More Than English: Teaching Language & Content to ELLs

Resources for teaching English Language Development (ELD)

December 9, 2016
by Jessica Loose
1 Comment

10 Offers of Wisdom from Fictional Characters – Give the Gift of Reading

When I read this article by Starr Sackstein in Education Week over coffee this morning, I was compelled to share.  It was such a treat to read something more than a tweet, a meme, or a well known and oft shared quote.10-offers-of-wisdom

I was inspired all over again by characters in The Chamber of Secrets, The Great Gatsby, The Little Prince, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird – books that I love, some of which I have reread with pleasure and new insight.

But wait! Isn’t this supposed to be a blog about how best to teach English Language Learners and the strategies and resources best attuned to their instruction needs?  I can hear you now, “My fourth grade ELLs can’t read Harry Potter books.”  “Just try getting middle school ELLs to read F. Scott Fitzgerald, and then come back to me with your offers of wisdom.” “Forget about Jane Austen, are you nuts?”

This just makes the case stronger for reading aloud to students of all ages.

Share the gift of reading with your students. Take away the struggles and the embarrassment, the resignation and the fear. Give them characters who are facing down real life problems, or escaping pretend nightmares. Give them the chance to escape into a good story. Challenge them to connect to the characters’ struggles and accomplishments to their own lives. Imagine classroom discussions about some of these quotes from the article:

  • “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
  • “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
  •  “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” 

It is fair to say that most ELLs understand more English than what they can read independently.  And they certainly have hearts and minds!  Sure, you still need to teach vocabulary, practice comprehension strategies, and all the rest of what is entailed in teaching language and content objectives.  Just don’t focus on the “hard stuff” to the point of excluding the real pleasures of reading.  Read aloud should not be a filler when you have extra time or an afterthought.  Write it into your schedule, include it in your lesson plans.  

Give the Gift of Reading! 

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November 10, 2016
by Jessica Loose

Bilingual Reading Comprehension Prompts are Here!

A third grade teacher recently asked me if I had any resources that would build reading comprehension with her ELLs. Around the same time, I began co-teaching an ESL class for the parents of our elementary school students and training volunteer tutors in our local family literacy outreach program.  

The parents, the teachers, and the volunteers all needed something that was easy to use and that could be adapted for different levels of reading proficiency and Lexile levels.  I wanted the resource to be useful for the adults and fun for the children.  I wanted to promote academic language and a love of reading simultaneously.  These cards are the result.


  • Every card is bilingual so teachers who don’t speak or read  Spanish can include their students.  Parents who don’t speak or read English can enter into conversations with the children.
  • Questions are worded so they can be used with any text.
  • Skills are color coded so you can practice one skill set at a time:  Author’s Purpose, Characters, Story Plot, and Inferring
  • Each skill has a carefully selected icon to reinforce the concept.  For example, the Infer cards have a detective.
  • Academic language is incorporated in the cards with student friendly explanations.

Try them out and let me how they work for you!  Just click here to get to TpT.

Thanks and happy teaching!  More bilingual materials are in the works…

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August 21, 2016
by Jessica Loose
1 Comment

ELD Lesson Planning – It doesn’t need to take HOURS!

Yes, you can combine language and content objectives on one page.  You can even map out a full week!

The challenge of teaching both language and content to ELLs is enormous.  Your school has told you what to teach (content).  Your school has given you the class lists so you know whom you will be teaching (the ELLs).  And your school has made it clear that these students must demonstrate their mastery of English (language).  

Now it is up to you to figure out how to do it.  After several years of teaching ESL, I figured out how to design comprehensive lesson plans that include Student Levels of Proficiency, Essential Question, Content and Language Objectives, Academic Vocabulary, Bloom’s Levels of Learning – AND – the nuts and bolts of Strategies, Prep, Assessment, and Reflection. 

He who thinks he knows2

Disclaimer:  I don’t know everything!  But I think my approach is useful nevertheless.  (I found this drawing twenty years ago and would credit the artist if I knew where it came from.)

Follow these steps and enter the information in the lesson planning template below, and you’ll be off to a great start:

  • Gather all the information you can on the language proficiency of your students in Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing. Fill in this CAN-DO Descriptors class name chart created by WIDA so you can plan for individual and small group needs. Copy and paste the CAN-DO Descriptors for your grade level.  Keep in mind that the students’ latest test scores are designed to show what they know.  As you map out your teaching, consider the skills necessary to advance to the next level.
  • Select the content objectives for each subject area. For ELA, we are lucky that Tulare, CA has shared these ELA Bookmarks that include essential skills and concepts, academic vocabulary, and questions stems.  Expeditionary Learning, also in CA, created these  Student Friendly Math “I Can” Statements.
  • Determine which vocabulary needs to be taught. Here are strategies for teaching academic vocabulary.
  • Choose language objectives based on your students’ proficiency and that fit in with the content you are teaching.
  • Collect resources on the content topic you are teaching so that you have books, magazines, and weblinks available at varying levels of complexity. I usually raid the school and public libraries at the beginning of each unit so I can spread out a wide range of books on the floor for the students to explore.
  • NOW, you can start to “plan” your activities, your pre- and post- assessments, and all those other instructional goodies. If you do steps 1-4 first, the actual lesson planning will be a breeze.

This is a completed lesson plan for third grade ESL Math that gives a quick overview of a full week of lessons.

Download a blank lesson planning template in Word.  The gray boxes are set up for you to fill in and will expand to fit your entries.  When you print the lesson plan, it will be in black and white with no gray shading.

Happy teaching!

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September 20, 2015
by Jessica Loose

Keeping Quiet

I share this poem by Pablo Neruda in the names of the millions of people displaced, homeless, and in search of peace and security for their children.

Keeping Quiet 

Now we will all count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fisherman in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could perhaps do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

                                         -English translation by Stephen Mitchell


A callarse 

Ahora contaremos doce
y nos quedamos todos quietos.

Por una vez sobre la tierra
no hablemos en ningún idioma,
por un segundo detengámonos,
no movamos tanto los brazos.

Sería un minuto fragante,
sin prisa, sin locomotoras,
todos estaríamos juntos
en una inquietud instantánea.

Los pescadores del mar frió
no harían daño a las ballenas
y el trabajador de la sal
miraría sus manos rotas.

Los que preparan guerras verdes,
guerras de gas, guerras de fuego,
victorias sin sobrevivientes,
se pondrían un traje puro
y andarían son sus hermanos
por la sombra, sin hacer nada.

No se confunda lo quiero
con la inacción definitiva:
la vida es solo lo que se hace,
no quiero nada con la muerte.

Si no pudimos ser unánimes
moviendo tanto nuestras vidas
tal vez no hacer nada una vez,
tal vez un gran silencio pueda
interrumpir esta tristeza,
este no entendernos jamás
y amenazarnos con la muerte,
tal vez la tierra nos enseñe
cuando todo parece muerto
y luego todo estaba vivo.

Ahora contare hasta doce
y tú te callas y me voy.

                                – by Pablo Neruda

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September 13, 2015
by Jessica Loose

I finished testing, what now?

Starting a new school year is a frenetic whirlwind of endless preparation, meetings, lesson planning, room arranging – AND – English proficiency testing for the newly enrolled students.  I’m so relieved when I have finished testing all the new kindergartners and newcomers that I want to dive right into teaching.   I let the classroom teachers know which students qualify for ESL services, I get my schedule approved by the principal. I even manage to send home all those fall Parental Notification Letters with the test results.  OK, now I’m ready for the fun stuff.

But wait!  I need to slow down and think a little more about the mainstream teachers.  I gave them a quick review of the W-APT (our English proficiency screener) scores but was that enough?  Do they know how to address their ELLs’ needs in the classroom? Kindergarten teachers are a little better prepared for the challenges of differentiation because they are teaching beginning literacy skills to all of their students.  The challenges are considerably greater for teachers in the higher grades in elementary, middle, and secondary school .  They are naturally more focused on content objectives and more likely to be flummoxed by how to incorporate language objectives in their lessons.  If their ELLs are fluent in conversational English (BICS), the teachers may mistakenly believe their academic language skills (CALPs) are equally well developed.

The ESL teacher can make it a little easier for the classroom teachers even if they don’t have the time for a lengthy conference about their ELLs. They are as pressed for time as anyone else this time of year.  A more useful approach is to prepare a chart of their ELL students’ Can Do Descriptors for listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  This will give them a quick reference guide to the respective needs of their ELLs.  You will be starting the year as a useful ally, and the classroom teacher will have a better idea of their students’ actual language abilities. 

Download the charts below and can add student names to the corresponding proficiency levels to create a quick class profile of your ELLs.
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August 8, 2015
by Jessica Loose

Want to be smart? Learn a foreign language…

A recent post from Brain Blogger touted the advantages of being multilingual.  Not only is it good for education and business in an interconnected world, it is good for your brain!  A recent study shows that bilingualism can not only improve brain functioning but also keep age-related neural disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at bay.

I am now reworking my entire site to make it easier to use and to prepare for the opening of my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  This project may also help me keep dementia at bay as I struggle to learn the new language of edublogs.  I must give a shout out to the great support people who have helped with every detail, no matter how minute or basic (i.e. I should have known without asking).  Always polite, helpful, and detailed in their responses, fine people like Sue Waters and Jason Teitelman have made this transition possible.  Thank you!

And if these new findings inspire you to buckle down and learn Spanish, try the language learning resources here.

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