5 Tips for Teachers with English Language Learners

Hello friends,

If you’re reading this blog, you probably have English language learners🌹in your classroom. The good news is, you’re not alone! In fact, as of 2019, about 10% of the students that make up our classrooms are English learners, and this number continues to rise. 


That’s why it’s important to be prepared to teach them! I know you’re already doing a great job❤️, but it never hurts to learn more. Keep reading to discover 5 of my top tips for teachers with English Language Learners.  


1. Analyze Data

When we begin the school year with our new students, we have a plethora of data to look back on. Maybe it’s last year’s End of Grade testing scores, IEP plans for our Special Education students, or other kinds of testing that students in your area undergo. ESL students also have data, and it’s our job to analyze and make meaning of it.
If you’re in the U.S., the majority of our states use the WIDA framework to determine a student’s English proficiency level, but states including Oregon, Washington, Iowa, and others use ELPA to measure English proficiency.  No matter which system is used, students will have data that tells you what they know. Usually, this data can give you an idea of how much students can understand and produce through listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The good news is that the hard work of testing is done for you! (Unless you’re the ESL teacher, that is!)
No matter which tests your students have taken, your school’s ESL or ELD teacher should be able to help you use the scores to determine what your students can do. If you’re in a WIDA state, your ESL teacher may give you a copy of the WIDA Can-Do Descriptors. In Oregon where I live, students take the ELPA. Similar to the Can-Do Descriptors, teachers have access to the ELPA Achievement Level Descriptors. You can use these to map out student scores and have an idea of what they can do and understand at their current proficiency level.  Partner up with your school’s ESL teacher to get assistance with finding the correct document for your state’s laws. 



An example guiding document is pictured above. When students take the

ELPA, they are given a score range based on their grade level. Those

score ranges can be used with this document. For example, if you take

a look at student test scores and realize your third-grade student scored

a 545 in speaking, they would be at Level 3 Intermediate

based on the chart above. The information in the box tells what

students at this level should be working on. You can use this

information for all four language domains (listening, speaking,

reading, and writing).



Analyzing the language data is an easy way to help you see where

your students are and to continue helping them advance and master

the language.



2. Know What Accommodations and Modifications are Needed


It’s important to note that English learner students may qualify for

accommodations and modifications. This varies state by state, but

is often determined by the data we analyzed above! Often if students

do not reach a certain proficiency level in reading, they will receive a

read-aloud accommodation. This means that students’ math or

science tests will be read aloud to them. Check-in with your ESL teacher

to find out which accommodations your students get. We want students

to practice using these accommodations all year so that when state testing

rolls around, they’re familiar with them. 


Modifications are important too! Modifications allow students to access

grade-level work at their proficiency levels. Some example modifications



  • Adding pictures

  • Defining vocabulary words

  • Eliminating answer choices

  • Bolding keywords 

  • Chunking text into small paragraphs

  • Adding word banks

….and more!


Basically, anything that makes the work more accessible for your

students and helps them to succeed no matter their English level is

considered a modification. State English learner results may also

help guide you with appropriate modifications just as speaking with

your ESL teacher may. Don’t hesitate to get to know your students

and see how you think you can best support them too! Just

remember that modifications are meant to help, but they should not

make the work too easy for students. We still want them to be challenged

as it’s what helps them grow!



3. Plan Supports for Students

Plan and have supports ready for your students ahead of time. What I

mean by that is, go ahead and have those modifications ready. If you’re

working on a writing unit and know that your students need help starting

a sentence, have sentence starters ready to go for them! Being prepared

ahead of time helps you feel more confident in your teaching

while also helping students feel less overwhelmed by the work

you’re assigning.


As school is starting back, I want to focus on adding writing supports

to your instruction. I especially love assigning back-to-school writing

activities because they give me a writing sample for each of my

students. I’m then able to review their responses and know what

areas they need support with. Prevent your students from writer’s

block by giving them the support they need to get their responses

written. Not sure where to begin? Check out my

back to school sentence starters resource which features 50

back to school writing topics. 



Sentence starters aren’t just a beginning of the school year support

either. Especially for kindergarten and first-grade students, knowing

how to start their sentences can be tough. We love having students

write and illustrate their own stories at this age, but that can feel

daunting for English learners. Sentence starters help them get

started. My kindergarten & first grade sentence starter writing prompts

were created with little ones in mind.



No matter how you’re supporting your students on their language

journey this year, I hope you come armed with supports to help them

access the content.



4. Seating Arrangement

Too often I have walked into a classroom and seen English learner

students at the back of the classroom, or I’ve seen newcomer students

with no buddy in sight. As you’re making your seating arrangement for

this school year, stop to think about your ESL students. It’s important for

them to be close to the front of the room and sat close to a buddy so that

they can ask for help if needed. This is especially important for newcomer

students who will need extra support. We want ESL students to be

engaged in our lessons, so we want them up front where the action

is happening!



5. Meet Them Where They Are


When you get an English learner student, it can feel overwhelming.

You may feel that they have too much to learn, are falling behind

their peers, and are not understanding your lessons, but it’s okay!

All that I ask is that you meet them where they are. 


Your students will learn English. They will become fluent readers and

fluent speakers, and write paragraphs and essays.  Yes, it will take time,

but I promise you with solid English instruction, they will. In the

meantime, welcome them as they are, at the level they’re at,

and keep working to help them grow



You are the best teacher for these students and you’re already equipped with the tools

you need to help them succeed. What tools you may ask? Love and patience. I know

you have both! Don’t let having English learner students in your classroom this year

stress you. Use these 5 tips for teachers for English learners to help you get started.

You’ve got this!









Happy Teaching!

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