What do educators of middle and high school English language learners (ELLs) need to know to support their students' success? Take a look at these strategies and recommendations for some ideas to help you get started.
For additional ideas, see the other articles in this series:
- How to Support the Social-Emotional Needs of Middle/High School ELLs
- How to Partner with Families of Middle/High School ELLs
Middle and high school students who come to the United States as teenagers may have attended school in their native country. If so, educators can tap into their experience and skills. When teachers show students that they can use the skills they already possess, students gain valuable confidence.
At the same time, some students may have interrupted or limited schooling. These students also possess valuable personal experiences and perspectives that are an important resource in the classroom. Help students to make connections to content by tapping into their background knowledge and look for opportunities to make associations between things that students have experienced in their own lives, as well as ways to make your instruction more culturally responsive.
In addition, identify the skills that students with interrupted education need so you can explicitly teach the skills they need to access grade-level content. For many helpful tips on how to navigate these questions, see the following:
- 10 Things You Need to Learn About Your English Language Learners
- How to Support ELL Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs)
Using students' languages as a resource
Students' home languages are a valuable resource. Even if you don't speak those languages and are not working in a bilingual setting, there are way to tap into them to support instruction.
For example, ELL exeprt Dr. Diane August recommends a number of research-based strategies that draw upon the home language such as the following:
- using bilingual glossaries
- providing background information in students' home languages
- peer work in students' home languages
- explicit instruction in how to use cognates (words that are related across languages such as English and Spanish) or build on their own skills in their home language.
In addition, older students will be able to discuss similarities and differences in the their first language and English. For example, they will recognize similarities and differences in alphabet, cognates, or root words. For the more advanced learner, you can explore sentence structure: "In English, we build sentences using Subject-Verb-Object." Does your student's language follow the same sentence structure? Ask them and guide them to help reveal and compare. See more ideas in Students' Home Languages as a Resource.
There are many ways to make grade-level content more accessible to ELLs. As part of your planning, it's important to:
- identify background knowledge needed to understand the lesson
- connect content to students' experience
- identify content and language objectives
- identify key vocabulary and academic language needed for the lesson
- scaffold and differentiate instruction
- incorporate peer learning into your instruction.
Learn how to use these strategies in the following articles:
- How to Develop a Lesson Plan that Includes ELLs
- 6 Strategies to Help ELLs Succeed in Peer Learning and Collaboration
Literacy and language skills
- Phonemic awareness
- Word families
- Grammatical structures and their uses
- read and write sight words
- form a complete sentence
- develop a paragraph
- access grade-level text in different content areas.
Collaboration between classroom teachers, ELL specialists, and reading specialists can make a big difference in supporting older students' literacy development since each colleague brings an important perspective. Consider asking administrators for more collaboration time and professional development to address these areas of instruction.
For additional ideas, see the following articles from Colorín Colorado:
- Reading 101 for English Language Learners
- Reading Tips for Educators in Grades 4-12
- Phonics Instruction for Middle and High School ELLs
- Supporting ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom: Strategies for Language Instruction
Age-appropriate materials and strategies
Teaching basic language skills is essential, but it's important not to make students feel like they are doing elementary work. Beginning level materials geared for teenagers and adults can be difficult to come by; however, learning basic reading and writing skills such as phonemic awareness and phonics is essential to the development of comprehension. Give rationales for the teaching of such basic skills as well as the procurement of materials targeted to older students if needed.
Learn how to engage ELLs as readers through strategies such as frequent comprehension checks and higher level thinking activities.
Story set-up: Pre-reading strategies for comprehension
Learn about pre-reading strategies that will lay the groundwork for ELLs to tackle new texts. Watch as these strategies are put into action to help ELLs learn "A Christmas Carol".
It's also imperative to explicitly teach writing styles as well. It's okay to make writing formulaic because this gives students a handle on where to start. ELLs need to know the rules of the game.
Use rubrics for writing assessment so that students know ahead of time how they will be graded. Rubrics allow you to grade specific parts of an assignment: content, grammar and usage, presentation, spelling, mechanics, etc.
See how Michelle helps her high school ELL students turn their brainstorm into a paragraph.
Learn how Michelle guides her ELLs through the brainstorming process as they prepare to write a journal.
Video: Using sentence frames with ELLs
Collaboration in your school community
Look for opportunities to draw on your colleagues' knowledge and expertise. You may be able to build on the helpful experience of:
- ELL teachers
- Library staff
- Reading teachers
- Content-area teachers
- Speech pathologist
- Bilingual staff
Share your collaborative successes with colleagues and administrators — that way you can advocate for more collaboration time together. It takes a school village to teach a child, and each member of the community as an important part to play in ELLs' success!
To see additional strategies in action, take a look at the following classroom videos featuring middle and high school classrooms:
In this lesson, middle school students read an excerpt from the novel Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck about a man who takes a road trip with his dog. (Related resources available)
In this lesson for high school ELLs, students discuss the language used in Nelson Mandela's 1964 Court Speech "An Ideal for Which I am Prepared to Die." (Related resources available)
In this standards-aligned lesson, students read a letter that Captain John Smith of the English Army wrote to Queen Anne in 1616. (Related resources available)