More Than English: Teaching Language & Content to ELLs

Resources for teaching English Language Development (ELD)

ELD Strategies by Content Area

Questioning Strategies

  • Check for comprehension:  No matter what subject or level of ELD, effective questioning is crucial.  Never say, “Do you understand?”  because you will more than likely get a positive nod.  Or the student might say, “No, I don’t get it” which won’t help you or the student at all.  So be specific with your questions, and be aware of the level of thinking you are evaluating.  Require students to respond in a complete sentence.  “I don’t understand  (what, why, how) ______.”   See  sample questions and activities and DOK (Depth of Knowledge) Question Stems.
  • Teach students how to create questions:  Use this Question Creation Chart.
  • The Art of Questioning:  The Teacher’s Role by Heather Clayton Whit

Active Listening Strategies

Vocabulary and Academic Language*vocab kids know a word when from

  • Which words matter most? This excellent article by Erick Hermann is an excellent overview on picking vocabulary for English learners.
  • Identify important words in text, by typing in up to 65,000 text characters into WordSift and get the 50 most frequent words in the selection, excluding function words, in a tag cloud.
  • Determine which academic words to teach. This academic vocabulary list from Iredell-Statesville schools in NC lists academic vocabulary by grade levels K-English II.  Here’s another academic vocabulary list from Berkeley for grades K-12.
  • Teach word parts – roots, prefixes, and suffixes.   Here’s a quick list of 100 from UCLA.
  • Cognates are words that are spelled similarly or identically in Spanish and English and have the same or similar meanings.  They are found at all frequency levels from the simple (car-carro) to the complex (analogy-analogía).  You can use the free online Find A Cognate database to find if a cognate exists by either typing in an English word or a Spanish word.  Or try this site for more cognate searches by subject area or by ending, or for a list of false cognates that confuse Spanish speaking students.
  • Unlocking Language for English-Learners:  Excellent article on how to teach the “mortar” words, those tricky words that connect the “bricks.”
  • Pre-Teach academic vocabulary: Use these 7 steps for pre-teaching vocabulary by Margarita Calderon as a framework for your vocabulary lessons.  Stay on target while you customize it with your favorite activities.
  • 10 Principles for Effective Vocabulary Instruction (and 10 Things to Avoid!)
  • Introduce new words in context, by theme:  
    • Word Generation Free. Designed for middle and high school, weekly units introduce 5 high utility academic vocabulary words in brief passages on controversial subjects currently under debate in this country. For example, “Should students be paid to do well in school?” introduces implement, motivate,undertake, incentive, and enables in a short passage about a program in New York City public schools which paid students who did well
    • Spelling City:  Free (more activities available for a $50 annual fee).  Lists by grade level or subject – from Dolch words to science or math vocabulary lists from K through high school –  with dictated quizzes, printable quizzes, games, handwriting sheets, flash cards, and more.
  • Have fun with words!  
    • Vocabulary Password Game:  A customizable vocabulary practice game in PowerPoint.  One student stands with his back to the screen where a word is projected.  The class gives the student clues.
    • Inside Story Flash Cards:  Build vocabulary using these stunning photographs with concise definitions and illustrative sentences.  Random selections are categorized  as “basic (tiger, flowerpot, eighty), easy (meager, underhanded, subterranean), medium (incompliant, domicile, expire), or hard (fugacious, legerdemain, notation).”  Excellent resource for explicit teaching of root words, suffixes, and prefixes!  NOTE:  words are in miscellaneous order, so prepare yourself and your students for random investigations.
    • Video clips for vocabulary of the week:  Entertaining video clips from a teacher named “Devin” illustrate words from ambivalent to supercilious.
    • More vocabulary games from the UK
  • Identify which words need to be taught.  Cutting to the Common Core: Making Vocabulary Number One.   This excellent article by Dr. Kate Kinsella shows how and why academic language must be taught across the curriculum in order for ELLs to successfully meet the higher demands of the Common Core Standards.  She offers strategies for prioritizing vocabulary for competent text analysis, discussion, and constructed response.  Teaching Language, August 23, 2013
  • Academic Word Finder.  Use this free tool from Achieve the Core to locate Tier 2 academic vocabulary in any text.  Copy and paste your chosen text and select your grade level.  The Tier 2 words will be highlighted in the text and you will get a list of the words plus definitions.  It will also show you how many of the Tier 2 words are on your selected grade level, above it, and below it. 

Reading StrategiesFry Sight Word Cards

Visual Literacy – Diagrams

  • Don’t assume that diagrams or illustrations are self-explanatory.  There is so much emphasis on “providing visuals” that we take it for granted our students can read and use the diagrams in texts such as tables, maps, scientific illustrations, or timelines.  Unfortunately, they often skip over the illustrations and captions without comprehending what they add to the “big picture.”
  • For specific suggestions, read this article on Science Visual Literacy: Learners’ Perceptions and Knowledge of Diagrams.
  • Poster Analysis Worksheet:  Have students research posters online and analyze their message.
  • Use art to build literacy. Over 1200 art-based lesson plans from Crayola, searchable by subject matter and grade level.

Writing Strategies

  • Use the WIDA writing rubric to evaluate student writing.
  • Collect information or organize notes on a Master Grid:  This is a simple graphic organizer that you set up specifically for each class or subject.  Select the column and row headings in advance.  Fill in one for yourself as a reminder of the key concepts and vocabulary you want the students to master.  You can model this technique with the whole class, and even post a large version you create together on newsprint. Remember to only use phrases or key words and not complete sentences.  Students then pull the information from the grid to use in their sentences, paragraphs, or even essays.  The students process the language and the concepts twice and are precluded from copying from the text or other resources since they have to fill in the grid first. These incomplete sample grids are just intended to get you started.  Some have two boxes at the bottom, one for academic language (the Tier III words in bold print words in texts) and one for language usage (the Tier II words that they also need to master):  Master Grid Branches of Government     Master Grid Branches of Government without word bank     Master Grid Romeo and Juliet    Master Grid Symbiotic Algae
  • Teach students how to write a Powerful Sentence.  If they can’t write a sentence, they certainly can’t write a paragraph!  Download, print, and laminate these cards:  Starters/Transitions   Adjective   Noun   Verb   Adverb   How   Why   When   Where  To model this strategy to the class for the first time, choose a topic they can all talk about such as “penguins.”  (Begin with plural nouns so you can avoid entanglements with irregular verbs.)  Then elicit suggestions from the class for each category.  Never use “are” as the verb – that’s NOT powerful!  Also, the verb can also include the object or be a verb phrase, such as “eat fish” or “play jump rope” or “throw the ball.”  The first time you do this, your starter will be “the” with a lower case “t” and you will only use a couple of the green cards.  Write their suggestions on the appropriate card with a dry erase marker.  Then hand out the cards in random order to the students and ask them to arrange themselves into a sentence. (Or you can attach the cards to the board with magnets and move them around.)  Read the sentence out loud with the class; let them make any adjustments to the word order.  The first time around, they will probably have the green cards at the end.  Show them how they can rearrange the sentence by beginning with a green card.  Then ask them again if they want to make additional changes.  They will soon see a variety of options.  You can project or print out this Powerful Sentences Patterning Chart for the students to use independently.  If they write their words on post-its, they can move them around.
  • Word Bank Suggestions for Powerful Sentences Patterning Chart  Transition words for sequence, compare and contrast, opinion and point of view, cause and effect, and fact or reference;  and suggested “travelers.”
  • More Tips on How to Use Powerful Sentences Patterning Chart and Cards
  • This is a rubric created by fourth graders, Check to see if your sentence is powerful.  Have your students create their own rubric so they “own” it.
  • Use graphic organizers to plan writing or to comprehend reading.  Interactive Graphic Organizers: A wide variety of templates with text boxes you can download, fill in online, and print.  More Interactive Graphic Organizers from Action Learning Systems.

Math Strategies

Science Strategies

Social Studies Strategies (for Science, too)

  • Identify key vocabulary and academic vocabulary.  See vocabulary section above.
  • Preview the text with the students.  Try BIG FOX  to map out chapters in advance.
  • Prepare multimedia, visuals, and related readings:  photos, videos, podcasts. Keep visuals posted!
  • Include group work throughout the unit:  Reciprocal Teaching,Think-Pair-Share.
  • Show students how to use graphic organizers, flash cards, sticky notes, and highlighters.
  • Provide models and sentence frames for writing assignments.
  • Adapt homework and assessment so ELLs can show what they have learned.
  • How to Make texts accessible (article from Colorín Colorado).

Resources by Content Area

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