George Lucas Educational Foundation
English Language Learners

Helpful Online Resources for Teaching ELLs

Websites and teacher-created videos make content more accessible for English language learners—whether they’re in the classroom or at home.

April 21, 2020
iStock / SDI Productions

Whether you’re having school remotely or in person, online learning is a powerful tool teachers can leverage to support English language learners (ELLs). Research shows that ELLs’ learning is enhanced by interactive visual aids and access to lessons they can follow at their own pace.

There are many free or inexpensive digital resources that teachers can use to create these learning experiences. Lessons can be recorded as they are conducted online in real time so that students can later access the content without a teacher present. Teachers can also incorporate audio, images, or videos into their lessons. These resources can support ELLs with fun, engaging tools that help them review and build vocabulary and literacy skills.

In a classroom, ELLs can benefit from online learning at a station that the teacher sets up as part of a lesson in which students rotate through centers or stations. A study published in the journal Language Learning & Technology concluded that “tablet computers, as well as other mobile technologies, are ideal tools to foster learner autonomy.” Supplemental virtual lessons can help differentiate instruction to meet the needs of ELLs (as well as other students with diverse learning needs) who may be at different language proficiency levels or need additional practice with discrete skills.

I’ve collected a list of additional approaches and resources I’ve found especially helpful in my own English as a second language classroom. All of the resources below are helpful for all students, not just ELLs.

Using Videos to Support ELLs

Many computers allow users to record what is happening on the screen in real time, and also have the option to simultaneously record the user’s voice. Your recording will be saved as a video file, which you can share with students or upload to your online learning platform. You might also ask students to do this themselves and share their recordings with you. Teachers can use narrated screen recordings for many activities: modeling read-alouds, conducting mini-lessons, editing essays, and showing students how to do effective online research. This Digital Trends article has information on different ways to record your screen.

YouTube Education, which is free and has no ads, curates YouTube’s content for educational purposes and allows teachers to create a playlist that can be shared with students. Some of my favorite playlists are Essential Literature, which gives clear and concise summaries of popular texts, and National Geographic, which has videos of varying lengths about topics ranging from plants and animals to geography and history. Both of these playlists allow you to turn on closed captions so that students can read the text as they watch the video, which is particularly helpful for ELLs.

ELL Learning Apps and Websites

  • Kahoot! is a tool to create interactive audiovisual learning games, reviews, and assessments. Students can compete in games against each other in real time, from any device, by using a simple code. The premium subscription-based distance learning tools are currently free to support distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Quizlet is a digital flash card program that many students find useful for studying vocabulary. Teachers can use, and customize, premade study sets or make their own. The free version has ads; a paid subscription provides access to the ad-free platform.
  • Newsela has high-interest current events articles, with corresponding images and questions, that are offered in up to five different Lexile levels. To support distance learning during Covid-19, the entire site is currently free—usually most of the content is available only with a paid subscription.
  • CommonLit is a free site that has over 2,000 fiction and nonfiction reading passages searchable by title, genre, grade level, literary device, and Lexile level. It also has a growing library of content in Spanish. Texts have guiding questions and assessments, and many are organized into units of study.
  • Duolingo is a helpful free language learning app that offers English as a second language courses in more than 20 first languages. Its adaptive software is designed to resemble a game and can allow students to compete against themselves—or their friends.
  • BBC Teach has an extensive collection of free teaching resources in over 30 subjects, including English learning for adults. It also has interactive lessons with rich videos and graphics.
  • The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organization for sharing British culture and language. Its website has a variety of useful links and mobile apps with activities, games, and audiovisual lessons.

Getting Online

These resources are all available on any computer or mobile device. While some of the video-rich resources require significant bandwidth, many of these resources automatically adapt to slower internet speeds, making them more accessible to all students. In classrooms, it could be helpful to set up a station with a few devices that leverage these digital resources.

For students at home, many internet service providers, including Spectrum Broadband, Mint Mobile, Comcast, Altice and Cox, are currently offering free internet access and mobile data packages to support distance learning—be sure to read the fine print because some providers will automatically charge people after the free period is over.

For students who don’t have access to an internet-enabled device, tablets can cost as little as $35. Chromebooks, simple internet-enabled laptops, start at $75.

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