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Research & Reports

Reading Instruction for ELLs

These reports are organized by category:

The reports are also organized by grade level:

Educating Struggling Learners: Reflections on Lessons Learned about Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Author: Kurizaki, V. University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.


Presented here is a first person account of the opportunities and challenges of the pathways to success from the front lines of inclusive reform. In this paper, the author reviews the work that the Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) completed in developing progress maps. This work demonstrated avenues or routes that students took to access the content of mathematics and reading. She then reflects on the activity of the GSEG-funded project, offering a personal perspective on the formal research findings documented by Karin Hess (2011). Finally, she offers her reflections on the local implementation of the project products and processes, as well as lessons that we learned throughout the project.

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Target Population: All

Research Questions the Report Poses: How can educators improve the learning skills of struggling readers?


  • To ensure that the curriculum is taught as it was intended in the classroom, teachers need to have a deep understanding of that content. They also need a repertoire of instructional strategies to respond to student work used to judge learners' progress.
  • Instructional adjustments or accommodations, tailored to their learners, are possible when teachers are clear on the learning targets and have a sound understanding about how their students learn and show progress over time.
  • State test results showed grade 8 students were flat-lined, averaging 36% of the disadvantaged students scoring proficient on the state test over six school years. After one year of engaging in a self-reflection protocol and process in addition to collaborative PLCs, there was a rise to 47% of this subgroup scoring at the proficient level.
  • However, opportunities for teachers to reflect on their own instructional practices, committing to trying new strategies, followed by more self- and collaborated-reflections on the effects on students, seem to be one of the biggest benefits of the various PLC discussions.
    • Policy Recommendations:

      To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
      National Center on Educational Outcomes University of Minnesota • 207 Pattee Hall 150 Pillsbury Dr. SE • Minneapolis, MN 55455

      Kurizaki, V. (2011). Educating struggling learners: Reflections on lessons learned about curriculum, instruction, and assessment (Synthesis Report 86).University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Ensuring Academic Success for English Learners

Author: Laurie Olson, UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute

Summary: This report highlights nine elements of a strong academic program for ELLs based on three decades of research. Recommended best practices include accessible preschool programs, support for newcomers of all ages, and a focus on English language development.

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Tags: Books and Other Reading Materials; Curriculum; Differentiated Instruction; Intervention; Language Proficiency; Motivation; Parent Involvement and Outreach / PTA; Reading;

Target Population: Preschool, Elementary, Middle, High School

Research Questions the Report Poses: What strategies or programs can educators adopt to create schools in which ELLs learn and thrive?

A comprehensive system of schooling for ELLS includes the following nine elements:

  • High quality and accessible preschool education
  • Supports for newcomers to meet needs of transition
  • A comprehensive program of English Language development
  • A program providing full access to challenging curriculum
  • High quality instruction and materials
  • Inclusive and affirming school climate
  • Valid, comprehensive, and useful assessments
  • Strong family and community partnerships
  • Schools structured to meet the particular needs of English learners.

Policy Recommendations:
Recommendations include:

  • Invest in building a qualified educator workforce;
  • Build a meaningful accountability system for English learners;
  • Assure that educators have the materials they need to deliver high quality English Language Development;
  • Demonstrate new models of successful schools for English learners

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:

University of California

Linguistic Minority Research Institute

4722 South Hall

Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3220

Olsen, L. (2006). Ensuring Academic Success for English Learners. University of California: Linguistic Minority Research Institute.

Getting Ready for Reading: Early Phoneme Awareness and Phonics Teaching Improves Reading and Spelling in Inner-city Second Language Learners

Author: M. Stuart

Summary: Previous studies demonstrate that phoneme awareness training, particularly when combined with letter–sound teaching, results in improved reading and spelling development. This study builds upon those findings by including children learning English as a second language, who have typically been excluded from previous studies.

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Tags: Instructional Programs; Phonics; Phonological Awareness;

Target Population: Preschool, Elementary

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • Is it possible to accelerate phonemic awareness and skills in ELL children by using a specified whole class teaching procedure ("Phonics Handbook") for 12 weeks during the first year of formal schooling?
  • If so, does this acceleration lead to more successful development of reading and spelling skills at the end of the second year at school?


  • Early, structured, focused and rapid teaching of phoneme segmentation and blending skills and of grapheme–phoneme correspondences does accelerate development of these skills and acquisition of this knowledge in 5–year–olds, including ELLs.
  • Acquiring these skills and developing reading and writing abilities early (at beginning of formal schooling, if not before) gives students a long–term advantage in school.
  • Most children can very rapidly acquire the concepts and knowledge taught, and can do so without the necessity for small–group teaching.
  • Because the materials used here were designed by a teacher for teachers to use, the positive results demonstrate that teachers need very little training or support to use these materials to good effect.

Policy Recommendations:
None given

Stuart, M. (1999). Getting ready for reading: early phoneme awareness and phonics teaching improves reading and spelling in inner–city second language learners. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, 587-605.

How Long Does It Take English Language Learners to Attain Proficiency?

Author: University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute/ Kenji Hakuta, Yuko Goto Butler, and Daria Witt

Summary: This report compiles findings related to how long it takes English language learners to become proficient in speaking English and how long it takes them to master enough English to be successful in classrooms where all academic content is in English. The report draws on findings from four schools. Two schools are in the San Francisco Bay area and two schools are in Canada. The authors collect their own data from the California schools and rely on previous research for the Canadian schools.

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Tags: Comprehension; Language Proficiency; Transfer of Literacy Skills;

Target Population: Preschool, Elementary, Middle, High School

Research Questions the Report Poses: How long does it take English language learners to develop oral proficiency and academic proficiency in English?


  • Rapid English language acquisition is unrealistic.
  • The two California districts used in the sample are considered the most successful teaching English to limited English proficient students. In these high performing districts:
    • Oral proficiency takes 3 to 5 years to develop; and
    • Academic English proficiency takes 4 to 7 years to develop

Policy Recommendations:
California should begin a longitudinal survey to track the normative development of ELL students.

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
The University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute University of California, Santa Barbara 4722 South Hall, MC 3220 Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3220

Hakuta, K., Butler, Y.G., and Witt, D. (2000, January). How long does it take English language learners to develop oral proficiency and academic proficiency in English? Stanford, CA: University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute.

Improving Reading Across Subject Areas with Word Generation

Author: Joshua F. Lawrence, Claire White, and Catherine E. Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Center for Research on Educational Achievement and Teaching of English Language Learners.

Summary: Using the evidence that reading comprehension supports vocabulary development and that vocabulary development supports reading comprehension, the authors describe the relationship between these two processes as one of reciprocal causation. It has been widely noted that less able students are likely to fall farther and farther behind if they struggle with learning processes linked by reciprocal causation. Fortunately, there is evidence that vocabulary instruction can have an important and lasting impact on student word learning. There is reason to think, then, that a robust vocabulary intervention that targets academic language may improve vocabulary and reading comprehension in the short run while also supporting the struggling reader's facility at learning new words independently. To study this further, the authors have conducted a quasi–experiment to assess the effectiveness of the "Word Generation Program," an intervention firmly grounded in what is currently known about effective practice, while also casting light on how enhanced vocabulary levels relate to improved reading comprehension. To this end, the research team compared the academic word–learning of schools that chose to implement the program versus schools that chose not to.

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Tags: Comprehension; Reading; Vocabulary;

Target Population: Elementary School

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • What is the relationship between reading comprehension and vocabulary development?
  • How effective is the "Word Generation Program" in improving academic word–learning?


  • Participation in 20–22 weeks Word Generation curriculum was equivalent to two years of incidental learning. However, these results are skewed due to differences in timing of pretest, meaning that while the Word Generation did improve word–learning, it was not as significant as this result would indicate.
  • Boys learned more words than girls.
  • Participants in Word Generation Program learned more words than non–participants.
  • Language minority students learned words at a relatively faster rate than English–only students in treatment schools, but not comparison schools.
  • Students who benefited most from participation in Word Generation had higher MCAS scores than students with similarly improved vocabularies acquired without Word Generation exposure.
  • A longitudinal quasi–experiment follow–up showed that students who participated in the intervention maintained their relative improvements at both follow–up assessments. This indicates that Word Generation does in fact promote long–term vocabulary and reading comprehension.

Lawrence, J.F., White, C., Snow, C.E. (2011.) "Improving Reading Across Subject Areas with Word Generation." Center for Research on Educational Achievement and Teaching of English Language Learners. Retrieved from:

Meeting the Literacy Development Needs of Adolescent English Language Learners Through Content Area Learning (Part 1): Focus on Motivation and Engagement

Author: Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory (LAB), The Education Alliance at Brown University, Julie Meltzer and Edmund Hamann

Summary: This article reviews research concerning literacy engagement and motivation of adolescent ELL students as well as native speakers in content-area classrooms. Instructional principals such as the "scaffolding" method and activation of students' prior knowledge are explored, as well as importance of content relevance and choice in student-centered learning. Additionally, the article provides guidelines for research-based professional development that would adequately prepare content area teachers to support the literacy development of all secondary students.

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Tags: Content Areas: Math; Content Areas: Science; Content Areas: Social Studies; Motivation; Placement; Reading; Struggling Readers; Transfer of Literacy Skills; Vocabulary; Writing;

Target Population: Middle, High School

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • What can be done to foster academic literacy, motivation, and classroom engagement among adolescent ELLs?
  • How can secondary teachers apply these strategies to better support all students?


  • In a large body of research, literacy motivation is seen as the interaction of many factors, including self-efficacy, situational interest, attitudes toward reading, self-regulation, and how a student identifies as a reader.
  • Learning motivation theory proposes two goal orientations: one related to mastery, and one to performance. The first is aimed at improving ability, comprehension, and tackling challenges. The second focuses instead on the evaluation of one's ability by an outside observer (i.e. a teacher). As the mastery orientation involves deeper internal motivation, it is more likely to promote long-term learning.
  • If classroom tasks are too advanced or remedial for students, they will result in disengagement and a poor learning environment. This is particularly true for ELLs.

Policy Recommendations:

Professional development courses should focus on the three key teaching practices (identified in this article) that foster students' motivation to read, write, and participate with classroom literacy activities. These principles are:

  • Providing background information for the reading and forming meaningful connections between the content and students' lives
  • Acknowledging students' opinions and giving them appropriate, varied choices in academic assignments
  • Fostering dialogue among students and text inquiry to build literacy skills

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
The Education Alliance at Brown
222 Richmond Street, Suite 300
Providence, RI 02903-4226
Phone: 800.521.9550
Fax: 401.421.7650

Meltzer, J. & Hamann, E. (2004). Meeting the literacy development needs of adolescent English language learners. Part one: Focus on motivation and engagement. Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory.

Promoting Academic Literacy Among Secondary English Language Learners: A Synthesis of Research and Practice

Author: UC Davis School of Education

Summary: Provides an overview of issues related to teaching English language learners (ELL), and recommendations for California policy including: challenges secondary ELL students face; needs and limitations of teachers and schools in CA; and best practices cited by researchers and practitioners. The report largely summarizes three days of panel presentations and discussions by ELL experts convened in 2005.

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Tags: Differentiated Instruction; Language Proficiency; Placement;

Target Population: middle and high school

Research Questions the Report Poses: What policy steps should occur in California to improve the education of secondary English Language Learners?

A number of themes emerged from the panel discussants including:

  • the need for identifying ELL students better; inadequate existing programs for ELL secondary students;
  • the need for more teachers and administrators who are knowledgeable about the needs of secondary ELL students; and
  • the importance of advocacy and staying on-message to improve ELL education.

Policy Recommendations:
The report adopts five policy steps that should occur including:

  • Convene a panel of experts;
  • Promote pilot programs;
  • Develop an effective ELL assessment system;
  • Establish a committee in the CA legislature to recruit and retain highly skilled ELL teachers and administrators; and
  • Organize a summit to bring attention and focus to the need for improved ELL secondary education.

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:

Maxwell-Jolly, J., Gandara, P. & Benavidez L. M. (2005). Promoting academic literacy among secondary English language learners: A synthesis of research and practice. Davis, CA: UC Davis School of Education.

The Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs)

Author: National Council of Teachers of English (ELL Task Force)

Summary: This position paper is designed to address the knowledge and skills mainstream teachers need to have in order to develop effective curricula that engage English language learners, develop their academic skills, and help them negotiate their identities as bilingual learners. More specifically, this paper addresses the language and literacy needs of these learners as they participate and learn in English-medium classes. NCTE has made clear bilingual students' right to maintain their native languages. Thus, this paper addresses ways teachers can help these students develop English as well as ways they can support their students' bilingualism. In the United States bilingual learners, more commonly referred to as English language learners, are defined as students who know a language other than English and are learning English. Students' abilities range from being non-English speakers to being fully proficient. The recommendations in this paper apply to all of them.

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Tags: Comprehension; Curriculum; Language Proficiency; Reading; Struggling Readers; Vocabulary; Writing;

Target Population: All

Research Questions the Report Poses: What are the needs of ELLs? How can teachers address these needs?


  • Teachers need to get to know their students and about their home situations in order to be most effective.
  • Writing well in English is often the most difficult skill for English language learners to master. Thus teachers should be aware that English language learners may not be familiar with standard American writing procedure like drafting, revision, editing, workshop, conference, audience, purpose, or genre.
  • The best way to help students learn both English and the knowledge of school subjects is to teach language through content.

Policy Recommendations:

  • Colleges and universities should offer pre-service teachers preparation in teaching ELLs including coursework in language acquisition, second language writing and readings, and culture classes.
  • High school English departments should integrate programs that welcome and help acculturate late-arrival immigrant and refugee students with low literacy skills.
  • The report also provides numerous practical recommendations for strategies in the classroom in various subjects.

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
The National Council of Teachers of English 1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, IL 61801-1096 Phone: 217-328-3870 or 877-369-6283 Fax: 217-328-9645

NCTE ELL Task Force. (2006). NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners. National Council of Teachers of English: Urbana, IL.