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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Strategies and Resources for Supporting English-Language Learners

"The number of English-language learners in the United States is growing rapidly, including many states that have not previously had large immigrant populations." -- Larry Ferlazzo

The expectation that Mexican-American English-language learners (ELLs) would enter U.S. schools with inadequate social competence turned out not to be realized, say UC Berkeley experts Margaret Bridge and Bruce Fuller. Indeed, a lot of old assumptions about how to serve ELLs need to be checked.

For example, when children are quiet, do not assume they understand, say Bridge and Fuller. With respecting elders being a common cultural norm, many Mexican-American children may think that asking questions of their teachers is disrespectful. Also, classrooms should not be English-only zones. Instead of disallowing non-English talk in the classroom, facilitate learning by using children's home language. This develops vocabulary and concepts in the ELLs' first language, boosting their cognitive skills and English development.

What about Grammar Drills?

Everyone agrees that ELLs need help in mastering "the basics" of grammar usage. However, the ways that those basics are taught varies widely.

To dissuade instructors from the common practice of drowning ELLs in worksheets and grammar drills, Judie Haynes, co-founder and owner of the website everythingESL.net, writes, "Research has shown that 'out of context' grammar drills do not work with students of any age . . . Read predictable books. Teach thematic units. Any mention of a grammar rule should be within the context of those texts."

Non-Negotiable Vocabulary for ELLs to Study

Beside focusing on developing communication and reading skills, Marilee Sprenger -- an expert in brain-based instructional strategies and author of Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core -- recommends that ELLs learn high-frequency academic language terms that are embedded in the Common Core State Standards. This strategy should raise their standardized test scores, since researchers estimate that "85 percent of achievement test scores are based on the vocabulary of the standards." What are those critical CCSS nouns and verbs? Sprenger lists them on her website.

Below are a list of websites and books that suggest ways to support English-language learners. The strategies will also benefit other students in your classes.

Websites to Support ELLs

  • English Grammar Word Builder: Printable lesson plans, grammar rules, and online exercises.
  • AT&T Labs' Text-to-Speech: A free text-to-speech translator.
  • 365 ESL Short Stories: Texts for intermediate ESL/EFL students.
  • PinkMonkey: Free G-rated literature study guides, with notes and chapter summaries.
  • Casa Notes: Note templates for field trip permissions, student contracts, invitation to parent-teacher conferences, etc. Users are given the option of printing the notes in Spanish or English.

Online Articles that Discuss How to Support ELLs

Click to download a PDF of "Strategies to Support English-Language Learners" (77 KB)

How do you support ELLs in your classroom?

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Supporting Diverse Learners

Comments (2)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Laure's picture

I currently teach prekindergarten in an inner city school system with more than half the student body coming from a home in which spanish is spoken. We have to teach and assess the students, however, there aren't many ELL resources at our grade level. The information in this blog is going to be a big help and trying reach more of my students. I did like the casa notes link to create the notes home in spanish for the families. I think they will appreciate that more than anything.

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