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
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
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
Defining vocabulary words
Eliminating answer choices
Chunking text into small paragraphs
Adding word banks
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
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
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!