Helpful Documents


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G and Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. Guilford Press. ISBN 1572307536

The "IES Practice Guide - Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices" or available at: IES What Works Clearinghouse

McWilliam, N. (1998). What’s In a Word: Vocabulary Development in Multilingual Classrooms. Stylus Publishing (Trentham Books) http://trentham.styluspub.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=45018

Best Practices

Although there are many instructional strategies that work well with ELL students, this is a sampling of some that you may want to try with your students.

Accountable Talk: Accountable talk reinforces the idea that students learn best when they are actively involved in their own learning. Accountable talk is not just talking to talk or to contribute to the discussion – with accountable talk students demonstrate and further their understanding of the material by challenging assumptions or opinions, providing evidence for their assertions, or clarifying their or other’s positions. In the beginning, the teacher typically needs to provide a lot of support in helping model accountable talk and set norms. One of the goals is to gradually decrease the teacher’s role and guidance with accountable talk, and have students assume the facilitator role. More information can be found at: http://www.pps.k12.pa.us/143110127103415203/lib/143110127103415203/video/ilp/at1.html


An example of accountable talk would be to have students provide evidence or explain their reasoning when they talk about a character’s traits in literacy or provide the answer to a math problem.

Body Movements/Kinesthetics: Using body movements and gestures in your teaching can help convey information to students who are still in the beginning stages of acquiring English. Having students use kinesthetic and body movements to help practice or reinforce skills and knowledge creates physical context for their learning and will appeal to students who learn better through movement.

An example of using kinesthetics might be to have students play vocabulary charades by acting out vocabulary words, or have them act out/reenact science concepts or important historical moments.

Books on Tape: Books that have accompanying tapes or CDs can help provide support as students learn to read independently. They can also be a part of lending libraries, so that students can take books home. Having a tape or CD that models fluent and accurate reading can help ensure that students are reading at home. If you can’t find books on tape for your students, you can create them yourself – and students might be more interested in using them if they know you (or one of your friends or family members) recorded the tape.

Building Background Knowledge: Although several strategies can be used to “build background” (i.e. introducing visuals, realia, graphic organizers, etc.), taking the time to discuss what students already know about a topic before you delve into it helps students make more of the lesson. Building background helps students make connections between their life experiences and the new topic before you introduce new material, which helps provide them with the context they need to learn the new material.
Before beginning a lesson on the presidency, you can have students turn and talk to a partner or small group about what they already know and then create a class web diagram.

Calla: Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach is designed to provide comprehensible instruction for ELL students through language development, content area instruction, and explicit instruction in learning strategies. For examples of how to implement Calla, you can view a PowerPoint created by Anna Uhl Chamot and Jill Robbins for the National Capital Language Resource Center: external image vnd.ms-powerpoint.png callafl.ppt

Check for Understanding: It is very important to be constantly checking to make sure that students understand what is being taught. Don’t take for granted that students understand what you’ve taught if you ask them, “Do you understand?” and they say “Yes” or nod their heads. To check that students understand you can ask them to put the learning objective into their own words, retell the important parts of the story, fill out a KWL chart, or write down a “3, 2, 1.” In a KWL chart, students write down what they know (K) and what they want to know (W) before the lesson. At the end the fill out what they have learned (L). This can be done individually or as a class. The “3, 2, 1” activity asks students to write down three things they’ve learned, two things they skill don’t understand, and one question that they have. This activity can be used as an opening assignment to start a lesson or as an exit slip to check understanding.

Cloze Activities: The teacher prepares a written passage in which vocabulary words are eliminated throughout a sentence or a paragraph. The student completes the sentence or paragraph by filling the blacks with writing in words or synonyms from the word bank. This can be done by removing vocabulary words from a passage students have already read, or a new one created by the teacher.

Conferences: Beyond writing conferences, you should be regularly checking in with your ELL students for all subjects to check their progress and set goals for further growth. This is one of the ways that you can check for understanding, and gives students one-on-one time with the teacher. In each conference discuss what you have seen the student doing well, one or two things that you want them to focus on, and a goal for your next conference.

Demonstrate: Before asking students to complete a task, demonstrate the task for them. This helps ensure that students have a deeper understanding of what is being expected of them, strengthening their ability to complete the task successfully.
For example, demonstrate the way students are supposed to conduct a science experiment before sending them off to try it on their own.

Display Class-Made Charts/Posters: If you make a chart or poster with students (i.e. a word web for “_at” words, or a chart/list of features of different polygons) put the poster up in the classroom for students to reference as they work. It will be more meaningful for them to reference the poster because they watched it develop and helped create it.

Diversify Classroom Libraries: Make sure that your classroom libraries have books from a wide range of genres and topics that represent numerous cultures, and that are at a variety of reading levels. If possible, find lower-level books that are still high-interest and age-appropriate for your students.

Drama: Having students create plays and dramas gives context for listening, meaningful language production, and vocabulary. It can also provide rich opportunities for reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. It also helps students make learning connections by physically reinforcing reading and writing skills.
For example, if you are studying communities, community issues, health, or government, you can have students write and act out public service announcements for various issues.

Flashcards: Flashcards can be a great way for ELL students to practice and strengthen skills, concepts, and vocabulary that the teacher has already taught. Using flashcards can be particularly helpful and meaningful for students if they are self-created or co-created with others and/or the teacher (however, the teacher should still check to make sure the students’ flashcards are accurate). They can be made out of index cards or other paper, and even hole punched and put on a loose leaf ring so that students can take them home with them or to other classes. Flashcards can be created to help students learn numbers, vocabulary words, multiplication tables, or the phases of a crustacean’s life cycle.

Graphic Organizers: There are a whole host of graphic organizers that you can use to help students visualize the information that you are presenting. Graphic organizers can be used to help students build background before the lesson, help them understand and organize the new information during the lesson, or help them practice or expand on the lesson’s skills afterward. You can find free graphic organizers at: http://freeology.com/graphicorgs/index.php.

Give Options for Completing Tasks: Provide students with a variety of options for completing a task. For one assignment, allow students to write an essay, create a brochure, or develop and informative poster – all of which should still be tied to your learning objectives and state standards. This can help students master the content of the lesson, while differentiating the assignment for different ability levels.

For example, if your unit is on Shakespeare and his influence on modern literature, allow students to do a presentation, write an essay, or create a brochure for their end-of-unit culminating project.

Graphic Novels: Graphic novels are a great way to get students engaged in reading. The topics tend to be of high interest to students, the pictures support struggling readers, and you can find them for a variety of different ages and reading levels. For example, the publisher The Booksource publishes Graphic Revolve, a collection of 12 of the world’s classic stories retold through the graphic novel format.

Group Work vs. Individual Work: Offer students a chance to work independently, in pairs, or in groups. This allows students to practice working and learning in different contexts, and will appeal to a wider range of students with different learning modalities. Make sure you are purposeful about your groupings and group roles – When is it appropriate to group students homogonously? Heterogeneously? What role should you assign each student in the group based on the skills students need to develop or practice? For example, outgoing and extroverted students tend to volunteer to be the Presenter of the group because they enjoy speaking in front of the class. But you may want to assign this role to a student who needs practice speaking.

Idiom Wall/Idiom Awareness: Most ELLs are in the same boat when it comes to idioms - Idioms are a tricky part of the English language that can be enough to drive an ELL student up the wall. If you don’t want your ELLs pulling their hair out, you’d be wise to either avoid using idioms or, don’t beat around the bush, and explain the ones that you do use. It could be worth your while to create an Idiom Wall to help explain some of the more common idioms used for your student’s age group. Brownie points to you if you caught all the idioms in this paragraph.

Music and Poetry: Incorporating music and poetry into lessons can help students learn language through rhymes and rhythms. It also appeals to students with linguistic and musical intelligences.
You can have students create (or introduce teacher-created) rap songs or poems to learn new vocabulary words in any subject. Or, for practicing the English Regents test, use a song or a poem as one of the two sources students use for their essays.

Peer Tutoring: Have a more advanced student peer tutor a fellow classmate. Not only will the student being tutored benefit from hearing and seeing language use correctly modeled for them, but they may hear the information differently coming from a peer. The student who is acting as the tutor will also benefit from the learning enrichment that comes from teaching others. Two important notes about peer tutoring: (1) asking the tutor ahead of time (if possible) to make sure they are able and willing can increase the success of the partnership; and (2) if a student needs a lot of assistance, you may want to have different tutors for different subjects or rotate them out so the tutors don’t get overwhelmed.

Realia: In addition to pictures and other visuals, realia (or real life objects) help students develop context, vocabulary, and background for lessons by being able to see and touch real objects.
If your lesson or unit is on healthy eating, for example, brining in actual examples of good foods to eat (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.) may be more impactful for students than looking at pictures or reading about them.

Repeat and Rephrase: ELL students often need to hear information multiple times for it to be meaningful for them. When you talk (giving instructions, presenting material) repeat what you say, and rephrase the information. This will give ELL students several opportunities to hear and understand the information.

SIOP: The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) Model was developed to make content comprehensible for ESL instruction. The model includes teacher preparation, instructional indicators such as comprehensible input, and the building of background knowledge. It also includes strategies for classroom organization and instruction delivery. More information can be found at: http://www.siopinstitute.net/research.html.

Student-Created Dictionaries/Glossaries: There are a variety of ways that you can create and use student-created dictionaries and glossaries. They can be a place for students to collect any new or important words, or they can be thematic (such as by subject or class unit). If they are created by the student, there is a better chance that students will use and refer to them, helping develop their vocabulary, reading, and writing skills. You can have students create individual dictionaries or glossaries, or you can have groups or the whole class work on one together.

Think-Pair-Share: When you have students in a group, or on the rug, and you pose a question, have students think-pair-share to answer. The first step is for students to think about the answer themselves, then to “pair” or share their thoughts with a partner. The teacher can even build vocabulary by providing students with specific vocabulary words to use and focus on. Last, the teacher can call on several students to share their answers. This helps students develop language by giving them time to think on their own, listen to a partner, and practice speaking.

Turn and Talk: Similar to think-pair-share, the teacher can ask the students a question and have them turn and talk with a partner. This allows students to practice their speaking skills in a smaller, safer environment, and to develop language by listening to a peer speak.

Thematic Units: Developing thematic units can help students master content more deeply by creating greater context and offering more opportunities to practice skills and language around the theme. Themes can be developed by individual teachers for specific units of study, or can be developed by teams of teachers who all work with the same students.
For example, an elementary school teacher may infuse New York state historical facts into all of her subjects, while a high school grade-level team may do the same.

Total Physical Response (TPR): This strategy stems from the idea that students need time to silently internalize language before producing it on their own. With TPR, students respond to commands or prompts with physical movement.

Variety of Practice Opportunities: Offer a variety of ways for students to practice the same skills. While you may build in opportunities for students to practice and reinforce skills that you have taught, provide a variety of ways for students to do so.
For example, if you are working on a particular math skill, offer students an independent project to practice independently, and a group game to reinforce the same skills.

Visuals: Pictures, drawings, charts, graphs, and illustrations are a great way to provide context for new ideas, skills, and topics. They are also a great tool for developing vocabulary - having students discuss all of the things they see in a picture helps develop contextual and content vocabulary.

Vocabulary Preview: Provide students with a preview of vocabulary words that are important to your upcoming lesson. This helps build context and background information for students before you introduce new material.

Word Games: There are many types of word games that you can find to suit nearly any age level of ELL student. It is important to note, that word games (like any other classroom activity) should not be given as busy work, but should be given to reinforce or practice skills already taught. You can find word game that help practice understanding of vocabulary words (such as crossword puzzles, Cloze activities, etc.), or help students’ understand how letters work together (such as finding little words within big words or from letter combinations).