George Lucas Educational Foundation
English-Language Learners

Integrating ELL Students in General Education Classes

Through a blend of differentiated instruction and formative assessment strategies, ELLs can successfully keep up with their peers in a general education classroom.
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Most general education teachers of ELLs (English-language learners) will tell you they are usually doing one of two things to support their readers. They are figuring out either the best way to teach them within a full-class inclusion, or what kind of activities can suit their abilities within a full-class framework. That's the only way to ensure engaging them in a situation where it's often very easy to lose them.

Every good lesson is built on what students know. By providing ELLs with unique learning experiences, activities, and assessments, each student can reach his or her potential.

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Conducting ongoing formal and informal pre-tests is crucial for customizing lessons and ultimately making learning fun. These assessments should give an overview of who can read, speak, and write, and to what degree. When teachers can identify key areas of need, they can use that knowledge to plan engaging lessons consisting of language-based tasks.

Use Pre-Test Results to Plan Lessons and Drive Instruction

Pre-test results determine what areas to teach and review. English language learners typically need practice in decoding, vocabulary, and early reading skills. With younger ELLs, oral instruction is the perfect method for creating and sustaining interest -- teachers can use their body language and voice in addition to songs, poems, jazz chants, role-plays, and dialogues.

One way to effectively cater to the ranges of struggling ELLs is to actually find out what students know and can do. If you are under time and curriculum constraints, try to use mini oral assessments (ten minutes) where ELLs read a targeted list of words to test their decoding skills. For deeper recognition, you can also assess their ability to match the word to the picture. Complete ongoing assessments that help you acquire a class profile. Doing this consistently will help you custom design differentiated lessons for those struggling ELLs in mixed-ability classes.

"Get to Know You" Activities

Pre-assessing students with "get to know you" activities helps assess what they actually know, which determines instruction. One type of pre-assessment activity includes five- or ten-minute oral, reading, and writing questionnaires. Teachers might also consider distributing a questionnaire on learning styles and preferences to acquire a more well-rounded class profile. Classroom observations are one form of pre-assessment. By using these results, teachers can also decide which skills are critical for supporting the language-learning needs of ELL students.

Use Results of Pre-Tests to Engage ELLs

Start by deciding on a variety of language-learning tasks that motivate, challenge, and engage students. Expand on some of the textbook activities that may not be so interesting.

Decide what students will need to accomplish the tasks successfully. For example, if the teaching goal is to have students understand a short text on ladybugs, start by pre-teaching some of the targeted vocabulary. If the targeted learning goal is for ELLs to research information on endangered animals, they need to know how to effectively summarize research articles.

Decide also how to engage lower-, middle-, and higher-performing groups using one or more of the differentiated teaching techniques (such as group work, pair work, or individualization) for each of the skills that is applicable to the curriculum and for meeting the needs of students. "In our experience, our teachers have found that coupling ESL and ELL teaching with private, individualized tutoring benefits not only the students' foundational knowledge but also their confidence,” says Nathan Arora of SchoolTutoring.com.

A Sample Reading Lesson

The problems the teacher faces when teaching differentiated classes (ranging from mixed ability to ELLs) include how to plan lessons that can meet the needs of all the students, preventing the higher-performing students from getting bored and the lower-performing students from feeling lost.

Reading Tasks for Lower-Performing Students

  1. ELLs extract and list all names of people/places/numbers. Classify them into groups.
  2. ELLs work only with a specific paragraph, looking for specific information.
  3. ELLs underline all the words that they know. Ask them to look up the difficult words. These students become the experts.
  4. True/false type questions

Reading Tasks for Middle-Performing ELLs

  1. ELLs answer questions that relate to general ideas.
  2. Multiple choice type questions.
  3. True/false questions where ELLs correct the false questions and/or give evidence from the text.

Reading Tasks for Higher-Performing ELLs

  1. Oral reports on a text.
  2. Questions for reading between the lines.
  3. Answer detailed questions about the text. Make up questions and swap with a partner.

In a differentiated reading lesson, the teacher can adapt the task to two or three different levels, thereby enabling the student to choose the level at which he or she can function. Teachers can provide students with main input before assigning different tasks.

Since many ELLs are still not achieving proficiency in general education classes and across content areas, teachers need to find ways of integrating these students to help them catch up with their native English-speaking peers. By building on the knowledge of what ELLs can do successfully, either individually or in small groups, teachers will have a much easier time customizing instruction so that ELLs can reach their learning potential.

How do you integrate ELLs in your general education class?