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Supporting English Language Learners: English Language Arts Support

How can I help ELL students master rigorous ELA standards?

Educators recognize our responsibility to hold all students, including English Language Learners (ELLs), to high expectations. This means applying the same rigorous standards to our ELL students. It's a lot to ask of these students- ELLs are simultaneously building oral proficiency, writing skills, and content knowledge- and it requires that teachers provide additional supports. This page explores ways to provide instructional support to help ELLs master rigorous English Language Arts (ELA) standards, using the California state framework as an example.

The future for the increasing number of our students who are English language learners depends on an education that sees, appreciates, and engages their promise. Walqui and van Lier

Learning Target

I can support the academic achievement of ELL students within 5 key themes of English Language Arts. 

Courtesy of Which of the 5 themes do you need to master to understand this comic?

Review: A Framework

In 2012 California revised its English Language Development (ELD) Standards, which guide teachers supporting ELLs, to correspond with the statewide English Language Arts/Literacy standards. The ELD Standards state, “The CA ELD Standards are not intended to replace the CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy. Instead, they amplify the language knowledge, skills, and abilities of these standards, which are essential for ELs to succeed in school while they are developing their English.”
As explained in the English Language Arts/English Language Development Framework, these complementary standards share 5 key themes:

  • Meaning making
  • Language development
  • Effective expression
  • Content knowledge
  • Foundational skills

The sections below explore how to support ELL students’ development within each theme.  

Watch: Meaning Making

Meaning making is the central purpose for interacting with or producing a text.  Watch the video Interacting with Complex Texts: Scaffolding Reading and consider the following questions:

  1. What specific practices does the teacher use to scaffold students’ task of making meaning of this text?
  2. How does this lesson prepare students for the next step in the process, writing their own speeches?

Review the Comprehension Target template on this page of Academic Language and Literacy.  How could you use or adapt this template to support your ELL students?

Watch: Language Development

Language development encompasses vocabulary, academic language, syntax and text structure.  Students must increase their proficiency and sophistication of language in order to make meaning, express themselves effectively, and improve content knowledge. 
Watch the video Academic Discussions: Analyzing Complex Texts and consider the questions below:

  1. How does the structure of the Academic Discussion support ELL students’ language development?
  2. Review Suggested Strategies to Support Stages of Language Acquisition. Which of these practices were used in the video?  Which of these strategies might you adopt in your classroom?

Watch: Effective Expression

Students express their thinking in many ways: writing, speaking, digital media, movement, visuals, and more. 
Watch the video Adapting Socratic Seminar: Senior Project Reflection and reflect on the questions below:

  1. How does the socratic seminar- and the process leading up to it- help build students’ ability to express themselves?
  2. What strategies does the teacher use to ensure students are prepared for this step?

Review the Peer Coaching Seminar Structure document to find concrete steps for conducting an Inside/Outside Seminar, and find practices to support ELL students on page two. 

Watch: Content Knowledge

Students build content knowledge through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  Students benefit from the opportunity to read a wide variety of texts and to engage with texts in real world contexts during inquiry- and project-based learning. 
Watch the video Building Motivation and Skills through Independent Research (part 3 of the Inspiring Excellence series) in which students use English Language Arts skills to learn about scientific content.  As you watch, consider the following:

  1. While this video does not focus specifically on practices for ELL students, it does include strategies for scaffolding the task. Which practices from the video could you use with ELL students?
  2. How do you ensure that all students, including ELLs, are achieving the same content-area learning targets?  How do you check for understanding?  See this video on Schoolwide Structures for Checking for Understanding for specific strategies. 

Visit the site Understanding Language: Language, Literacy, and Learning in the Content Areas from the Stanford Graduate School of Education.  Then explore the content-specific resources for English Language Arts, Math, or Science, including free downloadable lessons for ELA and Math.

Read: Foundational Skills

The foundational skills of literacy include print concepts, phonological awareness, phonics, word recognition, and fluency.  Students need systematic instruction and opportunity to practice these skills. 
Teachers of grades k-5: Visit the Reading Foundational Skills of the Common Core State Standards.  Read the Introduction and then skim the standards beginning with kindergarten and moving through grade five. 

  1. What do you notice about the progression of the foundational standards across the grades?
  2. Are there standards listed here that your ELL students particularly struggle with? 

Teachers of all grades: Review Foundational Literacy Skills for English Language Learners from the California State Department of Education.  Read the summary of key research findings and implications on pages one and two, and guidance charts for your grade(s).  (Secondary teachers, please note that content specific to grades 6-12 begins on page 16 of this document.)

  1. How do these findings and recommendations compare to your experience with ELL students?
  2. Do you or does your school have adequate supports in place for ELL students who are still developing foundational literacy skills?  What additional supports may be required?

Dig Deeper

Zwiers, J., O’Hara, S., & Pritchard, R. (2014).  Common core standards in diverse classrooms. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Differentiated Instruction for English Language Learners: This resource from Colorin colorado! provides strategies for differentiating instruction for ELL students. 

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers...

  1. Consider an English language learner in your class. As you think about the student’s background, character, and dreams, how might you support academic achievement for this student in each of the five themes explored in this PLP?
  2. Reflect upon the videos and practices found on this page.  Which concrete strategies will you commit to implementing in your classroom in the near future, and which in the long term?

For School Leaders...

  1. This page included videos and links to a number of concrete strategies, including a video on schoolwide structures to check for understanding.  What strategies could benefit your ELL students if implemented schoolwide?
  2. How can you support teachers as they build their capacity to serve ELL students? 

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EL Education

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