Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners In Elementary and Middle School–Part 1

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

The Storyteller's Candle
from The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucia Gonzalez

Many of our classrooms include students whose home language is not English. In fact, EngageNY released a report documenting that in 2012-2013 New York State alone taught students who spoke more than 140 languages at home with Spanish making up nearly 65% of all English Language Learners.

Teaching students who are English Language Learners is enormously rewarding and meaningful. However, it at times can feel overwhelming, especially for those who have ever juggled multiple languages at once in the same classroom, supported a student whose language few of their peers or staff spoke, or worked with a student who had little formal school experience beforehand.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released a new practice guide for teaching academic content and literacy to English Learners in elementary and middle school. In this report, IES presents four recommendations to teach and develop English language skills in grades K-8.

Prestwick Café describes why it is critical to give students tools they can apply on their own, like Greek and Latin roots, and points out that even if we teach 10 new words a week all school year long, that is merely 400 vocabulary words—not nearly enough for a student’s journey to become “career and college ready” by high school graduation. While we can not teach every vocabulary word that our students will need or might come across in their reading, we can give them the strategies to build their vocabulary with and without us.

Over the next few weeks, we will focus on the practice guide’s first recommendationchoosing and teaching a set of academic vocabulary words over the course of several days in a variety of instructional activities and what it looks like in action with our books. Using the IES practice guide, we will demonstrate how to choose a text for English Language Learners and significant vocabulary words, to teach selected words, and to incorporate listening, speaking, writing, and reading practice for ELLs in vocabulary instruction.


Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche
Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche

Additional information, activities and advice for educators and Spanish-speaking families of English Language Learners (ELLs) can be found at ¡Colorín Colorado!

Further reading on supporting English Language Learners in the classroom from The Open Book blog: