The number of ELLs in our classrooms continues to increase. How do you support them in your classroom? How do you help them reach there potential while they are learning how to communicate in a new language?


  • From 1995 to 2005 the population of ELLs doubled in 23 states. (NEA policy brief 2011).
  • According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) 2017:
    • In 2004-2005, an estimated 4.3 million public school students were ELLs.
    • In 2014-2015, an estimated 4.6 million public school students were ELLs.
    • Approximately 77% of ELLs reported that their home language as Spanish.

It has got to be challenging and a little scary being a new English Language Learner! Have you ever been completely new to an environment and not understood what anyone around you was talking about?

Then on top of that, ELLs have the pressure of being tested in their new language to see if they are proficient in various content areas within a short period of time.

So, while I was writing this post, it made me think about how us parent-chefs have to try many different recipes to feed our often picky eaters. My children do not usually like the same meals. (I swear mine sit together at night and determine who is going to hate dinner each day!)

As teachers, we try many different strategies to see which combination works with our students. Like our own children, they are all unique!

A successful recipe will include a combination of listening, speaking, reading and writing practice in order to reach mastery of a new language.


Support for ELLs

I am here to provide you with 30 simple ways to help alleviate some of that fear for our English Language Learners. You may already be using some of these ingredients. If not, I suggest trying all of them!

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*1. Provide a bilingual dictionary in the students home language and English. Picture dictionaries are even better! Dictionaries can be extra support to ELLs who are acquiring new vocabulary.

*2. Label Objects with words and pictures if possible to build vocabulary of basic objects in a classroom.

*3. Be conscious of figurative language (i.e. similes, metaphors, idioms, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc.)  and consider listing examples on an anchor chart as they are shared in lessons.

Sometimes, we do not even realize how often we teachers share examples with students that include one of these.

All students do not have the background knowledge to understand the underlying meaning.

*4. Use visual aids whenever possible. This could be with videos, photos, a document camera, infographics, drawings, etc. Uncommon objects and abstract concepts become concrete by using visual aids, manipulatives and maps.

*5. Select a student “buddy” to accompany your new English Language Learner for all transitions (such as lunch, recess, art, etc.).

We certainly do not want anyone getting lost or feeling awkward!

*6. Small group instruction, whether it is student-lead or teacher-led, allows for more individual attention time. Small groups also give more speaking time to each member.

*7. Write instructions down and post for students to view. This could be with a document camera (i.e. ELMO), a white board, handouts, etc.

Provide your ELLs with a visual to refer to throughout the thinking process.

*8. Collaborate with your peers. Utilize the expertise of your media specialist, ELL specialist (school or district), bilingual teachers and other teachers at your school who have experience working with these students.

Colleagues may be able to provide you with suggestions and also have prepared resources to share.

*9. Emphasize adjectives in vocabulary. Show strong feeling when you read them. Express them with actions. Illustrate them whenever there is an opportunity.

*10. Provide sufficient wait time for ELLS when posing questions and giving assignments. They need time to translate, comprehend, and then translate a response.

*11. Choral Reading activities build speaking confidence. Students who are not quite sure what to say or how to pronounce words, hear their peers.

When choral reading, ELLs are also given a chance to speak without the spotlight being solely on them. Great practice!

*12. Gallery walk activities are another way for students to use peer support when responding to questions/statements. This type of discussion technique gets students up out of their chairs. Students are actively engaged while they work in small groups and then walk throughout the classroom. In their small groups, respond to questions and problem-solving situations or various texts.

*13. Non-verbal gestures used for common classroom routines with little interruption for you. Some examples are holding up 1 finger for the restroom, 2 for help from the teacher, and 3 to sharpen a pencil.

Signals can be illustrated and posted in the room.

*14. Teach Greek and Latin roots and affixes. Most of the English language comes from other languages. When students understand what parts of words mean, they can build additional words with similar meanings.

In my recent post, How to Put a Spin on Greek and Latin Roots, more than 450 vocabulary words are explored in activities using fidget spinners and more than 150 roots!

*15. Picture flash cards can be made from index cards and placed on a ring for building basic vocabulary and phrases.

More ways to Support ELLs…

*16. Post daily/weekly schedule with pictures for students to see and refer to throughout the day. Viewing the schedule helps prepare students for transitions.

*17. Conferencing with students individually for reading and writing is a win-win for teacher and student. The student gains confidence with your private guidance. The teacher gains insight into student progress and needs.

*18. Graphic Organizers such as charts, Venn diagrams, bubble maps, etc. help organize texts in order to comprehend them.

*19. Teacher modeling of tasks provides students with an overview of the thought process of the teacher.

*20. Audio books are a way to expose readers to language that may be more complex than what they can read. Text and audio are available through a program such as MyOn.

*21. Book clubs are a great way to build community within your classroom and also to enhance language acquisition.

*22. Readers Theater is such a fun activity that is always a hit! I have another post that provides a script writing activity using graphic novels called How to Transfer a Graphic Novel into a Reader’s Theater Script.

*23. Hands-on activities in any content area, brings us back to the way of learning by doing. Whether it is a science experiment or an outside nature walk while journaling, the involvement sparks learning.

*24. Leveled texts and informational texts with images should be included in your classroom library. I would even include bilingual texts if available. The more variety you have, the better chance of having something for everyone’s interest levels.

*25. Oral-based assessments give those students who do not have strong writing skills in English the chance to be successful orally. It also builds teacher-student relationships.

*26. Echo directions with students prior to releasing them to complete assignments. This is where the teacher reads the directions for an assignment first, using good pacing and accurate intonation, then has the students repeat them back.

*27. Establish routines in order to equip students with an understanding of expectations.

*28. Additional scaffolding is a beneficial way to individualize instruction for ELLs. The Center for Applied Linguistics created a resource of scaffolding options for K-12 teachers called the GO TO Strategies.

*29. Websites and apps on computers or tablets can be a fun way for students and teachers to learn. They can both be used independently by students.

*30. Graphic Novels combine text with supporting pictures that assists with comprehension. Graphic novels are great to use as companion texts for any topic! Check out my other post, 36 Graphic Novels to Use as Companion Texts


By including these simple strategies in your daily lessons, you are growing English Language Learners into

bilingual thinkers, readers, and writers.

Striving readers will also benefit from using these simple strategies.

Please share in the comment section below which strategies you have tried! Share this article with your teacher friends!

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