Bright Ideas for Teaching ELLs

What's even better than a bright idea? A bright idea that works! Educators from across the country have discovered excellent ways to tackle some common classroom stumbling blocks. Below are their step-by-step suggestions on how to handle issues like the fourth-grade slump or the development of critical thinking skills. Take advantage of their experience and put these ideas to use in your own classroom — and if you have a bright idea of your own, let us know!

Essential Actions: 15 Research-based Practices to Increase ELL Student Achievement

In this article written for Colorín Colorado, Bright Ideas author Kristina Robertson offers an overview of WIDA's new Essential Actions handbook and shares a step-by-step process for using this valuable tool as part of a professional learning community focused on meeting ELLs' academic language needs.

Common Core and ELLs: Key Shifts in Language Arts and Literacy (Part II)

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Literacy are rigorous, internationally benchmarked, and aligned with college and work expectations. The standards set requirements not only for English language arts but also for literacy across the content areas, including history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.

Teaching Tips: Summer School for English Language Learners

Veteran teacher Sharon Eghigian has nearly 15 years of experience teaching in a variety of ESL summer programs. Some of those programs include ESL summer school (Grades K-5), "Jump Start" classes at non-profit agencies (ages 8-16), and cultural orientation/ESL classes for newcomers (K-5). Sharon draws on her experience and shares some of her favorite summer ESL school activities and tips in the following article. Most strategies are geared towards elementary ELLs, although many can be adapted for older students.

Preparing an Engaging Social Studies Lesson for English Language Learners

When learning new material, ELLs have the double challenge of learning content as well as the necessary academic language to access that content. In classes such as Social Studies, that challenge is even more complex because mastery of the content relies heavily on background knowledge and a historical or cultural context. Learn more about lesson planning strategies that can be used to support ELL comprehension and mastery of social studies material.

Teaching ELLs to Navigate Textbooks Effectively

For ELLs, learning how to navigate a textbook effectively can be a powerful tool in increasing their comprehension of material in all of their academic work — particularly in the content areas. This article offers some strategies for teaching students how to use different parts of a textbook, understand the organization of a chapter within a textbook, and preview chapter content with a "chapter walk."

How to Prepare for an ESL Job Interview

If you are looking for a new ESL or bilingual teaching position, there are a number of things you can do to help prepare for the interview. This article outlines general information that will get you started, as well as areas of your own experience that may be helpful to highlight in the interview.

Reading 101 for English Language Learners

In this article, Kristina Robertson highlights ELL instructional strategies based on the five components of reading as outlined in "Teaching Children to Read," by the National Reading Panel (2000). This report is a study of research-based best practices in reading instruction and it focuses on the following five instructional areas: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension.

Supporting ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom: Language Tips

Even if mainstream educators don't consider themselves language instructors, there are a number of things they can do in order to support their ELLs' language development, such as providing a print-rich environment and supporting academic language development.

Successful Field Trips with English Language Learners

English language learners can benefit from field trips that provide an experience that enhances classroom learning. It can be overwhelming for a teacher to think of organizing all the details of a field trip, but with some planning beforehand and a few extra steps, field trips can be very successful! This article offers some ways to make the field trips with ELLs go more smoothly and to provide students with a meaningful academic experience.

Writing Poetry with English Language Learners

This article discusses strategies for writing poetry with ELLs, presents an overview of poetry forms that can be used effectively in writing lessons, and suggests some ideas for ways to share student poetry.

Introducing and Reading Poetry with English Language Learners

This article offers some ideas on how to introduce poetry to ELLs and integrate it with reading instruction, as well as some ideas for reading poetry aloud in a way that will encourage oral language development.

Math Instruction for English Language Learners

Language plays an important part in math instruction, particularly for ELLs. This article offers some strategies for making language an integral part of math instruction, and for ensuring that ELLs have the tools and language they need to master mathematical concepts, procedures, and skills.

Reader's Theater: Oral Language Enrichment and Literacy Development for ELLs

ELLs can benefit from Reader's Theater activities in a number of ways, including fluency practice, comprehension, engaging in a story, and focusing on vocal and physical expression. Kristina Robertson offers a number of approaches to Reader's Theater with ELLs in this article.

Working with Community Organizations to Support ELL Students

When building a support network for English language learners, community organizations can play a valuable role and offer resources that schools may not have at their disposal. This article offers some ideas on ways that schools can partner with community groups to support ELLs.

Five Things Teachers Can Do to Improve Learning for ELLs in the New Year

This Bright Ideas article recommends five specific and measurable actions teachers can implement to assist ELL learning in the upcoming year. All of the strategies have been featured on the Colorín Colorado website, and the Hotlinks section has links to helpful articles and websites for further support.

Increasing ELL Student Reading Comprehension with Non-fiction Text

One of the most important skills students learn as they transition into middle and high school is how to get information from a non-fiction text. This skill can be especially challenging for ELLs, who may not have had much experience working independently with expository texts. This Bright Ideas article offers ways that teachers can help ELLs work effectively with non-fiction texts and includes strategies for introducing components, structure, and purpose of expository texts.

Creating a College-Going Culture for English Language Learners

Some English language learners may not know what to expect from the college application process. Others don't start thinking about college until their junior or senior year. One way to ensure that students are prepared to apply for college is to create a college-going culture in your school and across your district.

Getting Ready for College: What ELL Students Need to Know

For ELLs, the challenges of going to college and finding the right opportunities can be overwhelming, but ELL teachers can play an important role helping students apply to college and preparing for the application process as well. This month's Bright Ideas article offers some great ideas for ways that you can support ELL students as they consider their future plans.

How to Support ELL Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs)

Many English language learners come to school having had little or no schooling in their native countries, or with an interrupted education if their family has moved frequently. While educating students with interrupted formal education (SIFEs) presents many challenges to educators, they can indeed obtain a high school diploma with the right kind of support, and go on to future academic and professional success. This article provides a profile of SIFEs and their needs, recommendations of best practices, and examples of the kinds of quality school-wide and classroom support that will accelerate their academic achievement.

Language Acquisition: An Overview

Learning a new language requires time, effort, and patience. How much time, effort, and patience depends a lot on the individual who is learning, as well as the learning environment and situation; language researchers have developed, however, a general outline of language acquisition that helps explain the process that language learners go through to develop skills in a foreign language. This article provides an overview to the stages of language acquisition, and offer strategies designed to support ELL instruction at different stages of language acquisition.

ELLs in Early Childhood Education: Recruiting Immigrant Families

This article focuses on recruiting more families of English language learners to participate in early education programs. The article provides a brief overview of the some of the reasons that immigrant families' preschool enrollment rates are sometimes lower than expected, and offers some tips for recruiting and supporting immigrant families in an early education setting.

'Welcome Kit' for New ELLs

"A Welcome Kit" is a packet of school information and other supplies that will contribute to a positive beginning by including relevant school information and other academic supplies, no matter when the student enrolls. I recommend that a school administrator and a couple of key staff members meet to decide what should go in the Welcome Kit. Summer is a perfect opportunity to make up a stack of Welcome Kits in order to have them readily available throughout the year as new ELL students enroll. The Kits can be tailored by grade level to include appropriate academic items.

How to Support Refugee Students in the ELL Classroom

Many ELL teachers may work with refugee students in the classroom, particularly in a region of the country where large refugee communities are settling. This Bright Ideas article explores the unique challenges that both refugee students and their teachers face, as well as a number of suggestions of ways to address those challenges and a list of useful resources.

From the Classroom: Working with Chinese ELLs

In this article written exclusively for Colorín Colorado, Xiao-lin shares some insights on ways that teachers can work effectively with Chinese students and parents, as well as some of her own classroom strategies for working with bilingual students. While some of these strategies are culturally/linguistically-specific, many can serve as a model when working with students from diverse backgrounds.

No Child Left Behind and the Assessment of English Language Learners

As controversial as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) law has been, one positive outcome is that ELL student achievement is included specifically in the law, and educational leaders are focusing their efforts on meeting the needs of students who are learning English as a second language. For families of ELLs, NCLB includes provisions for family involvement and communication in a language they understand, especially in regard to informing parents of the kind of ELL support their child will receive.

Writing a Winning Essay

As part of assessments and/or high school graduation requirements in many states, students must pass a writing test. For ELL students, the writing test often poses one of the biggest challenges in testing and in meeting graduation requirements. In this month's Bright Ideas article, we offer a strategy for overcoming those obstacles and writing a strong five-paragraph essay. The article outlines the process from start to finish, starting with helping students develop a deeper understanding of writing test requirements to planning, organizing, and editing the essay's final draft.

Motivating ELL Student Readers

ELL teachers are in a unique position to instill a love of reading in their students. Since many ELL students are struggling readers, however, it can be difficult to motivate them to read. In this month's Bright Ideas feature, we offer a number of suggestions for motivating ELL readers, from finding readable materials to introducing students to a "culture of reading." We also provide a number of hotlinks to websites about high-low reading materials, and articles about teaching ELLs to read.

Preparing ELLs to be 21st-Century Learners

As teachers of ELLs, we know that their future success will depend in part on their technological skills and their ability to learn new kinds of technology. But ELL students are often at a disadvantage when it comes to learning technology because they may not have access to the technology at home, they may not understand the English used to provide instruction, and they may need more time to develop their skills. 21st Century Learners: ELL Students and Technology offers some classroom strategies for bridging the digital divide in the ELL classroom, including the instruction of vocabulary related to technology, the use of visual aids and demonstrations, and suggestions about how to teach students to evaluate online sources.

Connect Students' Background Knowledge to Content in the ELL Classroom

As you teach content areas to ELLs of diverse backgrounds, you may find that they struggle to grasp the content, and that they approach the content from very different perspectives. Drawing on your students’ background knowledge and experiences, can be an effective way to bridge those gaps and to make the content more accessible. This article offers a number of suggestions to classroom teachers as they find ways to tap into the background knowledge that students bring with them.

How to Address Special Education Needs in the ELL Classroom

When an ELL student is struggling with language difficulties, it is often difficult to know if the problem is due to a delay in language acquisition, to a learning disability, to other kinds of special education needs, or a combination of these factors. This month's article presents an overview of practical guidelines on the steps to follow when considering if a student has special education needs, including academic interventions, factors affecting referral for assessment, and a number of related resources.

Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences with Bilingual Families

As the time for parent-teacher conferences approaches, you may be wondering how to hold an effective conference with the parents of your English language learners if they can't communicate comfortably in English. In this month's Bright Ideas, we provide a number of tips that will help you bridge that language gap, take cultural expectations about education into account and provide your students' parents with the information they need about their children's progress in school.

Bilingual Family Night for ELL Families

Establishing a strong partnership between parents and schools early in the school year is crucial to a student's success throughout the year. However, this may prove to be a challenge when working with English Language Learners (ELLs) if their parents do not speak English. One way to connect with parents of ELLs is to host a bilingual family night at the beginning of the school year. Here are some suggestions for planning a bilingual family event, as well as creative ways to bridge the language gap and a list of links to useful websites.

Gear Up for a New School Year!

Starting a new school year positively is very important. It is likely that most teachers will have newly enrolled students in their classrooms, as well as students who do not speak English as their first language. For this reason, there is a lot for teachers to think about as they start the new school year.

Summer Reading: English Language Learners at the Library

Libraries today have changed in a number of ways to meet the demands of our modern society, but their underlying purpose for children is still to help them discover the joy of reading. As summer peaks, many local libraries advertise special summer reading programs and activities to keep children enthusiastic about reading.

Using Science to Develop ELLs' Language Skills

An English language learner may not have an advanced English vocabulary, but with the right kind of curriculum and instruction, teachers may be surprised at the knowledge ELLs can gain. Science lends itself well to developing ELL students' language and content knowledge because there are so many opportunities for hands-on learning and observation.

Improving Writing Skills: ELLs and the Joy of Writing

There is a very important correlation between writing and language development. Find out how you can help your ELLs improve their writing skills. Find ideas on differentiating writing activities, and other ways to help ELLs discover the joy of writing.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Slump: How to Help ELL Students Leap to Success

A lot of literacy and math testing starts at 3rd grade, a time when readers are transitioning from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." Researchers recognize this as a time in a reader's development when he or she needs extra support to make the transition to a fully proficient reader. Readers who are not able to make this transition fall victim to what has been referred to as "the fourth grade slump."

Music and Language Learning

Language learning offers a unique and exciting opportunity to integrate music. Many people have had the experience of learning a world language and singing simple, silly songs in class. The introduction of music provides a light-hearted and fun way to interact with another language and culture.

Visual Thinking Strategies for Improved Comprehension

Use the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) method to build students' background knowledge and develop thinking skills that use detail to enhance understanding.

Increase Student Interaction with "Think-Pair-Shares" and "Circle Chats"

Peer interaction can play an important role in a student's language development. In order to increase opportunities in which students can interact, try some of the strategies listed in this article, including the "think-pair-share" and "circle chats."

Increasing Academic Language Knowledge for English Language Learner Success

ELL students learn new words everyday, and it's essential that they have a deep understanding of what those words mean. Without comprehension, new words are useless. The key to helping ELL students succeed is to give them explicit instruction in the academic language of the content they are learning in class. This article offers some strategies and resources for getting started!

Creating Your Own Classroom Newsletter

Not only can a classroom newsletter help English language learners develop their language skills, it can help a class work together to publish their own stories. This empowering writing experience can be the just what some ELLs need to succeed.

Generating Questions: Using Critical Thinking Skills

One of the challenges when teaching critical thinking skills to English language learners (ELLs) is helping them develop adequate background knowledge and adequate vocabulary to support this type of higher order thinking.

Finding the Main Idea

Some English language learners (ELLs) have difficulty identifying the main idea when reading a paragraph. Directly teaching strategies, such as paraphrasing, can help them learn to pick out what is important in the material that they read.

Reading and Understanding Written Math Problems

Word problems in mathematics often pose a challenge because they require that students read and comprehend the text of the problem, identify the question that needs to be answered, and finally create and solve a numerical equation. Many ELLs may have difficulty reading and understanding the written content in a word problem.

Using Timelines to Enhance Comprehension

Educators may find timelines a useful strategy for a variety of educational purposes. They can be used to record events from a story or a history lesson in a sequential format. They can help students keep events in chronological order as they write summaries.

Family Literacy Night

Children can learn to enjoy reading early in life by listening to storybooks read by parents or other caregivers. By participating in storybook reading, they learn a variety of literacy skills that prepare them for learning to read.

Retelling Stories

Students at a young age need to begin experiencing retelling stories. Once a story is read to them, they should be encouraged to retell the events that occurred in the story.

Literature Circles

Literature circles are small groups of students meeting to discuss an assigned book. In the groups, students analyze a reading through interaction and discussion. Not only can this activity help ELLs with comprehension, but also communication.

Hands-On Activities

All students learn in different ways, and ELLs are no exception. Creating opportunities for hands-on learning in the classroom can provide another way for students to grasp difficult concepts.

Graphic Organizers

One common strategy for English language learners is to visualize concepts to help connect ideas. Graphic organizers apply this concept and allow ELLs to better understand the material while learning important vocabulary. Organizers provide a concrete representation of ideas that might be difficult to grasp otherwise.