Tag Archives: English Language Learners

How do you promote speaking with English Language Learners?

The post below was originally written for Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q & A blog on Education Week. It is part of a five post series addressing the question:

How do you promote speaking with English Language Learners?

Speaking is one of the core literacy skills, but ELL students might be shy or overwhelmed to participate in a large class discussion because of their language skills. Initiating small groups discussions and one-on-one discussions is a way for students to share thinking, questions, connections, and synthesis of a text, while at the same time building language and speaking skills. Doing so also addresses Common Core State Standards, which require students initiate and participate in a range of collaborative discussions (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9- 10.1).

Technology tools can help ELL students meet the demands of the curriculum and build understanding so they can meet learning objectives. As authors Heather Parris, Lisa Estrada, and Andrea Honigsfeld (2017) explained in ELL Frontiers: Using Technology to Enhance Instruction for English Learners, “The use of digital media provides a low-anxiety environment with a focus on the traditional four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing), plus the skill of viewing, which must be included in today’s classroom. ELs need ample production opportunities to develop language skills.”

To help ELL students develop academic language, consider having students respond orally using a video discussion platform, such as Flipgrid, Recap, or Seesaw. These tools remove the stress of performance in front of the class and give students the opportunity to present knowledge and ideas orally while at the same time build verbal communication. With these video discussion platforms, you pose a question for which students can record responses. You set the amount of time that students have to respond to a question; for example, students have one minute to answer a question or ninety seconds. Students can listen to each other’s reflections to learn from them and respond to one another. Flipgrid also offers stickers, similar to those on Snapchat, for students to digitally accessorize their look on camera. For students who don’t like to show their face on camera, you could keep a collection of masks or selfie props on hand for students to use when sharing.

On Seesaw students can add written reflections and draw their responses. Students have more options for how they might share and reflect by adding a drawing to explain their thinking or their steps for solving a math problem. Students can view each other’s written responses and add peer feedback with the app. Providing discussion starters or sentence frames can help students scaffold their response and plan out what they will say before posting a response on a video  discussion platform.

Both sentence stems and word banks are useful tools to help support students who are new to English Language.  Here are a few sentence frames from Achieve the Core that can be adapted to meet the needs of the students in your classroom:


  • I anticipate that
  • I think that  . . .  will happen because . . .
  • I think  . . .  might  . . .  because I know that . . .
  • If . . .  then . . .


  • One reason
  • Another reason
  • At first I thought

Cause and Effects:

  •  . . is most likely the cause for . . .
  • When  . . . happened then . . .
  • I think . . .  was caused  by . . .
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Utilizing Interactive Notebooks to Support ELLs in Your Classroom

The following slides are from a workshop I led with my colleague and ELL teacher, Vanessa Kravitz, at the annual New York State Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (NYS TESOL 2015).

Interactive English Notebooks are successful tools for teachers and students to engage, organize, and encourage critical thinking. Interactive foldables are three-dimensional interactive graphic organizers that can be used at any level and with any subject area as a learning and assessment tool, as well as a portfolio of learning, and student created textbook. Research states interactive foldables provide tools used to visually represent relationships in text, help students retain information, and keep students actively engaged in the instructional process and learning as they create foldables (Zike, 2000). Interactive foldables offer a hands-on approach to teaching, are effective study guides, help students organize information, and can replace the use of worksheets. This workshop introduced interactive notebooks and addressed how one English teacher and one ELL teacher integrated them into their middle school classrooms to support diverse student needs, specifically ELLs,  for reading and writing success. High quality instruction is essential to promote language acquisition and ELL success (Short & Echevarria, 2005), and interactive notebooks organize, engage, and encourage student understanding. In helping students attain the Common Core learning standards, interactive foldables are a scaffolding tool for English Language Learners and a personal learning tool for all students. Participants created, folded, and tried out interactive notebook activities in this hands on workshop to learn how interactive notebooks can help students read closely, critically, and write with more depth.

What are ways that you can support ELL students in your classroom. Here are five things you can do immediately to support these students:

  1. Utilize Visual Aids
  2. Do More Small Group Work
  3. Learn About the Background of Your Students
  4. Offer Sentence Stems & Thinking Frames to help with Content Area Language & Learning
  5. Allow Scaffolding in Their Native Language – All students to write in their first language and take note while reading in their first language

How does one grade the interactive notebook? Below is a rubric I created to evaluate my students interactive notebooks.


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