Share My Lesson

Supporting English Language Learners


American Educator, Spring 2020

Many new teachers enter the classroom without much formal preparation or student-teaching experience with English language learners (ELLs). In fact, many teachers feel that their teacher preparation programs did not adequately prepare them to work with ELLs. Given that nearly one in four students in the United States speaks a language other than English at home, and increasing numbers of educators are working with diverse student populations, it is vital that both new and experienced teachers have access to resources to help ELLs succeed.

According to Education Northwest and Colorín Colorado, educators working with ELLs should keep in mind four basic principles and big ideas as they plan lessons and carry out instruction: (1) ELLs move through different stages as they acquire English proficiency; (2) there is a difference between conversational and academic language; (3) ELLs need instruction that will allow them to meet content standards; and (4) ELLs bring their own background knowledge to school.

Share My Lesson has resources available to help all teachers and paraprofessionals apply these principles in their schools. Below, we highlight several resources from Share My Lesson collaborator Colorín Colorado, the most widely used online resource for educators and families of ELLs and a partnership project coproduced by the AFT and PBS station WETA.

ELLs Move through Different Stages as They Acquire English Proficiency

An important first step for educators when meeting a new ELL student is to assess his or her current level of English proficiency. Then, each month, teachers should track students’ progress over time. This is essential because learning a new language is a complex process, and each student learns at his or her own pace.

In order to ensure that instruction meets the needs of each ELL, educators should keep track of students’ academic language usage and understanding. For resources on tracking academic language use, check out “ELL Starter Kit for Educators.” This kit from Colorín Colorado includes lists of common classroom phrases in English and Spanish and cognates, as well as forms for measuring student progress.

There Is a Difference between Conversational and Academic Language—ELLs Need Instruction That Will Allow Them to Meet Content Standards

Sometimes educators may feel like their students are making progress because they are conversing more in English. While this is certainly something to celebrate from a social perspective, it’s important not to lose sight of the need for students to learn the particular English phrases that will help them succeed academically. In “Encouraging ELL Student Language Use,” a video from Colorín Colorado, ELL expert Kenji Hakuta helps teachers work with students on learning language for standardized assessments. Also, be sure to check out another Colorín Colorado resource, “Signal Words for ELLs,” to aid students in their reading of academic texts.

ELLs Bring Their Own Background Knowledge

In addition to working on academic language acquisition, educators should acknowledge the background knowledge that ELLs bring to school. Teachers can create space for students to express and use their unique strengths and life experiences as either first- or second-generation students in American schools. To foster inclusive classrooms, “A Culturally Responsive Guide to Fostering the Inclusion of Immigrant-Origin Students,” a resource from Re-imagining Migration, offers specific strategies for identifying ELLs’ strengths and understanding the challenges they face.

Just as important, teachers can reach out to parents of ELLs, despite language differences. An educator toolkit from Colorín Colorado on this very topic offers suggestions on communicating with parents about supporting their children’s literacy skills and academic success.

To see what other resources Share My Lesson offers to support teachers of English language learners, visit our entire collection of educator-generated lesson plans, resources, and activities specifically for ELLs. If you have additional ideas or requests, please reach out to us at


American Educator, Spring 2020