they leave our classrooms.

Synthesis Writing in the English Classroom

I spend a lot of time focusing on synthesis skills in my classroom. Not only does this help prepare my students for state tests, but it also helps students build the skills needed to become informed decision-makers in society.

Here is a look at how I plan a synthesis writing unit in my classroom.

What is Synthesis?

So, what exactly is synthesis? If you haven't purposefully planned synthesis writing in your classroom, there's a chance you've done something similar without even realizing it. Essentially, synthesis is the act of drawing information from multiple sources. Whenever you assign students a writing assignment that requires the inclusion of numerous sources, that is synthesis.
Synthesis Writing in the English Classroom

This free student handout about synthesis will help your students understand the synthesis writing process.

To take synthesis to the next level, I focus on teaching students how to evaluate multiple sources for credibility and reliability, and how to compare multiple sources reporting on a similar topic.

Now that you've got an idea about what synthesis is, it is time to start planning your unit. A successful synthesis unit includes four components: a high-interest topic that will grab students' attention, multiple sources across a variety of mediums, a clear task and objective, and a strategy for modeling critical reading to students.

Choosing High-Interest Topics

One of the best ways middle school ELA and high school English teachers can garner student engagement is by planning activities, lessons, and thematic units involving high-interest topics. One way to go about this is to survey your students. You can ask them to brainstorm in partners or small groups a list of 3-5 issues that interest them. These issues can be world issues, national issues, or teen issues.
Synthesis Writing in the English Classroom

Another way to incorporate a synthesis unit or project into one of your preexisting units is to come up with a high-interest topic that is related to a novel you are reading. For example, if you are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird with your students, perhaps you'll want to assign a synthesis project on social justice or racial inequality. Or, if you are teaching American Literature and currently studying colonial literature, you can assign a synthesis project on first-hand accounts from early settlers.

However, you don't need to tie-in your synthesis units to thematically fit with your current units of study. Sometimes, students like to take a break and focus on more modern (in their eyes) and pressing issues. For example, with more students interested in politics, students might enjoy a voting age synthesis unit. Additionally, with the rising cost of post-secondary education, students might also enjoy synthesizing information about the cost of state and community college tuition. In my store, I have a variety of synthesis writing units that will help your students build the essential skills of analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking.
Synthesis Writing in the English Classroom

Gather Multiple Sources

Once you've selected a topic for your synthesis unit, it is time to gather multiple sources. If you haven't taught research skills yet, it might be a good idea to throw in a quick mini-lesson, or you can also provide your students with a list of pre-selected sources.

One of the best things you can do for your students as you gather multiple sources is to include a variety of sources. Not only do you want to include sources that include differing perspectives, but you also want to include different types of sources.

You'll want to include sources that have opposing viewpoints so that students can practice their critical thinking skills. As they read, you'll want them to evaluate each source for its bias, credibility, and accuracy. You can take this one step further by having them compare sources about a similar event or topic. If the pre-selected sources have different biases, your students will be able to see how the media acts as a gatekeeper. This skill is so crucial for students because it helps them become competent and critical contributors to society. It is also important to include sources from diverse authors so that students are introduced to multiple perspectives and viewpoints.

In addition to including sources with different perspectives and arguments, you'll also want to include a variety of sources. You can help your students improve their listening skills by having one audio source. For the audio source, have students listen to it multiple times and take notes as they listen. For audio sources, NPR is a fantastic site to use in the classroom. In addition to including at least one audio source, you should also include sources with visual and infographics. Students need to learn how to read, evaluate, and analyze infographic sources to be more informed media consumers, and it is also a skill that state tests assess.

When selecting sources, you'll want to include at least four different sources to analyze. As students become more confident in their research skills, it is valuable to have students include a valid, reliable, and credible source they've researched on their own. This way, students can also improve their research skills as they demonstrate their ability to find trustworthy and reliable sources.
Synthesis Writing in the English Classroom

Stating a Clear Objective and Task

Now that you've got your topic and sources, it is time to establish a clear learning objective and task. With synthesis writing, you can have students produce either informational or argumentative pieces. Furthermore, there is a lot of freedom for student creativity. For example, students can write a single paragraph or a multi-page essay. You can also incorporate more creative projects into your synthesis unit, including student-created podcasts, websites, and campaigns. You can also have students use their synthesized sources in a debate, Socratic Seminar, or fishbowl discussion

  • SAMPLE OBJECTIVE: Students will synthesize multiple sources to write an argument paragraph that takes a stand and includes multiple perspectives.
Synthesis Writing in the English Classroom

Model Critical Reading

Once you have selected a high-interest topic, gathered multiple sources that include different perspectives, and have clearly identified your assignment, it is time to get started by modeling critical reading to your students. You'll want to dedicate at least one 60-minute class period to this activity. It might even span across two class periods.

Select one of the sources and read that source aloud with your students. You'll want to read it slowly and deliberately. And as you read, you'll want to annotate along the way and look for evidence to use in the assignment. When I do this with my students, I usually chunk out the reading and focus on just a couple of paragraphs at a time. I read the paragraphs out loud and then give my students some time to annotate. They then think, pair, share their annotations, and then I use a document camera to show my annotations and to also add in student-generated annotations.

This process can easily take an entire class period to get through one article. However, since this is one of the most vital steps of the synthesis process, it is important not to rush it. Students gain so much knowledge and insight about critical reading when they see and hear their teacher complete the process.

More Synthesis Related Content:
Synthesis Writing in the English Classroom

Back to Top