Supporting English Language Learners: Supportive Environments

How can we create environments that support multilingual students?

The growth of the population of English Language Learners (ELLs) in the United States over the last decade is unmatched in our history. More than one half of states have experienced a growth rate of over 100% in their ELLs numbers (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2011). It is highly likely, then, that even in schools where ELL instruction has been minimal or unnecessary, teachers will now find ELLs in their classes.

It is teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength Maya Angelou

We believe that creating a strong school culture is equally as important as the academic strategies teachers employ (Igoa, 1995; Rodriguez, 2008). In order to help students develop the courage necessary to learn a new language, EL Education schools heavily emphasize the intentional development of a safe, respectful, and diverse school culture. Students’ home languages and cultures are honored through the school’s environment, communications, and organizational structures (Espinoza-Herold, 2003). 

EL Education. (June 2014). Core Beliefs about English Language Learners. 

Learning Targets

  • I can describe the characteristics, conditions and needs necessary in supporting ELLs.
  • I can analyze several approaches to building culture and their applicability to providing a safe, welcoming school/classroom that supports ELLs.

United States Census Bureau. (November 3, 2015). Number of Languages Spoken in the 15 Largest Metro Areas. Retrieved from

Review: U.S. Languages in Context

Review the U.S. Census Bureau post regarding the most comprehensive language data ever released by the U.S. Census, and reflect on the following questions:

  1. What do you notice about the percentages of languages spoken in each U.S. metro area? 
  2. What are the implications for our schools and language programs? 

Read: Core Beliefs about English Language Learners

Read EL Education’s stance on the education of ELLs outlined in Core Beliefs about English Language Learners, and consider the following questions:

  1. According to EL Education’s beliefs about ELLs, what role does native language and home culture play in building school culture?
  2. Why is creating a strong school culture equally as important as the academic strategies teachers employ in the classroom? 

Watch: Meet the Author: Pat Mora

Watch Mexican-American author and poet Pat Mora speak about her school experience (up to minute 3:31) and reflect on the following questions:

  1. In her interview, Pat Mora states, “To some extent, I never noticed that part of what I was, was missing at school.” What is the author trying to convey here? Who is typically represented in school culture and curriculum? 
  2. How might this statement be applicable to the education of English Language Learners at your school? 
  3. As educators, how can we ensure that our students are seeing themselves reflected not only in the classroom, but also in the larger school community?

Reading Rockets (April 20, 2011). Pat Mora. Retrieved from

Read: All Languages Welcome Here

Explore recommendations to employ and avoid when supporting the creation of a multilingual learning environment in the article All Languages Welcome Here

  1. What are three practices to avoid when building a multilingual learning environment? Are you currently employing any of these practices at your school or within your classroom community? If so, how can you adjust your practice to embrace a more supportive and multilingual school setting for your students?
  2. Explore the five practices to adopt. As teachers, how can we encourage students to bring their home languages and cultures into the school and classroom community?  

Dig Deeper

Number and Share of English Language Learners by State: An interactive map from the Migration Policy Institute that displays the number of English Language Learners (ELLs) enrolled in public schools per state.

The Learning Leader/The Value of Culture*:  An article from Educational Leadership that explores two real-world examples that demonstrate the power of high-interest cultural content in motivating language learners.
*Educational Leadership® (a/k/a EL®) is a publication of ASCD and in no way affiliated with EL Education.

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers...

  1. Are there current obstacles to your school’s ability to create a safe, welcoming school environment that supports ELLs? If so, what are some concrete steps that you can take in order to build culture and initiate change?
  2. What are two approaches or practices that you can realistically take on in order to build culture in your classroom? 

For School Leaders...

  1. What is your vision for serving ELLs and their families in your school community? What concrete steps will you take to ensure that you obtain this vision?
  2. How will you create and support a school culture that builds and celebrates English Language Learners across the school? How will you sustain this culture? 
  3. What potential barriers or obstacles do you foresee? How will you address these barriers?

Created By

EL Education

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