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Supporting English Language Learners with LessonPix

Teaching English in the classroom to students who have limited English language understanding can be challenging. Over 10 percent of students in the United States are English Language Learners (ELLs), and this number is increasing. 

The 2020 Global Pandemic forced families and schools to adapt instruction and rely on remote learning strategies. Many inspiring stories emerged of teachers going above and beyond, finding innovative ways to connect and instruct. While some students adapted well, many struggled and now present with learning loss. New programs are being implemented with funding opportunities to address learning recovery. (Learn More about Learning Recovery Here).

LessonPix can address learning loss and help improve learning outcomes. For example, students and families who speak languages other than English at home are supported by the Translation Tool feature in LessonPix, that allows resources to be translated with the click of a button into any language supported by Google Translate. 

As teachers try to respond to the needs of these students, here are a few basic best practices that might help.


1. Connect with Your Students

A successful classroom is one in which students feel known, appreciated, and comfortable taking risks. The little things make a big difference. Make a genuine effort to get to know them.

Start the day with warm greetings. Consider how the students feel in the classroom. Can the ELL student sit next to a buddy who also speaks their home language? Does the student feel comfortable tapping your shoulder when they need to use the bathroom? Does the classroom library reflect the students’ diverse backgrounds and identities?

Building rapport will go a long way in helping students learn better.



2. Learn about Students’ Cultural Background

ELL students learn by relating new information to their own experiences. Do some research to familiarlize yourself with your students’ culture, customs, and every day lives. Use that information in the classroom.  

Students need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum materials that educators use. When they see individuals centered in their learning materials that look like them, act like them, talk like them and represent their family units it provides a mirror to their identity and allows for connections to be built.

Offer a wide variety of books that represent students and their experiences. Kids are more likely to read, understand and enjoy books that they find captivating, which includes some characters that look and think like them and speak their own language. 

LessonPix offers a set of characters from diverse backgrounds. In addition, the recolor tool allows LessonPix members to customize characters to match physical attributes. 


3. Establish Routines

ELL students thrive with routine and structure. State the learning objectives so the students know the purpose of the activity and can better comprehend the content.



4. Teach Language Across the Curriculum

Content classes give English language learners a context to learn language. ELL Students should be applying their developing language skills to all subjects. During math, teach the language of math; in science, teach the language of science. During math, take the time to teach the unfamiliar vocabulary of mathematics—add, subtract, calculator, solve—concurrently with the teaching of math skills.

Here is a math mat with visuals of math vocabulary. Laminate and use dry erase markers to work out the problem or use on PowerPoint Download or Smartboard. 


5. Speak Slowly and Increase Wait Time 

This simple change is vital. When posing a question, wait three to five seconds before calling on a student to answer. If we call on students too quickly, many of our students will stop thinking about the answers—or trying to answer at all. In addition, adding a few extra seconds after we pose a question offers all students time to think, and for English learners, it gives time to translate, process their thinking, translate back into English, and develop the courage to answer.

If there are multiple people working a room such as teachers, paras, therapists, and volunteers, display a visual reminder to talk slower and wait. 


6. Make Things Visual

Teaching with visual representations of concepts can be hugely helpful to ELLs. All kids learn better when they engage with material in multiple ways. Use visuals, sketches, gestures, songs, intonation, and other non-verbal cues to make both language and content more accessible to students. Use puppets, question visuals and other visual supports within the lesson for deeper understanding. 

Label everything! Using labels on everyday classroom items (like chairs, doors, computers, etc.) will help students learn new vocabulary. Here is a sample of kitchen vocabulary for cooking project. 

Word Walls help create a print-rich environment. When the words are accompanied with pictures, students can match the meanings with the words.



7. Introduce New Vocabulary Before Use in Lessons

Introducing unit vocabulary prior to the lesson will familiarize the English Language Learner with important words before they read them in context. Consider making a unit word wall or bulletin board for reference.



8. Incorporate Students' Native Languages 

Bilingualism is the goal, of course, not replacement. A teacher may encourage a student to preview materials in their home language prior to learning it in English.


Embrace technologies that students find helpful, like Google Translate. LessonPix offers out Translation Tool to convert symbols into other languages. Learn more


9. Emphasize Productive Language

Beginning English language learners often develop receptive language skills like listening and reading first. Educators who are unaware of the typical path to fluency may believe that students who can follow verbal or written directions will be able to produce oral or written language, but that’s usually not the case. To support reluctant speakers, Tan Huynh, an educator who blogs at Empowering ELLs, suggests using sentence frames. “For example, when a science teacher wants ELLs to produce a hypothesis, they might offer the sentence, ‘If _____ was added, then _____ because _____.’ This sentence frame provides clues that empower ELLs to sound and think like scientists,” Huynh says.



10. Check for Understanding

Regularly check that students are understanding the lesson. It is surprising how many students pretend they understand when they don’t. The question, “Do you understand?” will almost always result with a yes, because students generally want to please their teacher.

After an explanation or lesson, a teacher could say, “Please put thumbs up, thumbs down, or sideways to let me know if this is clear, and it’s perfectly fine if you don’t understand or are unsure—I just need to know.” This last phrase is essential if you want students to respond honestly. 



For more infomration check out these resources: 

Kaplan, Emily, "6 Essential Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners", Edutopia. April 12, 2019

"What is ELL in Education and Why is it important?", University of the People,