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Supporting English Language Learners: Scaffolding Instruction

How can I scaffold learning for ELLs?

EL Education supports full access to standards-aligned curriculum for ELLs. When this curriculum is delivered with scaffolds that are standards-based, research-aligned, culturally and academically respectful, grounded in the strengths and needs of the individual student, and surrounded by supportive school culture, we believe we have laid the groundwork for ELL academic success.

The individual's whole experience is built upon the plan of his language. Henri Delacroix

Learning Target

I can scaffold instruction to support ELL achievement.

Statistic courtesy of National Center for Educational Statistics, retrieved from

Watch: Scaffolding Literacy Instruction for ELLs

In the video below, Caitlin LeClair, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, supports her students to read complex texts about South Sudan.  Watch the video and reflect upon the following questions:

  1. What are some possible considerations to take into account when preparing to teach students to read complex text? 
  2. In Caitlin LeClair’s classroom, what strategies are used to support students to approach complex texts?  

Review: Strategies to Support Stages of Language Acquisition

There are multi-faceted characteristics to consider when making curriculum decisions involving ELLs. Review EL Education’s Suggested Strategies to Support Stages of Language Acquisition for a quick list of classroom strategies at various stages of the language acquisition process, from beginners to advanced speakers.  Reflect on the following:

  1. What do you notice about the strategies suggested for early speakers? How do the strategies change as students gain more experience and comfort with the language?   
  2. Why is it necessary to take into account a student’s stage of language acquisition when working with ELLs?

Read: ELL Scaffolds: Sensitive, Standards-Based, and Scholarly

Working with English Language Learners requires strategic and thoughtful scaffolding. To ensure that your students have the tools necessary to approach new content and cultural knowledge, read page 9 of EL Education’s Guide to Supporting English Language Learners, the section on ELL Scaffolds: Sensitive, Standards-Based, and Scholarly.  Then respond to these questions:

  1. What is a scaffold? How does it differ from an accommodation or modification?
  2. What are the characteristics of a thoughtful scaffold for English Language Learners?

Dig Deeper

Increase Student Interaction with “Think-Pair-Shares” and “Circle Chats”:  The use of structured classroom protocols with ELLs not only results in increased language skills, but it can also lead to a boost in student confidence. Read about two protocols that you can implement in your classroom in this resource from ¡Colorín Colorado!

Video Playlist: Engaging ELLs in Academic Conversations: The videos in this series from the Teaching Channel highlight three classrooms using clear structures to help students engage in academic conversations, which particularly benefit ELLs. 

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers...

  1. As a teacher of ELLs, reflect on the students in your class and their current stages of language acquisition. What are some concrete strategies that you can implement in your classroom to ensure that you are supporting and challenging your students at various stages of language acquisition?   
  2. What are some of the challenges or obstacles you face as a teacher of English Language Learners? What are two approaches or practices that you can realistically take on in order to support all students in your classroom community?

For School Leaders...

  1. As a school leader, how are curricular and instructional decisions made regarding the instruction of culturally and linguistically diverse students at your school? What are some concrete steps you can take to ensure that teachers are receiving the professional learning necessary to support all students in their classrooms?
  2. What are two approaches or best practices that you can take on to support your teachers and classroom community to design effective instructional programs for ELLs?

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EL Education

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